At HelloFresh, your ideas are always taken seriously – Leading HelloTech
In conversation with Annie Meininghaus, Vice President of Product
Annie Meininghaus, Vice President of Product at HelloFresh, started at HelloFresh US in New York in 2015. Since then, she has worked her way up from Business Analyst to a member of the Tech Leadership Team. In this interview, she explains what a Vice President of Product does and how her career has progressed throughout the last six years.
Could you tell us a bit more about what you do everyday?
As Vice President of Product, I'm part of the leadership team of HelloTech, our tech organization. My job is to ensure that all product teams are set up correctly, have realistic workload and scope, and are working on initiatives that are in sync with business priorities, and solve real customer problems.
I ensure that the teams have the right tools, and that they follow our workflows and processes in order to work as autonomously as possible. Together with the leadership team, we give KPIs and targets to our teams in the form of OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) so everyone knows what it takes to be successful. “Autonomous” means we don’t micromanage ideas or initiatives. We also make sure teams are positioned well and don’t have too much need to coordinate with others. Such dependencies typically lead to delays and suboptimal results.
I also make sure that my direct reports, the product leads of different domains, can focus and don't have to oversee too many areas of responsibility. In short: I deal with organizational development. My day-to-day job is to ask whether there are questions, blockers or dependencies and how I can help resolve them. It's all about enabling talent to create the ideas, speed and the velocity we need in HelloTech.
Lastly, I also lead the Product Strategy process. This means sharing lots of information, asking questions which challenge the proposed direction of the teams and finally signing off on the product roadmaps and priorities in alignment with the C-Level. I'm ultimately responsible for making sure all my teams are solving the right problems at all times.
HelloFresh is at its core a tech company.
You've been with us since 2015 as one of the longest-serving employees. What brought you to HelloFresh back then?
At the time I had just graduated from Columbia Business School in New York and I was unsure whether I wanted to work in the tech industry or in classic management, a consultancy, or in finance. Through a personal contact, I met someone at HelloFresh, got a job recommendation, passed the application tests, and eventually found a position in the US marketing team.
At the time, HelloFresh was still a young company. I had the opportunity to try out different roles and figure out in which direction I wanted to go. I ended up focusing on data-driven decision making and anything related to data analytics. I was answering questions like, "How can we use our marketing budget more efficiently?" That’s also when I built a growth analytics team in the US.
In the following years, the company grew at an exciting speed. In this context, a famous quote comes to my mind: "If you get offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don't ask where to sit." That's what it felt like back then. I tried many "seats in the rocket" while our sales and our employee count continued to rise. I was Interim Head of CRM and regularly worked on the Tech Product Roadmap when I finally found my dream job in Product Management. I became not only responsible for the US roadmap from a business perspective but also for the implementation of the roadmap in joint collaboration with the engineering team. Around that time, our global CTO Nuno Simaria and I decided to build the tech team in the US for which I was put in charge. HelloTech US was our first distributed tech team. Eventually, I expanded my ownership from conversion rate optimization into re-engagement journeys and our virality product as Senior Director of Growth Product US.
At the end of 2019, I was asked to join the global team in Berlin; that’s when I made the big move back to Europe and settled into my current role as Global VP of Product. Over the past six years, there have been so many different phases at HelloFresh that it doesn't even feel like the same company anymore. To me, it feels like I've had two or three different careers already.
The first squad that Annie built at HelloTech.
How has HelloFresh evolved over the past 6 years?
HelloFresh has obviously changed a lot during its rapid growth. But it has also retained much of what has always made it special. What I can really identify with is the principle of data-drivenness. Numbers and math know no titles, no ranks, and no salary differences. At HelloFresh, if you have a good idea and can back it up with numbers, it will be taken seriously, no matter your seniority. I’ve always felt motivated by that. When I wake up and go to work I know that I have the chance to make a difference. That's definitely something that has stuck with HelloFresh since the earlier days, not least because we are still a founders’ led company. It's very important to Dominik and Thomas that we continue to be data-driven.
What are some of the challenges you've overcome in the past six years?
If an organization is growing fast and you want to stay on board, you have to be able to grow with it. Five years ago, a product owner may have built a new feature for hundreds of thousands of users — today our POs are building features for nearly eight million users worldwide. This is a completely different level of responsibility and scope. Growing with a company is not always easy.
For me, the hardest part was getting into mid-level management. What I had always been really good at was calculating my own numbers, writing my own tickets, running my own tests. At mid-level, I had to practice trusting others and delegating tasks for the first time. I had to understand that I can't control everything because my time has limits and I should spend it more efficiently. In tech, you often start very operational and have complete control over your own outcome and impact. Thus in my early management roles I naturally struggled with delegating. Today I’m much more relaxed and trust my team. Also you learn that good companies are able to quickly pivot. This agility saves time and small failures are an important part of our learning curve.
Another challenge is to adapt to the point of view of my new colleagues: Today, the expectations of new joiners towards the company for example in terms of onboarding and compensation are higher - it makes sense. HelloFresh is no longer the small startup I knew back then, but a DAX listed company.
Members of the Activation, Re-engagement and Referrals squads from HelloTech US.
If you could talk to your younger self six years ago, what would the advice you would give?
You have to be open to change. When I look back there were many days when my work environment changed a lot. I was too junior to have the bigger picture and I was struggling to understand why this was necessary and how it would affect me. There was a time, for example, when all my former colleagues had left and I was the "last woman standing," the longest-serving employee at HelloFresh US. Doubts arose like: Why is everyone leaving? Am I missing something? But in fast growing companies change is often a good thing and if you love what you do remembering that helps. In my experience resilience pays off. Looking back, it was one of my best decisions to stay at HelloFresh. With all the history and context I have now, I think I can bring a lot to the table for new joiners.
I am well aware of the fact that this is easier said in hindsight. Of course I had the feeling at times that I wasn’t growing at the same rate as before. But the more you think long term for yourself, the easier it is to understand that this is normal. You don’t grow linearly and there’s not always an opportunity at hand the moment you’re ready to take it. If you’re extending your planning horizon such times blend in and don’t matter much. HelloFresh continues to offer incredibly high growth opportunities. Maybe I will look back to this article in a few years, thinking that by the end of 2021 we just got started.