Kristina Gibson is Chief Product Officer at Dott, a company that’s reimagining urban travel. She talks to Erevena’s Jonathan Bryant about what motivates her and why we’re seeing a surge in micromobility schemes in cities.
Tell us about your background in product leadership?
I’ve spent my career building products and leading teams that solve problems for people around the world. This originates from my lifelong interest in how other cultures and people behave. As a university student, I was not aware that careers building products even existed, but I did know one thing, I wanted to have a global career.
My first product role was with Intuit, a US-based finance and tax company with a global presence. My first product was developing an international payment feature that let small businesses pay their vendors directly from their accounting software, across borders, without having to go to the bank and pay high fees.
I just loved it. I also felt very lucky to have a female manager and mentor to help guide my career. As my first role in product, it’s where I developed a foundation to translate customer needs into product requirements.
What was it that you loved so much from the outset?
For me, there was no bigger challenge than to develop a product and build something for someone who was so unlike myself. You often see product people building something that they would like themselves, but for the extra level of challenge, I wanted to build products that were for people unlike me, whether they were in a different country, spoke a different language, or had a different background.
How did you move into start-ups?
A real turning point in my career came early, while I was still at Intuit. They acquired mint.com, a personal finance start-up. I had the opportunity to lead their expansion and integration for the Canadian market. I saw in my Mint colleagues the magic of a start-up, but I knew I was late to the party. I decided I wanted my next step to be in a start-up that was growing and, hopefully, expanding internationally.
That led me to my next challenge, which was at online ticketing business eventbrite.com. When I joined, they were US-based only but had started to see that people around the world were using their service even though it was in English and not localized. So, I stepped in to lead the team and launched the product in over 20 countries around the world. I founded teams in Europe and opened up the operation in London, which was our first international market. I also led an acquisition for the company’s Latin American expansion by acquiring Eventioz, a competitor in Argentina.
You then moved into the world of mobility – tell us about that
I’d decided to take a six-month sabbatical to spend time travelling, but just before I headed off I met the CEO of ride-sharing company Lyft. They were looking to expand internationally, and I felt this company had the makings of something special. I was able to balance my time off to travel and have a break, which is something I would advocate to everyone at some time in their careers; to recharge their batteries. I joined Lyft as an early member of the product team. I led their expansion into new cities, as well as into new verticals, and worked on designing and inventing what would become the company’s micro mobility and transit strategy. That led me to my current role with Dott, based in Amsterdam.
How did the lack of mobility during Covid-19 affect Dott?
Like a lot of other companies, Dott had to be nimble and navigate this uncharted water. Just as there have been waves of Covid, so we’ve seen different waves in our business. Initially, when everything was shut down and people weren’t moving around cities it was challenging for us. I am proud to say that Dott didn’t exit any of the markets we were operating in at the time. We want to be part of the city fabric, so in several cases we worked with the city to provide services to healthcare workers so that they could get to the hospitals in a safe and independent way.
What’s been happening since people have begun returning to the workplace?
We’re seeing both growth and a change in behavior as people rethink how they move around cities. The pandemic accelerated timelines for things such as dedicated bike lanes, with some projects that might have previously taken five years suddenly being delivered in five months. That really opens up the opportunity for more types of vehicles and a safer way for people to travel around the city.
This is a growing market – what role do product leaders play in the European micro mobility start-up battle?
I’ve worked in competitive product marketplaces, for example when I was at Lyft we were competing head to head with Uber. One thing I’ve always done in my career as a product leader is to set a strong vision and strategy for my teams. This encourages them to develop roadmaps that are independent of what their competitors are doing. I don’t believe in a feature vs. feature race, rather focus and execute on the strategy that is unique to each company. In some cases, you can be inspired by what the competition is doing, but you shouldn’t be obsessed with it.
What makes an excellent product team and product manager?
I believe in diverse teams. So, when I’m looking to build my teams, I start with the team that I currently have and try to find individuals whose backgrounds and skill sets are different. That way, each day we’re learning from one another. I think you also tend to have more fun with a diverse group of colleagues.
In terms of attributes, empathy and communication are key ones for product managers. You’re able to listen to user needs, work with technical team members and engineers, and listen to the business stakeholders and strategists to translate all of these things into building the right product.
Why do women make such good product managers?
I believe product management is a good career choice for anyone who finds excitement in building things to solve problems. You need a healthy amount of curiosity, communication, and collaboration. It’s about being able to see someone on the other side of the proverbial fence and knowing how to build for and with them.
How do you develop early-stage product managers?
I like the coach-player leadership methodology. I played a lot of sports growing up and I think it’s a nice analogy that most people can understand. So, when I’m working with early-career product managers, I spend a lot of time understanding how they work best. I want to know how I can extract and encourage the right skill set in them and what they need from me as their coach or manager so that I can cater to that individual and then best help the team.
What’s the most exciting part of being a product leader?
Overall, it’s getting to see how something that you’ve designed and built is impacting people’s lives. A lot of the time I get this from doing user research interviews, but at other times it’s when I see the product out there in the wild. A lot of my career has been on consumer products, so I’ve been able to see the product on a shelf. Currently, with my role at Dott, each time I step outside somewhere like Rome or Paris I get to see the product being used and how it’s transforming cities.
Has there been a career defining moment?
It’s hard to choose one and I’d like to think I have a lot more of them to come! But on a personal level I get such joy when I see product managers that I’ve worked with developing their own career and being successful. I’d also say that my journey at Lyft was pivotal because I was there at such an early stage. I got to see their road leading up to IPO and then being able to design what became their transit and micro mobility strategy. It led me to my current role and passion for the power of product and technologies in transforming our cities and environment.
Why do so many CEOs and general managers have a product management background?
Product tends to be quite horizontal or cross-functional in organization and that affords PMs the ability to think like CEOs and GMs everyday. How do I commercialise my product? Are we concerned or inspired by a competitor’s new feature launch? How do I talk about the values and benefits of my product to a user? You’re getting this cross section of business, which opens up career opportunities as CEOs and GMs
Is there a product that you particularly admire?
It’s almost impossible for me to choose a favourite product because it depends on the use case. But one mobile app that I have been inspired by is Duolingo. They’re a strong example of a mission-driven company. And they have done a lot from an app development perspective to incentivise users to learn a new language in a fun way.
Who has inspired you as a product leader?
I’m inspired by entrepreneurs, so when I go for a run I listen to the podcast ‘How I built this’. They interview entrepreneurs and I love hearing the stories of how founders decide to build something and then the challenges and the tribulations that they go through, as well as the advice that they would give to others. I end my runs inspired by the world of product leaders.
What next for you and for Dott?
We’re just at the beginning of this journey of what technology can do to change our cities and change people’s lives. If you think back five years ago, you did not see people on scooters in our cities. And now, especially with our climate crisis, it’s imperative that we think of how our habits and actions can help to put the world in a more positive place.
I will keep the team focused on the long-term vision and strategy and build a team that’s empowered to get that done.