Talking with Aubrey Cattell VP of Product at Adobe

August 7, 2020
To listen to the full episode, click here

Joe: (00:00)
Welcome to the DNA and experience podcast from cloud app, where we discuss how and why creating an experience is so important and the psychology behind what makes an experience. So great. Thanks for joining us.Excited to have Audrey Cattell with me from Adobe. Aubrey is a VP of product and also, uh, one of the masterminds behind Adobe spark and has really helped build that with his team to what it is today. I'm a big fan of Adobe spark from the days when it was a Marvel before it was kind of known to the world. Uh, so I'm excited to have Aubrey on today to talk a little bit about products, uh, remote work, the modern workplace, and, uh, really how it's kind of, um, how he's helped build a customer led product. So Aubrey, if you wouldn't mind telling us a little bit about yourself, um, and how you kinda got to Adobe, tell us a little bit about Adobe spark and what's kind of on tap for that. Sure. Yeah. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. It's great to be here and, uh, and chatting, you know, certainly, uh, you know, more conversations are better at this time when we're all, uh, you know, individually isolated.

Aubrey: (01:12)
Uh, so a little bit about me. Um, you know, as you said, I, I'm a VP, a product that Adobe, I run a product called Adobe spark, which you can think of is, you know, really a design app for non-designers. Um, we make it super easy for our users to create things like graphics, videos, web pages. Um, they can do that right in the browser or on their mobile device. Uh, and you know, I've been, uh, I've been at Adobe now for five years, so it's been a really fun journey, sort of growing this product. You know, we, we started with a handful of mobile applications. Then we brought them to the web, uh, you know, from there we've launched our business model and, and started monetizing. And, you know, now we've really been, uh, been scaling it up, um, you know, exploring channels and some cases that are new growth channels for Adobe like SEO.

Joe: (02:30)

You know, I remember, uh, very vividly five years ago or around when you started meeting in your office in San Francisco and chatting about kind of your vision for Adobe spark. And, and, and I feel like I've seen most of those things you talked about like five years ago, like you're hitting each of those. This has been really cool to see, uh, develop. How do you say, or how do you think that Adobe spark kind of fits into the modern workplace? And what does, what does the modern workplace look like to you?



Aubrey: (03:01)
Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I, I would say the way we fit in is now more than ever. I mean, you know, w w we've come through this wave where, um, productivity, uh, was really the key, right. And sort of how users, uh, how basically everybody communicates with one another and that's been with, you know, slides and, you know, word documents, you know, spreadsheets even, um, certainly three text driven. You know, I think the way we're evolving is more towards, um, visuals and, and, and richer visuals. Right. So when you think about, you know, you know, how an image can tell a fantastic story, right, how animation and motion find their way into, uh, to what we're doing nowadays, um, video typography. And so, you know, I really think that, you know, for everybody, who's trying to communicate their ideas, and that's definitely true for, you know, entrepreneurs, you know, to modern marketers, you know, people who are trying to communicate outside the company, but also even inside the, inside the walls of a, you know, small, small and large companies, knowledge workers, you know, they're really looking to communicate their ideas, you know, more impactfully. And I think that, you know, what we're seeing is this is creativity and design really exploding, um, you know, beyond just, you know, traditional creative professionals. Um, and that's a huge opportunity, uh, that we see for, for Adobe and specifically for spark is, you know, really, uh, enabling the rest of us, uh, to, to stand out with, uh, you know, with visuals and with other types of creative outputs that, that can tell a story, um, and really, uh, really communicate an idea, um, you know, in terms of the, the, what the modern workplace looks like. I mean, I think we're, we're writing that story in real time right now. Uh, you know, I don't think any of us could have imagined a couple months ago where we'd be, but, you know, I, I think there were some, some trends were already underway at that point. Um, you know, I think that, you know, for companies being able to get their message out digitally across a variety of channels, um, and keep up with the velocity of content that you, that you need to have to stay relevant. Um, you know, it's always been the case on print, but now more than ever on digital channels, on social platforms. Um, and so I think that's a big part of what companies are struggling to keep up with. And then I just think in terms of collaboration and how people work together, I mean, we're going to all gonna to go back to work, uh, at some point physically, but I think that's going to just look different. And so, you know, the, the questions that, you know, I'm asking, uh, cause I, I not only have, you know, my organization at Adobe, but I'm also the, the site leader for San Francisco is, you know, what, what things need to happen in person and should happen in person versus, you know, where can we be more efficient, um, you know, working, working remotely. I mean, you know, I live in the East Bay and I have an hour commute into the city. That's two hours every day. Um, you know, so in some ways, you know, my productivity has enormously increased, but you know, it's also hard being away from the team and, you know, dealing with, you know, what we all experienced in terms of, you know, zoom fatigue. And so, you know, you got to counter that as well. I mean, I think for, for ideation and brainstorming and workshopping ideas, you know, really driving that level of alignment, um, you know, there's really no replacement for, in person interaction. So that, that hybrid is what's interesting to me. And then, you know, for companies like cloud app, right? How do you, how do you build the right kind of tools and experiences that facilitate, um, you know, that new workplace

