Wouldn’t it be cool to build a product that’s so versatile it powers anything from fantasy football leagues to smartphones for the elderly? Hard to imagine, we know, but that’s exactly what we learned when we sat down with Adam Long, VP of Product at Automated Insights
P2M: How do you describe your product?
Adam: “Wordsmith is a natural language generation tool. It takes data and turns it into human written language that is easy for people to understand. Companies have a lot of data and want to make data driven decisions to make their business better however data analysts are creating complex dashboards that are difficult for non-analysts, the ultimate consumers of this data, to understand and make informed decisions. AI (Automated Insights) creates a human-sounding explanation or executive summary of these dashboards updated on a weekly basis. So in the end, Wordsmith solves two problems; supporting the lack of data analysts that are available for hire and changing the way big data is consumed and comprehended, ultimately making it more accessible for everyone.”
P2M: How and why did you become a product manager?
Adam: “Back in high school I started to make websites and get interested in tech. It was the rise of social networks and people were starting to pay attention to a Silicon Valley career of creating companies as a living. In my first week at UNC (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill), I received an email from the Alumni Network saying I could be matched with a mentor. I had to send in my preferences and at the time I wanted to work in a state senator’s office or get connected with someone that started their own tech company. I was matched with a founder of a software company in the area and he gave me an internship. He set up meetings for me with various departments in the company so I could help where help was needed and so I could also find out what interested me.
All the other teams gave me really tedious work and the product managers told me ‘we decide what the engineers are going to work on and we need to start mapping out what our competitors are doing so we can track that. Can you start researching our competitors?’ And I thought, ‘wait a minute, you guys get to make decisions on tracking what your competitors are doing, what your users want, tell people what to build and make cool things that you want to create? That sounds like the most incredible job ever!’ I had no idea that was a role in a company, I always thought you had to become a software engineer which I always thought was super hard and scary. And from that day on I just watched them and asked a million questions until eventually, they gave me some product management tasks like prioritizing backlogs of bugs and creating JIRA tickets of fixes I noticed in the product. After I graduated I did everything I could to find my way onto a product management team which eventually lead me to Automated Insights and now VP of Product.”
P2M: What part of being a product manager do you like the least/most?
Adam: “The greatest thing about the role is that you have a tremendous impact on the business. Every day your job is to make cool technology that people like. The worst thing about product management is that you don’t actually do anything directly to make that happen, everything is indirect. There is a great product management saying that says ‘the product manager is like the CEO of the product, you have all the responsibility in terms of results but none of the authority to tell people what to do’ and that what makes it so hard. Everything that you do is being the communication nexus between all of the internal teams and your users while managing expectations, frustrations, bandwidth and more. You are the glue keeping that all together and the only way you are successful is to use your communication skills to influence other teams.”
P2M: What is the best and worst product feedback you’ve received?
Adam: “A couple times we have had a customer say ‘Hey we haven’t been thinking about this before but what we do with your product has become so important to the way we do business that we want to hire someone to manage this product and do this for our company, do you have a job description for a WordSmith admin?’ It was a really cool point that was super validating in what we were doing. We’ve also done some cool stuff working with people publishing articles like the Associated Press or Yahoo! Sports to automatically generate data backed articles. The Daily Show even came to our office to do a piece about robo-journalism and whether we are putting journalists out of work. And we have also done really cool narratives with people like Greatcall which is a cell phone for the elderly that tracks whether they get to the doctor or whether they need to get groceries that week and it generates a report for their caregiver or kids. So there is really meaningful things like that people have been able to do with our technology.
Low points are when you make something and you spend a lot of time on it and it just doesn’t get the reception that you expected or it just turns out to not be as wide of a problem you thought so you get very few users on it. So you got everyone hyped up about this as the lead cheerleader, and then you were wrong. And that’s going to happen. But it feels like you’ve wasted a lot of excitement and energy and there is no way to hide that no one is using it.”
P2M: How do you regain everyone’s trust and get people excited again to go through the whole cycle again when something like that happens
Adam: “I think it is really really important that product managers realize that their job is not to have answers, their job is to teach people to go get answers.”
P2M: Ok, rapid fire time!
Describe your product with 1 adjective.
P2M: What are the top 3 skills needed to be an effective product manager?
- Ability to see the big picture and small picture at the same time
- Incredible communication
- Insatiable curiosity
P2M: If you could have one piece of data or insight into your users, what would it be?
- Their top 3 problems in order
P2M: What advice would you give to a young PM?
- Find a position, likely at a smaller company, where you can do as much as possible across many different disciplines. If you want to be a product manager you need to know sales, marketing, engineering, product management, finance, and HR. You need to know everything your company is going to be doing because the product you’re creating has to be taken to market by marketing, financed by finance, sold by sales, and staffed by people that are happy to work on it. You have to know what they do and have respect for it because you will have to persuade them to work with you.
P2M: Tell me about another product that you love or product leader that you admire?
- Products – All of those share the commonality that they found a new way to do something old that you never would have thought about and then packaged it and explained it really well. They changed the way that people listen to music, communicate with coworkers, interact with their house or consume television.
- The Amazon Eco speaker
- Youtube TV
- Marissa Mayer – former Yahoo CEO, creator of Google’s Associate Product Manager (APM) program
- Jack Dorsey – Duel CEO Square and Twitter
- Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook COO