Why Hillary Clintons former CTO is back in Silicon Valley

Stephanie Hannon, Strava's chief product officer
Image: strava

Stephanie Hannon, 43, didn’t consider herself an athlete before age 39. In 2014, a looming operation for individual health reasons had encouraged her to begin exercising. She started with a hike, and like countless individuals globally, she switched to her smartphone for some help on where to go and downloaded a program named Strava.

This week, Hannon joined Strava as chief product officer. She’s among the main hires the company made after developing a niche community of cyclists in 2009 to tens of millions of athletes worldwide. Now, Hannon would like to enlarge the tech platform for programmers and the company’s connections with towns.  

Hannon is quite familiar with building tech products and working with communities. She has been working at the highest rates of Silicon Valley since the 1990s. She had been among those product managers from the early days Gmail and Google Maps and dwelt globally to help enlarge those products. She later joined Facebook, where she focused on the security of its one billion individuals communicating.  

But she took a short break from the Valley after she had been called about a position about the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2015. For 20 months, Hannon functioned as Hillary For America’s chief technology officer and oversaw a team of 80 technologists dedicated to placing the first women president in office. That dream wasn’t realized, but Hannon is not giving up yet.  

Throughout her first day at Strava, Mashable talked with Hannon to listen about her career in Silicon Valley, her thoughts about the 2016 election, and what she is working on next.  

What excites you most about Strava, and had you ever been comfortable with the solution and the company before or was it one of those phone calls?  

I knew about Strava since day one because entrepreneurship program I told you about, the Mayfield Fellows program [at Stanford University]. The CTO here, Mark Shaw, was at the program as well, and I think I had been his mentor. He’s a good friend of mine, so he had worked together with the founders of Strava and Kana, and that he was the third employee.  

I knew about Strava for a longtime, and I went on my quest to get healthier. Back in 2014, I had a health crisis. I only wanted to state I’m completely fine. I had to have an extremely invasive surgery, and I wasn’t fit or healthy. I knew 7 months prior to operation if I have healthy, the result would be better and my recovery would be much easier.

For the first time in my entire life at 39, I went on a hike, and I used Strava from the starting to track my increase. I also radically changed my diet. I gave up meat. I gave up alcohol. I gave up a lot of things and went with this health pursuit. I had a 7-hour operation, and I basically walked right out the door. The next day I walked two miles. For me, that was a really motivating moment, and when I got through the operation, I was like I’ve never been a healthy person so how am I going to maintain the motivation going when there’s no operation moving.  

So, I went from hiking to triathlons.

No big deal, just running a triathlon?

Yeah, I only want to stress I’m not a fantastic athlete. I think finisher is a good word. When I did a triathlon, my aim was to be a finisher, to make it across the end line. In the event that you’re a man or woman who doesn’t consider yourself an athlete, then carrying my bicycle into a big pen that says “ATHLETES ONLY,” the first time I walked, I was like, “Is that really me? ” 

Steph’s triathlon gear


That was really exciting and motivating. I did triathlons, Tough Mudders, half-marathons. I moved on a personal quest for fitness and when I did my entire life radically changed, not because I had been fitter, but for most of my adult life I only slept 3 or 4 hours.  

I started sleeping 7 or 8 hours, and I would tell everyone about it. Like, “Maybe you guys learned about sleep? ” I had been more emotionally balanced and more resilient. I had been happier and had better connections. My whole experience going through that had a big impact on me. While I was searching around at companies and met amazing entrepreneurs and all this cool stuff happening in Silicon Valley using the combo of knowing people here at Strava, blend of my personal journey to get healthy, and really thinking in this product.  

In the heart of it, I’ve worked on a lot of platforms, Google Maps is a platform, Facebook is a platform, I think the power of a platform and a lot of innovation can happen together with partners to Strava or connected apparatus to Strava.

I think Strava can be kind of at the middle of the connected world. The opportunity is much bigger. Strava is serving tens of thousands of thousands of athletes, but I think there are over 700 million athletes in the world, and I think they can all benefit from the product we build.    

