Chief Content Officer,
Techstrong Group


In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights Series video Mike Vizard talks to Ryan Daniels, head of partnerships, and Jen Snow, head of the CxO Network, for A.Team about a different way to build and launch new products using Tiger teams that are available as needed.



Mike Vizard: Hello and welcome to the latest edition of The Digital CxO Leadership Insight Series. We’re here with Ryan Daniels, who’s one of the founders of A.Team and is in charge of partnerships. And then we have Jen Snow, who is running their CxO Network. She’s the managing director of that and they help put together product teams that theoretically at least are helping people drive their product lifecycles including not limited to digital process transformation. Folks, welcome to the show.

Jen Snow: Thanks for having us, Michael.

Ryan Daniels: Thanks so much, Mike.

Jen Snow: This is great.

Mike Vizard: So, Ryan, let’s start out with you. What is the process or the thought that led to the founding of the company? And what is this gap that you’re seeing? Because people have been building product teams and trying to do this for years. But is there some way that we go about that that is just fundamentally inefficient?

Ryan Daniels: So I think the short answer is yes. Obviously, that’s why we’re all here. What we’ve seen, I worked in _____ for a while, Raphael, their CEO started a company, a couple companies, one that he sold. We’ve all – and several of us have worked on high performing product teams with technical folks for a long time. And we just expect that it will take many, many months to get your team right. And that’s just the expectation in the business, and it make some sense because it’s a very human process that takes a lot of experimenting.

But we didn’t really accept this as a paradigm that had to persevere for the future where you now have the ability to work with people in so many capacities from a remote standpoint without having to be full-time employees of the same company without all these sort of overhead and burdens that that entails. And so we thought, this was three years ago, this was even before COVID, is there a way to experiment with the structures of teams with a little bit of more flexibility to create high power teams that, yes, you could still do it. And people have done it, of course, for decades over let’s say at minimum six months maybe a year or two to get it right.

If we do that in a matter of weeks or maybe days or maybe instantly, that was the question we set up to solve. It was, you’re right, something that exists but had never been done with this kind of speed and I think scientific rigor of trying to put everything through a system, and systematizing teams.

Mike Vizard: All right, so, Jen, where does that CxO network then fit in this whole equation?

Jen Snow: So, Michael, this is pretty cool. You have these incredible teams of what we used to call free lancers, we’re now calling builders. They are the top five percent of vetted talent in their respective sectors. And we had a number of senior C-Suite executives, CO’s that were coming in saying this is amazing. We love these teams, they’re accelerating us to our goals and our milestones. They’re able to do things that we haven’t seen before, wouldn’t it be great if we actually had somebody at the C-Suite level that could come in in an advisory capacity and form a team with us.

So we also at the same time had senior C-Suite exec’s, former EVP’s, SVP’s, current digital transformation officers and CSO’s that were reaching out saying, hey, I’m not doing full-time anymore or I’m looking for some side gigs. I really feel like I am at a point, typically 15 to 25 years in where I have this deep lived experience and I want to mentor and give back. But I want to work with start-ups, or I want to work with venture capital, or I want to work with Fortune 100 to 500 C-Suite executive teams on shaping their mission, vision, and strategy. How can I get involved with that? And so it was kind of this very serendipitous match that happened all at once.

And Ryan and I started talking about, we’re like oh my gosh, there’s a product here. We can bring in these trusted allies, a C-Suite executive is somebody that they have a board that they’re responsible to. The board gets some of what they do, they have a team that they’re managing and a shop that they’re running. And those people get some of what they’re doing, but who actually gets what they do on a day to day basis? Well, it’s somebody that’s already been there and done that. And so the CxO network was born from that idea.

Mike Vizard: Ryan, what do you hear are the issues that organizations have when they go to build these product teams? It seems like a lot of people are struggling, In fact, for that matter if I looked at nine out of every ten digital business transformation initiatives, they probably either fail outright or don’t live up to expectations. What is our core problem with innovation?

Ryan Daniels: It’s a fascinating question. I think you have to break it down into the people who are trying to drive that innovation, if it’s on an early stage series seed start-up versus a large enterprise, they’re very different answers. I think the truth is that the Google’s and Amazon’s and Facebook’s of the world don’t have a hard time innovating. And that’s why so much – that’s why they have such a huge fraction of their budget allocated to RND. They have tech brands, and they recruit phenomenal technical talent, even way more than they might need, hence, the recent rounds of layoffs. But for other folks, whether technical talent is really – the market’s really tight and it’s hard to hire, even whether folks are a bit more available, it’s still a hard time getting them into places where I think the most innovation is being driven.

