Erica Jenkins 0:00
I think one of the most important traits when you build products is to have curiosity - there's no one blueprint for success. It goes back to a culture and a people. Right? So how do you know what you're building is going to resonate? There's that research phase, when you are building just because you've delivered a feature, does it actually mean like, anybody on the other side, like does your support person even know something changed? I think there's a lot of products being really disrupted as far as what they were planning to do. So like what they had in plans for January 2023, probably got tossed out the window to do AI things, because it's the trendy cool thing to do.
Max Matson 0:45
Hey, everybody, welcome to another episode of future product. today. My guest is Erica Jenkins. She's the founder, startup advisor, fractional product management leader and overall product guru. Erica, would you mind telling us a little bit more about your journey in the product management space?
Erica Jenkins 0:59
Oh, it has been a long journey. So yes, that's a very long introduction to the things that I do. But the short story of my journey was bootstrapping a startup, we led that to acquisition, after about six years, never took funding. So I'm very proud of the fact that we were able to, to get to get it to that point and work with some really large global brands. That was acquired by a company called ces most. So if anybody knows sort of big data, social listening, I took over as the chief product officer there for a couple of years, and grew that company as well and acquired again in 2018 by a large global company called meltwater. So I've gotten everything from zero to hundreds of millions of dollars in product lines, and everything in between. And so I'm just here to share some of my journey and knowledge of a lot of different points along the way. So
Max Matson 2:00
absolutely. I, let's dive a little bit into that. Let's start with kind of the startup. What was kind of the product? How did you kind of reach, you know, the value prop? And how did you find that product market fit that led to kind of acquisition?
Erica Jenkins 2:15
Yeah, that was a fun one that actually came from a personal problem that I had discovered, which is one of those tips anybody interested in getting into products or starting a company find a real problem first. And it came from early in my career actually wasn't sales and marketing. I didn't come from a tech background. But it was the Facebook's the Twitter's YouTube, social media was super hot. And for those who back in the day, remember a tool called Ping fm, blast out tons and tons of content of blogs, and they would just take you hours to go find it and comment back if people were engaging, right. So I had a, my co founder had a tech background, we had breakfast one morning, and I said, Man, if we could figure out how to pull all the comments back from this stuff, that would save me time. And I pay for a tool that would do that pay for software.
And that was the birth of the idea of time savings. And so we went to build ultimately, nine social media channels, we had everything from WeChat partnerships. We were a Facebook preferred partner, Instagram partnership, I remember walking up to somebody at South by Southwest who was like number 11, at Instagram and picking her brain and I won't name her name, but I said, Man, I need to talk to you, I need to come to San Francisco we need to meet. So it's just a lot of heavy networking, but ultimately grew to some very large CPG companies. Coca Cola was a customer, Hilton Hotels and all of their portfolios. So we had, I don't remember the exact number but But 10s of 1000s of social media accounts for brands connected into our platform. And it evolved into content planning, you know, publishing, pulling comments for customer engagement, we would compete against HootSuite and sprinkler and Buddy Media that Salesforce acquired back in the day. So it was just really scrappy. But it literally came from a personal problem as a small business owner, and we turned it into an enterprise solution.
Max Matson 4:23
Right on Yeah, you know, it's a recurring theme. It's actually I talked about in the newsletter this week is everything that I've seen, just in my time in my career has been that the people who are the closest to the pain point are the best at solving it. Right. So let's let's talk a little bit more about that. So you came from a marketing, more GTM oriented background, right? Yep. So what was the kind of transition for you coming into building a tech product? Was that jarring? What was that experience? Like?
Erica Jenkins 4:53
I actually found it really invigorating. So I think one of the most important traits when you build products is you have curiosity. And I sat in a very unique intersection because I could speak to the business landscape. And thankfully, I was working with some brilliant co founders. And as we slowly started hiring more and more engineers, I really would ask a lot of questions about the tech. I am now dangerous with tech. But I don't, I learned it from doing it from being there, from reading API documentation from asking engineers, you know, why are we doing it. And I think that's actually been super valuable, because I didn't get into the how it should be built, I was closer to the what the problem and why it would be valuable. And so that was really, I think, what made be more dangerous, because I was closer to the user. And I've always been very close to the customer. And I think that's important. When you're building apps as well, then you have to listen to your customers, you have to listen to the marketplace. And if you do it in a vacuum, you're not going to be successful.
Max Matson 6:02
100% How did you guys go about kind of getting those early customer learnings? Was it like a partnership kind of deal where the early people that you brought on you learn from the most directly? Were you doing interviews? What was that, like?
