Aaron Gray // Greater Returns


Musings on Web Analytics, product strategy + other stuff.

Change Rolls in Like Thunder

Many of you know this by now as we’re likely connected through other social networks such as Twitter or LinkedIn, but, for those of you who don’t already know, in September I took on a new role at a company called Thunderhead.  Thunderhead builds products that help companies communicate with their customers in ways that improve customer satisfaction, increase customer loyalty, and, ultimately, help our customers develop more valuable relationships with their customers.

Those of you who know me well know that I view change as a good thing — I’m quite at home in a fast-changing environment.  In this fast-paced world, not changing is moving backwards.  Like a violent thunderstorm, change clears out the old growth and dead twigs and makes room for new growth.  It brings the promise of something new and the anticipation of a bright future.   This change is no different.

In my new role at Thunderhead I’m leading global UX efforts as Vice President, User Experience.  This is a particularly exciting role for me because, for the first time, I get to marry my experience in analytics with my background in UX — and I get to work with really smart developers and product people to build a new product from scratch.

The More we Change, the More we Stay the Same

This is a “full circle” moment for me as it brings me back to UX, which is where I got my start and which I thought was in my past.  Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because my career path had taken me away from it.  I didn’t realize how much I missed it, and how much I missed working with effing awesome designers.  It’s great to be back at it, and to be doing it inside a growing company that has mad respect for design and user experience, all the way up to the CEO.

So here I am – applying everything I learned in my ten year detour through analytics, which included time at WebCriteria, Coremetrics and Webtrends, to the design of a product that’s going to change how companies connect with digital customers.  The best part is that I get to do one of my favorite things…build a great team.  Building a new team, though challenging, is something you don’t get to do very often, but it’s a great thing.  To be able to choose the people you want to work with — people who share your passion for making something great — is a special opportunity, and I’m thankful to be in a position to it again.

Now Hiring!

So, if you or someone you know is a kick-ass Interaction Designer (IxD), UI Designer, or UI Developer with mad HTML5/CSS/JavaScript skills, we should talk.  I’ve got roles open in both the UK and in the US.

  • I’m looking for two senior level IxDs to lead UX on two different products.  I’m looking for one each in the US and UK
  • I’m also looking for two forward thinking UI Designers to work closely with the IxDs to craft a clean, modern, joy-inducing software experience for our customers.  Also one each in the US and UK.
  • Lastly, I’m looking for a solid UI Developer to work in our Boston-area office.

We run an Agile/Scrum dev process.  You don’t need to have tons of experience inside an agile/scrum process, but you need to be excited about doing it.  We’ve found a good marriage of UX and Agile – and it allows us to work quickly when needed while also allowing the time to explore larger design issues over a longer period of time.

If you want to do some really cool work – let’s talk.


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What’s Next?

My previous post, Here’s to the Future, generated a lot of backchannel questions about what’s next for me.  First of all, thanks to those who expressed interest and congratulations.  A lot of people asked me “what company are you starting?”  So, I thought I’d quell those rumors while they’re still fresh.

I’m not out to start a whole new company at the moment.  I do have a concept I’ve been noodling for years that I’m going to elevate to the status of “side project,” but it will remain a side project until and if it moves beyond proof of concept phase.  I’m sure there will be more on that later.

At the present time, I’m looking for a new product or partner role inside an entrepreneurial company that can benefit from my drive, passion, and vision.  Until such a role materializes, I’ll be open for consulting projects working with companies to define and implement web measurement strategies.

Hope this clears things up.  Thanks again for your interest and support.

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Here’s to the Future

I recently moved on from Webtrends, where I’ve been for the last four and a half years, the last year as Director of Business Development.  In the spirit of change, I’m moving my Blogger blog to WordPress, and starting over.

In the mean time, here’s my story (you’ll also find this content on the About Me page)…

I’m an entrepreneur and web analytics guru, a product strategy & partner guy. I’m visionary – I see things others don’t and I start things.  Sometimes I start things inside other people’s companies, sometimes I start companies.

I’ve been in interactive product development, internet marketing and analytics for 15 years.  My first business, in college, though, was a lawn and odd job service launched with just a used lawn mower and a motorcycle + tiny trailer to haul us around.  The other key piece of equipment was a Mac Plus with HP Deskwriter – key for keeping customer records and printing invoices and business forms on the fly. I spent evenings dialed up to discussion forums on one of the University of Michigan’s machines.