And I think that’s at really early stage series seed companies where it’s a bit of a gamble to join those companies. And even though the equity and upside might be high, you really don’t know where it’s going to go. And most career development product talent now has been burned at some stage or another by an early stage risk they took. And so they’re less appetized by that now, less driven towards it. On the enterprise side, the reality is we work with several dozen of the Fortune 500 companies and we work with their chief information officers, chief digital officers, they don’t have technology for those brands. And while what they’re working on is openly say more interesting and meaningful and impactful than a lot of what large tech companies are working on.

They can’t hire the top minds in tech to work on it because they don’t have technical brands. So we work with a large textbook publishing company, it’s 120 years old. We built this app that is one of the top downloaded apps for college students earlier this year in September, a really sticky and engaging way for students to study. I will candidly say, and they’ll be the first to say too, the top developers and product minds and designers to create a really sticky and compelling mobile experience would never have thought to work there. And it hampers large scale innovation that can be diffused into the hands of tens of thousands of people immediately. But we framed it as a team and a mission through our platform, we got an incredible team.

We have the designer who invented the Tinder swipe like 20 years ago is on that team. We have like – I mean I can get more into the specifics. I think that’s one way, and there are others to be sure, but one of the ways we’ve found is framing it as the mission, what you’re working on and how it’s going to – and an incredible team of people that you get to work with. Rather than here’s just a brand of the company, would you want to apply on their job board. And you do it on a mission per mission basis rather than you’re just attaching yourself to this company as a full-time job.

And fascinatingly, we’ve once in a while, folks join full-time the companies that we put them on a team on through A.Team even though they never would have considered working there. Because they realized we’re not just optimizing ad revenue, we’re building a platform for patients to get better access to health care, whatever, that you don’t think about these large, large companies doing innovation. I’m sure you’ve see that all the time, Michael.

Mike Vizard: To follow-up on that, Jen, are these teams permanently attached to these organizations? Or is there an amount of time that they typically engage and they’re moving from project to project? I mean what’s your sense of is this a SWAT team or is this more like somebody becomes a permanent set of advisors?

Jen Snow: It’s really like an Ocean’s Eleven team, Michael. So we cultivate the best talent for a particular mission based on that client’s requirements. They jump in, they support the existing team, help to accelerate to that goal or milestone, and they bounce back out. So they don’t embed, you don’t have long-term resource requirements for this particular team. You don’t need to provide office space for them. They’re also bringing in their expertise from working across multiple sectors. So, for example, we just had a team a few weeks ago, I sat in on a call and they’re advising a company that’s doing a significant pivot.

And they’re working on a cloud-based architecture for them. In this process, the team took it upon themselves to identify all the competitors in the different markets that this particular company sat in. And then said, hey, while we’re pivoting to this new architecture and cloud-based set up for you, did you realize that this entire market right here is wide open for you and ready to go and this is a $2 billion market that you can dive into? That’s the kind of impact we’re seeing these teams having. Once they’re in there, they work, they accelerate, they identify new opportunities, sometimes entirely blue ocean opportunities that the company can engage around. They bounce back out, but they’re not gone.

If the company needs them, they’re still within the A.Team vetted community and they can always come back in, augment as needed, and then go back out after being very thoughtful about your resources and your spend. And then when it comes to things like VC’s and start-ups, your burn rate is significantly extended, or your runway is significantly extended because you don’t have to worry about hiring people full time. You do that just in time talent when and where you need it. And I feel like that’s the true game changer for A.Team.

Mike Vizard: Ryan, do you think the people who drive innovation are kind of psychologically different from other folks in the sense that they only want to be in for the launch and the early stages of the thing. And they don’t really want to stick around and maintain it, they figure somebody else can do that. Because they’re more inclined to focus on the next big thing.

Ryan Daniels: I think there is definitely a type of person that would identify with that characterization. I think, and these are start-up junkies or innovation junkies, whatever you want to call them, I see Jen smiling because she spent most of her career with these folks. It’s like I think there’s other people that just need to find the thing they identify with, the emission they care about with most, maybe that’s health care, maybe that’s insurance and getting more people insured for lower rates, maybe that’s in real estate. And once they’re there, it’s not just the innovation that matters to them but even the incremental innovation that they want to keep working on. And they didn’t – and so I think there’s a few types of personas.

We definitely have a lot of these zero to one people in our network, that was who we started with three years ago. Those are the first joiners. We now have more people who see a team opportunity, maybe one of their friends calls them. Our network is all invitation only, so it’s bringing people who you worked with before, your friends, or your friend’s friends because you’ve got a great opportunity to say, hey, I think I really want to work on a team with you. Do you want to join my team? So you bring people in because let’s say you have this big health thing, you’re really passionate about education and finding new ways to do that with technology. So you put together this team, you’re going to want to stick around for a while, it’s not just a zero to one aspect of it that matters to you, it’s the mission of that.

