Stephanie Hannon CTO Strava at muru-D

Stephanie Hannon, CTO of Strava hangs out in the muru-D playroom

Our playroom was buzzing last week when Stephanie Hannon, Chief Product Officer of Strava, joined Mick Liubinskas for a fireside chat. I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to be in the audience to listen, learn and grow from Stephanie’s quite extraordinary, extremely diverse journey.

In a very honest and open conversation Stephanie shared with us snippets of her time when she was CTO for Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, insights into her time at Google and what it’s like to be the head of product for a global community of over 30 million of athletes.

You know you’re getting some real, real stuff when Stephanie would say “please don’t tweet that”. And she said it alot…

You can tell that Stephanie has heart in what she does. She was really quick and enthusiastic to share with us Strava’s contribution to creating better cities to live in. Strava Metro aggregates athlete’s routes and this is shared with cities to help them plan for bikes lanes, defend green space and keep cities safer.

Stephanie spoke of the exciting and all engulfing time working on the Hillary Clinton campaign. I was amazed to hear that in her role as CTO she employed a team of 80 people including engineers, product specialists and designers who designed and launched over 50 products to support the campaign. While I watched the campaign, I never really thought about the complexity and extent of technology that was being used to engage voters and measure campaign impact.

Lessons Learned from Strava

Strava has been a remarkable success story of community building and stickiness. Stephanie spoke of the “Genius insights” that have contributed to this success. Firstly, the competitive nature of cyclists and secondly, splitting the physical world up into segments that can then be tracked and results compared amongst cyclists. This led to incredibly fast and viral growth which threw up a whole set of technical challenges.

She made the point that technology and infrastructure that works for 10,000 users may not necessarily work for 1 million users. Other challenges were faced when Strava made the strategic decision to move from a cycling only focus to a multi-sport focus. It wasn’t simply a matter of “copy/paste” existing technology due to the way people undertake other sports.

Mmmm this was followed by another “please don’t tweet this” moment.

What I can share is that Stephanie said she doesn’t pretend that she’s got it all figured out and she too is learning all the time.

Gut instinct versus data

There was a great question from the audience about when it comes to decision making how much should you rely on gut instinct versus hard data. Stephanie’s view is that it’s always a balance. If you have a feel for something then test it. Talk to users, run focus groups, observe behaviour and get some good data before making the big decisions.

Know your why

Stephanie also suggested to be really clear about the problem you’re solving so you can build the right solutions. Always get back to your why and this will help guide your decision making.

How to find the right product person

Having hired hundreds of people, Stephanie recommended to hire someone with the right skill set and experience for the task at hand. Specifically someone that has done the exact job somewhere else. Another tip was to make sure there is a good cultural fit. Working at a resource-rich organisation such as Google is very different culturally to a startup. While someone may have the right “skill set”, they may not have the right “mind set” to make a successful transition.

It was an incredibly insightful, funny and human fireside chat with Stephanie and we really hope she comes back to the muru-D Playroom next times she’s in Sydney.

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote of the day from Stephanie.

“Nothing happens automagically”

Special thanks to the City of Sydney Visiting Entrepreneur’s Program for making this happen.


Written by Melissa Pye, Head of Storytelling muru-D