Joe: (06:33)
I really liked that you said, um, with the kind of the hybrid model, you know, he had, uh, Chris Kohler, um, who had left Adobe before you got there, but all the Adobe guy now COO at box, um, talked with him a couple of weeks ago and he was kind of on that train as well. Um, talking about, you know, collaboration, productivity, design, uh, take, take me in a little deeper on that, with how that kind of fits into your product roadmap, um, strategy, you know, things that you're looking to do at, with spark and beyond.

Aubrey: (07:07)
Yeah, that's a, that's a great question. I mean, I think some of the stuff that, that we see is, you know, certainly for, you know, individual users in, in small businesses, you know, a lot of them are, you know, they're looking for that, uh, that digital agency in their pocket. Right. You know, how can they create professional looking content, um, but too much faster, you know, with an easier and more approachable solution, that's really gonna guide them to the right answer. And, you know, we do that with, you know, content, for example, right? The way we're able to give users starting points that help them pass the blank canvas. But once you get past, you know, that that's sort of one, one woman or one man band, you know, really creativity and content production, um, is, is a team sport. And, you know, so some of the stuff that we've tackled, um, are, are things like co-editing right.


How can users work together on the same project? Um, you know, more than that, you know, how can they create a brand, um, and w you know, multiple brands, for example, that support different campaigns. Um, and, you know, I think where we go next from here is, you know, we've already integrated, um, with creative cloud libraries, which is really, uh, Adobe sort of interstitial glue that connects, uh, you know, different designers, but also, you know, uh, more downstream content producers, um, with the same set of assets, right? How do you go to a common library and, and pull, um, you know, an asset or more importantly, like a, you know, a brand template that you can utilize anywhere. And so, you know, that's an area where Spark's going to be integrating even more tightly. Um, you know, we want, uh, our entire, uh, all of our users to be able to collaborate with their peers around, um, all of their branded assets around templates, um, you know, that they can use the, to stay on brand even a shared workspace.

(08:51)
Um, that's specific to a, to a given campaign. So you, one of the advantages we have at Adobe is we have this incredible install base of, of, you know, millions of creative professionals. And so if we can link them up to the folks who were working across the company, creating, you know, everything from marketing materials to presentations, to brochures, to pitch stacks, um, and get all of those people creating, you know, on-brand, um, you know, more visually compelling stuff, that's a win, um, it's a win for our users. And, you know, it really leverages, you know, some of the unique advantages that Adobe has.

Joe: (09:27)
Yeah. I mean, it, it benefits everyone overall, uh, you know, consumers, customers see better content. Uh, it's faster, um, pitch decks are better. Yeah. I think there's a lot of, um, you know, effects on small to enterprise businesses. Absolutely. So, you know, uh, Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, all these companies were talking about digital transformation for like seven years. Um, and it was crammed into, I think, I think Satya from Microsoft said, um, two or three years of conversations crammed into two months. So, you know, take us inside what it was like a little bit to, um, create these playbooks, uh, to, you know, move to a remote workforce, uh, supporting kind of your team. Um, and how, you know, a big company has been able to create this modern workplace environment with these remote playbooks that we have. We have.