And you might stick around for even longer because those features and updates that you’re going to be doing for years are just as interesting in some ways as the initial launch. And really what we do with our platform, and we have a series of algorithms that tries to be more and more precise about finding us different personas is to segment them in exactly that way. These are the zero to one folks, okay, great. Bring this PM in, this product manager for the first nine months of development and then we’ll cycle them to the next brand for another application.

But other folks want to stick around. And the better we can identify that, the better our teams can be. And I think most companies have a really hard time being able to segment that.

Mike Vizard: Jen, do you see organizations that embrace this have a higher appetite for risk because they’re not putting as much up front, right, because I’m not changing my full time employees and kind of dedicating them to something that might be speculative. I’m working with some outside contractors and, therefore, I’m much more willing to experiment.

Jen Snow: That’s a great question, Michael, I would say I think it’s more of an offset of risk. Because they’re opening the aperture and the diversity of perspective by bringing in these external resources. And they know that they’re already vetted, they’re able to move quickly, we match them pretty quickly, just a week or so to get new people in on a project, we’ve moved that quickly before. And so I would say that the organizations that are partnering with A.Team right now are those that are very future focused. They’re looking at how to generate the best advantage for their company.

And they realize that that comes from attracting top talent. Their brand might not be the brand that, to allude to what Ryan was talking about earlier, it might not be the brand that would be that eye-catching brand that draws that talent, but what we’re able to do is connect them with the people that they may not have access to. Because maybe some of these individuals have worked in a completely entire, a completely different sector. And in doing that, they never thought about moving from health care to education or from the gaming industry over to Omni channel plus.

But what we’re seeing is a lot of cross pollination, cross collaboration happening in these spaces between our builders. And they are educating themselves as well as our potential clients and current clients about the opportunity space that exists when you bring in just in time vetted talent, like A.Team offers.

Mike Vizard: Right, Ryan, I’m sure you guys meet all kinds of folks who are interested, but are there characteristics of people who make up these teams that you see? I mean is there something you’re looking for? If somebody’s watching this, what would you tell them is the thing that they should bring to the table.

Ryan Daniels: It’s the folks who, and I think this captures most people, but some people are maybe pump their breaks on this, the desire that they find most salient in their careers is caring at least a little bit about what they’re working on. And that means they care a lot about who the people are that they’re teaming up with to tackle that issue. If you’re really content being an independent contributor and money might be the primary driver, that’s a very reasonable motive for a career. I think most of the folks who are coming to A.Team versus any other platform really have had those experiences and find that they do their best work, and they want to do their best work in this career and that’s just a major motivation.

And so being on a team that’s maybe not going to inspire them and working on things that just aren’t the issues that in the shower they’re thinking about how can I optimize this solution, like there’s plenty of work for those people. We’re trying to find the work that is most mission focused. And that’s why teams are the defining variable for doing that work versus just getting a whole team of independent contractors through some sort of platform that’s a bit more commoditized.

Mike Vizard: Jen, flip that question. What is it that you see organizations who engage with your network, the ones that succeed the most, have what kind of attributes?

Jen Snow: They’re very open. They tend to have a flatter I guess leadership organizational setup, they’re leaning into and already buy into the idea that, hey, we have to constantly be evolving and innovation is part of that. Which means how do you best inject fresh ideas into your environment. You’re going to have your organizational team and your tech people there, but how do you keep them fresh? Well, one way to do that is by leveraging external teams, having them come in and showcase the latest code, their updated market experience. Here’s how we’re building a product over here, and that continues to keep the conversation, the ideas fresh, and drives new innovation for each one of these areas that the company’s examining.

I feel like with A.Team, we’re becoming more of a catalyst for how to build better businesses for the future. And many of the people that are coming in, the talent that we’re drawing, is aligned with that vision and that priority. They see the opportunity space to really do some innovation that is meaningful and will also provide businesses with a strategic competitive advantage for the foreseeable future.

Mike Vizard: All right, and folks, as you may remember the original leader for the A.Team always loved it when a plan came together, so this is no different. Ryan, Jen, thanks for being on the show.

Mike Vizard: Thanks so much for having us, Michael.

Ryan Daniels: Thanks, Mike.

Mike Vizard: All right.

Ryan Daniels: Been a pleasure.

Mike Vizard: And thank you all for watching the latest episode of The Digital CxO Leadership Insight Series. You can find this and others on the website. We invite you all to check them out, and once again, we’ll see you next time.

Ryan Daniels: Take care, Michael.

Jen Snow: Bye.