Kyle O’Connor has a passion for collaborating to build groundbreaking solutions and loves that Ontra provides the perfect place to do that. Over the last three years, Kyle has moved from product manager to director of product management. Read on to discover how he’s invested in work at Ontra, while also channeling his curiosity and creativity into personal pursuits.
How has your career evolved over the past three years at Ontra?
My career has grown in tandem with Ontra’s growth: I started when we were still known as InCloudCounsel. While the company always had a vision to streamline contract negotiation, the priority in 2020 was on supporting and growing the business. Our team focused on driving our market differentiators to customers, largely in the form of complex negotiation insights and market-leading billing structures.
In 2022, Ontra began the year with a mission to “get to the heart of contracts” by leveraging people and technology to enable faster contract automation and negotiation. This new vision coincided with my move to director, where today I coordinate the efforts in executing on that vision.
It has been a delightful challenge to leverage my early experience in determining feature requirements to now ensure that the scope and direction for a number of teams align with what is impactful for Ontra’s customers.
How would you explain product management to someone unfamiliar with the role?
Some might think product management means writing requirements for technical teams to deliver software features, but there’s so much to discover and test when deciding what will drive value for users. So, our role always comes back to being a champion for our two users: customers and legal partners.
The challenge is often a matter of balancing the prioritization of driving short-term, incremental improvements for the user with investing in ambitious, longer-term innovations that we believe can meaningfully impact the way legal services are delivered to private market participants. Product works to ensure that different Ontra teams understand and collaborate toward solving user needs. In other words, it comes down to a lot of coordination and alignment.
Product management here also means staying really creative with solutions, some of which might not involve R&D at all! We love finding ways to leverage Ontra’s existing products and third-party capabilities to improve our offerings.
What characteristics describe your team and how do those align with Ontra’s values?
Respect for others is the number one value at Ontra and, in my opinion, the most important value we can continue embodying. Our legal community is the foundation of Ontra, and [the lawyers] trust in our ability to build a future together. In turn, we must respect their time, experience, and insights. We also must respect the needs and complexities of our customers, who choose Ontra for our ability to handle all ranges of complexities in their business.
Moreover, we hold a foundational respect for our peers across departments and functions. They look to the Product team to make sound, strategic decisions, derived in part from their unique perspectives and experiences. We wholeheartedly honor their trust in us by bringing everyone’s views together so we can better see the whole picture.
As director of product management, what makes your job exciting?
Without a doubt, I’m most thrilled seeing so many teams execute on a shared vision at a level and complexity I couldn’t have imagined back when I started. Whether it’s advancements in machine learning capabilities, helping lawyers automate administrative tasks, or enhancing negotiation strategies for our customers, every Ontra R&D team is tackling what used to be “one day” for us. It all comes back to a conviction that Ontra’s long-term growth is best supported by putting our users first.
What has been your favorite project to work on at Ontra to date?
The intersection of ML and people operations makes Ontra successful and an exciting place to be. It’s exciting to work on developing and scaling our human-in-the-loop ML capabilities within our negotiation workflows.
This hybrid approach of ML, software engineering, and operations makes it possible to automate repeatable tasks at scale. We can intake documents from multiple sources, summarize entire contracts, and automate administrative tasks. This allows our legal partners to start, complete, and summarize negotiations faster, which is a key strategy for Ontra.
Our hybrid human-in-the-loop approach sets Ontra apart. As we roll out more ML capabilities, we will always involve humans to maintain the accuracy of an automated workflow and identify opportunities for further development.
What gets you the most excited about the future of Ontra?
From accommodating complex requirements to a focus on speed and efficiency, Ontra continues to advance marketplace solutions for routine contracts. I’m most excited about our continued ability to meaningfully enhance the contract review experience for both lawyers and clients.
What advice would you give someone interested in a career in product management?
Nearly everyone on our team comes from a background that isn’t product, including account management, support, software engineering, and even law. What matters most is asking questions and considering all angles while keeping in mind a clear goal and vision, along with the fact that you’re ultimately a champion for our users.
Ontra offers an associate product management position that is fairly unique in the tech space. It’s a great entry point for folks with a product spirit, allowing us to develop people from any background by teaching them technical skills; how to consider project scope, scale, and priority; design principles and more.
By providing this foot in the door, we’ve enabled many people to pivot careers, join Ontra, and make a huge impact.
What’s a unique, fun fact about you that few people are aware of?
During a sabbatical at my previous company, I rode a motorcycle from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi in Vietnam over the course of three weeks. For anyone willing and able, I can’t recommend it enough! Just be aware of monsoon season – it isn’t as predictable as it once was.
In my free time, I take landscape and street photos using a medium format film camera. Film is difficult to work with, results in lower quality, and is far more expensive than digital, yet there’s a thrill in using it. While using film cameras in today’s digital age doesn’t make sense, there’s a huge, passionate community. I find some similarities to designing products: Dashboards and statistics can help, but there’s no replacement for talking to users.