Aubrey: (10:27)
Yeah. I mean, again, I would say that the playbook is still being written and sure. Of what that looks like, you know, it's interesting. I mean, I think in some ways, I mean, Adobe, like many companies was, you know, really moving in a, in a specific direction. Right. I mean, we were, we were sort of pulling back from remote work, you know, we were, we were moving towards open office concepts that allowed for more live collaboration. And so, you know, now it's not just, you know, how do you rethink remote, but also, you know, when we come back to the office, what does that look like? I mean, you know, you're literally talking about putting back up partitions that we took down to collaboration, but we have to do that in, in the name of safety, um, you know, so that we can preserve distance and, you know, keep people from, you know, actually, you know, when they're not having a conversation, you know, not infecting one another.

(11:23)
And so it's just off, right. I mean, we're, we're navigating all of that. I mean, I think, you know, from a [inaudible] perspective, I mean, a big part of what we've done is, uh, and certainly what I've done with my organization is really just try to be, you know, authentic, um, and honest in terms of what's happening, you know, how we're handling what we know, you know, and a lot we don't know right now, I mean, they continue to be in flux. Um, and so, and then, you know, you add to that, you know, a significant, you know, social upheaval that, you know, in many of our, in, in many of our minds was frankly long overdue. And so, you know, that, that factors into it too, in terms of how I talk to my team. I mean, I, I benefit, uh, from, from having been a, uh, U S history major in college.

(12:11)
So I put a little bit more insight into some of the historical and institutional sources of, of, you know, uh, racism, frankly, and, and social injustice and inequality. But, you know, one of the things that we're definitely trying to do at Adobe is channel frankly, the, the direct voices, um, of some of our black colleagues in the black community at Adobe. Um, you know, it's one thing to understand on paper, you know, what's happened in the past and, you know, or, or what's happening now. It's a very different thing to hear from people directly. And so I think, you know, part of what we're, we're addressing, you know, I think, uh, with forward looking companies is, you know, how can we not only listen and learn, but how can we be a positive force for change, um, know, and make a society that, you know, those of us who benefit from working in technology that we're you, it tends to be more Galatarian, um, or at least we aspire to that, uh, you know, how can we not only, you know, live that, uh, but how can we be a force for change?

(13:12)
And so I feel like that's, that's part of it right now as well. I mean, if you're a leader and you're tone deaf, um, you know, or not addressing, you know, directly what's happening, um, you're missing the boat and it's hard, right? I mean, you're all, we've already got the dislocations of, of being a quarantine, you know, to that, you know, the, the pain, the real pain that many people are feeling and that, you know, that's bubbling over and as a leader, it's your job to really acknowledge that, create an outlet for that, you know, figure out how you're gonna, you know, help your team through that. Um, but also, you know, continue to, to, to do the work and, you know, the, you know, the, the one phrase that, you know, I, I definitely encourage people to avoid is business as usual, things are as usual, right.

(13:57)
And we just have to acknowledge that. Um, but what we can center on is the customer, right? I mean, we, you know, I've been fortunate to have a fantastic team I'm on Adobe spark and we've really made the customer, the center of everything we do. And so when we talk about, you know, where we still have responsibilities, we tend to bring it back to them, to the user, you know, what, what are their problems, you know, how we stay in that problem space and understand, you know, what we're doing now, does it still make sense where we go next? Right. What's changing. Um, you know, and, and how do we serve their needs? And so that's, you know, I don't know that that's a playbook, but those are definitely some of the things that are, that are bubbling up, right. Ongoing communication, keep it authentic. You have to talk live to people, keep it authentic, you know, listen to where people are coming from, you know, give people the opportunity and make sure that, you know, as much as you can, you're, you're doing things that affect change, um, and keep it about the customer. Um,

Joe: (14:55)
I w I always love how, um, Adobe, you know, support supported and was always kind of a, uh, Ford facing leader with, with, uh, things, you know, everything really, uh, that comes up. Um, and I also, I remember, um, you know, five, five years ago, or so, uh, you, and you still talk about it this way, but you kind of mentioned Adobe spark as a startup within an enterprise. Um, which I think is pretty fun to think about, um, how have you kind of, you know, adopted the Adobe culture, uh, that you were talking about, but also, um, how do you kind of run this startup within the enterprise, um, with the enterprise resources at times, um, to really be effective and continue with that, you know, customer led product, like you mentioned.

