“Building a product that makes a difference in people’s lives is much more rewarding.”

Daniel Lang | Chief Product Officer at Talenthouse

Interview by Thomas Peham

June 15, 2015

Photos by Daniel Lang

Making the web a better place for creatives & artists around the globe.

Daniel grew up in Austria, where he got into technology and programming quite early in his life. In 2013 he decided to relocate to California in order to be closer to the tech hot spot of Silicon Valley. By joining Talenthouse as Chief Product Officer, Daniel is now responsible for managing a global community of artists & creatives.

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Hi Daniel. thanks for your time. Can you please describe yourself and share some insights on what you do?

Sure. My name is Daniel, 26 years old and I’m the Chief Product Officer at Talenthouse. My background is in engineering but I also have a deep entrepreneurial history. Back in Austria I had a small software development agency.

Then in 2013 my wife and I decided to move to California because we thought this was the place to be in order to grow in the industry that we are most interested in, which is tech startups.

I was fortunate enough to get to know Michael Eisler, who at that time, was living in California and really helped me making this move, connecting me with the right people and being super helpful in organizing the tedious visa process - a real friend and mentor for life.

How does a typical day in your life look like?

Right now I'm managing the engineering team, but also the more expanded product team, which means that on a day to day basis I sit together with our VP Engineering and we discuss the priorities for the day, for the week, how we are making progress.

Additionally, I'm also communicating a lot with our designers and our product support team to get their input as to what's important right now.

Another big part of my role is to synchronize the product with the business side of the company, which means that I work closely with sales, marketing, and community management to find out what the problems and opportunities are and how we can approach them together.

I'm also supporting important sales meetings where I come in from a product perspective and work out solutions with our customers.

Sounds like a you’re dealing with a whole bunch of different tasks and different responsibilities.

Indeed. I think as product leaders, we really have to combine a lot of these different areas, spanning all the way from engineering, to sales, to marketing, to the bigger business objectives that we want to achieve.

Can you share some tips on how to stay up to date in these various fields?

In my opinion, it's about reading a lot of things and talking to a lot of people. For me personally, I try to read at least one business magazine or newspaper every day. In my case it’s The Economist.

At the same time I'm also subscribed to all kinds of blogs from the engineering and the marketing world.

I also go to a lot of conferences and meetups here in California to connect with people and get their ideas about what's important, and then take this information to find out how we can improve our product and our process.

Can you share what Talenthouse is about?

Talenthouse is a global community of creators from all artistic fields. Everything from photographers, filmmakers, musicians, designers, artists, painters.

We host and manage briefs in partnership with brands and industry icons, and in response to these briefs our community creates work that they upload on our website. Our partners can then use that content to power the marketing channels.

So it's like a marketplace for all kind of creatives?

Yes, kind of. Most of our customers see us as a content utility tool, where they can source high quality content at scale, but also connect and engage with a global creative community.

So for instance, a customer like Airbnb had a campaign called “one less stranger” and we ran three Creative Invites with them. We invited artists to submit pictures, films and illustrations that capture the idea of “one less stranger”. Airbnb could then use all that content to support and drive their campaign.

What we are really shooting for is to become the world’s largest and most vibrant community of artists and creators.

So besides hosting these creative briefs, we are also building out a full social networking platform that enables members of our community to connect and engage with each other.

This sounds like there are quite a few challenges in building such a community for creators and artists. Can you share some?

Yes. One difficulty is that on the one hand we are operating on a very global scale, so right now we have active users from 175 different countries. We have subsidiaries in London, Munich, Dubai and Mumbai, in addition to our headquarters in Los Angeles.

Bringing together all these different cultures and artists on one platform and community can be a challenge, but a very interesting one.

Can you share some personal challenges in moving to Los Angeles with your background and from Europe?

One of the biggest issues was getting a visa and making sure I can legally work here. This consumed a lot more time and money than I thought it would.

But also all the other things like finding and renting an apartment, getting a bank account, buying a car and so on. They’re just so time consuming, and for me, I really had to get this figured out before I could fully focus on my business again.

Can you share what moments got you into technology?

I was always very interested in programming. I think I started around the age of 12, and just the idea that I could type something into the computer and the computer would do it really fascinated me.

By the time I was 18 I had successfully completed a couple of projects, some of which I’ve sold. When I went to University I studied Computer Science in Linz. However, I dropped out after the second semester, because there was just too much opportunities for me to work on projects for real customers that would earn me money. So that's how I got started.

Has there been any other “aha moments” in your early days when technology clicked for you?

When my parents bought our first computer we had no internet. I couldn't just hang out on Youtube or Twitter and slack away my time. For me, I think this was huge because it forced me to play with the stuff that I had available, Visual Basic. So that's how I got into this and it really fascinated me. Later on when when we got access to the internet, this whole new world opened where suddenly I had all the information available whenever I needed it. That really accelerated my interest in programming.

Did you regret dropping out of university?

