Denver Startup Week 2018 – Interview with Aaron Duke, VP of Product

Spotlight on the Product Track of Denver Startup Week 2018 (DSW)

With registration now open for Denver Startup Week 2018, we know you’re as excited as we are to get more details about the tracks, sessions, sponsors, presenters, and attendees that will make 2018’s event the best year yet. Like last year, we’re going to publish a series of posts diving deep into the tracks from those who know them the best: the industry pros who develop and curate each track’s content and production.

First out of the gate is the Product Track, which is being headed up by Aaron Duke, longtime DSW leader and VP of Product at Denver-based healthcare tech start-up CirrusMD.

Though his BA in Environmental Science & Policy may have you thinking he’d be in Capitol Hill, Aaron has been a California- and Colorado-based product pro throughout his career. His time in the trenches includes product and UI leadership roles in the Bay Area for such esteemed companies as Virgin Mobile, Helio, Sony, and Blinker. After moving to Denver with his family in 2014, he began to balance his subsequent roles at Effective and CirrusMD with a number of teaching and training events for entrepreneurs, chief among them heading up the Denver Startup Week healthcare technology cluster for the past three years, and delivering product workshops and boot camps at General Assembly.

He sat down with me at Zeppelin Station the other day to give the lowdown on the 2018 Product Track for all attendees — what we should do, what we should see, and how we can best benefit!

First things first: How did you get involved with DSW? As a burned consumer of the industry I had a growing interest in healthcare, so running the health tech cluster from 2015 on was a great opportunity and a perfect fit — as well as one that coincided with taking my current role at CirrusMD. My work at DSW grew as the program grew, and I was excited to be asked to chair the Product Track in 2018. It’s been a blast so far, and I can’t wait until the event.

What are you most excited about? There’s a lot. First, I’m thrilled that the whole idea of Startup Week has evolved to be one of inclusivity and impact. It is something that we all feel strongly about, and it’s super exciting to see how not just the product sessions but all the tracks are focused on supporting every entrepreneur — at every stage, in every industry, and from every background.

Second, the breadth of the sessions in the Product Track is really inspiring. We’ve got ‘101’ content for those just breaking in, but also 201 and 301 for those who need different perspectives or are farther along in their ‘product journey.’ There’s also a great mix of content types — panels, Q&As, solo presenters, you name it. Having diversity in the formatting and content mix — not to mention the personal experiences and industries of the leaders and attendees — is key to our track, and I’m so thrilled to see it coming together.

Who should come to Product Track sessions? The product is interesting because it’s still sort of an esoteric thing but as a discipline, it’s becoming much better understood as a crucial part of the business. So, I suspect attendees will run the gamut from those looking for programming that will allow them to gain hands-on skills to those that just want to sit back and listen to someone talk about their experiences and what they’ve learned both within the product and the broader business success context. Lucky for us, we’ve got it all!

What stood out about all the Product Track session submissions you got? Just the fact that product as a role and as a critical discipline has arrived in Denver. The product has been around for 20 years in Silicon Valley, but it’s just over the past decade or so that product management and development has become critical here — and you can tell from the submissions we received. We had an awesome response. Everything that was submitted showed that people of all types are here and doing this work, giving back and helping to nurture the product ecosphere in Denver and beyond. It’s really impressive and inspiring.

What are the ‘can’t-miss’ sessions in the Product Track? Right now, I’m really excited about these three but check back because I keep finding new ones to love!

It’s Nice to Be Niche: The Power of Product Focus with Kate Hopkins: Monday, 9/24 | 10–11:30 a.m.

The hardest aspect of product strategy is deciding what not to do, but it’s also the most powerful lever. Product focus is critical for small and growing companies because, almost invariably, they’re going up against larger, better-resourced rivals. When you don’t have the resources to be everything to everyone, having a narrower product strategy helps ensure that your product is fantastic for someone. I’ll share examples of how focus can help streamline operations and drive revenue, and how to tell whether you’re focused enough.

Resiliency in Product Management (Stories From Google Wave, Hillary Campaign and Strava) with Stephanie HannonMonday, 9/24 | 4–5:30 p.m.

Stephanie Hannon has been a product leader at Google, Facebook, Cisco and Strava. She was the CTO for the Hillary Clinton 2016 Presidential campaign, where she built and led an 80-person team to launch more than 50 products. Stephanie will talk about failure and resiliency in product management, sharing stories and insights from Google Wave, the campaign and Strava’s heat map.

MVP: And Why We Confuse Building to Learn With Building to Earn with Jeff PattonTuesday, 9/25 | 2–3 p.m.

A minimum viable product is one of the most misunderstood, misused, and abused terms in contemporary software development. In this talk, Jeff will explain the misunderstandings made by thought leaders that lead to the confusion we all deal with today. You’ll learn the counter-intuitive concepts hidden in the term and why really using them is so hard. You’ll learn about techniques that will ultimately help you find smaller successful releases, test your ideas faster, develop higher quality software more predictably, and release more confidently than ever before. Because hidden in this nasty little term are clues that can help you do all that.

Who’s your track sponsor and how are they contributing to the success of your track? Capital One is the sponsor of the Product Track, and we are thrilled to have their support. For one, the Capital One Café at 1550 Wewatta is going to be a great spot for attendees across the board to network, attend sessions, or just relax and recharge.

What’s your best advice for how an attendee maximize value?  By all means, going to listen to each session’s speaker(s) is important but don’t overlook the power and value of networking. Connections make the world go round. Your next contract or role might be in the audience… or on the stage. So go to the Startup Crawl. Look around for cool activities outside of the track you’re most interested in. Talk to someone who doesn’t look like you. Offer to volunteer. Go to a session that you have no background in. DSW will take you as far as you want, you’ve just got to get on the train.

Also, DSW is all about sharing. If you’ve had a great experience or are super-inspired, tweet about it (using hashtag #DENstartupweek, naturally). Share what you learned and get others involved. Always give twice as much as you get.

Last question: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about or from Startup Week? Pace yourself. As you look at the schedule, realize and accept that your life will get in the way of the week. Pick a session a day, maybe two. When I’ve tried to pick five things in a day I go to none of them. So, try to create a balance and be selective. Save that time and energy for networking. Print up a business card to hand out if you don’t have one. Meet someone at every session, hand it out and follow up. And don’t forget that the people in the audience have just as much value — and just as many interesting stories — as the people on the stage. That’s the beauty of Startup Week.

To register to attend or volunteer for (or both!) Denver Startup Week, the world’s largest free entrepreneurial event in North America, visit And if you’d like to get in the mood beforehand, be sure to check out the Product Track playlist on Spotify.


More News