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I have spent the past 12 years building products and managing product development teams. I am currently the VP of Growth at Owl Labs, where we are solving the problems of remote team members everywhere with the Meeting Owl, a 360* video and audio device. 

I have two significant “growth hack” success stories in my career. As the VP of Product at Quantopian, I was responsible for building tools to allow people to write algorithms to invest in the market. While there, I wrote an algorithm which invested in the women-led companies of the Fortune 1000. Run from 2002 - 2014, the simulation returned 340%, more than 200% better than the S&P500 for the same time period. The simulation received wide coverage including articles in Fortune and Quartz. It was retweeted by Melinda Gates and I had the opportunity to speak about my research at numerous conferences.

I was also an early member of the team at HubSpot. While there I was responsible for building the first version of many of their inbound marketing tools. I also launched and co-hosted HubSpot.tv for more than 4 years. The video podcast was the first business podcast of it’s kind and provided both marketing and cultural benefits to the organization. 

I have also been a member of the investing team at Matrix Partners, where I worked with the partners on evaluating deals and with early stage companies on their marketing and launch strategies. I started my career as a project manager at Promotions.com, working with clients such as: NBC, iVillage.comTheStreet.comStockpickr.com and GiftCertificates.com

I have a BS in Computer Science. 

You can follow me on Twitter: @karenrubin 

I will be live on Sep 14 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which I will answer as many questions as possible.

  • TN

    Tri Nguyen

    2 months ago #

    You'll have someone that leads marketing as well at Owl Labs.
    Can you talk about how the marketing & growth teams coordinate and opportunities and challenges that have presented themselves?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      Great question, and one our CEO had when we proposed having both of these roles.

      Rebecca (@repcor) and I are basically attached at the hip. We’ve divided the work so that she is responsible for first sales and I am responsible for what we call, Owls selling Owls, which includes viral and repeat sales. These overlap, especially when it comes to viral sales. To coordinate, we talk every Monday morning to align our initiatives and make sure we are not stepping on each others toes, and then touch base every day (or multiple times every day). Every few weeks we throw everything we want to do up on the board, and divide the work.

      The key is LOTS of communication, and commitment to the same goals.

      4 Share
  • MD

    Mark Anthony de Jesus

    2 months ago #

    What is your biggest growth challenge currently?
    How are you addressing it?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      Our biggest growth challenge is that we are a startup that no one has every heard of. We need exposure! We are looking at both short term solutions (PPC & PR) and longer term solutions (content). There isn’t a magic bullet for this, it’s just elbow grease and effort.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        2 months ago #

        Any early wins you can talk about (and how those came about)?

      • KR

        Karen Rubin

        2 months ago #

        The Meeting Owl is something you have to see to believe. It’s a very visual product. We knew this going in, and we focused on a lot of video content up front. However the biggest success has been our live demos. The demo to customer conversion rate is pretty remarkable and has definitely exceeded my expectations.

  • JP

    John Phamvan

    2 months ago #

    Hey Karen
    What tools are you using for experimentation & analytics right now? Where does your data live?
    Also, what has/have been the most recent one(s) you'll have added to your toolset - and why?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      Our business operations are set up between HubSpot & Shopify. We also have usage data stored in a Postgres database.

      I pull data from all 3 places into Jupyter notebooks (http://jupyter.org/) to do my data analysis in python. We have a shared server, so I can build reports and share them with others on the team, and run them repeatedly without any extra effort.

      I started using python for all my reporting while at Quantopian. We were building our internal research platform based on Jupyter and our customer data was too big for Excel. I’ve found it to be a wonderful tool to keep my programming skills growing while also being super valuable for data analysis.

      4 Share
  • GH

    Glen Harper

    2 months ago #

    Thank you for joining us today, Karen
    I hadn't heard of "The Owl" before seeing your AMA page.
    Can you share what your process/playbook has been so far for building brand awareness?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      We launched the company in May of this year, and our product, the Meeting Owl in June. For a variety of IP related reasons, we couldn’t share much about the Owl before then, which made any pre-launch marketing very difficult!

      In a perfect world with unlimited resources, we could have embarked on a content strategy months or years before launch, so that we weren’t started from zero with a web presence. (I am a HubSpot alumni after-all. I believe in the power of Inbound Marketing). But that didn’t happen.

      Our launch strategy was PR. Our on going strategy is a combination of short term tactics like PR and PPC and longer term content plays to build SEO.

      From talking with lots of customers, we know that education based content (like what HubSpot does around Inbound Marketing) isn’t what they want to be reading. So we are working on other kinds of content (data based, story based, etc) to be more appealing.

      4 Share
  • DH

    Dani Hart

    2 months ago #

    Thanks for joining us today Karen
    What is Owl Labs' North Star Metric?
    How have you been able to rally the team & keep them aligned around this metric?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      Sales, sales, sales.

