Erik is our VP of product here at ReviewTrackers. An industry veteran and accomplished product expert specializing in agile development, Erik works closely with cross-functional teams in order to accelerate the growth of our product. He also creates the roadmap that drives the best possible outcomes for you, our customers.
Before ReviewTrackers, Erik held a leadership role at PowerReviews. As VP of product, he hired and grew a team of product managers, designers, data scientists, and operators, while successfully executing on a vision that helped the company nearly triple both its headcount and revenue during his tenure. He also previously served as product manager for Cars.com, and co-founded ChalkTalk Communications, a technology startup, as an undergraduate at University of Colorado Boulder.
Since 2012, Erik has been a volunteer for Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholar Foundation and also works as a student mentor at University of Colorado.
How did you get your first product gig?
I was first exposed to product back in college when I co-founded a software startup called ChalkTalk. It was a one-to-many messaging platform for teachers, students, and parents.
But my first "real" product gig was at Cars.com. I saw their listing for a PM position in Marty Cagan’s SVPG newsletter and applied. Cars.com had guy named Clay Johnson who was the Director of Product (he’s now a close friend) who appreciated my data-driven approach to making decisions and gave me a shot. I was responsible for the Cars.com Homepage, SEM landing pages, and editorial blog Kicking Tires.
Can you walk through your process for determining the features to build in, say, a given quarter?
Sure. Lots of “calculus” goes into it, but we’re evaluating
- company goals and objectives for the year/given quarter
- our product vision
- feedback (written, live conversations/interviews, support tickets, etc.) from customers
- hearing what prospects are saying from our internal stakeholders (customer success, marketing, sales)
- grooming ideas into epics and features with the engineering team
This happens on a very regular basis (weekly, if not daily) and then we bundle those features up into a cohesive plan of value delivery, and then start working.
We plan granular details in two-week “sprints,” but we’re shipping software to our customers in production nearly every day.
The earlier the software gets in the hands of the user, the better it will eventually be with our iterations, and actually saves our team a ton of time, money, and effort from building a Swiss army knife when all our customers really wanted was a scalpel.
What’s one random fact that most people don’t know about you?
When I was in 4th grade, my retainer stopped fitting in my mouth. I told my mom and she thought it was just because I wasn’t wearing it enough and my teeth were shifting. Turns out I had a supernumerary tooth (canine) growing out of the roof of my mouth.
Turned out to be pretty normal but we had to visit the oral surgeon to cut it out. I think my mom still has the tooth in my baby book at home.
What’s one thing you do at work that you think makes the biggest difference in terms of impact to our customers, the team, and the product?
Probably drinking (listening/reading) from the firehose of information and doing my best to find the signal from the noise with a nice balance of quantitative and qualitative reasoning.
It’s a lot to keep track of, but we also have a top-notch, wicked smart team (product, engineering, customer success, marketing, sales, operations, leadership) and customers that love to collaborate. So I never feel alone or overwhelmed.
How do you spend most of your time these days and how has it changed over time?
I try to block out at least two to three hours a day for quiet time thinking about our product/customers, reading, and even meditating.
I've found that making this time for yourself is one of the best things you can do to keep your output at peak quality (not just quantity).
The rest of the day is a nice mix of collaborating, learning, and investing in the team, triaging issues, planning what's next, talking with customers, and making sure I'm aligned with the other cross-functional leaders in the company.
How would you define or spot great product culture in a company? What are companies that you think have world-class product organizations and great product culture?
Also, the team must “get out of the building” and have conversations with customers early and often.
Too often, product teams, executives, etc. fall in love with a feature and think it’s going to revolutionize the company or space. But the problem is that the idea hasn’t been vetted, explained, or iterated on with customers, and that's a recipe for wasting a TON of time and money.
The team must be okay with being wrong and constantly seek feedback from their users, customers, and stakeholders to iterate.
Some companies I admire that have a great product culture include the crew over at Basecamp here in Chicago, Intercom.io, and Snapchat. They all know what their product is and isn't, and they have a customer-conversation-first type of culture (at least from the outside).
What can customers expect from ReviewTrackers in the coming months?
The next few months are pretty exciting. We’ve got some new stuff coming out around benchmarking and competitive analysis, real-time data, and an Android app — all of which we believe will make our customers more powerful, efficient, and smarter.