Career Path - Kari D'Elia, Director of Product at TripAdvisor

September 11, 2018

Career Path - Kari D'Elia, Director of Product at TripAdvisor

What does the career path and a day-in-the-life look like for a Director of Product at TripAdvisor? We interviewed Kari D'Elia to find out!

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What was your very first job (before any internships)?

My first gig was playing “Little Nero,” the dancing mascot for Little Caesar’s Pizza in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas.  Growing up my dad was a franchisee of nine locations around the city.  I was the short one in my family, so I fit perfectly into the costume and was trucked all around to community events, minor league baseball games, church basements, etc.  Talk about an (unpaid) dream job when you’re 11.  My first paying job was as a hostess and waitress at a local Cajun restaurant, as well as a tennis instructor for little kids.  

Where did you go to college?  What did you study? What were some of your initial jobs out of school?

I went to Southern Illinois University for undergrad.  I started out in journalism, but ended up switching majors and finishing with a business degree.  I actually think that the writing and interviewing coursework in journalism school was incredibly helpful for my career today – summarizing big concepts succinctly, asking questions that solicit answers, and having an instinct to trust but verify.  

Early in my career, I wanted to work in the sports industry.  I was a competitive tennis player growing up and have always been a huge sports fan. I scored a really amazing internship between my junior and senior year with the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, working on marketing programs ahead of the Athens Summer Games.  Fun fact – Michael Phelps lived on my dorm floor at the USOC Training Center and we watched the NBA Finals together in the dorm commons.  He would go on to have his breakout Olympics a few weeks later.

Kari D'Elia VFAfter I graduated, I took a one-year internship placement with the NCAA National Office in Indianapolis where I worked in the marketing department, helping partner universities plan to host National Championships. The common track in this program was to complete the internship then return back to school to complete a graduate degree in Sports Business.  I followed this path, landing at UMass Amherst which has a dual MBA + Sports Business degree program. I continued to work for UMass Amherst for two years post-graduation to help start up a market research consultancy group that ran out of the business school.  We signed on clients across Major League Soccer, several area universities, Formula One, and action sports to do surveys and focus groups that helped them better understand their fan base and sponsorship potential.  

It looks like you were early in terms of leveraging large data sets to help companies understand their social media presence.  Can you share the details on how you ended up in this area of specialization?

While working for the sports marketing consultancy, I grew a little frustrated by how the unnatural structure of surveys and focus groups made it difficult to draw out complete, honest responses.  At the time, there was a relatively new industry spinning up that leveraged big unstructured social media data sets to draw insights on consumer mindsets, which I found totally fascinating.  Fortunately, Boston was home to several big players in this small field, so I was able to make my first career pivot.  It was a natural extension of my analytical mindset and desire to more deeply understand why people do the things they do.  

Over the next six years, I worked for three different companies with this focus.  First for a company called Cymfony (it has since been bought and sold a number of times), where I worked almost exclusively for Procter & Gamble and Unilever tapping into the consumer behavior of moms & dads stocking their household with everything from diapers to ice cream.  Next, I went to a startup called Bluefin Labs that focused on harnessing Twitter data for TV networks, advertisers, and media buyers (it was acquired by Twitter in 2013).  I then left for EMC, now Dell EMC, to build up a social analytics team to support their large and diverse global product portfolio. 

How did you make the transition into product management and did your prior experience end up being beneficial as you made this switch?

I am a huge believer in saying yes to opportunities that sound interesting, even if you’re not sure exactly how your skills translate.  I knew I had quant and qual data chops and a curiosity to truly understand user behavior.  I also knew that I was growing frustrated by throwing insights over a wall and hoping someone did something with them, and working for industries like IT and consumer packaged goods that I wasn’t super passionate about.  So when TripAdvisor approached me about taking a role in product management, it felt again like a really natural extension and opportunity to pivot.  You’re telling me that I get to leverage large data sets to deeply understand user pain points and unmet needs, AND get to solve them in an industry that I love?  Sign me up!

Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as Director, Product?

As a Product Director at TripAdvisor, I am charged with always being the user’s advocate, translating their needs into a product vision and then empowering a team to deliver it.  My team’s particular focus is on planning & in-destination, focused on ensuring TripAdvisor is providing everything a traveler needs as they dream, plan, and ultimately take their perfect trip.  We have all been a traveler with a phone in hand trying to maximize everything there is to do, eat, stay, and experience on a trip.  My job is to deep dive into these user problems and ultimately bring features to market that go directly into the hands of hundreds of millions of travelers around the globe using our website and apps.

Day to day, this means bringing lots of groups together across the various stages of the product lifecycle – concept & rationale, requirements gathering, design sprinting, roadmapping, spec’ing, building, QA’ing, testing, analyzing, and iterating.  I’ll quarterback this effort between product managers, designers, user researchers, developers, analysts, marketers, and all of the stakeholder communication up, down, and sideways. RACI charts and distribution lists are my friend.

Any tips for someone considering a career in product management?

Using my career as an example, there are lots of transferable skills that are important to product management even if you don’t start out on this career path.  I find the most successful product managers at TripAdvisor to be – above all - curious, analytical problem solvers who are consistently in a pursuit to learn.  The rest can often be picked up on the job.

Day in the Life

Coffee, tea, or nothing?

Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon

What time do you get into the office? 

Usually around 8:30, but I have a young son so it often depends on any chaos with day care drop off!Kari D'Elia

Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?

No two days are alike.  The bookends of the day are always family time, but in the middle is anyone’s guess.

What time do you head out of the office? 

Running out the door at 5:15 to pick up my son.

Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?  

I try to shut it down completely, but sometimes after 9pm, I check Slack or email.

Any productivity hacks?

I’m the person with 15,000 unread emails and no fewer than 30 browser tabs open at all times.  I might not be the best person to give productivity hacks!  However, I’ve found that being a working parent forces you to up your productivity game big time.  There are such limited hours in the day, and the cost of staying late or working nights is exponentially greater when the tradeoff is time with family.

What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?

  • Spotify
  • Apple Podcasts
  • Waze

Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?

I’m fortunate to have some great professional mentors that I have maintained throughout the pivots in my career.  Sometimes it’s helpful to talk to people totally outside of your industry to get advice on the bigger picture.

Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz.  Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6.

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