Why Our CTO Spends 50% of His Time on the Road

Siiri Hakulinen

Employer Branding & Talent Marketing

Engineering

Smartly.io's Founder and CTO Tuomo Riekki, who was recently included in Forbes 30 under 30 Europe, spends most of his time in the front line of Smartly.io's business, traveling to meet customers and prototyping new product initiatives to solve their pain points. In this blog post, he explains why being close to customers is both a core company value and his favorite part of the job. 

“It’s just common sense that a new startup develops their product in close cooperation with their first customers. Seeing how (and if) customers use your product helps in finding a product-market fit. That’s what my co-founder Kristo and I did when we founded Smartly.io — we weren’t Facebook marketing experts, and our first customers played a huge role in teaching us what they needed,” Tuomo recounts.

A lot has changed since the early days of Smartly.io, but almost five years later, we still work extremely closely with our customers. Our leadership and engineers talk to customers regularly, and our customer success and sales teams get feedback and ideas from them daily. “Keeping close to customers helps us understand their pain points and bottlenecks, and build a product and service that solves their problems”, Tuomo explains. “Feedback from users continues to adjust our product design and development, and touching base with them often helps us keep a finger on the pulse of the whole industry.”

Why customer intimacy is a no-brainer for engineers

Tuomo is a self-taught programmer and he has worked with web development since his teens. Now that Smartly.io is an established company with over 170 people in eight offices, Tuomo’s number one priority is to drive new product initiatives by constantly meeting customers, partners, and Smartlies across the globe and discussing their needs, goals and challenges. His role is a mix of a technical salesperson, a product manager, and a product designer, and he gets his kicks out of coding new functionalities during meetings with customers to fix problems and delight them.

“I love spending time with customers, because that’s where the best ideas come from”, Tuomo says. “One time, I was sitting in a meeting in Berlin and noticed that the customer was copying custom audiences across multiple ad accounts manually, one by one. It looked very tiresome, so I coded a button for sharing audiences between accounts in bulk in the middle of the meeting, and the customer was very pleased.”

Customers really appreciate the opportunity to sit down with engineers and technical account managers, who can bring deeper product knowledge to the table. That’s why our engineers travel to meet customers across continents, attend sales demos, and do technical support regularly, answering customers’ questions and fixing their problems. Read more about how we do this in this blog post by our Data Scientist Markus.

Being close to customers is one of Smartly.io’s core values, and we believe it’s a key component in maintaining our product development speed. All Smartly’s significant features are developed in close cooperation with clients. We fly some of our most advanced customers to Helsinki, where they workshop with our engineering teams, demo how they use the tool, and provide valuable feedback to our product development and design teams.

How we drive new product initiatives

“The majority of new feature ideas kindle in customer meetings”, Tuomo repeats. “We’re serving over 600 online advertisers globally, which means we’re never short of ideas. Figuring out which ideas are the most wanted and how we could solve them through our product requires context which we can only get by spending a lot of time with the users. It’s our job to probe, ask loads of questions and really understand what the customers struggle with and what would make their work ten times easier.”

“Take the Video Templates feature, for example”, Tuomo says. “We had already built Dynamic Image Templates, which allow the user to render up to millions of product images on-demand by pulling product images from a feed and modifying them with an in-app image editor. Image templates are automatically populated with other dynamic content from the feed, like price, discount percentage, brand logo, and so on. Customers loved it and it quickly became one of the best-selling features of our product. Over time, it became evident that our users wanted the same for videos.”

“After seeing that there’s demand for Video Templates, our product managers and product designers took a systematic approach to pitching an early prototype, testing the solution with a handful of customers, and iterating based on continuous feedback”, Tuomo explains. “We’re now in the process of building the feature, and we strongly believe it’ll become one of the top features that our customers simply love to use.”   


Would you like to help us drive new product initiatives? We’re looking for a Product Manager and Product Designers to join our team.

Learn more and apply!

Siiri Hakulinen Siiri Hakulinen

Employer Branding & Talent Marketing