You joined the tech scene from Silicon Valley in 1995. What’s the biggest difference between now and then?  

An unbelievable amount has changed in 20 years. I think the rate of development, like what I worked on when I had been right out of school, my projects and products likely took a year and a half or 2 years to construct and had a substantial hardware component.  

Now, you operate in a consumer web services company or an organization which develops mobile programs and you’ll be able to iterate really fast. You’re able to construct and launch things in a week.

I think the scale and influence has also radically changed due to the proliferation of mobile devices and the comfort level of the whole planet with social networks and information and the way people handle and use their information, like the concept of what we’re able to do companies like Strava. I couldn’t even conceive of it two decades ago.  

We could also speak favorably about diversity in tech. I felt quite unusual when I entered the workforce, but now I’m really happy to state the landscape has shifted and I’m trying to promote more diversity and building diverse groups has become really important to me and seems more possible now than it did back then.  

That’s an inspiring way to place it. Diversity in tech isn’t perfect, but it’s great to hear that it’s improved.

Exactly. We still have so long to go. I know when you’re building a technology team to place the first women president in office, it’s an unusually good motivation to get a diverse engineering team, but I think we all must keep working with it.  

You’t worked at Google, double in your career, and involving that Facebook. You said theyrsquo;re relatable from the fact they’re mobile and they can scale fast, but is there anything specifically about the difference between those companies?

Theyrsquo;re both wonderful companies. Theyrsquo;re so radically different. Google has been around organizing the planet’s data and making it easily accessible and useable, which I’ll be able to replicate until the end of time. It had been so drilled into us.

A good deal of my time at Google was working on Google Maps. I brought Google Maps into Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and that was an unbelievable experience because if you didn’t have a good online mapping tool and then you bring it into a nation, suddenly they could handle in different ways, do different things with traffic and commerce, and the way they consider solving big problems like terrorism or fresh water, this unbelievable good comes out of bringing maps into those nations.

Facebook is completely distinct. It was appealing to me Facebook a thousand people at the time was moving there every day to communicate and how do you create a safe space for all those individuals? A good deal of what I worked on at Facebook was preventing abuse and spam and providing tools for helping individuals speak to each other if they had been unhappy about content or had poor experiences on this platform.  

Both are amazing companies. The time I worked at Facebook they didn’t have as much acquisitions, so it felt like we were unified working on this one product very similar to Strava today whereas at Google it had been a big company and there had been such massively diverse product lines, but I think across them would be a focus on the user or the person or for Strava’s case an athlete and how do you construct really persuasive, innovative experiences which make their lives better or more efficient?  

Steph after engaging in a half marathon

Image: stephanie hannon

Seemed like you had a pretty fantastic life in Silicon Valley at a few of the most admired companies. Why would you opt to leave these coveted jobs?  

It was a surprise telephone to get the telephone to interview to be the CTO. At the time I was leading Google’s social impact team and we worked on problems like catastrophe response. We built tools for your ebola crisis with Doctors Without Borders. We did a lot of philanthropic giving resources, and we did a lot of Google’s elections operate. In 2014, my groups had been India and Brazil and also we did a whole bunch of experiments in civic engagement. I had been kind of immersed in that space of government and elections, and I had friends like Megan Smith, who had been the CTO for Obama.  

When [the Clinton campaign] offered me, I was incredibly excited and paranoid because I didn’t actually know what I was getting myself into, but I think if someone says, “Do you want to be a part of placing the first woman president at the White House? ” It was really easy to state that’s something I’ll always feel great about trying to perform.

What was the great challenge you faced as CTO of Clinton’s campaign?  

I would say the best challenge was recruitment. For many engineers, they don’t know what it actually means to work inside a campaign or know what’s possible and then the short rate, incredibly short deadlines and hardly any time. We had some ideas which weren’t executable in the time that we had along with the staffing we had. The deadlines we had were so inflexible. When we’re working on Google Maps or Facebook attributes you may anticipate to launch something for St Patricks Day, but if you didn’t, it’s not a massive deal.  

