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Interview with Sahar Afrakhan, early growth and product owner at Superhuman

10min read

Sahar Afrakhan joined Superhuman in 2018 as an early member of the growth and product teams. During her 4 years, Sahar built out their early acquisition channels, scaled onboardings, ran growth experiments, and supported the core product. 

This interview is part of a series by Compound. Compound provides everything you need to manage your personal finances (advice, tracking, investments, taxes, borrowing, estate, and more).

What was Superhuman’s pitch when you joined? Why did you join? What was the interview process like? 

Superhuman’s aim is to build software that makes professionals happier and more productive. This perfectly aligned with my personal mission: equip people with the tools they need to achieve their wildest dreams. 

I joined Superhuman while still in college. They had just blown up on Product Hunt. Their earliest users were raving about their experience — and I wanted to be part of bottling and delivering that joy. 

One of their investors put me in touch with the team. They didn’t have a role for me, but I was convinced there was a fit to be found.

I met their Head of Growth for coffee in San Francisco. They had started to assemble a growth team and needed a generalist to support marketing, operations, and product. It was the perfect fit: I’d wear many hats, grow quickly, and work on critical parts of the business. We talked for hours and then I was invited to the office. They left a lasting impression on me — fun people brimming with talent, unwavering ambition, and a genuine care for their craft. 

The interview process was thorough and thoughtful. I appreciated the direct focus on feedback and depth of dialogue after each exercise. The evaluation gave me a clear picture of what working together would feel like. I accepted the offer to join, knowing that I would be part of a team that shared my passion for helping people live happier lives.

You moved from operations to product. Was getting into product always the goal or how did that happen?

My only priority was to help Superhuman succeed. The exact role was less important. Product became a stop along that journey, but wasn’t the intended destination.

I started on the commercial side of the business: growth, marketing, and operations. After our Series B, we hired a formal marketing team. My capacity to support them started to edge towards its limit — and I knew I didn’t want to specialize as a marketer. 

At the same time, one of the main bottlenecks to growth was product (a team of 1 at the time). As we put together a hiring plan for that team, I saw uncapped whitespace and meaningful ways for me to contribute. 

Before I made the jump, I asked myself 3 questions: Am I working on the most important thing for the business? Is the learning curve steep? Am I having fun?

The answer to those questions was yes, so I leaned in.

The transition was smooth. I had the support of leadership, rich institutional knowledge, and had shown facility through my work already. 

Product ended up being the perfect fit for me. I loved being close to users, stewarding the long-term vision of the company, working across all teams, and being immersed in complex, human problems.

What was your product development process at Superhuman? 

In order to excel, we needed a fast and scalable process, and one that upheld the core of a Superhuman product experience. 

We first defined our principles — a set of values that defined our approach to product and was expected to be reflected in any final output. This brought the team together around how we wanted users to feel. We applied these principles to the non-software parts of the experience too, like in designing our 1:1 onboardings. 

Next we put together a process, one that is continually evolving. Early on, we split that into two parts: 

1 Product Thinking

This phase was focused on problem discovery and definition. First: understand the problem space. Why are we solving this, and why now? What current and historical context do we need or are we missing? What hypotheses do we need to explore? What are the risks and unknowns? What are possible solutions? What would success look like on the other end?

We read every piece of relevant feedback from users. This was the single most important input of product. For example, for our initial calendar integration, we sifted through 4,000+ pieces of feedback that we had logged over the years. We needed to understand exactly what problem we were solving, and the best way was to go directly to the source.

From there, we reviewed usage data, talked to teammates with tribal knowledge, sought inspiration from products that solve the problem well, shaped a directional solution, then defined the desired outcomes. If context was missing, we’d get clarity by interviewing users.

2 Product Specification 

Once a problem had shape, scope and orientation towards a solution, we moved to Product Specification. This phase was all about the details. The goal was to precisely define product requirements that could swiftly unblock design and engineering. What are we building, and why? How does this exactly work? How should we handle each edge case?

Moving from idea → release was deeply collaborative. We had a strong writing culture — much of the internal feedback came asynchronously. However meetings were key to creating space for thoughtful debate. 

I loved working with people who were equally committed to delivering exceptional product experiences.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into product management? 

I can only speak to internal transitions. If your entry path starts from the outside, there are a wealth of resources online (email me if you want recommendations!). 

To support a transition into product management:

1 Build institutional context. 

Study the DNA of your company, functional teams, and the product. Be curious. Institutional context takes time to accumulate. Through previous roles, and by working with different people and teams, I got smart about how things got done.

2 Demonstrate your competency

First, continue to shine in your current role — and don’t drop balls. Then ask for more. I sought opportunities that supported Superhuman’s goals and, simultaneously, would make me a better at product. Work with your boss or a mentor to identify which skills you need to round out. Routinely share your progress with decision makers. Rinse and repeat. 