No, not at all. I didn't get anything out of University. Instead of wasting 4 or 5 years and learning stuff in theory, you might as well try to get real experience in a company or startup. And after 4 or 5 years, you've probably seen enough things that prepare you much better for your career than any University could do. This is, of course, assuming that software development is what you’re interested in.

Going back to the present, what do you find most rewarding about your current role at Talenthouse?

Great question!

What I find really rewarding is knowing that I work on something that actually makes the life better for real people.

So a lot of Silicon Valley startups talk about how they make the world a better place, but in our case we actually do. Our company is about liberating artists worldwide, we give them opportunities that they couldn't get otherwise.

We have many stories from aspiring artists all over the world, who now suddenly work directly with brands like Adidas, Microsoft or Coca Cola. They wouldn’t have had the chance with Talenthouse. So knowing that we do something that actually makes a real difference in the world is very rewarding for us.

Is there any career advice or wisdom you've ever received which you'd like to share with us?

One piece of advice that I received from Mark Suster who is an investor in Los Angeles and really stuck with me is when he told me "Okay, there is this scale from learn to earn, and whenever you make a career move in your life, you can think about it as to where on that scale you want to be."

So, learn would mean that you join an early-stage startup where you get really exposed to things. On the other side you have earn, where you go all in and try maybe a larger company and take out a bigger piece of money, but on the other side you won’t advance yourself as much.

So making a deliberate choice about where on the scale you want to be, I think is a good way to think about your next career move.

Can you share some tools you are using on a daily basis in your role as Chief Product Officer?

We use Trello for managing our day-to-day tasks. We use GitHub for pull requests and code reviews, and active discussions around the code itself.

Internally, we use Slack very actively for all communications within the team but also within the larger company.

Is there any approach or technology you would like to explore more if you had more time?

Totally, right now we are looking into graph databases to help us solve some of the problems that we have with creating a graph through our members of the community.

We are looking heavily into react.js as a way to improve rendering for our website on the front end. Those would be two big areas where we’re getting into at the moment.

How do you handle software testing at Talenthouse? Are there any dedicated QA resources?

We don't have a dedicated QA team but we have a quite sophisticated process that we manage through a Trello board. So every ticket, every task, starts with a requirement that can be accompanied by input from our user interface designer. As it moves through the stages, there are always multiple people who test and verify the correct implementation.

For critical things, we also use automated test that run fully integrated as part of our continuous deployment process on our build server. Using Scala, which is a statically typed language, we don’t feel we need the overhead of writing tests for every aspect of our web application. This combination has worked very well for us so far, but as always, we may need to adapt our approach as we further grow our teams.

Are you using any bug tracking tool?

Other than Trello, no. We try to stay very lean and integrate bugfixes directly into our main workflow. Building a long backlog of bugs that will never get fixed anyways doesn’t work very well in our scenario. Either fix it now, or leave it.

What would you call your big passion about building software?

I don't think about it as building software, I think about it as building a product. I think that's an important notion, because building software just for the sake of doing it, doesn't do anything, right?

Building a product that makes a real difference in people’s lives, I think is much more rewarding.

I am really passionate about knowing that whatever we create gets out into the hands of hundreds of thousands of people immediately. And that can be very gratifying.

Is there any advice you would give yourself as a 14 year old?

That's an interesting one. I guess, nope, I don't think so. I think the process of discovering all these things first-hand, the process itself has a lot of value. I made a lot of mistakes in my own startups, and I’m sure I will continue making tons of mistakes, which is good.

I think the process of making mistakes is very valuable.

You can't shortcut this by telling somebody this is the way to do it, they have to learn it and experience it themselves to get the aha moment.

How do you think will the product of Talenthouse evolve in the next few years?

What we are really aiming for is creating a platform where artists, consumers, and creators can connect and engage with each other. Soon, we will be launching an art feed, and this will be a central experience where we bring together all these individual pieces that we have on Talenthouse already. The millions of content pieces and hundreds of thousands of active users will come together in one experience that's highly personalized and highly customized for each user. I think this will be huge.

Are there any resources you would recommend to other people who'd like to get started in product management for tech-/software companies?

I think for product management, it has long been a very undefined role. What is a product manager? You will get 10 different answers if you ask 10 different people. I think that will change. I think the definition of product management will become more precise, but also it will become more science and data driven.

One book that I recommend for everybody who is even remotely interested in product is called Hooked from Nir Eyal.

I think what we will see is that a lot more research and actual knowledge will go into product management as opposed to just guessing what next feature will make a difference. So preparing yourself with this knowledge is key to breaking into that role.

How do you handle new feature requests at Talenthouse?

We get a lot of different ideas and requests from all sides of the business. There is no specific process to it, but I think having a solid framework for prioritization is really important. What is the bigger product strategy that you’re following? Will this bring us closer to our shared business objectives?

One model that I find particularly useful to do that is called the Kano model. It’s a good start if you want to establish this solid framework that allows you to make these types of decisions with some degree of confidence.

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