By Dave Hendrick
After a summer internship with a major consulting firm following his First Year at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, StubHub Chief Product and Technology Officer Arnie Katz (MBA ’09) opted to strike out on his own after graduating, running Relay Foods — an online grocery delivery service he co-founded — for five years.
The innovative company had some success and developed legions of loyal customers, but eventually it became clear that Relay had a ceiling to its growth. Katz moved on, taking the product and innovation lessons he learned at Relay to Walmart eCommerce, helping to build the company’s online grocery unit into a billion dollar business. He shared details of his career journey in a recent profile on the Alumni Spotlight section of Darden’s website.
“I was able to be an entrepreneur, even within Walmart,” Katz said. “I think I was successful because I was able to get good people in a productive environment and get them to think about and chase after big ideas that sometimes work and sometimes don’t — but in both cases you learn a lot.”
Katz said his experience in large companies with strong cultures is that they make space and opportunity for people who make an impact.
In the role of chief product and technology officer at StubHub, a company which recently sold for more than $4 billion, Katz says his charge is to activate new growth engines for the company, a platform for buying and selling tickets to live events. Katz describes the transition as going from food to providing the “emotional nourishment” of helping to facilitate participation with live spectacles.
Katz, who is an active member of the Darden network, said he often advises students seeking a career in technology to learn the language of engineers, to at least be conversant with coworkers who will be critical to making a product a success. And, when considering new products, make sure you’re actually solving a customer problem.
Even more important than technological acumen, however, is what Katz described as customer empathy, or “the ability to get into the customer’s shoes and to understand what they want.”
“You’re going to serve customers that are not you when you build technology products,” Katz said. “You need to understand what their pain points are, what their frustrations are, and then build products that solve their problems and alleviate some of their frustrations. Once you do that, then you have brought value to their life.”
The customer-centric, human-centered mindset is one Katz honed executing on projects in the workplace, but which were introduced at Darden, working with classmates and professors like Saras Sarasvathy, Jeanne Liedkta and Tim Laseter.