Erica Jenkins 6:13
Yeah, we had a beta customer. It was actually an Applebee's franchise that had 7072 restaurants. And they were doing lots of direct mail drops. So it's kind of old school marketing, right girls night out on Thursday to this location, that's stuff. And they really wanted to try social media. So we were able to sit with them and build sort of a brick and mortar style kind of hierarchy in our software to match that business. Well, when we realize, and I'm very thankful for them, because they were sort of the birth of the the tooling, what we didn't realize is that business hierarchy also matched with global brands. So if you think about a global brand, I'll just stick with coke. Everybody picked Coke, instead of Pepsi will stay Coca Cola.
And a lot of people don't realize this has marketing teams in every single geography. There's the global, and then what happens in the US versus the UK versus Japan versus Brazil. Those are all quote unquote, locations. So we were able to use sort of the findings of distribution of a business model, and then figure out how to apply it. And then ultimately, you really have to figure out, are you going to serve the brick and mortar? Because their needs are going to be different? Are you going to serve these big, big global brands that are very coming through a digital transformation? You can't do both? Well, so like, that's a couple years to kind of find the right market fit. But the technology was flexible. So that was just the hard part, too. You got to pick your gotta pick your persona. Yeah. Took a little while to find it, but
Max Matson 8:01
usually does, right. I, I like that you point that out? It's almost so when when you're building for, you know, this brick and mortar based Applebee's franchise, a lot of people might see that as like, you know, a very early client one that's like, I don't know if this is the person we want to serve. But you were able to kind of see that, you know, hey, scaling this thing out for for this kind of pilot customer is going to allow us and kind of empower us to actually serve these enterprise customers that we ultimately want to go after. Right? Right. Yeah. How do you kind of get the insight to realize that,
Erica Jenkins 8:34
oh, I, it didn't just happen overnight. So of course, whenever you're scrappy, you know that zero to 1 million, you take every single possible lead and customer potential that you can get your hands on. And I don't even remember who the first kind of big CPG brands that came to us was. But we in essence, we talked with them and said, Sure, we come join us come be a customer. And then we realized that the things that they needed, had similarities, but there was also much larger things. Like as an example, they wanted emergency blocking for social publishing. Like if there was a crisis, everything, right, the Applebee's of the world could care less. So the product features started to evolve a little bit. But I think it really was just that land grab. And then continuing like the first 10 customers, we had 80% similarities, and then they start to ask for 20% of feature differences or workflow differences. And that's when you really got to like pick you got to choose who you want to serve. So I think it was just listening to that customer feedback, but zero to 1 million. If you had a pulse and a paycheck and are willing to pay us we would take it
Max Matson 9:54
100% It's a land grab, right. That's a good way to put it. Yeah. So how did you That's really interesting. So so we've got the company, right, we're scaling kind of reached product market fit at this point and things are looking good. What is it like when you get that acquisition offer?
Erica Jenkins 10:13
Oh, we had a really good culture. So some of the startups that I have consulted with or just kind of lay the land talking to people, it's like the CEO or the co founders just want to grab and keep everything, we were able to give incentive shares to every single employee we hired. And so our culture was all in where we were all collectively working together, which was really sticky as far as attrition like, I still have employees from back 10 years ago that are still at meltwater through the acquisitions. And all that had happened. So that was awesome. So I just got goosebumps when you asked me that question, energy aspect have done something that's attractive. We had a few companies come to us due diligence is no joke, when you're being acquired, we could have an entire conversation just on preparing for that. But but it was, it was looking for us not to just get a paycheck or a payday, we wanted to find a tool that would be complimentary to what we did.
And at that point in time, social media software was either the marketing campaign and measurement execution and effect, or there was the online monitoring insert, like voice of consumer sentiment analysis, that's the early AI, you know, would come into play. Before it was the hot topic. And so we found that we wanted to work with a company that was going to create a better offering, with multiple packaging choices, complementary workflows. And so that's, that's really, when we went through acquisition we thought about, we want to keep our team intact, we don't want want this just to be a biotech and, and fire everybody. Right? So we were really careful about the companies we spoke with. And we, we felt that we made the best decision. So it was culture, it was potential growth in the future. And it's really hard. When it's your baby, it's really, really harder.
Max Matson 12:15
I'm sure, yeah, I'd love to kind of hear more about what that's like on on even just a personal level, right at this being your baby, this being the thing that I'm sure you've dedicated so much of your of your early lifetime to what's it like then walking in the door to a new company that you know, has your product inside of it and being, you know, the the product leader as opposed to the founder?
Erica Jenkins 12:39
Yeah, it was really different. Instantaneously, you know, there was a little gap in sort of leadership changing and things of that nature. But overnight, I got a phone call that says, hey, you're now in charge of all of this stuff. It was all disparate technologies. You know, the SIS most platform had a standalone user logs and does their work there. If you came to EQ beyond you do your work there, there was actually a third technology called gaze metrics, which was really early into like logo and scene and object recognition. So there was aspects of AI that was already there. But all the data lived in three separate places. Yeah, all the users lived in three separate places. So the first real problem to tackle is getting all of the different product teams to start to collaborate and discuss, because they were completely siloed from each other. So first thing forward was we're gonna get everybody together into a room and just get to know each other as people.
