Spotlight Interview: Jason Tatum, Product Owner

We are excited to share stories from some of the amazing group of diverse, intelligent, driven individuals that make up Team CallRail with a series of spotlight interviews. The first in this series is with Jason Tatum, one of our product owners who recently oversaw the development of our new SMS analytics offering.

Jason, how long have you been with CallRail, and what initially made you want to come work here?

I’ve been with CallRail since last November. I wanted to work in a company with a great culture, that was young and still forming an identity. I wanted to help have a hand in forming that.

Talk a little about your background and why you wanted to get into product development.

I was in the nonprofit world for almost fifteen years. I lived in England doing nonprofit work with students. Then I moved back in 2012 and started working with the homeless population at Gateway, here in Atlanta. I worked my way up there to be PR Director doing digital media and donor development. After being in nonprofits for so long, I felt like I had learned a lot but that I was somewhat limited in what I could do in the discipline. So, I at first thought I would go to a marketing agency. As I was interviewing with agencies, I kept making it to the last round. I was too experienced for entry level positions but I didn’t have the agency experience needed to get hired for positions I was more qualified to hold. I ended up going to Vonage doing technical writing at the recommendation of a friend, and went pretty quickly into product and helping with product launches. That led me to want to create things that people would use, and I realized that’s where I wanted to be.

One of the things I appreciate about my nonprofit experience is that it taught me how to enjoy a certain level of chaos. I’ve known people who really struggle if they’re not in highly structured environments. To me, I’m bored if I’m in too structured of an environment. I kind of enjoy the Wild West, cowboy way of making things happen. I think at CallRail we’re in a really interesting place where it’s challenging but it’s fun. You have a lot of startup culture merging with scalability. Being part of that growing up phase is fun for me.

While you were working in the nonprofit world, in what areas did you focus your efforts, and why?

The biggest focus I’ve had has been dealing with homelessness in the city of Atlanta. The “why” is because the factors that contribute to homelessness are extremely complex. It’s sort of like when we talk about why somebody does well in school or not. There are environmental and genetic issues. With homelessness, we tend to say “that’s just the way they are.” We think of it more genetically. But there are external factors that really contribute. First, the biggest thing for me is to create clean, frictionless paths to affordable housing. Secondly, I want to utilize and shape the law to remove friction points to sustainable income and housing. That concept translates very heavily into the work I do with product development at CallRail. We want to remove friction points from customers trying to achieve their goals. They’re very closely linked. We at times create unnecessary friction points in products that keep customers from being successful. Unfortunately, in society, we create unnecessary friction points that keep people from getting an education, jobs, and housing that they need to keep them sheltered and alive. In each aspect of my life, I want to address those problems.

You also participate in leadership for a student organization at Emory. How did you get involved with that and how are they supporting the student community?

I’m on the board of directors for Bread Coffeehouse. They are a ministry outreach, but they do a lot of on-campus community building and take groups of students to Clarkston to do aid for refugees. Aside from being an open house to students, they seek to support scholarship students at Emory that are pretty low-income. They realized a lot of them were at school with no food, so they started a food pantry for students. They found it to be super successful and built good relationships with the administration that way. They also provide counseling services to students. It’s a faith-based group, but it exists to meet the needs of Emory students where they are, rather than being evangelistic in the traditional manner that many people would associate with the word “faith-based”.

What’s the most important thing you’re working on right now? How are you making it happen?

I am working on enhancing our SMS offering. We’re really the first people in the industry who are giving people data they can use in the SMS category. It doesn’t really exist anywhere else. We just introduced the SMS Activity Table. We group text message data points as conversations. That’s significant because in the SMS world, it’s just one stream of communication, and it’s hard to harvest meaningful data out of that from an inbound perspective. But we decided to take one-to-one conversations and define what an SMS conversation looks like.

If you can say we’re defining a conversation as contact between two people over a 24-hour period, we can start to say “Jim is having conversations that average around two hours to get someone to the next stage of the funnel.” It has to do with the rate of conversations over time. That allows you to see trends which show if it’s valuable to nurture an SMS conversation and if it’s more prone to lead to a conversion. You’re able to look at how many conversations are happening, length of conversations, and the average duration. So you’re able to get a little more insight into SMS activity than just looking at total-in and total-out. Calls are easily definable as conversations with a beginning and end. We’re applying the same concept and value to a text message thread by defining beginning and ending boundaries.

How do your personal values and heart for giving back impact your work life at CallRail?

On a day-to-day level, I love the way that product ownership is defined, which at its core is “what does this team need to be successful?” The job is to reduce friction and remove roadblocks to people doing their job well. I think in the role of a product owner, to be successful means to have a generous spirit. In your time and in the attention you give to people’s feedback – both internally and to customers.

From a macro standpoint, I miss the days where companies believe that they have a civic responsibility to their cities and employees. I want to be part of a company that’s young to help forge that sort of spirit. It’s viewed as somewhat archaic now, but is extremely necessary.

Why do CallRail’s brand values resonate with you, and how do you see that evolving as the company continues to grow?

I think that CallRail uniquely builds relationships with its customers, and I see leadership that is concerned with building products that serve our customers. I really don’t think that it’s just about revenue for Andy. I really believe that there is a “we want to do right by the people we’re working with and the people that are working for us”. I think as that core value stays entrenched, that is something that will scale very well when we’re much bigger.

What’s something crazy or unique you’ve done that not many people know about?

I have been face-to-face with a bull in a bull ring in Spain. It was in 2005 during Carnival in Ciudad Rodrigo. It’s a dusty Hemingway-feeling town that transforms itself for Carnival and there’s a running with the bulls. People don’t know that during the day in the middle of the activities there are a bunch of bulls just hanging out in the middle of the plaza, and people just go taunt them. And I thought I could do that and I almost died. It tried to attack me multiple times. All of it was to impress a girl.

What’s the last book you read, and why did you choose it?

I read “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I read that because I am constantly interested in understanding how people experience American life that haven’t had the same type of privilege based on class, wealth or race as others.

What are you usually doing on a weekend off?

My wife and I travel a lot. We’re lucky to have family that has a lake house and a mountain cabin. I like to read a lot. We like to cook breakfast on Saturday mornings. And we like to sit on our friends’ back porches. We also like to try restaurants in the city since it’s a great restaurant town. My top recommendation would be Staplehouse.