      It’s pretty easy at this stage in the company. We must prove people want the Meeting Owl and will buy it.

      The good news is we are currently back ordered, but continuing to drive urgency around sales is a top priority. I try to do this by being very transparent about what our goals are, where we are in relation to those goals and what we are doing to exceed them.

      • SI

        Swagat Irsale

        2 months ago #

        I think it makes sense that Sales is a top priority at this stage of the company. Once product/ company gets matured, north star metric can be defined.

        Correct me if I am wrong.

      • KR

        Karen Rubin

        2 months ago #

        Swagat - I totally agree. We are tracking usage and NPS and manufacturing yield and conversion rates and many other things. At the end of the day, for an early stage company with a brand new product, if you can't get people to buy it - the rest doesn't matter so much.

  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    2 months ago #

    Hola, Karen.
    What's the biggest differences/challenges with growing/marketing a hardware product vs a software one?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      I love this question. There is way more to it than I can talk to here, and in fact I am giving a talk on this topic next week for those in Boston (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-difference-between-launching-software-v-hardware-products-in-boston-tickets-37159998556).

      I will share one of my favorites.

      I’m a product person at heart and one of the first things I did at Owl Labs was launch and run our beta program. The biggest difference was how few people you can realistically have in a hardware beta. In software, you are limited by you own time and how much you can devote to finding, interviewing and supporting beta users. I’ve run software betas with hundreds of users.

      In hardware you are limited by how many devices you have. The Meet Owl beta was 50 companies, and I had to fight hard for every one of those devices to go into beta, as opposed to testing. They also had to be shipped or hand delivered, and the process of working with real world goods was very different than cloud based software.

      3 Share
      • JF

        Javier Feldman

        2 months ago #

        Very insightful (and I wish I was in Boston for the talk - @anujadhiya are you going?)
        One follow up - what challenges with manufacturing/supply chain etc have you encountered - and especially ones that you did not anticipate?

      • KR

        Karen Rubin

        2 months ago #

        For me, the biggest surprise was how many of our first Meeting Owls we had to destroy as part of testing! The first run built 80 Owls. I had visions of giving these all to beta users to get feedback. I quickly learned that most would go to things like drop testing and vibration testing. Important things for sure, but as a software person, I was shocked that the very first working Owls we had….were going to be dropped on the floor!

  • DO

    Danielle Olivas

    2 months ago #

    Hi Karen
    I'm sure this is a question you've got a ready answer for :)
    We have a couple of remote members on the team and video calling on Hipchat/Hangouts/Skype/Zoom all seem to work fine.
    What problem is The Owl specifically solving given that these tools already exist?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      Thanks for asking about the Owl. You’re right, I love talking about it!

      The Meeting Owl works in conjunction WITH Hipchat/Hangouts/Skype/Zoom (or whatever video conferencing platform you use.) It’s not an alternative to those.

      The Meeting Owl gives your remote team members a better experience of what is happening in the room. It does this by allowing them to see the entire room (via a 360* view) while also seeing the folks who are speaking when they are speaking. It does this all automatically, just by plugging in a USB cable to your computer.

      You can see a 2 minute demo of it here: https://www.owllabs.com/two-minute-demo

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    2 months ago #

    So cool to finally have you on, Karen!
    You've clearly had roles at some heavy hitting companies.
    I'd love to understand what it was about Owl Labs that attracted you to it?
    What lessons can other small/new startups take away as it relates to the when, what and how of attracting major talent to their unknown business?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      There were two key things that attracted me to Owl Labs. The first was a problem I knew and cared about. At Quantopian we had a number of full or part time remote team members, and collaboration meetings with them was very challenging. When I first heard about the Meeting Owl, I wanted one for my team. When the opportunity to join Owl Labs came up, I had to jump at helping to solve this pain that I knew so well.

      The second was an opportunity to do something new and different. At every change in my career I am looking for something very different from everything I have done in the past, so that I can learn new things and stay engaged. Owl Labs gave me the opportunity to work in hardware which was very appealing.

      From a recruiting perspective, this is two pieces of slightly contradictory advice. First, look for people who understand and can empathize with the pain your product solves. Second, look for people who are different and haven’t been doing exactly what you need.

      2 Share
  • JD

    James Dunn

    2 months ago #

    Its amazing that you were able to launch a video podcast all those years ago.
    Nowadays we see a plethora of podcasts but hardly any video ones.
    Why do you think that is?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      Two things,

      1) It’s very hard to do video easily at the quality people expect. It’s much easier to do audio. We got away with lower quality on HubSpot TV because we were the first. I wouldn't attempt it now.

      2) Podcasts are mostly consumed during commutes, so people hopefully aren't watching the video (if they are driving).

  • SK

    S Kodial

    2 months ago #

    What did you learn from your time at Quantopian and HubSpot that has informed how you approach your role at Owl Labs?
    On the flip side, is there something that absolutely doesn't apply?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      The short answer is….everything.

