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From AI to entrepreneurship: How Gowri Kannan’s project with a tech startup solidified her ambitions


Gowri Kannan, MBA ’24, originally studied engineering and AI as an undergraduate — but she realized that she wanted to have greater influence on product creation and customer experience, and maybe even launch her own company someday. A hands-on MIT Sloan Action Learning project with a nascent startup paved the way for her dream.

Kannan began her month-long product management project with Alta through Product Management Lab (PM-Lab). The San Francisco-based company designs mobile apps without code, using smart design and text recommendations. With her background in AI, it was the perfect fit.

“Their product was very interesting to me because I could see how it democratizes app-building for those who may not know how to code but who have business ideas,” Kannan says.

Wearing many different hats

Her project work with such a new, small startup offered an intimate look at a nontraditional product management role, allowing her to use many different skills.

“At a really small startup, you end up doing a lot of things: user research, product testing, feature prioritization. And you definitely need to understand the technology if you want to have a conversation with the engineers,” she says.

Addressing customer priorities

Alta’s target user is an early-stage startup employee looking to launch a mobile app, perhaps without much experience. Alta offers an AI-powered drag-and-drop canvas and beautiful templates to build a mobile app with many customization options—no coding required.

“With the click of a button, you essentially bring to life the entire mobile application,” she says.

Kannan interviewed potential end-users, understanding their goals and pain points. Her work had a direct impact on her host company’s strategy. Alta had considered adding a live-streaming option, but they changed course when Kannan found that this wasn’t a priority for potential customers.

Son Ca Vu, co-founder and CEO, and MIT alumnus Scott Ostler, co-founder and CTO, were highly impressed with Kannan’s work.

Son Ca Vu | Co-founder and CEO, Alta
Gowri’s help was a game-changer for our organization. It gave us the incredible opportunity to connect and have meaningful conversations with our users, helping us prioritize our 2023 roadmap. Gowri went above and beyond our expectations, and quickly became an invaluable member of our team.

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“I’m proud that I was able to help them,” Kannan says. “They’re a small team, and it was really important for them to know exactly what they should work on.”

Equally exciting, she says, was being allowed to use her AI background to participate in product testing.

“They were building out specific AI features for their product. I was able to identify issues and help them debug, based on my interests,” she says.

Lifelong insights for a budding entrepreneur

Most of all, Kannan appreciated working at an early-stage startup that was still honing their vision. In fact, seeing it happen in real time validated her entrepreneurial ambitions.

“They're building it step-by-step, which was also a good learning experience for me, especially if I try to build a product of my own. In the past, I've always stopped myself. But watching them go through [the process], seeing how motivated they are, was very nice,” she says.

Mentors at the company, especially Vu, encouraged her entrepreneurial dreams.

“[Vu] was talking to me about her experiences as an entrepreneur, and we were discussing competitors. We had found out that there was another close competitor who was building something similar to what Alta was creating. In the past, I would have been demoralized,” Kannan recalls. “But Son Ca gave me a very interesting perspective: Having competitors in your space validates your presence and validates the need for such an idea. It’s not a reason to quit.”

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