For the campaign, for the first time, we place a real-time caucus app in the hands of every captain at Iowa so that meant we had a real-time dashboard so we can see the results for many regions they came in. You Have to build the app, have it be reliable, and instruct your staff and have everything on that night because it’s night or never.     Dealing with those sort of rigid deadlines which have a little amount of resources was my biggest obstacle.  

However, you were able to overcome that? Did the project go well?

Well, I’d like to believe that. We could have a debate about Iowa, but I mean I’m really pleased with this team. I couldn’t be pleased with the people who gave up jobs at big companies and big compensations to come about the pursuit we went on for the 2016 election. I think we did a lot of things good and then there were lots of things we ran out of time to perform. A good deal of time as a CTO is using these restricted resources, what’s most significant.  

Steph campaigning for Hillary

Image: wikimedia commons

As CTO of Clinton’s campaign, how do you think technology influenced the results of an election?

I think technology played a massive role. A lot of modern campaigning is how do you get to the people you would like to reach efficiently. Different people are wanting to receive their information on Facebook or social media. Some people would rather have a newspaper. Some people today prefer TV. Some people only need to hear something once. Some people today will need to listen to something multiple occasions. Some people are only affected when they hear something through the night or on the weekend.  

I think what’s most fascinating about technologies in the modern era is it’s possible to reach people in a manner that’s quite meaningful to them with very customized messages. I think technology plays a massive role in identifying the most significant people to activate and how to activate them and the way to measure your achievement. I hope we can have a positive impact with those technologies in 2018 and 2020 races.  

Why are you choosing to return into Silicon Valley and San Francisco? Are there any doubt to packing your bags up and coming back here?

No, my house has consistently San Francisco, although I like working in different areas. Within my 10 years at Google, I worked in Switzerland and in Australia. I think of San Francisco at home, but I adore being abroad and in different areas.

You can imagine the grief of what happened [with the election]. The result was big, not only for me, but with all the 80 people I hired. So lots of the conclusion of the year and into this season was supporting them and helping them find new jobs. Had we won the election I would have been so happy if a bunch of my team ended up at the US Digital Service or different areas of the authorities, however in the long run, these 80 individuals, we all wanted to find ways to succeed, therefore there was a good deal of that, then there was time-off.  

Then I joined Greylock in July of the past year, and for me, that was a way to become immersed in the entrepreneurship community, then consider what I needed to do next, and help advise.      

How does your own time at Greylock compare to Facebook, Google, and Clinton campaign?  

A good deal of it was how I could use my experience building products to help portfolio companies at Greylock in different ways. For a number of these, I’d help them hire their initial product manager. For some of it, it may be a company in a new phase of growth and the product team needs to work out how to interact together. With some of these it was what does the product development stage look like. How do we iterate and use data? How do we consider metrics? How do we recruit? A lot of people were interested in my experience in scaling a technology team so fast. A lot of my times were meeting with companies and only sort of helping and advising. Some of my times were just talking to companies and figuring out what to do.  

Google has a massive market cap. Facebook is worth billions. Strava is considerably smaller. Can Strava even contend with them?  

I believe there’s room for more vertical, intimate, personal, social networks. I think there’s a set of those that you interact with for love or passion, and it doesn’t necessarily look like your social network. I experienced this at the campaign era, sometime individuals got tired on Facebook because they’d go there and the content was not something they had been enthused about. If you’re a man or woman who’s an athlete or you’re trying to get inspired or moved or you’re trying to get a brand new idea and you want to visit Facebook to look for the content it isn’t easy, but when I go to Strava and look at my feed, it’s exactly what I’m searching for. It’s quite easy to figure out which types of friends are that types of athletes and having such different experiences or this person runs where I run so perhaps we could connect. Or bike is a bicycle I had been thinking about buying, so perhaps I need to speak to them about it.

From a scientific perspective, what’s the most unique or innovative thing that Strava is performing?

