Summer Stories: Meet Ritu, Chief of Staff

January 31, 2022

Making an impact is more than an aspiration for Summer’s new Chief of Staff Ritu (RITH-tu) Tandon—it’s what drives her. After graduating from Stanford with a Master’s in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies, Ritu has spent her career working at mission-driven startups and nonprofits in the education technology and digital health spaces. 

Ritu’s passion for making an impact also applies to the work she does within an organization. She has spent her career spearheading transformative initiatives, from serving as the first Program Director for the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation to leading the team that launched the Learning Innovation Hub. Recently, at digital health startup Verana, Ritu supported marketing, operations, culture and more as the company grew from four employees to over 100.

As Summer’s Chief of Staff, Ritu is partnering with executive leadership to improve performance and coordination across the company during an exciting time for growth. We chatted with Ritu to learn more about her road to Summer, what informs her approach to operations, and how she likes to spend her time outside of work. 

Helping companies navigate growth and transformation is clearly a passion of yours: you’ve led key initiatives at DigiSight Technologies, Verana Health, and Syllable. In this vein, what excites you most about joining Summer?

To put it simply: the product, the team, and the opportunity. Student loan debt has repeatedly been in the spotlight over the past two years due to the federal student loan repayment freeze and temporary changes to the public service loan forgiveness program. During this time, Summer’s product has made a real impact on student loan borrowers’ lives by helping borrowers navigate this uncertainty, which is evident from the borrower case studies alone. 

In addition to having a great product, I’m continually struck by how fun, brilliant, and humble everyone at Summer is and how thoughtful the leaders are about the company’s mission and growth. As Summer enters its next phase, I’m excited about the role I can play in ensuring that this team continues to work efficiently and effectively. I’m particularly passionate about tackling internal needs around communication and coordination, which often becomes a pain point as a company grows. I really believe the market is ready for our product and that this team is going to propel Summer to new heights—and I am eager to help make it happen.

You’ve spent most of your career in edtech and digital health. What inspired you to choose fintech as a vehicle for change?

I’ve always been drawn to impact-driven fields. With Summer, I was particularly inspired by the mission of helping student loan borrowers because of my own experience with student debt: I had a significant amount that took years of careful planning and budgeting to pay off. While I was paying off my loans, I felt I couldn’t save for retirement or for a home. It shaped my career decisions. I didn’t fully understand the trade-offs of my repayment options or the complexity of the student loan system. 

Now that I’m on the other side, I feel more agency around my finances and have a strong sense of forward momentum. That feeling is wonderful, and I’m excited that Summer is helping other borrowers navigate their student debt so that they too can gain more agency over their financial health and decision-making. 

As the Chief of Staff at Summer, you have a highly visible and cross-functional role focused on enhancing performance and coordination. How do you approach helping teams adopt new processes and strategies?

I start by understanding the team. Every team operates differently and has unique needs, so it's critical to develop an approach that is context-specific. I do this by spending time learning how the team and the individuals within it operate: their work styles, communication styles, etc. 

Empathy is integral to my approach too. Each person on the team brings a valuable point of view, as well their own set of needs, to our work. I pride myself on ensuring that the perspectives of all stakeholders are heard and considered, including various needs and ideas from across the organization.

It’s also important to be nimble. Startups are dynamic environments in need of strategies and processes that are built to be responsive to changes both within and outside the organization. 

Lastly, I strongly believe in building processes that provide the appropriate focus and structure for the stage of the company—so where the company is today, not where we want or think it should be.

What do you think is important to keep in mind when working to improve growth?

First off, direction. You need to have a general vision of where the company is going in order to build plans that can be implemented in the short term.

Next is focus. A young company can go in so many different directions, which runs the risk of mission drift. Having specific and measurable goals that you revisit and iterate upon at set intervals helps you stay the course as you grow.

Finally, transparency. Clear and consistent communication is a must for keeping the team moving in the same direction. Everyone from the executive team to junior-level team members should know what the company’s major priorities and initiatives are—and how their work supports them. 

OK, let’s get into something fun. Which non-work related Summer slack channel is your favorite and why?

#summerkids! Love seeing pictures of my colleagues’ families and getting a glimpse into their home lives!

What are your most-used emojis?

😂 💙 🥳

What hobby or activity has brought you the most joy outside of work lately?

I live to eat. I love trying new restaurants and new cuisines. Over the past two years of the pandemic, I’ve begun cooking at home most nights and aim to try at least one new recipe each week. My go-to sources have been Smitten Kitchen, the NYTimes Cooking app, and Ottolenghi’s Simple cookbook. 

Coffee or tea?

Coffee! I enjoy both, but I’m particularly passionate about my morning cup of coffee. These days, my go-to has been a large mug brewed in my brand-new Chemex, a holiday gift from Summer. Thanks, team! :) 

Last question: Do you have any advice for people who are interested in building a career in operations?

My shift to operations is fairly recent actually. My previous roles were in marketing, but since I worked for a number of small yet rapidly growing startups, I was able to take on projects in different domain areas. Through those experiences, I developed an interest in operations because the projects I took on out of pure enthusiasm—plus organizational need—were typically grounded in this field. 

For anyone interested in making a similar career shift, I’d recommend looking for opportunities that allow you to explore different roles and responsibilities. 

Interested in helping millions of student loan borrowers improve their financial health? Check out our Careers page for the latest job openings at Summer.

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