Aubrey: (15:49)
Yeah, it's a, it's certainly been a fun journey and it's, it's always a tricky balance. I mean, I'm a big fan of thinking, uh, in terms of sequencing, um, and how you, you know, what, what needs to happen along the way in each of those steps. Um, you know, what I would say is, you know, where, where, where spark was at first, um, you know, really addressing, um, you know, what we call it, the communication gap, right? We, we, we have our flagship applications like Photoshop and premiere, uh, illustrator, uh, that, you know, really, uh, address the needs of, of creative professionals. But, but for a lot of folks, they're overserved by those applications, but they're also underserved by productivity apps, right? Like office or G suite, um, even some social first applications when it comes to creating standout content. And so, you know, we set out to build a product that was, you know, cloud native, uh, that worked in the browser and on mobile devices, um, that, you know, offered these content based, starting points.

(16:47)
And so a lot of the stuff we did early on, you know, we, we, you know, I, I built a cross functional organization where we had design embedded, you know, we brought it in growth as a new function to think about, you know, how are we going to scale users and how do we create the loops that, that ultimately generate our success. And that was great for, for a time. Um, and now we're at a point where we're scaling further. And so the trick there becomes, you know, how do we leverage other parts of Adobe and the strengths that the company has, um, to really achieve the, the scale and the, the escape velocity that we want to achieve. And so, you know, there's some things that we're actually, you know, graduate moving out of our org that we've proven work. Uh, but now we need, um, you know, we need the help of, you know, other parts of the company.

(17:30)
Um, you know, some of those are, are absolutely related to marketing. Some of them are related to, you know, platform technologies that we need that, you know, we, we can't build ourselves if we take a sort of longer term view. And so it's, you know, the, the, the startup, uh, the, the startup analogy works to a point, but it's really about how do you incubate a new business inside of a larger technology company, and, you know, how do you sequence your way to success? There's certain things that you, you know, you just need to move quickly on and achieve that velocity and time to market and, you know, extreme focus on the user. Um, but then hopefully you do develop a playbook, um, for example, around content, uh, that allows us to scale, you know, more broadly leveraging other parts of the company. Uh, so that's kind of where we are and that's, you know, that's been interesting to navigate, right. You know, part of it is, is working with my team to understand that, you know, there's stuff that, uh, you know, we got to move to other parts so that, you know, ultimately we can be successful in and best serve best serve our users. And, you know, what that means is there's just new challenges for us to keep that customer centricity and then, you know, translate that to other organizations that can support us.

Joe: (18:42)
No, that makes a lot of sense. I think it's a, you know, you nailed the strategy right on, um, kind of keeping the core focus on your customers, but also recognizing that you want to build and scale, uh, use those resources you have as a company. And we, we touched on this a teeny bit earlier. Um, but how do you think, uh, tools like, uh, async tools like cloud app or you're recording videos or screenshots, or a tool like zoom or blue jeans where you're more real time? How do you see those kind of fitting into the digital landscape? Um, you know, spark is a piece of that as well, creating visuals on the fly and having, I always loved the design filter, um, PC, you guys mentioned how Instagram made photo filters famous and spark, you know, makes design filters a thing. So how do you think those tools like those, uh, can really, you know, accelerate, reduce, uh, meetings or increased productivity or collaboration?

Aubrey: (19:43)
Yeah, I mean, I, I, again, I mean, it's, it's all about how we're fitting into this, you know, sort of hybrid world pride and, and, you know, how do you, you know, trade ideas and, and ultimately, you know, move, move new ideas forward. Um, and, and, and it's a tricky thing, right? I mean, not everything can be alive, meaning, um, but I think especially now, you know, people need the ability to still communicate synchronously. And so, you know, uh, you know, something like a zoom or blue jeans, I mean, you know, we're all on those meetings, you know, for the better part of the day. In some ways I see meetings have gotten more efficient, right. Uh, you know, I think, uh, you know, there's only so many people that you can see on the screen at once. It's harder, you know, for everybody to get a word in.