3 Find your advocates. 

Support from your company’s leadership will make or break your path into product. Once I decided I wanted to move over, I set up recurring time to meet with and learn from key members of leadership. Show that you’re eager to learn, will contribute from Day 1, and are committed to the team’s success. Once you’ve gotten to know them, ask for their support. My investment in those relationships made it easy for decision makers to vocally support the move. 

My last piece of advice is to stay persistent and patient. Your ideal timeline won’t necessarily line up with what’s best for the company. Keep the conversation open and continue to excel in the other areas. 

Superhuman is packed with a lot of non-obvious details—do you have any favorites? How did those make it into the product? 

Every detail in Superhuman is meticulously crafted; it reflects the team’s care for building magical experiences. The combination of those details is a reason the product is beloved. 

We maintained that care at scale with well-documented processes. We established a set of product principles that upheld the core of what makes a product feel Superhuman (“little details matter” was one of them), and positioned the team to ship quality quickly.

Three of my favorites:

  • The star animation when a user stars an email.
  • Our reminders feature uses language that comes most naturally to users. They don't have to spend time thinking about calculations, like timezones, and can enter "in a minute" or "4pm in London" as input.
  • On desktop, all text and graphical elements are aligned to a sub-pixel baseline, no matter what the size or shape. (This improves readability by making text appear more structurally organized.)

What was the state of the product when you first joined? What was your first week like?

The product was only available on desktop, either through the Chrome extension or newly released native desktop application. We placed huge importance on speed and reliability, setting strict performance parameters and pausing feature development if they fell below our desired thresholds.

When I first joined, our onboardings were 60 minutes long, and we were letting in about 15 new users each week.

Those conversations were indispensable, and were a reason we doubled down further in our onboardings. We got a firehose of feedback each week — snags in the user experience, bugs, uncovering different workflows, feature requests — that we could prioritize and address in advance of the next wave of new users.

Nearly everything was manual: marketing emails, reviewing new leads, collecting payment, adding new users to an “allow list”, and so on. 

I would joke that the scope of my first role was to automate myself out of a job. I ended up doing just that, and taught myself SQL and JavaScript to support the process. Most of our early growth systems were stitched together by no-code tools like Zapier. 

Over the years, I moved from pure operations into a blended role that spanned growth marketing and product, lightly touched analytics, and eventually landed in pure product. I was a sweeper. Wherever I was needed, I would go.

Were there any unique traditions/cultural rituals at Superhuman that were particularly impactful to you? 

At Superhuman, I was inspired by the company value of "Create delight." 

The spirit of it means to infuse joy and pleasant surprise into every interaction — especially in our product, and with users, teammates, and candidates.

One ritual captured that value particularly well: Friday Wins. Wins was a time for full-belly laughs, celebrating each other, and ending the week on a high. Each teammate would present slides to showcase the most delightful moments of their week. We went all out — outlandish font animations, hysterical GIFs — and tried to fit our personalities into a Google slide.

Wins included triumphs over challenging technical problems, extraordinary acts of service for users, outperforming ambitious team goals, and more. As the company grew, the format evolved, but it continued to be a cherished tradition.

Everyone had agency to shape the culture. I often asked myself what the dream work environment would look like at Superhuman, and was free to act in support of that vision. I brought in external speakers, organized coffee tastings, picked plants and wall colors for the office, and so on. 

Another tradition that I enjoyed was Lunch Roulette. I built a program that randomly paired people — across different teams — for lunch. The intention was to seed new relationships, serendipitous collaboration, and uphold a sense of connectedness as we grew. Those lunches inspired product ideas and process improvements, as well as deeper rapport between people and shared hobbies.

Perhaps my favorite expression of “Create delight” was the Wall of Love that we put up in our second office. 

The idea started with a feeling that we wanted to evoke. We wanted our physical space to bring out the same joy that our users feel towards our product. People should walk into our office and be immersed in the product’s impact on the lives of our users.

We wanted it up before we were set to host an event at our office, so we pulled an all-nighter to get it done. The effort was worth it. We unveiled our creation to a room full of users and candidates the next day.

The first version:

What did you do when you left Superhuman? What was your process of exploring? 

I wanted to take time off. It had been years since I had free time in spades. Someone wisely told me to double the time that I thought I would need, so I planned for 6 months. 

Candidly the first few weeks were uncomfortable. I had to relearn how to use my time without the direction of a packed calendar. I ended up tracking everything I did on my calendar, and now have a fun log to look back on.

Since I left, I’ve consulted with and advised amazing founders, started an activist group in support of abortion rights (choicedao.org), tried new cities all over the country, started volunteering at an equine therapy ranch, sampled new hobbies and reconnected with old ones, revived my library card, and said “yes” to all the fun and adventures. 

What are you up to now? How can people find you? 

I’m exploring! If you want to chat, the fastest way to reach me is by emailing me at saharafrakhan@gmail.com

This interview is part of a series by Compound. Compound provides everything you need to manage your personal finances (advice, tracking, investments, taxes, borrowing, estate, and more).