Many bits add up to what’so appealing to the users and athletes today. I think that it’s a good action tracker and that is not a small endeavor. It’s performing unbelievable in biking and running and launched distinct multi-sport features. The idea is to appeal to all these athletes, to serve most of athletes of all sorts. I think that’s really fascinating, then there’s the social network part of the is a community and how do you place meaningful and interesting community features to help and encourage each other?  

There’s this whole platform piece. We want regardless of what device you use or if you do actions indoor or outside, we would like you to be able to have that all in one place, and that’s a meaningful technology problem.  

A good deal of my career I worked with towns, and I worked with towns at several capacities. In 2007, I helped launch Google Transit. If you recall back then, we only had driving instructions on Google. I worked at Google at the Zurich office and obviously public transit in Europe looks different than at a city like San Francisco or Mountain View. I helped create that transit feed which’s broadly adopted today, then afterwards in my Google career, I worked in projects on urban mobility and how do you take all the anonymized rich info we had to work on matters like traffic congestions or infrastructure preparation.     There’s a whole Strava Metro piece. Strava is working with over 130 cities on how they can use the information to make their city better for pedestrians, runners, and cyclists.  

Image: stephanie hannon/strava screenshot

There are a lot of organizations pursuing health and fitness information. In your view, what gives Strava a competitive advantage to them?  

Well, I’m going to remind you that I’t worked here for 20 hours. I think a good deal of what makes Strava particular is the way nicely, and first of all early, they had been really focused on a kind of athlete and a certain experience, and they did that so well they got significant adoption. The learnings from that and being so ruthlessly focused are big. When they moved from cycling to running, they sort of were able to take the classes but admit the same means to inspire people doesn’t necessarily look the same. They were able to build on their merchandise and engineering team to construct a brand new feature set. And then from running to multi-sport and from having an activity tracker into a social network. A good deal of what makes it unique is how powerful the product is. Construction on the core user base, but having the ability to expand. In London, I think we’ve got more runners than cyclists. And then the power of this platform, the eyesight to be able to serve all athletes is also what makes it unique.  

Do you think Strava is at a disadvantage because it doesn’t make its own hardware, not yet?

I’m optimistic. The simple fact that we’ve got 300 apparatus which integrate with the platform and the fact we’ve 20,000 thirty-party programs built on our open API, I think that’s a powerful signal that we’will be with all types of athletes and most of apparatus. I don’t think building our own hardware is a essential part of that.  

What do you think your biggest challenges in this new function?

I love to say opportunity. As an individual, I think there’ s so much to build on. There’s amazing victory that Strava’s had. Any prospect for a product leader to determine what to operate on because there’s no end of ideas. I think a few of the things I care about is how to be the very best at multi-sport and continue to spend in those experiences. We want those people to have good experiences on the merchandise and invest in the platform.  

A personal thing I feel quite strongly about is discovery. I was only in Sydney, Australia over the holidays, and I had been standing by the surface of a bridge and I had been holding my cell phone. I know Strava has good data about areas I will move, but it’s not sourced in a Simple, consumable manner, so that’s Enormous opportunity.    

You’ve held lots of different functions: engineer, product manager, CTO. What’s been the frequent thread in your career, and how do you see Strava furthering it?

Whom I feel most proud and motivated is technologies which makes the world easier for individuals. That seems and feels like different things. In the early days of Gmail, how do we provide this version of online email free to quite institution in the world and that was a really strong pursuit. As we talked about I had been obsessed with transit information and then at Facebook I managed to state how do you create a safe space for a billion individuals to convey and then at the Hillary campaign I had a pursuit that I feel really passionate about, and I think a good deal of people will lead a much better life if this man is chosen.  

Getting behind that has been really easy, so in a similar manner, when I look at Strava as well as the advantage of living a healthy active life and the power of information and community could inspire people to do that. We’re having amazing success at Strava, and I hope by me being here we can accelerate it and amplify it and reach more athletes globally.  

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