From Investment Banker to Product Manager to Founder of ALMA – Michelle RittenhouseFeatured

Hi Elphas, I'm Michelle, the co-founder and Chief Product Officer of ALMA (, a platform for supporting social causes. We create funds - portfolios of nonprofits - that you can support with a single monthly donation. Our mission is to be our generation's way of giving back to the causes they care about. After a stint on the West Coast, I recently returned to my hometown of Washington DC to start ALMA. My career path started in investment banking, followed by roles in strategy as Chief of Staff to the CEO of LivingSocial, and most recently as a Product Manager at Airbnb. An avid runner myself, I first became involved with the nonprofit sector as a volunteer and board member of Back On My Feet, a national nonprofit that uses the power of running to help those experiencing homelessness. Ask me anything about company building, non-linear career paths, transitioning into tech, why transparency & communication are critical, leaving the Bay Area, or anything else!
I'm curious how you made the transition from Chief of Staff into product. Did you build up a product portfolio, take a class, or something else to build up your product skills? Thanks!
Thanks for the question - it's one I hear frequently! Getting into product has no clear path, particularly as the role of a PM can vary widely by company.For years before I actually transitioned into a PM role, I worked closely with product teams while I was in strategy & operation roles. This helped me understand the role of PM, how my skill set aligned to the role and where I needed to grow. So how did I build my product skills? First, while I didn't do any formal training or classes, I learned on the spot by volunteering on with projects that brought me closer to the product teams. Second, and most important, I've been lucky to have great managers and mentors throughout my career in product that provide coaching and support. I definitely recommend finding a mentor you trust!
Hi Michelle! I'd love to know more about your experience transitioning back to DC. I grew up in Northern Virginia, moved to NYC for sixteen years after college, then just moved back to the area to be close to family and raise my kids here. I'm looking forward to expanding my early stage food tech company, and getting to know the local tech scene, which seems more diverse than it used to be, but still different from NY and SF. What have you observed about the tech/startup environment here? Did you tap into any resources to build/expand your team? What do you think about the Dulles Corridor vs. DC proper? (I'm in Reston, which is why I'm asking.)Thank you so much for your time!
Hi Grace, welcome back to DC! While DC isn't the same as NY or SF, we're finding it's a great place to start a business. Smart, mission driven talent base, and an excitement around consumer-facing tech since it's less common here. (That is until HQ2 arrives!)We're building the team here in DC and with remote employees. We're working in a coworking space downtown, so we're surrounded by other startups and still feeling that tech vibe. Sorry, but I'm not as familiar with the Dulles Corridor!
Thank you! I do love the idea of looking into some coworking spaces local to this area. It's great to hear that you're finding this region to be a great place to start a new venture. Looking forward to keeping up with ALMA!
Hi - I’m trying to make the transition from investment banker to Chief of Staff. Any suggestions?
Hi Allypaz, similar to the answer above - there's no clear path on this transition! My advice is to find a product/company/mission you're passionate about. Start there, find a role you're excited about, and demonstrate your impact. Most Chief of Staff roles I've seen are filled by internal transfers (rather than outside hires), as many executives start by evaluating team members where they already have a history of trust.
I read on your cofounder's* medium post that ALMA is a PBC (I'm assuming Delaware?). Since that's still a pretty new entity type I'm curious whether it's caused any unexpected hurdles/headaches? With potential investors, taxes, lawyers, board meetings, etc.And bonus question, since you worked in investment banking and are now one of the elite few to have a PBC... does ALMA order branded Patagonia "power vests" for your employees?For anyone who missed the Wall Street/Silicon Valley "Patagonia panic" last week: Corrected to cofounder's medium post.
Hey elliekelly, glad to hear you're familiar with the Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) structure! We've proud to be a PBC and continue to be happy with the decision. I've heard that can be challenging to convert an existing company into the PCB structure, but we did it at the onset and it was very straightforward. No unexpected hurdles, and it's nice to align our mission and values with our corporate structure. Bonus question: No "power vests" here, only hiking/running vests :)
What would be your number one piece of advice when transition from investment banking over to tech? (or regarding non-linear career paths in general). Great to meet you!
Don't wear a suit to interview at a tech company! Haha, I made that mistake - it was a HUGE culture shift between finance and tech, especially ten years ago. And I haven't looked back once.
Thank you Michelle! very interesting transitions!What skills and experiences you found most useful to keep from your banking time to being a chief product officer at ALMA?
Stamina :) Banking was a helpful introduction to the business world, but the role of a i-banking analyst is quite different than starting your own company! That said, banking taught me the value of storytelling with data, mastering excel shortcuts and staying super organized.
Hi Michelle! Thank you so much for your post. I am a current senior and I will be working at an Investment Bank starting this summer. Do you have any advice for me entering this career path? Why did you decide to leave?
Congrats on the role this summer! Investment banking was a great foundation for my career - it was hard work but a valuable experience. After a couple years, I knew banking wasn't a long-term career path for me. While the work was interesting, the problems we were solving weren't that exciting to me and I was eager to get into the tech industry.
What an incredibly refreshing and impactful platform ALMA is, thank you for your commitment your time and efforts into sharing this with the greater public. Curious to understand what the 28 variable are in the vetting process for charities, if you are willing to share of course? Wishing you and ALMA all the success!
Thanks for the kind words! Absolutely. There's many tools publicly available that evaluate nonprofits simply on their financial metrics. While some of this information is helpful, it's a very limited view on the *impact* of an organization. Similarly to how a venture capitalist would look at a company - we're looking for organizations with big problem to solve, strong teams, measurable solutions, and demonstrated impact.Our internal evaluation system measures nonprofits across 28 variables - ranging from their financial profile, their commitment to transparency, their quantifiable impact, to the strength of their communication.
How did you come up with the idea of ALMA? And how important is moving back to DC for ALMA's success? Tell us more about your decision leaving the Bay Area. Thank you, Michelle!
Thanks for the question Kuan! My cofounder Dan and I started thinking about ALMA during the wildfires in CA in late 2017. Smoke blanketed San Francisco, we had coworkers who lost their homes, and it seemed all our friends wanted to do something to "give back". Yet most of them couldn't name any charities to support beyond big organizations like Red Cross. We wanted to build something to fix that, and help smaller local nonprofits grow. Moving to DC was largely for personal reasons, as I'm from the area and was hoping to move back. That said, it's been a great place to start a company, particularly one focused on philanthropy!
Thanks so much for joining us, Michelle! As a reminder, this is part of our ongoing AMA series with experts in the community.
Thanks to everyone for asking great questions and thanks for joining us, Michelle! This AMA is now over.
What an amazing journey! What are the skillsets that you use to pivot and carry through the different roles you play? I would love to know how you get started co-founding ALMA as I'm inspired to cofound a platform for social goods as well and have find it challenging to find other liked mind people to get started.