So if that's the culture aspect, right, from the culture aspect, there was a knowledge transfer, because those who were savvy in social publishing in that campaign execution, had no idea what social listening was. And so getting them to understand the use cases we really met through for probably a good solid month of talking about what a customer would want to do, what's a problem that they have? How can we, you know, inform to make their campaigns more effective. So it was really like teaching, marketing, 101 teaching, you know, kind of big data, and how many ways can you slice a Boolean query to find a needle in a haystack? So it was it was a lot of kind of mind melting and learning. And obviously, it ended up working out we were able to bring it all together into one big platform. And that was its own. So and fun experiment. But yeah, it was really it was actually really fun time. It was like the second coming of me learning. Yeah, I had to learn new things as well, but I kind of knew the business problems. So again, back to the user.
Max Matson 14:52
Would you say that those problems scaled with kind of the scale that you you had achieved at this point?
Erica Jenkins 14:59
You Yeah, the problems it was, it was interesting because this was also when, you know, early social media days. I'm not allowed to swear on here. It was a it was a shitshow. Facebook would break probably every other week, I would, whenever a new new version of the API would was coming or or announced, I cringe because I knew that I was going to get bugs, because there was a great thing. You know, customers were just it was it was it was a maturity stage. Right. So we were building software that was dependent on this, this third party data. Right, right. Right.
And so the problems there just grew, because as the social channels were evolving, and more and more functionality, you know, the ads manager went through Power Editor to the business manage this, all the things. And so for us, it was more so we had to stay on top of the things that we were dependent on, and really choose what we wanted to build that was going to matter the most. So it's the maturity of the space was different. The customers couldn't understand, well, I can go onto Instagram and do this thing. How come I can't do it inside of your software? I see. The API's weren't evolved enough. So there was always a lag time there. I don't know if that answers your question. But it was just Yeah, it was like a rat race. You had to always stay on top of changes,
Max Matson 16:26
right? Yeah. No, it's It's always so much fun relying on a third party API, right. Yeah, no, I'm sure. I'm sure. So okay, so moving along. So we're, we're, you know, facing these problems, overcoming them daily. And then second company is acquired, right. Yes. So now meltwater, this giant company, you've achieved a whole nother level of scale at this point. And just from kind of reading your bio, doing a little bit of background, I read that you were able to kind of successfully consolidate a legacy software into this new unified platform and retain 90% of revenue. You
Erica Jenkins 17:09
it was it was fun time. Meltwater is actually they've got their summit going here. Today in mid June, but doing some fantastic things. It was a great company before we joined that was really about creating a marketing solution inside of their product offering and their their their very large, huge global presence. A lot of a lot of big brands that we worked with, but much more back in the day focused on corporate communications, you know, journalists relations, more PR use cases. Yeah. So when when we came to the army, and again, that was a whole nother kind of due diligence and going through couldn't reuse what we had used before, because it was a whole new product, and a much larger team. So there was this, this time of do we do we keep two separate products? Or do we keep, I kind of use the analogy where you you keep the patient that's walking around alive. So you go into a maintenance mode on the system, most legacy. And then you move as quickly as you possibly can to build the best pieces are the best workflows? Because at that point, I had over 10 years of experience of what not? So what can we come in and go we never going to build that again, here's the list of what we should, how do we prioritize this? How do we integrate into the culture of a new company, much, much larger?
Teams globally distributed even in product and engineering. So there's zone differences, there's cultural differences. So again, it was a really, it was a challenge. It wasn't an overnight flip a switch. But once the product was not perfect, but good enough. That's really from a cost savings perspective, you've got to make that decision. And that was probably the toughest part. Because then it really felt like my baby, right, as I had spent so much time and making sure the team was efficient. And we had gone through, you know, just just a lot of a lot of crap together. And so making sure as many of those customers would move, there was probably a good six month project management of Cohort One goes, or two goes, Yeah, three goes the last, you know, the last, however much dollars is holding on because they don't want to go and you just have to pull the plug and say you don't have a choice. So it's a delicate path, but I'm super I'm super proud of the team that don't worry, it's got right now they've got some amazing products that I feel like I had a great hand in helping with so
Max Matson 19:50
absolutely. And I mean, it says a lot that a lot of the the original folks that you brought on are still there,
Erica Jenkins 19:55
right? They're still there. Yeah, I still keep in touch with a lot of folks and And I see product releases on LinkedIn. And I send them a LinkedIn message and cheer them on. And like, that's awesome. You finally got that thing we talked about three years ago done.
