Don Nilsson recently joined Addepar as Chief Product Officer to drive the development of our platform that specializes in data aggregation, analytics, and portfolio reporting to provide insights and clarity into even the most complex investment portfolios.
We sat down with him to find out what drew him to Addepar, and what makes him tick.
What did you do during your 23 years at FactSet Research Systems, Inc.?
For the past five years, I was responsible for running FactSet’s global product development function, overseeing development across the entire FactSet platform. Overall, I transformed the way FactSet approached product development, moving away from a reactive “feature” based approach to a user-centric workflow based approach that stressed simplicity and data-driven decision making. This change in approach resulted in material improvements in user experience and improved efficiency within the development organization.
Any key highlights?
In 23 years? A lot! But here are two that I think say something about my priorities and goals.
Historically FactSet had disparate platforms for research and real-time market data. I led the effort to combine those platforms into a single workstation offering. This resulted in a significantly improved user workflow. At the same time, I led a focused effort to reduce complexity in the product, stripping away unnecessary features and functionality, and invested heavily in key usability enhancements like natural language search. This unified, simplified workstation offering creating a key competitive advantage for FactSet in the marketplace.
With my team, I also elevated the role of UX within FactSet’s development team and drove a change toward a user-centric, design-centered approach to development that radically improved usability and the overall user experience. I also drove the migration of FactSet’s product to a web-based platform. The combination of these two initiatives enabled FactSet to close a publicly announced landmark deal with the wealth division of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
What drew you to Addepar?
As an early employee of FactSet, I joined when the company was in its high-growth phase. It was a great experience to work with a talented team to grow a company from $50m to over $1.4b in annual sales. Over the years, I learned a lot and gained a lot of valuable experience but ultimately I decided I wanted a new challenge and I set out to find another opportunity to join a fintech company where my knowledge and experience could help achieve a similar growth story. When I was introduced to Addepar, I knew I had found the company I was looking for. Corporate culture is very important to me. Addepar’s culture of “work hard and be nice to people” really resonated with me. It was clear Addepar had built a team of exceptionally smart, high character, low-ego individuals that work together to solve difficult problems for its clients. I wanted to be part of that. In addition, I strongly believe in the need for tech in the UHNW space and saw Addepar as a leader in that space. So for me it was a natural fit.
What did you learn in your experience at FactSet that you’re planning to bring to Addepar?
Over the years at FactSet our approach to development was constantly evolving, giving me a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t. The most important lesson I learned was the importance of following a user-centric, design-centered approach to development that focuses on user outcomes over features. Engaging users directly via user research and understanding current user behavior by leveraging usage data is key to that approach. I also got a first-hand view of how following an agile development approach with small cross-functional teams focused on specific user outcomes radically improves both product quality and time to market.
What interests you about Addepar’s current focus on high net worth individuals?
HNW individuals tend to have much more complex portfolios with a high concentration in alternative assets. This creates a lot of interesting challenges from a data and analytics perspective. As a result, it’s a segment that is very underserved. The challenge of bringing world-class tools to both the advisor and the investor and building a community that allows for greater transparency, efficiency, and superior investment decisions is very appealing to me.
What are some of the biggest product milestones Addepar can achieve in the coming years and why are you excited to tackle them?
There are several but it all starts with data. As the data on assets continues to grow on the Addepar platform it opens up extensive opportunities to leverage the network effect of the Addepar community. We can surface important trends to our users, providing the community with valuable insights and help people match their dollars with the right investment. That’s incredibly exciting.
And of course, Addepar is often one part of a larger ecosystem for the advisor. So we continue to see a long runway of integrations with other best-in-class providers (financial planning, CRM, portfolio construction, trading/rebalancing) to create seamless end-to-end workflows for our users.
For our core product, we will be investing in improved user experience across the board with speed and ease of use enhancements that will benefit existing users and also make it much easier for new users to onboard. We also see a broad array of improvements we can make to the overall advisor and investor experience in terms of portfolio reporting, proposal generation, investor portal, and mobile. Addepar already has outstanding capabilities in each of these areas but it’s early days still.
How big is your team?
20 employees and growing, covering Product Management and User Experience.
Any management or leadership hacks you can share?
It’s not novel, but I just try to lead by example. Work hard, be nice to people and always represent the voice of the user. My goal is to build a smart, low ego team relentlessly motivated by delivering valuable outcomes to our users.
Outside of work, what do you do to blow off steam?
My main hobbies are weight lifting and fine woodworking. The latter appeals to me for the same reasons that drive my passion for product development. I like to create simple, elegant, functional pieces. It requires a lot of planning, experimentation, patience, and attention to detail. I just really enjoy the process and the results.