Building products that matter: A chat with our new CPO


Mason Adair joins Teralytics as CPO

At the heart of our focus at Teralytics is to enable our customers to apply a comprehensive understanding of people’s mobility to create and improve upon their services in a way that hasn’t been possible until now. With this charter comes the need to approach problem solving from their unique point of view.

Mason Adair recently joined Teralytics as Chief Product Officer to act as a catalyst in this process, guiding the team as we apply our unique technology to offer solutions across a wide range of use cases and client needs.

Mason brings with him years of digital product experience within and beyond the mobility space. His experience includes Product Management and Strategy at McKinsey & Company, and Automotive product management at HERE Technologies. Most recently, he consulted companies on their product portfolio creation as an independent consultant based in Berlin.

Here is what Mason has to say about his decision to join Teralytics.

What was your focus at McKinsey & Company?
At McKinsey, the majority of my engagements were what we called Digital Transformations; helping some of the world’s largest, and often oldest, organizations develop more contemporary approaches to digital product discovery, validation and delivery. The key impetus for change was usually the same: How do we remain relevant and find new ways to problem solve that are fit for the digital age?

In practice, I would arrive at the client with a cross-functional team of designers and developers, playing the role of de facto product leader, executing against an intentionally broad opportunity frame.

With so much ‘wiggle room’, our first challenge was to quickly find focus, which we did by combining McKinsey’s industry research capabilities with first-hand customer discovery. Our approach was to lead by doing, while coaching client teams to enable them to take over after a few months – usually after launching an MVP.

The opportunity to repeat this process several times over allowed me to practice and refine the way I shape new product teams, and discover and execute digital products. It also helped me develop a sense of the types of challenges and pitfalls that companies tend to face, irrespective of which industry they are in.

What do you believe are the most important learnings you can bring to your new role?
One of the common missteps I’ve seen is companies adopting an ‘inside-out’ approach to product; overly relying on gut instinct and internal expertise to shape product offerings, while shortcutting direct conversations with the market before devoting months and millions to development. While large multinationals might be able to endure such missteps until they call in a consultancy lifeline, smaller companies usually don’t survive building the wrong product.

So instead of approaching innovation by asking “what should we build next?”, I tend to start by asking “whose problem should we try to solve?”. This focus on the ‘who’ allows my teams to go deep into a specific context, visiting customers on-site, exploring their end-to-end process and uncovering opportunities to add value that would never surface in a sales call.

I subscribe to the belief that the companies with the deepest understanding of their customers and the wisdom to use that knowledge to shape their offerings will ultimately win. I see this as my charter as CPO at Teralytics.

You’ve founded, worked in, and consulted for companies within the mobility space previously. What’s your take on where the industry is heading?
What we’re calling mobility straddles several discrete spaces ranging from carsharing, autonomous vehicles, public transportation planning and operations, and even travel and tourism.

Over a decade ago, my first ‘location-based’ startup Navadi was all about changing existing industries – advertizing in this case – through real-time location information. The broader theme of high fidelity information about our spatial environment is one that I think will continue to shape a variety of IRL industries.

Consider how the notion of bus service is already being disrupted. Once subject to static routes and timetables that passengers had to abide by, the premise of bus service is being challenged by services like Careem and Swvl in the Middle East and Africa, as well as Berlin’s BerlKönig, all of which use technology to align bus routes to passenger location and real-time needs.

While I was at HERE, we imagined a future where ‘level 5’ (fully autonomous) self-driving vehicles would receive routes dispatched from a municipal command center, which would efficiently disperse vehicle traffic throughout the road network in order to load balance demand and avoid choke points.

We’re in a period of transition, with the landscape of shared mobility still being shaped, and the promise of fully autonomous vehicles driving around our cities still likely at least five years away. But the way people will move around in the next decade will look very different, solely because of the technologies and data that have emerged in the past ten years.

Do you see implications of this type of data for other industries
Certainly any industry that deals with the movement of people can derive value from information about mobility.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken to epidemiology researchers who authored a study on the use of mobile phone location data as an input to contagion models. They concluded that this type of near-ground-truth information can dramatically improve the fidelity of the models they use to propose which regions to distribute medications first and to explore the impacts of various intervention scenarios like school closures on the spread of a communicable disease.

Way back in my university days, as part of a market research internship, I conducted a classic survey-based ‘tourism study’ for the local visitors bureau with the aim of understanding who was visiting the city from where and why. While I certainly stand by the results of my report, I can humbly concede that the type of insight that Teralytics data offers today would have put me out of business had it been available back then.

From retailers trying to decide where to build a new storefront, to new urban air mobility providers deciding where to dispatch their drone-taxis, I have to believe that industries old and new will increasingly rely on mobility data to run their operations.

What do you see the Teralytics opportunity as being? How can Product help support this?
What I love about Teralytics is that, rather than relying on location data from apps, as some in this space do, the company has built a robust data pipeline directly to the Telco sources. This means that the data we use to arrive at insights represents a significant and representative chunk of the entire population, while simultaneously being anonymous. I see this as a solid foundation upon which we can build our products.

I see the opportunity to evolve a portfolio of offerings that provide the most detailed and complete picture of mobility information and targeted analysis tools for specific customers and their questions.

While different industries are alike in that they may generally benefit from mobility-related insights, the specific questions that customers want to answer and decisions they need to make vary significantly.

I see it as the Product team’s job to refine our insights in a way that is relevant for our various customers. To accomplish that, Product needs to live and breathe our customers’ experiences, context and challenges. We will need to innovate, be creative and develop a vision, but rather than ideating on solutions in the abstract, we are starting our innovation journey by asking who we want to build for and what problems they have that we might be able to solve.

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