Max Matson 20:10
The thing we thought we'd have done three years ago, it's Oh, there it is finally
Erica Jenkins 20:15
happened. Yeah. They just did, of course, chat GPT style, they've gotten image analysis, and then give you suggestions. And they're making your your social content, all fancy, and, you know, extractions, and all sorts of fun, fun stuff going on over there. But yeah, super proud of the team. And I decided to go out and see if I could, you know, help other companies through some of my experiences. So
Max Matson 20:40
yeah, absolutely. So I would love to get just kind of your take of those three kinds of scales at which you were managing product. Which one was your favorite?
Erica Jenkins 20:51
I have, I have appreciation for all three stages. And it's hard to pick, I think my favorite actually would have been about four years into XP on the startup because, yes, we were scrappy. But we had revenue flowing. We had fantastic customers, we would we would pull customers together for for like a summit where prospects and you have throw 400 people 500 people into a room, and just just good, good connections. And it was just a fun time, even though we were working our tail. I mean, I remember sitting up QA and stuff for a big, big meeting at two o'clock in the morning, back before zoom, we're all on cell phones, like okay, I was checking code for this. I mean, it's just everybody was all in. So I think that would have been my favorite was not my favorite at the beginning. But as we sort of kept it going along with that point, we knew we were onto something.
Max Matson 21:46
Now, it's quite amazing to, to retain full ownership there to write with, with not taking venture. I mean, that's, that's pretty incredible to do operate a cash flow business, to that level of growth.
Erica Jenkins 21:57
It was a, we were just shy of 10 million ARR when we weren't, that was.
Max Matson 22:04
That's pretty serious. Yeah. That's amazing. So we talked about kind of, you know, the, the pathways here how you made it to kind of where you are now. Right? So, so then just to clarify, after meltwaters, that when you went into, like your own consultant?
Erica Jenkins 22:22
No, actually, I had a quick stop over at a competitive intelligence company, and spent spent about 18 months there. And that's really, when I decided that from a passion perspective, I didn't want to be stuck on a nine to five, if that sounds a little bit rude. And I had the luxury to be able to, you know, take some time and share knowledge. So I've been doing consulting for years, but I decided to kind of dive in headfirst and see, you know, a fractional role to help another company or spin LinkedIn and starting to blog more, and it's just I've feel it in my head. I got to get it out, Max.
Max Matson 23:01
To me, I know what you mean, trust me. So yeah, let's let's talk about that a little bit, um, consulting, what has that been? Like, you know, for you being a fractional product leader? Well, what have been some of the experiences that you've been able to garner through through that? Yeah, I
Erica Jenkins 23:16
mean, I've first and foremost, my, my inbox is always open, I've met with, I think, in the past two weeks, six founders, some of them very, very early, with just prototypes, some of them who, you know, are struggling to kind of unpack their go to market motion or their their product delivery. And so I think it's always first meeting people. And that's been free of charge, just to kind of continue to network and see what other people are doing. And that spurred on some creativity and myself that, that I'm very appreciative of that knowledge exchange.
But I think the number one thing that I have seen, whether it's through consulting, or, you know, working with a lot of growth, equity companies to come in and say, let me assess something in your portfolio and tell you, you know, this is going to be a good acquisition, this is a good investment, something you've invested in is not working well. Here's why. Or here's some things you can fix. That's just really been funds the wrong word, because there's a lot of work that goes into that. But it's interesting to see a lot of companies, you know, kind of that got some seed up to Series B, have a lot of the same problems. And it's really about communication. Yeah. So, you know, planning, talking to customers, you know, does the product person speak to the rest of the organization?
Are they just building in a vacuum? And so just at this point, I'm sort of early and trying to figure out there's no one blueprint for success. But it's it goes back to a culture and a people right, so How do you know what you're building is going to resonate? There's that research phase, when you are building just because you've delivered a feature, does it actually mean? Like, anybody on the other side? Like, does your support person even know something changed? All the time? Yeah. So it's been a lot of that sort of, let me help you make your company more efficient, and less on the strategy side of the business. So and that's, you know, that could evolve over time. But it's, I can't come in and learn your strategy or help you build a strategy in 60 days. But I can certainly come in and go, Okay, let me learn more about the business. Let me help you figure out where some efficiency gains, right. And then from there, if there's more strategy and understanding, I've already learned it from from talking to a lot of people. So it's, it's, it's an interesting time.
Max Matson 25:55
Yeah, no, absolutely. Sounds like it. I mean, so, you know, on the kind of product management spectrum, there's kind of it's such an interesting role, right? Because it sits in between so many other departments. We've kind of referred to it as the glue person from time to time. And it sounds like kind of in your consulting, you've really been more on that, like, operations, efficiency communication, side of it being that connecting force between all these different departments. Is that a fair characterization?
Erica Jenkins 26:26
Yeah, that's fair. And like I said, it's just difficult, you can get an understanding of sort of the problem a software or a company is trying to solve towards, but I mean, anybody would be a fool to say that you could figure out a complete strategy plan, you know, without actually sitting in it for pretty, pretty reasonable amount of time. It's, it's definitely been more, maybe I should flip to be more of a like a COO. A little bit, but there's a lot of that like tooling. How are you actually like, what tools of the trade are you using? How are you? How are you capturing the voice of customer? are you capturing, you know, something as simple as your support process, you get asked about something 20 times a day, that means the product needs to be fixed around that. So if you've never, if the product team has never talked to the support team to hear, like, what are you hearing from the themes that the communication connection that can help make the product better?