(20:26)
You know, one of my tricks is always a at the outset of a meeting, you know, especially if there's a lot of information that needs to be communicated, but there's, I know there's going to be discussion is direct people to put their questions in the chat pod, right. And then a lot of times, you know, one person can be presenting, um, while somebody else can be responding to those questions in real time, you know, or you've got, you know, that running list, uh, at the, but that's for synchronous communication. And I think, you know, you, you, you, you draw an important point around asynchronous communication, um, because a lot of things that, you know, need to be consumed don't need to be done live. And I think that's where, you know, uh, I, I'm one of those people who has a love, hate relationship with, uh, with Slack, right?

(21:05)
I mean, it lends itself so much to text or instant messaging paradigms that a lot of times you feel like you have to reply right away, but it's, it's obviously meant to be an asynchronous tool, um, and a way to, you know, to sort of, um, uh, you know, Chronicle, um, you know, some stuff that's come before, so tools like cloud app, or, you know, how we, you know, you're able to add imagery or videos and, you know, have it unfurl right there, you know, live, you know, people then can take a minute to, to consume the content, think about it, um, and share back. And that's really, you know, what you want to achieve is, is that, uh, that mind meld between folks and, you know, people can do that on their own time, but, you know, consume it in a channel that's germane to their work. You know, you're able to accomplish a lot more because you can get people on the same page. Um, but you can, people can do it on their own terms. And, you know, you can reply, you know, back and forth with questions or comments, um, and go from there.

Joe: (22:03)
Awesome. Yeah, I think it's a very much, like you mentioned a collaboration piece, it's a being mindful that synchronous is still, still very valuable. And, you know, I've had a lot of leaders say, uh, similar things this year where like, uh, nobody's traveling. So like everybody's around, right. Like people are in meetings that may not have been, cause they may have been traveling in Europe or Asia or just meeting with customers or whatever, and those aren't happening. So, you know, like, uh, I bring up the example of getting you on the podcast. Like there was no rescheduling and you were available, right. Like you're available within a month. Um, there was no rescheduling and like you're here. So it's like, uh, to think of that happening, you know, six months ago may not have been the case. You know, it may have been three months out and you may have had to cut it or do something different, uh, and definitely nothing against an executive at a big company, but that's just, you know, the life you live is you kind of have to pick and choose what you're able to do. Um, so it's been kind of cool to get access, you know, really get access to, uh, people. And, and it sounds like you've had similar experiences with having, you know, people in meetings and people there,

Aubrey: (23:18)
Which is cool. It is. And I mean, obviously, you know, for conversation like this, that's got to happen live. Um, funny, I also have more time to dive into the stuff that people share with me asynchronously, right. So, you know what he's, uh, you know, recording a back and forth with, uh, um, you know, like in a customer support interaction or sharing with me a screenshot from a design comp, uh, you know, and, and you know, where there's a tricky interaction, uh, paradigm, you know, I, I have time Always, uh, ends up being with Actual clothes, Borders and months, but it's been, it's been great. Right. I mean, the skip flow.

(24:31)
That's really great. I appreciate you kind of diving in on that a little bit. I think as we're kind of closing up, you know, it has been really fun conversation having you on Aubrey, lots of great insights. Um, I want you to kind of look into your crystal ball, you know, look and what do you see? One kind of the modern workplace looking like, um, we've touched on this a little bit and to, you know, what is, how do you make sure to keep the customer at the center of that and really provide a good experience? Yeah, I mean, as I look forward, you know, I, I think it's, uh, the return to work is definitely going to be phased and that's going to look different than what it's looked like before. And I think the that's sort of the hybrid that we talked about and the balance is going to be interesting, right?

