Centro Stories: Steven Jones Leads New Era of Product Development at Centro
Our people are a large part of what makes Centro such a great place to work. We’re excited to introduce you to some of Centro’s most interesting people in our newest blog series, as they share their ‘Centro stories’ and a variety of experiences that have impacted their work and life.
As VP of Product Development at Centro, Steven Jones is solving a variety of technical challenges for the ad tech industry. He is known not only for his speed to market, but also for his ability to anticipate market and consumer needs.
Read on to learn how Centro’s product provocateur is developing the industry’s most comprehensive digital media solutions.
Noor Naseer: There are a lot of ad tech and DSP products on the market right now. How do you set Basis apart when leading the product development process in a frenzied marketplace?
Steven Jones: At Centro, we have a unique perspective when building this tech for the marketplace because we have experienced a lot of media buying and planning pain first-hand. We are aware of the many challenges that go along with running a business as it pertains to digital media spend.
When we introduce Basis to folks who haven’t encountered software like ours, their reactions make it clear that we’re pioneers in this realm of ad tech. Clients often realize that they’re juggling many disparate software solutions to deliver on what Basis can offer. Our challenge is to break it all down in a way that makes it easy for customers to see the complete value that Basis delivers.
We’re also uniquely positioned because we offer services that complement our product. The fact that we can offer the right level of service and support to help an organization is a unique opportunity—pure product companies in ad tech don’t have that.
NN: Even when a product offers complete value, there’s pressure to introduce incremental enhancements and functionalities in order to keep customers excited. How do you decide what you’re going to do next?
SJ: That’s the classic product problem. We get requests from every corner, internal and external. It’s a challenging balancing act—and it’s not unique to Centro, every product person struggles with this.
The short answer is that we make strategic investment decisions about features. If a feature is only going to make one customer happy, we can’t prioritize it. However, if a feature is going to affect 50% or more of our customer base and positively benefit most future customers, then it’s a no-brainer. That’s the relative prioritization exercise I go through—it’s an investment decision we’re asking the business to make, while also considering how we can create a positive impact within the industry as a whole.
All of these decisions feed into a long-term strategy. Ultimately, working at the enterprise level involves reassuring our current and prospective customers that we’re not only a provider, but also a partner, ready to commit for the long-haul.
NN: Sometimes you must anticipate customer needs versus waiting for them to tell you what they want. How do you account for consumer needs that haven’t been vocalized?
SJ: Exercising good interviewing techniques is critical to quality product development. Our motto is ‘keep drilling’—if we hear a customer requesting ‘X,’ we’re never satisfied with their initial ask. We force ourselves to ask questions like “how will that help?” and “is there a better way to accomplish this?”
Most of the time, users identify challenges they’ve recently encountered—because they happened recently, so they’re top of mind. We can give that some credence, but our goal is to uncover the real problem and then try to identify where that problem is prevalent. We’re constantly seeking out patterns—the user may not directly state what the problem is, but if we can identify a noticeable pattern, we can optimize the solution.
NN: You’ve led product software development at several different companies. How has your approach changed since being immersed in the ad tech industry?
The difference is that we’re building something that hasn’t existed before. So when we go out and validate it with people, we sometimes run into confusion. Someone might say, “I’m not even sure what you’re asking me. I’ve never seen anything that does something like this before, so I don’t know how to respond to it.”
It’s our responsibility to ask deeper questions like, “I know you put a pacing view in your spreadsheets, and you spend hours of your day going through all this data. What do you think of our version of that?” Then they have something to compare it to.
This particular effort takes longer because we’re teaching people to think differently about how they can work more efficiently at their jobs. We’re going to continue to do that, because we want to help our users work smarter. I don’t know if any other vendors in the space are thinking like that.
NN: What’s it like working as part of Centro’s leadership team? What kind of leader do you strive to be?
SJ: What’s been really great at Centro is that every time I have suggested that we zig instead of zag, I’ve received nothing but support. This is an incredibly supportive organization.
In January, I wrote on my board that I’m going to be much more provocative this year. That’s the word that I hope is characterizing my leadership moving forward.