In late 2016, Claudia Dent moved into the SVP, Product Management, role at Everbridge — shortly after the Burlington-based tech company’s successful IPO. Everbridge’s platform helps large organizations — state and local governments, banks, hospitals, universities, and corporations — keep their constituents informed and safe in critical situations. The company has added five new products to its platform in the last four years, so Claudia has had plenty to keep her busy, from user research informing product roadmaps to overseeing key integrations. In our conversation, below, she discusses the product management challenges presented by rapid scaling, and why it’s important for product managers to have experience in client-facing roles.
Keith Cline: Product management is a broad term. What’s the scope of the discipline at Everbridge?
Claudia Dent: At Everbridge, being a product manager means you’re the “CEO” of the product you own. You drive everything, from the roadmap priorities of the product and how to best optimize the company’s resources to building great products for Everbridge.
Product management is a hub function, so we interact with Sales, Marketing, Engineering, Operations, Customer Support and just about every organization at the company. We spend a lot of time in the field with customers, so we can understand what they need from us on a day-to-day basis and what will help them strategically in the future. We take a holistic perspective, and because we know the product so intimately we’re granted the opportunity, and authority, to make big decisions about trade-offs and the direction we think is best.
Our team is responsible for the Product Management of all Everbridge Suite products, technology partnerships, User Experience, and cross functional Program Management. In particular, User Experience and Product Management are tightly associated at Everbridge. All our product requirements originate from a customer vision, and, naturally, that’s driven by user experience design and research.
KC: How have your responsibilities changed since you started with the company?
CD: As Everbridge has grown, we have increased our product portfolio significantly, adding five new products over the last four years. We have expanded our product line both organically and through acquisitions. In addition, the importance of technology partnerships and integration with our industry ecosystem has grown significantly, which has increased the value of our solutions and our platform. We now integrate with lots of different kinds of systems, including HR, BCM, and ITSM systems, as well as physical access control systems and travel systems.
KC: In your tenure at Everbridge, is there something you’re especially proud of, something that keeps you going when times are hard?
CD: I love products and I love delivering things. We’ve delivered three major releases every year for the last four or five years. I am most proud of our team, which has worked tirelessly to consistently deliver. It’s also been a significant contributor to the company’s growth, and the evidence is our recent IPO—that is pretty exciting.
KC: What challenges are you working on right now?
CD: Our biggest challenge currently is managing our growth and integrating new products and capabilities. We’re delivering products at an increasing pace, so putting all those pieces together and making the right choices is a fun challenge.
KC: What does success look like for you and your team?
CD: Our biggest sense of satisfaction comes when customers like our products and derive real value from them. For example, our product recently helped locate an elderly person with Alzheimer's. They were safely returned to their home very quickly. On a larger scale, the state of Florida used Everbridge to share information with citizens and coordinate teams during Hurricane Matthew. We’re helping people communicate and collaborate when unfortunate situations arise. It’s gratifying to be part of the solution.
KC: Can you provide an example of how customer feedback has influenced a product?
CD: Sure. Our customers’ input has a significant influence on all of our products. The most recent example is our Safety Connection product. We learned that during terrorist attacks—in Paris, Istanbul, etc.—our corporate customers didn't really know where their people were at the time of those attacks. Our customers needed ways to more accurately locate people for “duty of care” purposes. Our world is mobile; people are working remotely, they're traveling, maybe they’re alone, maybe they’re away from their desk on a large campus. The notion of a static office address is not at all sufficient for keeping people safe. We put a lot of effort into solving for that problem in our Safety Connection product, working very closely with our customers.
On the other side of the coin, we learned from working with our State and Local government customers, that a static address is very important to them. Think about a forest fire or catastrophic flood; keeping people safe for evacuation purposes relies on very accurate geo-coded addresses.
KC: How do you decide that a company and role is right for you?
CD: I've been involved in a range of organizations, from startups to large companies like IBM. There are three magic ingredients I consider.
First, is the company’s product something I'm interested in? Working at Everbridge means having an impact on critical and life-saving events. That’s a meaningful and exciting challenge.
Second, is the technology interesting? I love the technology at Everbridge because we’re a full SaaS-oriented product. We have great mobile technology, and we continue to evolve to make sure we're always cutting edge.
The third thing, which is super important, is the team. When I look around, am I inspired by the people I work with? At Everbridge, I totally am. I've worked with some of the executive team before and I chose to work with them again, but it's not just my management colleagues and Jamie Ellertson, the CEO—it's the people in the product management organization. I have the utmost respect for my team members. I learn something from them every single day, and I hope I'm lifting them up, too.
KC: How did you get into project management in the first place?
CD: I got into product management in a roundabout fashion. My background is electrical engineering, and after a couple of years working on chip technology, I took a detour into sales engineering and sales positions. From there, I realized I liked software and wanted to get closer to products and technology again. My trajectory was from hardware to software, from sales to marketing, and then to product management. I also branched out from product management occasionally; I did business development at IBM and I’ve also managed engineering.
All those experiences helped me grow as a product manager. I know what it's like to stand in front of a customer who wants a product to do something it doesn’t currently do. I understand some of the challenges of motivating an engineering team. I have learned how large corporations conduct mergers and acquisitions. Every time I’ve veered away from product management, it’s been useful, but all roads have led me back. It really is my passion.
KC: What advice would you give someone considering or just starting a career in product management?
CD: Get experience in customer-facing roles. You can learn technology, but understanding how to interpret customer and market needs is critical. It's not just listening to what a customer or the market thinks is cool and what they say they want, it’s knowing what they really need and what they will buy.
You can show customers a rocket ship and they are likely to say, “Ooh, that’s cool.” And then if you tell your team, “I’ve talked to ten customers and they all want a rocket ship,” everyone will scramble to build a rocket ship. But when you show it to the customers, they say, “Oh, we don’t have astronauts in our organization; we really just need to ride around the block.” Whereas if you had listened and given them a motorcycle, they would have been happy. They would have been, like, “That’s cool—it’s easy to use and I can zip around the block.” It’s a silly analogy, but it illustrates the importance of understanding what customers are really trying to achieve. And engaging in a continual dialogue. That’s why knowing how to ask the right questions is key, and that mostly comes from experience.
RAPID FIRE Q&A
KC: What time do you get to the office? What time do you leave?
CD: I get into the office at around 8:30 a.m. and leave around 6:30 p.m.
KC: Coffee or tea?
CD: Definitely coffee. Just one cup, but it’s a big one.
KC: Once you get to the office, what do you tackle first?
CD: Even before I arrive at the office, I check my email and the news headlines. I want to know what’s going on in the world because, if there’s been a disaster, it influences our product and its usage. Once in the office, I usually try to focus first on something more strategic before the tactical realities of the day begin.
KC: How do you organize your day to stay productive?
CD: I’m an active note taker. I like my handwritten to-do lists. I usually categorize them into things that are strategic, things that are customer-facing, and things that are smaller, execution type things, then I prioritize. I also delegate as quickly as possible to get the right people involved.
KC: How do you deal with stress?
CD: Spending time with family and friends, laughing and telling jokes goes a long way. And our multi-cultural rescue dog Bess is a great stress reducer. She puts everything into perspective very quickly. I also have a number of hobbies: yoga, music, and photography.
*** Everbridge is hiring! Visit their BIZZpage for several job openings across the company.