Max Matson 27:25
No, absolutely, absolutely. It's kind of like, product operations, I've heard as a terminology for that tech role. Right. And, yeah, personally, I mean, you know, as a working at a tech company, I do think that a product operations person is probably got to be one of the more important people that you can have on board. Because all of these things slip through the cracks. So quickly and easily. Like you said, I wouldn't be surprised that a lot of these early companies are facing kind of the same problems, as you mentioned, right.
Erica Jenkins 27:53
And some of it is you just don't have, you don't have the breadth of talent, or you have more junior talent, because you're trying to be scrappy, you're trying to save money, you know, so and so is, is you've gotten to a growth phase where the person just quite doesn't have the maturity to handle the details. And that's why it's so important that you don't have to go hire somebody with you know, 15 years experience like myself to be a full time headcount. Take a little time, bring them in for for, you know, a day, a week, two days a week for a couple of months, and just form that relationship and help coach up. versus, you know, I had a conversation the other day with somebody about product marketing, you know, go to market motion, was a CEO of a $5 million startup startup, they've obviously found fit with five mil. But they, they were like, we can't get like our release notifications process. Our you know, how do we, when do we externalize things versus didn't buy? And I mean, simple things like that. That's more of a product marketing motion, but they don't have a product marketer. So just being able to help educate in this as a first time founder, who's going, am I going to fail because I can't figure out how to get this worked out. And I can help you. So it's just it's the knowledge share that I'm really excited about right now.
Max Matson 29:14
No, yeah. Right on, right on. So I would like to ask, so in your consulting now, is there any kind of AI tooling or anything like that, that you use to kind of make these processes more efficient?
Erica Jenkins 29:28
It's a big buzzy topic of AI. There, there's definitely aspects to it. So I'll just give you a couple of examples. These are more again, in sort of the operations AI for product requirements. That's a really interesting way. So you know, here's a problem statement, or support and release notes notes. You don't have somebody who is like a technical writer or, you know, you've got a support person of one who's trying to answer chats or emails, Zendesk flow coming in.
And then they're building articles. You know, by taking sort of those requiring the user stories or the requirements and pumping them through, that's a much faster way to at least give somebody a starting point. So that's, that's a really interesting one. I haven't toyed with it personally. But I know a lot. A lot of folks in my engineering circle, have been looking at some ways that right to write code. So being able to, you know, could you get 25% more efficient with your engineering staff? Right? I saw that figma just announced some AI tooling in prototyping.
So I picked a couple of my UX counterparts on that to be like, let's, let's take a look. So it's moving so fast. When it comes to like, somebody in my seat doing their job. It's still early, it's not perfect, but it goes back to I think there will be efficiency in information. And, you know, could have could have get into, is there going to be AI for tutorial walkthroughs? Like, is Pendo going to announce something really cool? Or app cues? or somebody's going to figure it out? Yeah, right. Yeah. So then the user, let them record a video, and then the walkthrough is going to come to life? That's the stuff that I think is going to be exciting.
Max Matson 31:22
I see. I see. So that's kind of like the fractional answer between now and then. Would you say that, you know, if you were a founder? So here's kind of an here's where I'm coming from? Is there's there is this problem in the AI industry right now, right? Where the value is pretty much all individual. Right? It helps people do their jobs more efficiently. But there's not a clear pathway to how does this provide anything transformational on the organizational level, right? Might make your job x more efficient. But is it pushing these metrics forward in any meaningful way? would your recommendation be essentially, let the people who are doing the job find ways to make it more efficient?
Erica Jenkins 32:07
I think for right now, it's some or you can agree or disagree with me. I think AI from a from a people perspective, like our jobs are having these types of conversation is it's a fun thing to play with. But it also can distract from them actually trying to get their work done. So there has to be a balance there. When it comes to productizing things, you know, like, early in my career sentiment analysis, which was like, you know, baby AI, was the hottest thing since sliced bread.
And then it would move into, you know, entity extraction and being able to look for anomaly detections, which sometimes it feels like aI sometimes just math computation. You know, it's yeah, it's definitely, from a marketing perspective, it's always AI. And so I think there's a lot of products being really disrupted as far as what they were planning to do. So like what they had in plans for January 2023, probably got tossed out the window to do AI things, because it's a trendy, cool thing to do. But I think I would say from an organizational efficiency, there's not a lot that I see that would like inform a company yet, you know, like, if I'm sure it's out there, and I'm just not close to it.
