Lead(H)er profile - Vitri Bhandari, VP People Ops & Strategy at Klaviyo
In her 14 months at Klaviyo, Vitri Bhandari has helped her company grow from 145 to 334 people, and part of her job is ensuring that “Klaviyos” feel connected to each other and that the company maintains its unique culture.
Klaviyo is a growth marketing platform that helps online businesses own the entire customer experience and build better relationships with their customers. As an example of how their technology fits into real life, Vitri relays this anecdote: “Our CEO is a runner. He injured himself, and for awhile he couldn’t run, and it turned out this was related to the sneakers he was wearing. So now, like clockwork, he buys the same sneakers every six months. But the company he buys his sneakers from hasn’t caught on yet. They never reach out, they never suggest, ‘Hey, would you like your sneakers now?’” She compares that experience with going to dinner at a restaurant that knows you and caters to your taste without you even asking.
For the small business owner, “it isn’t that people don’t care enough to take a personalized approach with their customers,” Vitri explains. “It’s that it’s hard to scale. The human brain can hold only so much information.” Klaviyo’s software learns about the purchasing preferences of the customer, as well as their responsiveness to the kinds of messages they’re receiving (content, style, timing, channel, etc.). “By analyzing this data, we can help our customers offer products and solutions to better meet their customers’ needs.”
In her position as VP of People Ops and Strategy, Vitri oversees Klaviyo’s talent acquisition, human resources, and learning functions. “I want everyone who comes into contact with Klaviyo to have an awesome experience,” she says. For example, if someone interviews at the company, “even if it’s not the right fit, I want them to feel like they’re better off for having coming into contact with us.”
One of Klaviyo’s mottos is “always be learning, always be teaching,” and growth is at the core of company culture. “People who work here love to learn, improve, and teach each other. It’s collaborative, non-hierarchical, and the leadership team genuinely cares about doing things right.” For Vitri, one of her most satisfying achievements has been seeing Klaviyos accomplish things they never thought they could accomplish, together.
Vitri is deeply invested in understanding human psychology and the roots of motivation, but this wasn’t where she started her career. After majoring in economics at Boston University, she took a job with Fidelity Investments, where she worked on 401K fund options for customers. One of her early mentors encouraged her to go to business school, and from NYU she transitioned into consulting work at McKinsey & Company. “One of the great things about McKinsey is that they actively develop their people. Leadership saw things in me I didn’t even see myself. They really pushed me.” She stayed for seven years before moving on to serve as COO and Head of Human Capital at Vega Factor, a company that specializes in the science of human motivation.
Vitri cites analytical thinking, logic and pattern recognition, and strong communication and problem solving skills as important to her work. But even more crucial, she says, are thought agility, creativity, and empathy. “Being able to look at things from multiple angles and points of view is so important. I help people bridge the gap when they can’t see each other’s perspectives, and I have a strong sense of empathy that compels me to try to find win-win situations.”
This positive energy and outlook has helped Vitri though her own difficult times. While pregnant with her first daughter, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “The surgery, the treatments, it was a lot to go through.” After the birth of her second child, Vitri decided to take a step back. “I hit the pause button. I wanted to take time to re-evaluate.”
Eventually, a mutual acquaintance introduced her to Andrew Bialecki, CEO of Klaviyo. “He’s someone who cares deeply about the people side of things. I felt like we were complementary in both style and perspective. What’s great is that I feel truly empowered to do what’s right for Klaviyos.”
Vitri and her team of 15 are mindful of the typical problems that arise when companies grow and scale quickly. “There can be a natural tension between people who have been at a company for awhile and the newcomers. Change can be uncomfortable, so it’s extra important to maintain a shared sense of purpose and mission. Klaviyo is a naturally collaborative company and I help people understand that we’ll all be better off if we can share our thought-processes and figure out the best solutions together.”
For 2020, Vitri’s goal is to ensure that every Klaviyo understands how what they do matters, where they’re heading in terms of their own personal and professional development, and how the company will create opportunities to help get them there.
“For me, there’s a real purpose and mission in it,” says Vitri about her aspirations to build something big, something truly special. “I want to show the world that it’s possible to build great things, and also do it in all the right ways.”
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love being active and hanging out with my kids. My daughters are 2 and 5 so they keep me busy. I also love all things food! I love cooking, tasting, and talking about great food, it’s a personal passion of mine. That, and hanging out with friends and family.
What are your strategies for managing stress?
It depends on the type of stress, but it ranges from things like exercise and staying active to questioning myself, playing devil’s advocate, reminding myself to look at things from different lenses. I also think it’s important to take a step back sometimes, disengage. I’ll focus on friends or family or food, or maybe do something a little bit mindless.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
I love coffee but I’m not coffee dependent, so I’d say probably between 0 and 1.
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston/New York area?
Anywhere on the waterfront. I love being near the water and people watching.
What do you consider one of your proudest accomplishments?
When I “hit pause,” and was trying to decide what to do, I felt a little bit guilty about finding something I knew I was going to pour myself into. Then I remembered what a friend of mine said: “Treat yourself the way you’d want someone to treat your daughters.” So with my daughters, I know I’m going to raise them with good values, hold them to high standards, but I’m also going to be forgiving, and not too harsh. Remembering that empowered me to do things the way I want, that makes me happy. I’m excited and passionate about what I do professionally, and I’m also super engaged with my family, and living an overall balanced life. I hope I can help people see that things aren’t as rigid as they seem. You should feel empowered to live the way you want. I want my daughters to be able to do it all.
Is this where you thought you’d be 10 years ago?
No way! I never would’ve fathomed I’d be in this place. 15 years ago, I thought I’d be in investments. 10 years ago, I was working at McKinsey, and thought working with clients would be my path. Or maybe traveling the world and eating great food and talking about it!
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
The three direct motives in terms of motivation are play, purpose, and potential. So follow your passions. Do things that give you a sense of purpose, where you’ll learn and grow. Don’t be afraid to take risks. And be human. We’re all just human beings trying to live our best lives.