The past year has been challenging to say the least, but when you have a positive outlook like our Vice President of Product Management Eric Burkhard, you’d never know it. He sees nothing but silver linings. Newly married, new job (with BagsID of course) and working on an exciting new technology. Sure, the pandemic took him away from the face-to-face social life he loves, but it also paved the way to work remotely with a team from diverse backgrounds all around the globe – plus, he’s now 100% focused on the role he’s been vying for, moving up from project to product management.
What’s the different between the two? It’s a great question, and one we asked him. His answer gave us clear understanding of the subtle but important differences as well as an appreciation for how he got here:
“Out of college, I worked for small Fintech company as a project manager making sure things got done. You learn a lot at start-ups. I didn’t have a strategic role as a project manager, which is more of an organizational role, but I learned a lot and watched how they struggled without strategic vision. They didn’t know where they were going and were all over the place – constant new directions and nothing ever got finished. A lot of companies don’t have strategy and instead have paralysis through analysis. The product never gets released because they’re waiting for it to be perfect. There’s no such thing. It is always a work in progress with continuous improvement.
From there, I participated in incubator programs and took roles at other start-ups. My responsibilities started to grow from project management to product management. This role is also organizational, but it adds the important layer of strategic thinking. You learn to ask: What do stakeholders want? What are the goals for the company? How do we make sure the products that we’re building connect with those goals and are satisfying the stakeholder needs? What’s the level of effort? What’s your goal and vision? What do you want this project to do now and five years from now? What’s our marketing and sales strategy? I love bringing all that together,” explained Eric enthusiastically.
“Technology is everywhere, it’s in everything we do. If you aren’t product focused you won’t be successful. If you have a sales-driven organization versus a product-driven one, you will chase everything one account wants, constantly throwing new custom features in quickly. If you have even five salespeople making those demands, it will disrupt your roadmap and vision for the company. It is not the right way to do it in my opinion,” he continued. “Product-driven companies have empathy for users. Who are they and what are their pain points? That’s the kind of thinking that should structure your roadmap. You can be agile of course, get feedback, and have new releases based on those insights and trends.”
User experience and exploring the new technologies to improve that UX is what drives Eric most. It isn’t just what he does for a living, it is what captivates him long after the day is done, so he can stay up to date with the newest trends and innovations. His favorite podcast to listen to is Lex Fridman, a machine-learning podcaster who Eric finds as entertaining as he is educational. “He’s knowledgeable and humorous. Always looks at the beauty in life. Gives talks at MIT – a really smart dude. He’s combining my two worlds because he’s starting to have a lot of Bitcoin people on now too. I’ve never been interested in finance and stocks before but the tech behind Bitcoin has brought me into that,” said Burkhard.
Eric Burkhard (we call him “Burk” for short) likes to push not just himself but the companies he works for. He doesn’t like when things get stale. Just like Bitcoin – the legality, currency, inflation, security, and the technology that supports it, is inspiring to him. So too is the industry-disrupting idea and innovation behind the BagsID A.I. photo recognition solution for baggage handling – its why he was excited to join our company.
Ironically, for a man who lives for technology and works in the travel sector, he likes to completely go off the grid when he vacations – usually somewhere far away and rural. He and his wife, Allie, love national parks, camping and hope to soon see Yellowstone and Yosemite. It’s all about freedom and quality time.
“Time is something you can never get back. Spend it wisely. It is the greatest gift you can give anyone or spend on yourself,” he explained. “It motivates me to work hard to have the financial freedom for more of it. I want to focus on family and show them the world. I’d love to give my future kids that opportunity. It’s my biggest motivating factor.”
It’s a great motivator for sure, especially when you’re in the exciting, non-stop world of start-ups. Work hard, give it 100% but also save time for yourself and avoid burnout. We asked for his advice around that and his success so far:
“I’ve worked with over 60 startups. Biggest advice – you can only spend a dollar once. Narrow your focus, should we go down that path or knock out what we’re working on first? My father always told me ‘it’s all going to work out.’ He was right,” Eric remembers fondly. “Every day there will be more challenges. To think not, is naive. They’re coming one way or the other and if you have this mentality you can handle it. Time heals all.”
And with that, our precious time is up. Thank you for stopping by to meet Eric Burkhard, our VP of product (not project!) management. Stay up to date on future Team Talk interviews and other BagsID news by following us on LinkedIn, , or visiting www.BagsID.com.