But you know, financial modeling. So what do you think projections are looking like, I think there's some really cool things that will be coming when it comes to, like customer success, you know, probability scoring, being able to look at, you know, kind of user patterns and behaviors. That's a lot of charts right now, that doesn't really tell you like something as far as an action that you could take or change, right. So that type of stuff from my product perspective is, sure it's all coming. But it feels a little bit like a distraction right now. From from where I sit.
Max Matson 34:08
No, that makes perfect sense. And I love to get a diverse diversity of opinions here. I definitely think that, you know, AI has become, it's funny, I do think that like long term, we're gonna look back on this and say, you know, this was a catch all term for a lot of different technologies that we're all coming into some form of maturity around the same time, right. But I do think that it's, it's kind of fallen into the same trap as something like a crypto where, you know, something that has value, but it's not necessarily borne out in the actual market yet. Is being blown up as the, you know, next best thing.
Erica Jenkins 34:44
Yeah, it also is actually mind blowing to me seeing some of the funding behind there was a company I just read an article last week, I believe out of France, they had over $100 million and they don't even have a product yet. It's literally an investment in the The knowledge of the people there's like 12 of them. So there's a whole different thing where this might be investments in the human aspects of building AI and less about new products right now. But yeah, it's feels it feels really. I'm not, it's coming. It's here. But I think it's still it's, we're in that maturity curve, like, you know, this is sort of the, you went from the modem to dial up to be able to have, you know, my computer talk to you not hooked into anything. We're in this kind of evolution phase right now. But, yeah, just I feel like everybody just spins it and says the words, but they don't, you know, they don't really, other than watching my 17 year old try to use chat GPT to write a school paper. That's the only thing I'm worried about right now. Yeah, no, that's,
Max Matson 35:51
that is a very valid concern for sure.
Erica Jenkins 35:57
She taught me the other the other day, she goes, Mom, there's a there's a checker. I said, What do you mean, she goes through it, and it will reverse engineer to see how much AI was detected. So it's everywhere backs.
Max Matson 36:12
They're always the first movers, right? Oh, my gosh. So that means all that being said, what is something that in tech that you perceive as kind of, if you were gonna put your eggs in a basket? What basket? Would it be, if that makes sense?
Erica Jenkins 36:29
If I were to go do another startup? Yeah, yeah. I've actually been thinking about that. So back to your question about kind of business operations. I think there is something to be said, somebody's probably gonna steal this idea. But that's okay. I think there's something to be said, especially as we've been in so many like layoffs and reorg. And riffs, it's been a really, really rough 1218 months. I think there is something with AI around people management, around efficiencies, around redundancies, which is really negative thing. But as somebody who has gone through a few acquisitions, all of a sudden, you magically have three people that all do the same thing. You don't need all three.
And then that's the nature of the business. And there is a bias towards you know, why No, Bill, and I don't care about the and Sally as much. So I'm gonna keep bill, when in reality, you really need to look at the talent pool of what you have. So I think there's something there with really like cost savings, being able to look at talent. A 360 review process is so old school, but it's so necessary for somebody to know, you know, how they're their peers, look at them and how they can improve upon. So I think there's something there from an HR angle, that would be interesting. And those that's companies would pay for that because it's an efficiency game. So it feels boring. But I might put my eggs in a basket.
Max Matson 38:07
Yeah, no, absolutely. I'm an operations was never the wrong basket to put eggs. And I, it's, you know, being at a few different sizes of company. At this point, it is pretty amazing to see how similar some of the problems are, like you said, right? Like you, you just inherit those problems up the chain. It's not like they ever are fundamentally solved when you gain scale. They're just kind of amplified. Yeah, correct. So it's very interesting. So you mentioned earlier that you sounded like you've got some a good number of kinds of people coming in the door. For your consultancy, how have you been able to manage building, you know, a strong performing consultancy from the ground up?
Erica Jenkins 38:48
It's a work in progress. The honest answer it, it's really been, I have had a few mentors that I've been working with that have been doing this for for more time than I have been doing it. And I think the greatest advice was don't go don't go try to build a bunch of materials and pitch it to somebody, build relationships, and help them learn about their business. And then from there, you can see it with fresh eyes, and help them improve their business.
So that viewpoint instead of me coming to, you know, pitch you to buy my book, which I haven't written a book yet, but you know, there's the I want to sell you something versus I want to help you build something better, is really been an effective way to, you know, to get a phone call or networking saying hey, do you know so and so, would you make an introduction and here's what I'm, I'm able to help them with potentially, and being very soft and I think that goes way, way back to my early days with you know, sales and marketing. I was always a relationship builder, even in that Instagram story when I walked up to the person that's out Buy, it's always about finding somebody and making them feel good that you're helping instead of making them not want to buy something, even though they need it. Does that make sense?
