Over the last couple of years at Cognota, we’ve been busy growing a dynamic and driven team. From sales and marketing to client success and engineering, we’re proud of the team we’ve assembled and can’t wait to continue adding to it.
As a start-up, we’re used to a fast pace and constant change. In fact, we thrive on it! So, as we continue to develop our platform and deliver additional value to our customers, we’re excited to be welcoming Darren Card as our VP of Product.
Darren brings a wealth of experience, expertise, and success to the table. As a SaaS product leader with over 15 years of experience helping companies like ours deliver software with maximum customer and business value, we’re thrilled to have him join the team.
We sat down with Darren to get to know a little bit more about his experience to date and his plans for Cognota.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your career to date.
I’ve been in the software industry for 20 years now and in product management leadership roles for the past 15, primarily working with B2B enterprise SaaS providers.
In the late 90s I co-founded a web design and development consultancy before shifting over to vendor-side software. After spending some time working to build out project management organizations and leading teams developing custom software solutions, I transitioned into product management and fairly quickly into product leadership.
I’ve had experience working with several start-up and early stage growth SaaS providers that have been anywhere from $5-20M in ARR and between 75-200 team members at the time I joined. Companies at that stage are typically looking to mature and level-up in product management & product design to support their growth and scale stages.
I have a strong track-record of building high-performing product management and product design teams. I also have a lot of experience implementing the supporting processes and tools that enable product teams to make smart investments and increase the velocity of value delivery to customers, partners and our business.
What kind of differences do you anticipate now that you’re working with an earlier stage product in the SaaS market?
Cognota is an early stage company with great traction and a massive market opportunity. Companies at this stage tend to be incredibly nimble and scrappy. I thrive working in that type of team environment and this is the culture I’ve experienced at Cognota.
I expect things will be a bit looser, there will be a few more bumps in the road and the sleeves will need to be rolled up a bit higher, but I feel organizations forming in the early days often have a strong propensity to innovate and I’m excited to be part of driving that.
At this stage, I have the opportunity to leverage years of learnings with other companies to ensure Cognota has a strong foundation for accelerated growth. I also hope to mitigate some of the missteps that a lot of SaaS companies make early on and have to slow down to address in later stages of growth.
What appeals to you about working with B2B enterprise SaaS products?
The customers. Being able to partner with some of the most sophisticated and recognizable organizations in the world is something I really enjoy. Cognota is already demonstrating repeatable success with several of these brands which really attracted me to this opportunity.
As a provider of SaaS solutions for enterprise organizations, product teams have the opportunity to build strategic partnerships and meaningful relationships with customers. The result is a deep understanding of their businesses, the markets in which they operate and a clear comprehension of their unmet needs. This is the necessary foundation for building great products.
I really enjoy solving complex problems, automating legacy processes and helping customers achieve their intended business outcomes. Enterprise checks all of these boxes for me.
I also work closely with marketing, sales and customer success teams in a highly strategic capacity, whether that be supporting acquisition of new customers or retention and growth of existing accounts.
What are your thoughts on building products for the learning and development industry?
I’ve spent the bulk of my career leading products focussed on enterprise marketing technology solutions. Market & customer research, marketing performance management, e-commerce and a few others. So learning & development technology is a new category for me although there are many similarities.
There’s a really noticeable shift within learning and development right now. Companies are hyper-focussed on helping their employees grow, retaining their customers and finding innovative ways to optimize their businesses and grow revenue. L&D teams are on the front lines supporting these objectives and gaining more visibility among enterprise leadership along the way. It is more important now than ever for these teams to be able to expand their scope, operate more efficiently and demonstrate their contributions to the bottom line.
I think there are many untapped aspects of the learning and development function that can benefit from modern software solutions. Historically, L&D was often an afterthought department within the enterprise. These teams noticeably lag when compared to sales, marketing and product departments when it comes to breadth and depth of SaaS solutions to choose from. I think we’ll see that change in the next few years and I believe Cognota is positioned to lead the charge and help to guide the expansion of the learning technology ecosystem.
What is the most important thing a VP, Product brings to the table at any stage in a company’s journey?
For me, the most important is recruiting, coaching and mentoring high-performing teams of product managers and product designers that understand the importance of close and collaborative relationships with product engineering, internal stakeholders, customers and partners. You require a strong team to deliver a great product.
A few other key traits include …
An empathetic leader that has a deep understanding of customer needs and knowledge of the broader market landscape.
A strategic thinker that can articulate a product vision that inspires the company, drives towards success and compels customers to develop long-term strategic partnerships.
Someone who can lead an efficient product innovation process to identify new opportunities on an ongoing basis, pivot when necessary and continuously deliver the best products and solutions into the hands of customers.
An individual that brings focus, pragmatism and rigor to the table to help the company execute on its objectives and achieve its ultimate goals.
What will be your main contributions to Cognota in your role here?
To focus the organization on redefining how modern enterprise learning and development teams operate and perform, while putting Cognota on a path to repeat early accomplishments, grow and move towards the company’s vision.
To help shift the Cognota towards a data-informed, product led growth mindset that values meaningful customer and business outcomes over tactical outputs.
I’m also looking forward to helping influence the product team culture and the broader Cognota culture as we grow. I intend to foster an environment full of energy, enthusiasm and excitement as we move our mission forward. An environment where people can grow, do their best work and contribute to Cognota’s continued success.
I think the sky’s the limit – there’s a big addressable market and a lot of opportunity ahead of us. I’m thrilled to be a Synapster and ready for the ride!