(25:18)
I mean, there, there's still gonna be the need for, um, you know, to have folks, you know, together, um, physically, and we got to facilitate that at the same time, you know, it's tough out, it's still a war for talent, uh, you know, and, and, and sort of recruiting, you know, the best folks, um, especially diverse talent, um, who can bring in different viewpoints and, you know, really help you, uh, move the product forward. Uh, and I think they're, you know, we're just going to have to embrace a reality that, you know, world's gonna do a reset and, you know, some people, you know, we're still gonna want to be in, in cities. Uh, you know, we're in major metropolitan areas and others are gonna look for, you know, a different lifestyle and, and some of those folks are incredibly talented and I think companies are gonna make a mistake if they don't figure out a way, uh, to make them part of their workforce.

(26:06)
Um, so I think that's one, right. I mean, I, and I think that's how that modern workplace piece will evolve. Uh, you know, the second part of your, uh, T remind me the second part of your question, just customer centered centrists, gosh, I mean, you know, there, I don't know that, you know, things necessarily changed just they become more true, right? I mean, do you really, you know, when I think about the customer, right, like it's, it's less about the solution than, than the customer's problems. And I think, you know, when you think about the modern workplace and really think about, you know, uh, how, how the world and our interactions are changing, I think that's where, you know, we kind of need to challenge some of the assumptions that we've had to date, uh, in terms of, you know, where the importance lies, um, for different things, right.

(26:56)
And, you know, there's no substitute for the type of, you know, not only quants, but also qual research you can do to really understand, you know, how things are trending. I mean, I'll give you a perfect example, right? We, uh, with spark, you know, a lot of our, um, our user acquisition, especially on web is, is based on a SEL, right. We rank for a lot of different keywords that have to do with, you know, tasks and verbs that that users are searching for. Right. They want to create a flyer or poster. Um, you know, what's interesting is, is the, the, the types of things that are digital or social related, um, you know, are obviously increasing significantly. Whereas, you know, we're actually seeing a reduction in some cases in print workflows. That makes sense. If you think about it with everybody remote, you know, businesses especially need to connect with their customers via digital experiences.

(27:47)
Whereas, you know, print is, you know, becomes a little less apical in a world where people aren't in and out of stores or, you know, or being a little bit more careful with their mail. And so, you know, it's, it's sorta keeping an eye on those things. Um, you know, that's certainly a signal. And then, you know, we doubled down on that by just having conversations with our customers, you know, what's changing, right. Where, you know, where do you have new needs or, or where do the problems that you were trying to solve for before, you know, how have those changed? Um, I just think there's, there's no substitute for that. You know, that's the work of building a great product.

Joe: (28:21)
Yeah. I think, I think you nailed a couple of really good points, especially on the customer side it's it's right now, it's the time of, of a lot of listening and understanding, you know, if, uh, you have small businesses who are your customers and they've had churn, and they're just trying to keep employees on the payroll and they're like, Hmm, do we like, look at all these tools that we're using? Uh, maybe we need to make some cuts, you know, it's listening to them, it's trying to find ways to keep them as a customer and working with them. And then, you know, with, with the other people that are good with money, it's, it's making sure that you're making the improvements and things that are helpful for them and help them to achieve their goals.

Aubrey: (29:02)
Yeah. I mean, one of the things that we decided pretty early on, um, you know, in, in, in this quarantine and, and coronavirus moment was we realized that the sort of pressures that some of our smallest, uh, business customers were under right now from a cashflow perspective, um, when we made, um, spark available, uh, for a 60 day free trial, and that's still running right now. So, you know, for any listeners who haven't given it a try yet, they can go to spark that adobe.com and sign up for 60 days free and, you know, check out all the great content that we're providing, you know, set up their brand, start collaborating, um, you know, and hopefully, you know, they can create some content that's going to help their business

Joe: (29:42)
Stand out a little bit better. Awesome. This is great, Aubrey, thanks for your time again today. Uh, hope you have a good weekend and we will talk soon. Great. Thanks for the opportunity to chat YouTube.

Joe: (29:57)
Thanks for joining the DNA of an experience podcast. We hope you learn something that will help improve your collaboration and enhance the experience you create for your customer. Join the collaboration 2.0 movement today by getting cloud app, the instant business communication tool used to create instantly shareable videos, screenshots, and GiFs. Perfect. For both internal and external communication. Get started for free@wwwdotgetcloudapp.com. Thank you. We look forward to seeing you next time.