Max Matson 40:12
Yeah, it makes perfect sense. It's, uh, I ran a marketing agency for a little bit. And I definitely, I love your perspective there, right? Because if you're the person who's going in saying, hey, all this stuff is broken, here's how I can fix it for you. Not not a winning pitch right now. But if you can go in and say, Hey, I noticed these things, here's some of the ways that together we can kind of, you know, solve these problems for you. Definitely a more effective approach has most of your growth been through outbound or, or content a mix of the two?
Erica Jenkins 40:45
Um, it's been, it's been a mix. Quite honestly, I'm very, very thankful I've, I've always fostered my network. So one of the tactics, that's really recently, it's been less about me building content, I'm consistent. I try to do that I try, I learn every day, sometimes I get a little off theme. And so really taking some time to go what do I want to be known for? What is my core competency, or the things I can share with others. But I've, I've gotten less to my content right now.
And more so out to people around topics. So using hashtags on LinkedIn, people talking about startups, or startup founders, people talking about product operations, product management, and really trying to move outside of my people, you know, first degree type type relationships. And so when I show up and actually give a value statement back to something, it inspires me, which usually leads to content that I can talk about, but it also builds a relationship where I can start to learn from more people. And so that's really been kind of that soft outreach. And then, you know, slide into a DM to go in Hey, Blood, they actually see a product of your demo, which is how I met that founder that I discussed earlier and saying, can you just show it to me? Yeah, give me some fresh perspective, if you like it, great. If not, no big deal.
Max Matson 42:14
Gotcha. No, that makes perfect sense. So it's, you almost approach it like, I mean, it makes sense, right? You're, you're a product person. So you you go in and you you kind of take learnings, the same way you do you would do with a product, and then you approach it kind of from first principles. Correct. That makes perfect sense. Do you feel yourself being closer to that kind of product person now that you've you've seen so many different companies experienced, you know, the growth trajectories of so many? Or do you feel more? I guess, I do think that there's when I was in it, at least in consulting, there's a certain aspect of outside, if that makes sense. You're outside the company, right?
Erica Jenkins 42:56
Yeah, I mean, it's been it goes back to people, right? Every time you're working with somebody, their styles are different, you have to learn communication. Another interesting tactic is you have to learn how they listen. So are they a visual learner? Are they, you know, I need to touch it, I need to feel it. I want to read a five page document. somebody earlier today was talking about please don't ever send me slides. I want slide decks to die. So I mean, it's listening to things of that nature. And that's the hard thing is it's not it's not a copy paste repeatable process right now.
So I think from being on the outside, it's as important to learn, how do you transfer knowledge or information that's that that person's going to hear. Which is, which is a different way to kind of approach it. And sometimes it's, you know, we need you for 10 hours, come look at this thing, give us a you know, a write up when you're done and, you know, introduce us to XYZ tool that you think is great. And off we go. And that feels a little cold. My personal preference is I want to see that the things that I am helping with or giving guidance towards are actually working. And so that continued even like let's do it, you know, an hour a month, let's just check in what you know, kind of gut check each other on what what do you need for me? How's it working? How's it not? So it's I don't like the aspect of the One and done. I like more of the relationship aspect of it.
Max Matson 44:33
I gotcha. I gotcha. That makes sense. Having been a founder. What is your kind of big take on working with founders as a consultant? I mean, it can be tricky, right? But also it can be really meaningful and, and awesome. Right? But again, it can be tricky. Because that kind of informed your experiences. First time founder or multiple time founder, it's a little bit different. Yeah. So let's start with first time.
Erica Jenkins 45:03
Okay? It depends on the stage of where they are at. So you guys probably cut this as a clip, but I'm gonna say it out loud anyway. Yeah. If, if they've started getting some market fit and dollars are starting to happen. Yeah, the ego tends to get a little bit bigger, and they don't listen to their customers as much. So and we're in this economy right now, you definitely need to leaning in, if you've got 10 2050 customers, those are the people who are finding value in what you're building, who can inform the next layer of finding more people like them, right. And when you're working with a founder, who has an idea in your head, the ego sometimes can take over, I call it the ego monger.
The ego monger takes over and goes, I don't want to listen to the people who are paying me right now I have this idea over here that I want. And so you've really got to be able to like, nicely tell them they might be wrong. And it's not that they're wrong forever. It's that they're wrong right now, because you need to keep growing to find customers that are like the ones you have. Or you're not going to have a good market fit. So it's I guess I equate it, like mom mode, such as everything, but like, you know, when you're raising a child, it's like, okay, don't touch the stove. Alright, fine. You touch the stove, you got burned. Done that.
Max Matson 46:43
What did we learn?
Erica Jenkins 46:45
You learned that was bad. But I think the biggest thing is like, and I learned this lesson, years and years ago, but a first time founder will chase those dollars. And they will become like, betrothed to the largest customer to build whatever said customer wants. And then you lose sight of building for the collective, because you're building one. And so that's something that you definitely you have to gut check somebody on. Because you came out of the business review meeting, and they want us to go do blah, blah, blah, and you go wait, but nobody else wants that. And you have an engineering staff of six people. And one for us junior designer, because you're trying to get scrappy, and if you go do this thing over here, you're gonna lose all the other things over there. And, of course, correct people affair. Absolutely.
