Product Interview - Charley Milley @ Unitonomy
This is an archived post from 2020 which was posted on my previous blog, Product Distilled. It was a project in which Chris Davis and I interviewed local product leaders in the Louisville, KY area. Check out all the posts and let me know if you'd like to see more.
Charlie Miller is the CEO and Founder of Unitonomy, an employee onboarding technology startup in Louisville, KY. Unitonomy is reinventing how information gets transferred. We are building an A.I. powered software that runs a virtual colleague. This colleague drives meaningful communication inside Slack and Microsoft Teams, capturing important information in our dashboard. And it measures performance in the context of collaboration.
Tell us a little about yourself outside of work!
I’m Charley Miller, a classic Kentucky boomerang. I lived and worked around the world only to return to Louisville 4 years ago to start a family. My wife, Rebecca Norton, is also a boomerang — she’s an artist who previously lived in LA and NYC. 7 years ago we met at a Derby party while we were both in town visiting. It’s like the universe pulled us back to our gravitational center.
At the root of Charley is a game designer. I’ve made games for my friends since I was a wee kid. To this day I make card games and board games on the side. At one point I was making video games and game-like simulations professionally. I have two little kids that I’m looking forward to playing (and making) games with when they’re a bit older.
How would you describe your role within your company's product organization?
I’m the Head of Product. I’ve been leading product development for over a decade at a series of startups, many of which are grown up companies now.
What are you working on right now that’s exciting to you?
The big one is the new company I started in 2019 that will be publicly available at some point in 2020. This startup is called Unitonomy. We’re 11 people distributed around the world. We think we can lead the nascent field of A.I. collaborators who augment knowledge workers to make their work and collaborations more efficient. We’re particularly focused on how colleagues communicate and how our virtual colleague can improve information and knowledge transfer.
The two other things exciting me are games, of course. One is a mobile game called Won Way Out. I made a prototype of a multiplayer puzzle game about a year ago and showed it to a few people. Suddenly there’s investment and a team forming around it so I’m going to godfather this into existence. The other game is a pure passion project that’s a decade in the making. It’s called Partners & Poisons, a card / party game. I hope to run a Kickstarter to get it produced — but I’ll wait until my time frees up and those China tariffs lessen.
What is the most important part of your day?
Bath time with the kids. That’s my daily zen. And from there it’s relaxing with the kids, getting them to sleep, and then decide if I need to work or relax. I’m a night owl so I can usually get 2 to 3 hours of good focus when the house is nice and quiet. But some nights I need to recharge the batteries with some mindless sports or reading.
What drains you at work?
Not to plug my company, but this is probably the reason I’m passionate about creating Unitonomy.What drains me at work is inefficient communication and rotten collaboration.
Work & Product
Do you have a daily routine to stay organized or perform better at your job?
As a startup founder, there’s no such thing as a routine. That’s how I like it. But to stay focused and efficient, I rely on some tools… particularly Trello… to make sure I track personal priorities by running some manual workflows. A component of that is something like an Eisenhower matrix, which is helpful for prioritizing my work based on effort vs value.
How do you go about gathering customer feedback?
Conversations. Sometimes that can be messaging back and forth. But the richest feedback comes from sitting with a customer. To maximize my effort(and my team’s effort), I look at every activity through the context of how we can get two outcomes(i.e., two birds, one stone). So when gathering customer feedback, it’s also a chance to present empathy to the customer.It’s also an opportunity to earn more trust by making it clear that our mission is to serve their needs.
How do you make user feedback actionable?
We track customer feedback with extensive note taking.Specific, actionable requests get logged into our backlog to be monitored and bubble up into sprint planning.
What is something you've done recently with your product that was a huge hit with users?
Our software is transitioning from an alpha phase into a beta phase, and only three companies have been exposed to it so far. It’s really early. That said, there’s definitely an‘a ha’ moment when a company realizes the Unitonomy alignment process will save the company from a weekly status meeting and sometimes paying for expensive OKR software. A more specific product moment that’s been ‘unnoticed’ is the Unitonomy onboarding.We’ve removed any complicated setup steps and replaced them with our virtual colleague; onboarding itself inside Slack or Microsoft Teams. This means employees don’t have to do anything to start using our software. Sometimes the best features are the ones you don’t see.
What advice would you have for someone who is hoping to grow in their product-focused role?
Join Product Manager HQ — this is a Slack for PMs around the world to trade advice.
What’s a lesson that you learned the hard way, but would never take back?
Work under a bad boss so you’re humbled to never be a bad boss someday.
What is one piece of advice that had a big impact on your life?
EXECUTE! Everyone has ideas…entrepreneurs find a way to actually execute. My parents really stressed learning how to communicate well. That generally meant knowing how to tell a story, knowing how to explain something in person, and knowing how to write. Much has changed since my parents — now in their 80s — were working, but they were absolutely correct in their understanding that being a good communicator will always be valuable.
For a Product Manager, communication and soft skills are needed every day. These elements typically separate the good and bad PMs.
If you could wave a magic wand and fix something about one of your favorite products, what would it be?
I’d stop multiple bourbons from giving me a hangover! More seriously, how about the Apple TV remote being more intuitive and less touch-sensitive? I shouldn’t have to train a house guest how to turn off a TV.
What is one product or company being built in in your region that you think more people should know about (other than your own)?
For the past 6 months, I served as an entrepreneur in residence at the University of Louisville. Through that, I was introduced to the wealth of research and IP available for entrepreneurs and companies to license. In fact, I licensed some IP from the university for Unitonomy. In this vein, I implore everyone to check out thefounderhunt.com. We held this event at Churchill Downs as the crescendo to Louisville’s startup week, during which we highlighted some IP seeking startup founders to run with. The University of Louisville will run this event again because the feedback was fantastic, so everyone should join the mailing list to learn when it will happen next.
What is a book, podcast, or website that you think more people should know about?
Great at Work, Culture Code, Brave New Work — these are all books on how to create better work environments and improve the culture of collaboration.
What would you do with your time if money was no issue?
Either exactly what I’m doing right now, or I would simply make board games.
Is there something that you want to plug?
Everyone should check out Rebecca Norton’s incredible, colorful abstract art: rebeccajnorton.com
How can our readers keep up with you?
Find me on Twitter @superfection(I love to bet superfectas at the track).