New Year, New Goals: These Product Teams Are Looking Towards a Strong 2023

As the year approaches its end, three Austin tech companies are already looking ahead with ambitious goals and plans to make them happen.

Written by Anderson Chen
Published on Nov. 16, 2022
 New Year, New Goals: These Product Teams Are Looking Towards a Strong 2023
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It’s January 1, 2023. The gym is packed with new members and exercise veterans alike, all vying for the machines scattered about. “This is the year,” they all think, eager to fulfill the promise they made to themselves the night before. 

The New Year’s Resolution is a powerful motivator, an optimistic forecast of personal potential and professional achievement. But often, it’s more of a portent for wishful thinking.

Cut to February 1, 2023. Gym regulars have reclaimed their favorite spots now that the energized ambitions of the masses have largely dissolved. The comforting allure of a sedentary routine proved too much for many, and not even a New Year’s Eve dream of healthy habits could sustain the seemingly endless turn of the treadmill.

Thankfully, resolutions in the tech world come with road maps, and good ones can ensure that no one feels like they’re running in place.

For the product teams at three such companies in Austin, a resolution is also a strategic opportunity that rewards those who are prepared. Not to rest on the laurels of 2022, many employees are maintaining momentum for their vision, from new partnerships and product integrations to scaling their teams in anticipation of ambitious goals. 

Mobility software company Dealerware wants to reinvent the car rental experience. First Dollar is prepping partnerships to bolster its health benefits platform. Smarter Sorting is eyeing new roles and more learning and development options for its product team. The end of the year usually marks a slowdown for the tech industry, but these product members are intent on starting the next one strong. 

To hear about their product team’s 2023 New Year’s resolution, Built In Austin spoke with employees at the three tech companies about what keeps them on the treadmill in the year ahead

 

four employees outside El Paso Bar with cars
Dealerware

 

JR Lang
EVP, Product • Dealerware

 

Dealerware is a mobility software company that primarily serves car dealers.  The company’s software platform aims to streamline fleet management for dealers by providing benefits such as automation and insights. With a service they’re confident about, the team is also looking ahead. “What we are doing is taking our current loaner car software product—that’s quick and painless for customers to use—and expanding it into every transaction at the dealership,” said JR Lang, EVP of product. 

 

What projects does your product team have lined up for 2023, and how do they fit into your company’s overall strategic goals for the year?

Car dealerships traditionally provide mobility to customers in the form of a sale or lease, requiring a serious commitment of two to seven years of financing and lots of money. We want to introduce dealerships as a place where you can get a car for any length of time that suits your needs — a weekend, a week, a month — and might even be delivered to your driveway. We will improve upon the current rental experience that’s been stuck in the dark ages. This is how people will want to consume mobility when it comes to personal vehicles. I would say within the next year we’re looking at a completely touchless handoff of vehicles. The car gets delivered to your driveway for that weekend trip, so you don’t have to take time out of your day. Pick up and drop off is something that we are actively bringing to the experience to create that ultimate convenience for the customer, and all of this will be accomplished through your mobile app. 

We’re building something that everybody uses.”

 

In your opinion, what makes these projects particularly interesting, challenging or exciting for product professionals to work on?

The real excitement is that this opportunity is so easy to grasp. Cars are getting very expensive — EVs even more so. Average car loans are up to seven years, and they sit there parked 23 hours a day. Add those together and we see massive opportunity. Being able to consume different vehicles for flexible lengths of time will increase utilization and decrease expenses for the consumer. We’re building something that everybody uses. Everyone goes on vacations, borrows a vehicle and has their own experiences — and complaints — with rental. We can create change in something that affects people all the time. 

One challenge is that while car dealers are masters at selling and servicing cars, they can be slow to adopt new paradigms. We must bring these entrepreneurs along with us to show them what the customer wants and how they are best equipped to fulfill customer needs. We must get up from our desks, visit dealerships and talk to customers. It’s a challenge, but it’s fun. Great project managers have strong listening skills: They infer insights from what they hear and identify the problems that are even more important than what people state. The challenge is figuring out which bets you want to make.

 

How is your team growing to help meet those goals? 

We’re primarily looking to hire and foster junior-level talent locally in Austin, so they can enjoy time in our headquarters and learn from our senior people. Also, we’re always on the lookout for senior leaders in product, design and research who can be located almost anywhere. While we have a remote-first policy, culturally we like to bring everyone together on occasion in Austin, having onsite collaborative events instead of offsites. 

You get to work with a solid team here. We’ve got a lot of experience in our leadership roles from lots of different companies. You can learn from people who’ve grown startups into successful IPOs or come from larger companies. 

Once you’re here, the most valuable person to Dealerware is an employee. I am a believer in hiring from within and even fostering folks from customer support or sales to join product. If you start in a customer-facing role, you learn the product and the customer really well. That is an essential foundation for a career in product and becomes really valuable within the organization. We like to encourage a serious cross-pollination effect here. It makes us stronger as an organization and brings departments together

 

 

A group of employees sitting in chairs and smiling at the camera.
First Dollar

 

Colin Anawaty
Chief Product Officer and Co-founder • First Dollar

 

First Dollar builds healthcare benefits infrastructure that allows providers to promote utilization with its Health Wallet platform. On the consumer side, they get a more streamlined process for using their health benefits. Looking ahead to 2023, the team is eyeing more expansive functions for its platform, which will require adding to its 34-member crew to realize its ambitions. “We want to make benefits people love using and lead the benefit utilization conversation. We think that’s a pretty exciting challenge,” said Colin Anawaty, co-founder and chief product officer.   

