An interview with Ari Franklin – Technology at a natural resource investment company6 min read

In this exclusive interview, Ari Franklin talks about his experience as the Director of Product at Stronghold Resource Partners, an investment manager focusing on energy and natural resources. He gives advice to Yuan Zheng, our product design intern, and talks about the post-covid work environment as well as the way sustainability will impact the role of product designers and product managers. Prior to his current role, Ari led multiple product teams along Dell’s entire product life cycle at Pivotal Labs. Thank you for the interview!

Yuan: Are you reading anything interesting right now?

Ben Evans – Tech & Media Trends

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Basic Arts’ The Way

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Have you observed any changes in work culture and productivity since remote working started? How might an early career professional best adapt?

I think the shift to WFH has accelerated our need to think about and change the way we work. Work-life balance has become a central part of our idea of success but, realistically, most people have prioritized work due to the simultaneous cultural romanticizing of “hustle culture” and the increase in innovation. 

Now that there are literally no longer walls separating work and life, I could see companies that focus on helping employees work at a sustainable pace (AKA working smarter, not harder) start to emerge as tomorrow’s leaders. 

For the early career professional here are a few things that will make you more adaptable and increasingly valuable:

  1. Hone your collaborative communication skills. Effective team communication at its best ensures constant alignment and shared context. Being remote automatically reduces your ability to communicate well. 
  2. Understand why what you are doing matters. Whether you are preparing to tackle a task list or have a strategic conversation, you need to prioritize what is in front of you. This requires understanding how each of your tasks   will contribute to the overall goal.f you have a good grasp of this you will be a valuable part of your company both as an individual and a team member.

    One way we have approached both of these problems while WFH at Stronghold is more frequent pairing. At first this felt a bit uncomfortable and constrictive because it means we do most work in groups (and less work as individuals) but it has helped us create higher-quality, more thought-through ideas, and spend less time on low-importance tasks.

I know Stronghold Resource Partners is an investment manager focusing on energy and natural resources. Can you tell me more about your company’s products and your work there?

Our product development work is centered around creating clarity within the broad, convoluted realm of real assets, which includes energy & natural resources. A notorious problem in this space is the lack of high quality data on real property ownership and activity, which makes it incredibly difficult to make the right decisions because of the huge amount of incomplete information. We are laser focused on helping our core businesses overcome this and make the best possible decisions with incomplete information.

Stronghold was founded with a culture of experimentation and a healthy appetite for pushing boundaries. Our product development team is here to amplify our ability to do this.

As a UX designer, I’m interested in what user-centered design means to you as a product manager. What do you think is key to a UX Designer’s relationship with his or her PM?

User-centered design means driving value for the business by directly solving problems your users face. It’s an incredibly crucial part of product development and on our team our designers’ skillsets encompass a much broader focus than visual design. They are champions of our users’ needs: quite literally user-centric. In a complementary sense, our PMs are champions for the business.  A close partnership between Design and PM is hugely impactful because it ensures we incorporate both what is important for both the user and the business into the products we build. 

How do you think sustainability will impact the role of a designer or technologist? 

A compelling principle of sustainable products is their potential to more readily drive value for the business and for users, while not needing a lot of overhead to manage and maintain. From another perspective, teams that are sustainable are arguably happier, more engaged and potentially more productive. As design becomes more ubiquitous in good software development it’s important to understand the unintended and second-order impacts of the experiences and environments you create. Incorporating ethical and sustainability-minded thinking here is important and likely very variable based on your company and context.

Ari Franklin

Director of Product at Stronghold Resource Partners, formerly at Pivotal Labs

Yuan Zheng, Product Design Intern

Yuan is a Ph.D. candidate, who published as first/co-author on the PLOS Pathogens, Journal of Virology, Journal of Biological Chemistry and Science Reports. Her current focus is in the promotion of scientific literacy through UI/ UX design. Prior to her role at Unbuilt Labs, where she is reimagining research communication, she has optimized the reading experience of an online UX publication operated by senior designers at BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent).

  • Rochester Institute of Technology, M.F.A. Visual Communication Design ‘21
  • University of Minnesota, M.S. Pharmacology ‘18
  • Wuhan University, B.S. Biology ‘14