      Every thing in my career builds off the things I have done before.

      - I started with a degree in computer science, where I learned how to code.
      - From there, I spent 10 months in investment banking, where I learned how to be an excel and power point ninja.
      - I then worked at Corsis/Promotions as a project manager, where I learned how to work with clients and manage engineering projects.
      - I jumped to HubSpot where I learned all about inbound marketing, business strategy, product strategy, management, culture building as well as explosive growth.
      - I join the investment team at Matrix where I learned about venture from the inside. I know what a good pitch looks like and how to work with boards.
      - I then went to Quantopian where I honed my computer science skills and joined a management team for the first time. I learned about how companies are run, recruitment, management, community building, fundraising from the outside, and running product strategy.

      All of that comes with me to Owl Labs.

      3 Share
  • AR

    Aishwarya Raghav

    2 months ago #

    Thank for your time Karen. Could you share 1 of your successful growth strategies? How did you go about building that growth?
    Also from Marketing standpoint what has been the most successful growth channel at Owl Labs?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      One of my favorites was writing the algo at Quantopian to invest in female CEOs. It started as a project to “think like our users” and understand what they were trying to do. I picked an investment strategy that was interesting to me (women) and just started working. It wasn’t about growth.

      The results were so interesting, that I had to share them, and because they were so compelling - they took off on their own and got a lot of attention. I nurtured it by continuing to research the topic, and sharing back with our community what I found (https://www.quantopian.com/posts/research-investing-in-women-led-fortune-1000-companies) and then also going on the speaking circuit to share more broadly.

      You could say this was, in some ways, a news jacking strategy. The timing was perfect because the topic of women is business is so hot right now. The reality was, I took something I found interesting and shared it.

      2 Share
  • MR

    Mike Rizzo

    2 months ago #

    Do you feel head of Growth is best driven from the product angle or can Marketing leaders fit into a "Head of Growth" role just as well?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      Interesting question. I don’t think it has to be one or the other.

      I’m a product person who understand marketing and is diving into growth. Obviously I think that can work. However, I know marketers who can easily drive growth @bwhalley is an example of a top marketer here in Boston that I would hire to any growth role.

      To do growth well, you have to understand the product, the customer, the market and the business. I think any good marketer needs to understand those things as well.

      3 Share
  • LC

    Lingling Chen

    2 months ago #

    Hi Karen! Your bio sounds absolutely amazing and inspiring! As a new graduate with a career aspiration in marketing, I am curious about your thoughts on whether to become a generalist (product, growth, product marketing) or to zoom in one area and be an expert at it? How did you decide to go from to product to growth at Owl Lab?

    Thank you so much!

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      I’m not sure there is one answer to your question. I have not had a long term strategy for my career. I generally have an idea of what I expect to do for the next 2-3 years, and I am always open to things that come my way. I look for opportunities that are very interesting to ME, because I never want to be bored going to work.

      Early on, you should try to work in an environment that encourages you to learn and grow. Ideally it will be a place that encourages you to take on more than just your job description. You should be hungry about doing as much as possible and getting exposure to as many things as possible.

      Don’t focus too much on the long term path, just make sure you are surrounded by smart people you can learn from. The rest works itself out.

      3 Share
  • VB

    Venesha Brooks

    2 months ago #

    Hi Karen,

    I am planning on starting an affiliate program for a Saas company. What do you think about Affiliate program? What approach/ strategy would you take in setting up an affiliate program for a b2b company?

    Venesha

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      Sorry, I can't be helpful on this one. I have never run an affiliate program. Perhaps someone else following along can help.

  • AM

    Arthur Maldonado

    2 months ago #

    What do you think about SEO as a traction channel in 2017?
    Can you share any case study or experiment you (or someone you know) tries recently that showed some success?

  • PD

    Porus Daruvala

    2 months ago #

    When do people "get it" with the product?
    For that matter, what is the "aha moment" for it?
    What do you do to get people to that aha moment asap?

    • KR

      Karen Rubin

      2 months ago #

      The easiest way to figure this out for any product is by talking to people.

      Before launching the Meeting Owl, I spent months hauling my Owl around Boston and New York showing it to people and getting their feedback.

      Before launching the research platform at Quantopian, I spent months giving demos of it to users and potential users and running blind user tests to see what their reaction was.

      Early on, I don’t know of a way to do this that doesn’t involve finding potential users and having a conversation with them about the product.

      From there the challenge is figuring out how to scale that.

      With the Meeting Owl, we have to get them to see it in action. All our efforts are driving toward that (btw, did I mention there is a 2 minute demo video here - https://www.owllabs.com/two-minute-demo 😉 )

      With the research platform at Quantopian, this was actually harder. We had to get them to write some code and then execute it before they got to the a-ha moment. We spent a lot of time working on this.

      I think this is product and platform dependent and something you never stop working on.

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