Role Models: Kate Maxwell, Business Lead at Strava

Kate Maxwell

Today’s Role Model is Kate Maxwell. Kate studied marketing and built a solid AdOps career in New York City. After several years in the industry, she felt like something was missing but wasn’t immediately sure of her next step. Through deep introspection, the power of networks, and her own persistence, she made a big move. Three years ago, she relocated to San Francisco and landed a role at Strava, a mobile app and website connecting millions of runners and cyclists through the sports they love. Today, she’s the Lead of the company’s business division. When she’s not working, she’s hosting dinners for friends, running all of Northern California’s trails, and exploring international destinations.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

Lead, Strava Business – 2 and a half years!

What attracted you to this role?

In my previous life, I was running Ad Ops teams for media publishers & platforms (Gawker Media and Tumblr, respectively) for years and was craving a new learning experience. I was lucky to work at companies who prioritized the user experience over revenue at the expense of a great website — so many publishers in the early 2010s got caught up in the opportunity to “monetize every impression” and that’s when you started to see programmatic banner ads all over every site. I think that mentality is largely being won over by the opportunity to generate revenue in other ways now – subscription models, events, meaningful and useful partnerships, content that actually helps your life.

Anyway— after my tenure at tumblr, I took some time off, traveled the world, came back to New York and decided to move across the country to California. That’s when I got connected to Strava, who was just starting to think about ways to deepen the business development and revenue side of the business and I showed up at their door with that experience- the rest is history.

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

I have a long but enjoyable commute (ferry boat across the SF Bay and walk/biking), about an hour, so I usually get my emails read and to do list organized for the day during this time. Then my day really can vary quite a lot, but here’s an example of the meetings I attend and things I work on :

  • meeting with a brand partner to go over a potential partnership deal
  • weekly 1:1 with one of the people I manage to make sure their job and days are going smoothly. In these meetings, we plan and prioritize the future
  • discovery deep dive with our product team to figure out more details and needs for a future business product offering that’s being developed
  • working on a pitch proposal for a new client to work with us
  • work session with the other leads on my team to outline our resource needs, headcount, and roadmap for next year

Lunch is somewhere in the middle of all these fun sessions- because my commute is long, a couple times a week I use lunchtime to get a workout in, whether that’s going for a run or going to a yoga class or a swim. At Strava, being active is encouraged and the saying is “there’s always time for your favorite activity type.” This is a relief in comparison with other places I’ve worked— at Strava, we support fitting workouts in because it makes you a happier and more productive contributor. I always feel refreshed and ready to get back to work after a good sweat-it-out session.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

We use a CRM tool called Boostr to help us track business leads and prospect deals (and therefore forecast revenue into the future), lots of Google Docs, sheets, and slides, and Strava has built a robust internal system to execute the products we run with partners. We use Trello to track projects and Jira for technical ticketing. In the past used to run instances of ad servers like Google DFP. My role is less technical these days and more strategic, but since Strava is still a relatively small startup, I remain involved with that side.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I love that I get to wear so many hats! No two days are ever the same. I love that I have the autonomy to think out of the box with my team and come up with stuff that’s never been built or offered before. It feels good to be able to flex those muscles and end up bringing an idea to fruition. We have a great test and learn mentality here, too; if something doesn’t work the way we hypothesize, it’s okay— learn from it and then create something even better knowing what you discovered.

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

Probably the age-old opportunity of short-term results vs. long-term vision. How do we execute for today’s goals while building for the future? I don’t think there’s a magical answer, but it’s very top of mind for us and something we make sure to keep iterating on.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

We work with the marketing team to get communication out about a new feature or offering. We collaborate closely with our engineering team to build and execute our roadmap. We check in with our amazing support team to make sure our athletes are always having a great experience. And we coordinate with the infrastructure team to make sure all the t’s are crossed on the back end. There’s not one team at Strava that I don’t work with!

A great example of a stellar collaboration happened a couple years ago.We knew adding post functionality it would be an important addition to our Clubs feature. This functionality helps groups and brands to really connect with their community and capitalize on Strava’s strong social graph. It was a complex project, and when I was leading it from the business side, we needed to coordinate across two different engineering  teams to get it built and released. All went off on deadline without a hitch, and I’m so grateful for all the people who helped work on it with such finesse.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I’m always looking to improve my leadership skills- I was a part of a special leadership program in college and it was my minor- but this is something I’ll always be studying and trying to improve. I love mentoring employees and helping with their career path, helping to set the future vision for the department and/or company.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

Negotiation skills! Ability to think creatively and quickly to solve problems, and ability to build great business relationships. Patience and persistence, because building relationships takes time. Really believing in and understanding your business. And finally, investing in people and building a great team. Hire people who can work proactively and autonomously, and who think differently than you do! Your team will be better for it.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Athlete motivation, and revenue! Ultimately, if we can build and offer great ways for businesses to connect to athletes and reach their own goals. When these opportunities help athletes get better and learn more about themselves, we are doing a good job.

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