I did lawns for two years before moving across country for my last two years of college, and set up shop changing oil for other college students.  It was grimy, but it paid for my mocha habit.  By the end of college, I was making websites for people.  I coded up a mean HTML table.

In 2000, after a starting a digital media design and production group inside another film/video production company, I started Tweak Interactive.  We were a small UCD-oriented (User Centered Design) strategy/design/production shop and we landed several big projects.  The timing was off, though – in 2001 the bottom fell out of the economy, our projects stopped dead in their tracks, and I went to work for WebCriteria.

Thus began a multi-year focus on web analytics.  WebCriteria was eventually acquired by Coremetrics and I eventually left Coremetrics for Webtrends – a company that needed my help more than Coremetrics did at that time.  At both WebCriteria and Coremetrics, I was a consultant in the services organization helping customers to optimize site conversion performance using analytics data to focus design analysis, which was based on my user-centered design expertise.  This was before the days when optimization algorithms were commercially viable.  At both companies, I had significant input into product functional design and the prioritization of features.

I started at Webtrends similarly as a consultant, but quickly shifted to the management track, helping the company to solve some of the problems that occur when you’re an “old” company in young market.   Most of my time at Webtrends was spent building new processes, new teams and new ways of doing things, shaking off the old ways along the way.  Some of these changes were successful, others less so, but all were required.

Some of the things I changed or started along the way:

  • Created the solution design group, changing the focus of the consulting arm of the company from “configuration” to “solution delivery”
  • Created the services engineering team whose role is to harvest knowledge, practices, and solutions from the field and turn them into repeatable offerings and best practices
  • Established a cross-functional process and support team for the implementation of a new product with particularly complex consulting requirements
  • Established a cross-departmental process and core team for monitoring and responding to social media discussions about the company during a period of intense change and instability
  • Launched the company’s blog and Twitter presence and organized authors and an editorial calendar
  • Changed the focus of the company’s Open Exchange integration partner program from offering “integration capability” to offering discrete, partner-enabled solutions and applications to customers
  • Spearheaded the creation of a cross-departmental partner product integration design, development and 0n-boarding process

My last role at Webtrends was Director of Business Development.  I had a long-term focus on building value for the company, and for Webtrends customers, by growing the ecosystem of partners and developers creating solutions for the Webtrends platform.  The last project I spearheaded at Webtrends before my departure will have a significant impact both on the company’s ability to attract partners and developers, and on the company’s ability to capture the value of that ecosystem and deliver it to the customer.  I’m eagerly awaiting its launch.

I’m on the outside again, looking backward to see what I’ve accomplished, which is a lot, and looking forward to see what I might do.   If I can find the right role, at the right kind of company, I’ll gladly jump in, head long, in support of, and adding my voice to, the vision taking shape there.  But I’m also feeling the entrepreneurial tug…so I’m pushing forward on a concept that has been sitting on the sidelines for several years.  Along the way I’m sure I’ll take on a few consulting gigs, just to keep my chops sharp.

Here’s to the future…and everything it holds.

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Blog Remodel

We’re undergoing a bit of a remodel here at Greater Returns. Shedding the stodgy look for something a little more dynamic and modern. Also, broadening the focus a bit, since I think about more than just Analytics and financial services.

I’m not entirely happy with Blogger’s new templates. They’re better, but they’re still missing some things. For example, I don’t seem to be able to have links to the previous and next post within a post. Seems obvious enough, but it doesn’t seem to be there. If you know how to enable that in Blogger, let me know.

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Words to Live By from Steve Jobs

I was just cleaning some papers from my desk, trying to get organized for Monday morning, and I stumbled upon a printed transcript of the commencement speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005. One paragraph stuck out, enough that I wanted to share it.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.


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I’m back…

I’ve been pretty head’s down at work for the last 6 months, and haven’t had time to write. Things are a bit more sane now, and I’m hoping to take some time at least once per week to write here. I’ll still be focused primarily on financial services, but may occasionally stray to a broader set of topics within analytics.

Don’t hesitate to send me your questions or comments.


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