 

What projects does your product team have lined up for 2023, and how do they fit into your company’s overall strategic goals for the year?

In 2023, First Dollar is expanding our Health Wallet platform across three areas of focus. First, we have our partnership with DriveWealth and Morningstar in Q4 to create a fully integrated investing experience for health savings accounts. Then, we’re launching our benefit builder for our administration customers so they can create and customize any pre- or post-tax benefit for a fraction of the cost and time. Finally, we’re making it easier than ever to integrate and utilize benefits by consumers within a consolidated developer experience via APIs and front-end widgets.

We want to make benefits people love using and lead the benefit utilization conversation.”

 

In your opinion, what makes these projects particularly interesting, challenging or exciting for product professionals to work on?

Behind most consumer-directed and supplemental benefits lies a hodgepodge of legacy systems built for a different time. As a result, everyone suffers. Consumers have clunky benefit experiences and fail to fully utilize their HSAs, LSAs and other programs, and benefit providers cannot innovate and compete for deals. 

Building benefits infrastructure technology means operating at the nexus of finance and healthcare technology, two of the largest and most regulated industries woven into the fabric of the United States. Solving this problem is no small task, but we’re excited about this challenge. 

We’re also excited about our potential impact. People use benefits to save money, fill gaps and stay out of the clinic. They work incredibly hard to earn their benefits, and they deserve easy-to-use ones. Currently, the industry doesn’t prioritize benefit utilization, but we think it’s both good business and the right thing to do. 

 

How is your team growing to help meet those goals? 

Since March 2020, our team has quickly grown to 34 full-time employees. That growth will continue as we’re looking to recruit for the VP of sales role and scaling our sales and client-facing teams through early 2023. We know that growth doesn’t only occur through headcount, as we’re also intentionally building our culture of continuous feedback and learning, emphasizing personal and team growth

 

 

Catie Collins
Director of Product • SmarterX

 

Smarter Sorting is a product intelligence company that helps businesses understand consumer products to better manage logistics. The platform is focused on helping companies improve environmental impact across the supply chain when it comes to moving and marketing their own products. In 2023, Smarter Sorting is looking towards doing more for its customers, and internally, for its talented people. “We want to make 2023 a year where our product team can grow their skills and knowledge,” said Director of Product Catie Collins. 

 

What projects does your product team have lined up for 2023, and how do they fit into your company’s overall strategic goals for the year?

At Smarter Sorting, we’re focused on improving the retail industry’s environmental impact. Going into 2023 we have two company-wide objectives that will drive the product team’s projects: One, wow our existing customers, and two, attract and delight new customers. These are exciting objectives that we share with our entire company, making it even more exciting knowing that everyone is in sync with one another from product and sales, to engineering and operations.

To wow our customers, we’ll be spending a lot of time speaking with them, creating even stronger feedback loops. This will help us develop new software and an even better UX, so customers can find the data, insights and answers they need.

To help the company win new customers, the product team is growing. Earlier this year, we hired our first director of product. We also just added a director of product for APIs to the team, and our existing product managers are implementing new processes. We’re also investing in our API suite to give customers new ways to connect with our data. By making our decisioning solutions and data available via APIs, we’re increasing the ways our customers can embed Smarter Sorting into their tech stack.

The work we do at Smarter Sorting is having a positive impact on the planet.

 

In your opinion, what makes these projects particularly interesting, challenging or exciting for product professionals to work on?

The work we do at Smarter Sorting is having a positive impact on the planet. This tends to guarantee every day is interesting, challenging and exciting. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy but it does get you out of bed in the morning.

For example, this year we launched a new API integration with Feeding America so retailers can alert food banks in real-time when donations are ready for pick up. Food banks can now anticipate the volumes and types of products they will receive and improve their efficiencies to help their staff and volunteers achieve even more.

It’s fair to say our work is interesting and challenging thanks to the great people the product team gets to work with. People at Smarter Sorting could be described as lifelong learners, and there are seriously smart people here. As a product person, I would never have thought I’d get to work with a computational chemist. You can nerd out with people about all sorts of things because we have so much cross domain knowledge, from chemists to data engineers, from published authors to a women’s BMX freestyle champion. It’s fair to say it’s an amazing group of people who challenge you each and every day.

 

How is your team growing to help meet those goals? 

We’re in the active planning stages for next year, working on our specific project goals and team plans for 2023. Areas where we want our team to grow include UX and user research, and where it makes good business sense, we might create new roles for associate product managers.

As a growing team, we’re also putting in place new operational best practices. We’re working on new processes, tooling and education that will help us maximize our impact and make us a high-performing product management team. Adopting best practices will help us launch new products in an efficient and effective way. 2023 also looks to be the year that in-person conferences return, and we’re excited to attend industry events that help us meet our customers in person and learn even more about business challenges we can help solve. In addition to industry and client trade conferences, we’ll be investing our time in educational events, and we might even set up a product management team book club, so the product team can nerd out even more — just like the best of our Smarter Sorting peers.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and companies.

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