Catching up with Elnaz Moshfeghian, Alto’s new VP of Strategic Planning & Business Operations
Last month, Alto celebrated the well-deserved promotions of many Altoids across the company. Among those promoted is Elnaz Moshfeghian, who is now Alto’s VP of Strategic Planning & Business Operations.
Elnaz joined Alto in 2016 as a software engineer and when we last connected with her in 2020, she shared her thoughts on building a career in engineering. Since then, Elnaz has pivoted to a truly cross functional, strategy-focused role, where she applies learnings from her engineering experience with her ability to identify opportunities for growth.
Below, Elnaz shares more about her new role, what she’s most excited about at Alto, and advice she has for those looking to make a career pivot.
To start, congratulations on your new role! You joined Alto 6.5 years ago, and so much has changed both within the company and the industry at large. Can you tell me a little bit about your journey at Alto?
I’ve always been attracted to problems that are cross functional and can be solved by bringing together different teams - pharmacists, technicians, logistics, dispatch, sales. I really enjoyed it as an engineer, given that when I joined there were no product managers. We all had to figure out what we were going to build and build it ourselves. I loved working with teams, which is why I pursued the manager track. I noticed pretty quickly that the most interesting and challenging problems rarely came down to technical decisions, but more-so to people and priorities.
As I grew in my engineering career, and got to lead teams solving problems, I was always searching for how to expand my understanding and impact across the business. I had the opportunity to shift into a strategy and operations role, which allowed me to shadow the CEO and learn a great deal while also identifying the company’s key priorities, understanding how they're doing, and ensuring that they stay on track. The new role allows me to use everything I’ve learned over the last 6.5 years at the company while at the same time, learning a lot from a seasoned leader like Alicia on how to run a business.
Your previous experience was in engineering, and you didn’t work in healthcare or pharma before joining Alto. What has been the biggest surprise to you since joining the company?
There are a lot of different hands in healthcare; it's a really complex space and there’s a lot at stake. I’m always mystified by how hard it is to align different parties’ incentives to result in the right outcome for patients. It underscores the importance of Alto’s mission: to fulfill medicine’s true purpose — to improve quality of life — for everyone who needs it.
Tell me a little bit about your current role. What are you most excited by?
I’ve loved seeing how the different pieces of the company connect, and being able to connect the dots when we’re missing something. It’s been really fun to see how a little bit of communication and collaboration can go a long way. I also love thinking about how what we’re doing today could set us up for bigger things in the future, and how we build today in a way that opens a lot of doors for us down the line.
In your opinion, what are the biggest opportunities for the company?
There’s always an opportunity to be excellent at the basics. Are we consistently providing the best patient experience? Are we getting patients the best price? Are we saving time for prescribers and their offices? Those are problems that we’ve been solving for a long time, but it just gets more interesting and challenging as we’ve gone into new markets and therapeutic areas, and worked with different kinds of patients and prescribers than we used to.
Something that I’ve always been intrigued by is - how do you bring more transparency around pricing to prescribers and patients at the earliest possible time, so that they can make the best decisions? It’s something that’s really missing in the industry. It’s not easy to do, and that’s definitely something I think a lot about - ‘How can we be the one who makes it easy for prescribers to know what they’re about to send to the patient, and for the patient to know what their other options are?’ Because a lot of times, what your insurance may cover and what your doctor may prescribe may not always be the best option. There might be other options, and I think a lot of people don’t know to ask about that.
What are the biggest challenges in the pharmaceutical industry today?
I think there’s been a lot of great activity from different patient advocacy groups and state governments to regulate the worst of what’s happened in healthcare. It’s been cool to see that take shape over the last five years. The challenge is that it’s very hard to write legislation and force some of these things, and so I’ve honestly gotten more interested in how do you write the right laws and approach regulation in a way that allows innovation to still happen and thrive, and still protects the patient at the end of the day.
Back to your engineering roots – what advice do you have for young engineers?
Given the state of venture capital and the industry, a lot of engineers are going to earlier-stage companies, because there’s a little bit more investment and activity happening. I had to figure that out along the way - how do you operate as the third engineer on the team? Being anyone in an early-stage, small company - and an engineer especially - comes with its own unique challenges and skills. It’s not something there’s a ton of resources around. There’s a lot of resources about how to start a company, but not a lot for how engineers can grow their career at a company at that stage. So, my advice would be to seek out mentorship and cross functional peers from whom you can learn and grow.
You pivoted from engineering to operations and strategy. What advice do you have for someone looking to make a career change?
As an engineer, I’ve really focused on making an impact, whether that’s through building a product or shaping the business with what I know, with tech being the backbone. And I think that’s something we don’t talk about as much in engineering - how do you take your skills and really channel them for maximum impact and better understanding of a business? And for people who want to start their own companies someday, taking the path I did could be really valuable. It allows you to be a better entrepreneur and a better contributor if you can see the connection between engineering choices and the systems you’re building, and how they impact your customer and other parties.
The other piece is being comfortable with wearing a lot of different hats. It’s what really helped my growth, and it’s counter to a lot of advice you get. People will tell you to go deep, get specialized and go down one path. You need to, to some extent; I absolutely had to figure out how to be a better engineer and a better leader. But the most growth for me wasn’t necessarily to stay in engineering – it was to take a turn. Hopefully, I can give colleagues a little more confidence who want to take a turn and increase their impact, growth and learning.