Building AI-Powered Products: An Interview with NTENT’s Head of Product
As Vice President of Product Management at NTENT, Jim O’Leary leads the team that identifies and vets market opportunities for NTENT, builds prototypes and explores new ideas, prioritizes which opportunities get worked on and ensures that product investments match the company’s overarching strategic goals. They work closely with NTENT’s Engineering team and other departments to design and build successful market solutions while crafting compelling and consistent value propositions for those products.
In the following interview, Jim tells us what it’s like to work in product management for a company that builds AI-powered products. He shares accomplishments he’s proud of and offers some advice about how other team leaders and future candidates can reach success.
NTENT: What’s a day in the life as a product manager like at NTENT? Why is it a great place to work?
Jim O’Leary: Every day is a little different. Some days we work with the sales team to generate interest and excitement with potential partners. We analyze their business model and create prototypes to help conceptualize how our capabilities may benefit them. We also work with our account teams on deployments already underway, using feedback from customers to improve our products and keep customers happy. We work a lot with our Ad Operations team to bring on new ad partners and to optimize our mix of monetization solutions. And of course, a big portion of our time is spent working with our engineering teams to bring to life new product designs and user experiences, prioritizing requested changes and addressing deviations from the product roadmap to ensure the product meets target market needs.
One of the things I enjoy most about working at NTENT is that we’re in an enormous and growing market. We get to play in a huge space that’s growing quickly, with unique technology that only a limited number of (mostly huge) companies around the world can say they have. It’s exciting for us!
NTENT: Is there a project that you’re proud of?
JO: My proudest moment was launching our browser and search product with a large international carrier, who shall remain nameless for confidentiality reasons. This was a large effort that pretty much the entire company worked on and resulted in millions of subscribers and 7 million downloads, with very high app store ratings. We’ve gotten extremely positive feedback from their executive team and their users. It has been a clear, satisfying win for us.
NTENT: NTENT’s tagline is Predictive Search and Voice Solutions, Engineered for Everyone. How is NTENT building products and solutions to support this position?
JO: We are a B2B2C company that works across multiple industries, designing solutions that meet the needs of our partners and their consumers. As a smaller company in a big market, one of our advantages is our ability to deliver tailored solutions to our partners that allow them to provide a user experience unlike the one-size-fits-all approach they get from the largest companies in the space. For us, that may mean some unique data sourcing we can bring to bear or integrating with their systems that provide value to users. We can also incorporate their brand elements, allowing our partners to hold on to more of the user experience and build a stronger relationship with their subscribers through daily interactions like providing visibility to their data usage and billing information, or special offers their users may be interested in.
NTENT: NTENT’s core platform provides search, voice, data, monetization and browser solutions. What’s unique about NTENT’s product offering, and how is it applied to deliver unique products to NTENT’s partners?
JO: What makes NTENT so unique is our extensive history in Natural Language Processing and semantic search, coupled with deep expertise in machine learning/AI and data science. Our technology goes back 20 years and has only progressed over time. We have an incredible group of elite minds who keep us competitive with much larger companies who have way more people. We are able to deliver a great experience, while also offering a customizable product flexible to their needs. Unlike, other major market players, NTENT provides a white-label search engine, browser and voice assistant, meaning our partners can brand our products as they wish. We work with them to integrate third parties to tailor results and voice responses that are specific to the local market or geographic region.
NTENT: NTENT builds B2B2C product solutions. That means you must meet the needs of both businesses and end users. How do you approach that at NTENT? Can you give product specific examples?
JO: The trick with a B2B2C situation is to make both stakeholders happy. The enterprise business partner needs to get what they need, but we have to make the consumers happy too or they just won’t use the product (which isn’t good for anyone). In cases like these, the consumer end user has no direct relationship with us, but we need to satisfy the end user to make our direct partner successful. So while the enterprise business customers have a loud voice in influencing our product direction, we need to take special care to listen to what the consumers want (even though they may not necessarily be asking for it).
One of the fun things we get to do is run experiments to figure out what end users like and then optimize the solutions we deliver. For example, we hypothesized that adding more links to useful websites on our browser homescreen could increase usage and user retention because we were making it easier to get started with our app at the start. Our largest distribution partner had not shown much interest in this sort of thing until we ran some A/B experiments to quantify the impact of the change. These experiments showed a significant uptick in retention and activity compared to the solution without it, and our partner decided to proceed. This is an example of how the work we do keeps both the B and C in B2B2C at the forefront of our efforts.
NTENT: If you were looking at a candidate coming-out of college right now what skills would you suggest they have to make them a good product manager?
JO: I only hire people that I believe have the potential to be great and I specifically look for three things in a great product manager: Curiosity, communications skills, and motivation. Great product managers love to learn new things and have developed the ability to pick up new concepts quickly. Great product managers have well-developed written and verbal communication skills that they can use to be inspirational and consistent communicators. They should be able to deliver without the need for external pressure — they instinctively work harder than I could ever ask them to because they get satisfaction out of accomplishing things. All three of these are things I cannot teach you; they need to be in you. Everything else can be taught and teaching is an important part of my job as a product management leader. Being a product manager is a hard job, but it can be a great job and I highly recommend it!
NTENT: What strategies or best practices are you using at NTENT that others can apply to their product management teams to build products that matter?
JO: The number one piece of advice I can offer with respect to building effective product management teams is to make sure the product management team feels like their job is not to improve products — the job of the product manager is to help make the business successful. Sometimes the best lever to pull is improving the product, but there are often more effective levers to pull to drive business results.
About NTENT: NTENT is a provider of search and voice assistant technologies. With over 20 years in search, machine learning and AI, NTENT offers an end-to-end Search and Voice Assistant Platform integrated with data intelligence, ad monetization and conversational commerce. NTENT’s partners customize, localize and integrate NTENT’s private-label voice, search and browser solutions according to their needs. The company’s solutions help businesses evolve their market offerings, generate revenue and unlock behavioral data insights through increased engagements.