Max Matson 47:38
Absolutely. I yeah, I, you know, needless to say, I think a lot of people, including myself have definitely been in this situation, especially in consulting, I think be a little bit more prevalent sometimes. Right? Yeah, yeah. Well, let's talk about that multi time founder, what's kind of the what does that look like? Is that a little bit different?
Erica Jenkins 48:01
Um, it can be, it can be different. My old co founder was a was a multi time founder. Very different, different spaces of tech. But the multi time founder, in my experience, is more leaned into the business process. Versus the first time founder is very leaned into the product thing. So there's a little bit different there. And I, I have found my opinion, is that the multi you know, you hit it out of the park a couple of times where you tried and failed several times, you tend to be more humble to listen to advisement. You still always, that person still always has the idea of what their you know, their baby that they want to grow up. But generally a little bit more open to kind of collaboration and, you know, less digging their heels in, understands the value of you know, a sales process understands the value of support and Customer Success coming in. You know, if it's a product lead growth, they they get that the product needs to be good enough so that somebody can, you know, figure it out, adopt it and buy more. So, different pain points.
Max Matson 49:28
Yeah, absolutely. No, that's I really appreciate you kind of elaborating on that. That makes a lot of sense. So I do have just one last question for you. Sure. Which is, what is your hot take on the state of the tech industry today? I have a sense. I could be surprised.
Erica Jenkins 49:47
Oh, that's loaded. state of tech. Oh, I think that there is a lot I live in the beat. Bass bass, there is a lot of b2b Tech, that is not mission critical. Hmm. So do I think that the days of, you know, churn are still coming? I do. I think there's been so much investment, so many things that were nice to haves that were built, that didn't really dig in and solve real business problems, that a lot of the those are going to go to the wayside.
Max Matson 50:29
Can I ask, Do you have a particular stripe of technology in mind? They're
Erica Jenkins 50:37
not really. There's a lot. There's like, if you go look at like the mahr tech landscape from 10 years ago to today, holy shit, you can't even figure there's so many of these, like little niche tools out there. You know, there's a lot in my world, my background coming from kind of the social media data and licensing of third party data, you know, there's companies that are just going to go under because they can't afford to buy it. So that's an example. But I don't have I don't have like one swimlane that pops in, I just think, you know, if you've got a director or lower level who's paying, you know, 510 $1,000 a year procure procurements and budgets are being looked at far more in detail than they were, you know, two, three years ago. So I think a lot of those, the more of the small players are just going to have lots of fall off, because a lot of the bigger players slips, particularly in martec have built in good enough functionality that it replaces the little niche tool.
Max Matson 51:46
Right. Okay. I see what you're saying that makes a ton of sense. I definitely. I would agree with that for sure. Across kind of different spaces, right. I think, like analytics is a prime example. Right? And marketing, analytics, marketing tech in general. I've definitely, even a couple years ago, there was a lot more tools, small tools that were on my radar and plugged into my stack. And today.
Erica Jenkins 52:09
Yeah, there's I can't tell you, the number of times people ask me for an analytics API. So it would plug into you know, Power BI or Tableau or something like that. Now, everybody's like, we don't want to go there. We want it to be in your in your software's, you know, give it don't make us go somewhere else. So it's just yeah, it's again, it's it's an evolution of just sort of how people work and their tool fatigued, honestly,
Max Matson 52:34
right? No, absolutely. Absolutely. The bar is getting higher. Right. I do think that that is one thing that, you know, I don't know if it's chicken in the egg with AI, right. But the simplicity and ease of use of not ever having to leave a single platform is going to be kind of the next big win, right?
Erica Jenkins 52:52
I think I agree with you. And that could be an ecosystem play, being you know, tool a plugs in nicely with tool B, you know, the Salesforce effect, where you've just got the entire hub spots, do the same thing. You could just plug and play all these different things. And then you know, the user sits there and does their work and is none the wiser that it's actually 10 tools behind the scenes all doing the work. I think that's definitely going to continue. It's already come to fruition, but it's
Max Matson 53:23
no, I completely agree. That's a good one. Well, Erica, this has been so much fun. Thank you so much for joining me. Where can people find you follow you check out?
Erica Jenkins 53:32
LinkedIn is where I am hanging my hat. I said goodbye to Twitter. So that is the best spot Erica Jenkins. You'll find me immediately. And that would love to hear from people or if this was valuable, you know, reach out, send me a private message and happy to
Max Matson 53:48
chat. Awesome. Awesome. Well, thanks again, Erica.
Erica Jenkins 53:52
Thanks, Max. It was lovely. Yeah.
Max Matson 53:56
Thanks, you too.