Speaking @ SVPMA on Sept 3

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I’m speaking at the Silicon Valley Product Management Association next month on the topic “Getting Products out from under the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve and Exceeding Expectations”.

In my talk I’ll discuss how Product Managers play a profound role in creating the environment around product development teams. I’ll explore various ways they can influence these products to move up from mediocrity and how to avoid micromanagement and “flavor of the month” feature ideas.

I’ll discuss specific ways to set clear goals and establish the right metrics. Dipping into my eBay days, I’ll share a little known story of the importance of asking for forgiveness rather than permission in driving innovation.

Some other takeaways from this talk will include:

  • How to focus on the right, few, customer adoption metrics (e.g. AAARR). More is often not better and can distract from the main goal
  • How defining your product’s purpose often improves working relationships with designers and engineers so you aren’t left arguing about the “what” or the “how
  • How to avoid getting in the executive micromanagement web especially if they are distracted by the “flavor of the month” or “pet feature” ideas
  • How to drive stealth projects or go through quick business case or product prototyping within a big company

In addition to speaking, we’ll be hosting the event at our Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center in Sunnyvale.

Join me and RSVP for the Event

Event: Sept 3rd from 6:30 – 9:30

Posted in comcast, events Tagged with: , ,

I’m riding to help end MS and need your support

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I’m doing a 2-day 90 mile bike ride (Sept 20-21) for the second year to support an end to multiple sclerosis (MS). I am riding with and in support of my son’s godfather who was diagnosed about 6 years ago. 

Generous donations from people like you last year helped me raise $2,800 which combined with other riders came to over $2M to help in research and treatment!

You can help by sponsoring me today thru a tax deductible donation.

bikems_supportme

Update Aug 18, 2014: I reached my $3,000 fundraising goal! Going to stretch to $4,000…

 

Posted in personal Tagged with: ,

Running an Innovation Center at a Fortune 500 Company

I recently spoke on how to run an innovation center within a large company at both the Lean Startup conference in SF and the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit in NYC. As part of the leadership team running the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t especially within a BIG company.

How can you apply Lean Startup principles at your company? I have 6 pieces of advice:

  1. Ask for forgiveness, not permission
    The eBay mobile app almost didn’t get built as the mobile team was restructured away shortly before Apple announced the App Store in 2008. By “hiding” a small team of people building MVP (Alan Lewis, Ken Sun, Karlyn Neal) enough momentum was established that the Exec team went along.
  2. Build credibility thru projects–then scale
    The Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center was built out of an earlier acquisition made a couple years earlier in Plaxo. By running projects under the Plaxo brand and then Comcast Labs, credibility in the approach was established with the executive team. Over time its scaled to include higher profile projects, such as SEEiT.
  3. Don’t just swing for homeruns
    We take a VC mindset for “funding” concepts at the center. Ideas can come from anywhere (often Hack Days) and get evaluated using a Lean Canvas. Receiving “Seed” funding means we might assign a few engineers for a month or so. If they prove their hypothesis they might get “Series A” funding where they could build an MVP. Meanwhile we’re always looking for an “exit” which could be an “acquisition” from another internal business unit–so a solid “double” in baseball helps offset the “strikeouts” that might occur.
  4. Adapt Lean Canvas for your company
    I adapted Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas to better fit within the enterprise. Cost included the number of FTEs / time and Revenue includes indirect improvements to retention/acquisition. Finally a new cell was added for “Strategic Fit” which evaluates how well the concept fits within the corporate strategy and who on the Exec team will sponsor it.
    leancanvas_adapted
  5. Watch out for corporate antibodies
    Organizations are just like the body and will attack what they see as “foreign objects” (different ways of doing things). You need to be aware of who’s toes you might be stepping on and building allies at the exec level is important. It’s also helpful to understand resource allocation is often a “zero-sum-game” so don’t scale your resources too fast or they become a target for others looking for funding.
  6. Use vanity metrics (but don’t believe them)
    As you analyze using rate-based metrics that ruthlessly look at acquisition, activity, and retention is the only way to go. However its important that you present your product fairly alongside others at the company. Shining a bright light on all things wrong with your project may not give you the time you need to pivot and get it where you want it to go. So occasionally, its useful to share “vanity metrics” alongside the equivalents of other products at your company. ;-)

Here’s some of my favorite tweets about my talk:

Photo taken by @RedHatInnovate

Photo taken by @RedHatInnovate

As with the rest of this blog, the above are my personal views and not that my employer. 

Posted in conference, talks Tagged with:

The Making of X2

A heart-warming behind the scenes look at how we at Comcast are building the future of TV from the perspective of some of my colleagues.

Want to join in? We’re hiring: sv.comcast.com

Posted in comcast, tv Tagged with: ,

I’m riding to put and end to MS. Support my team.

bike_trainingcrew_bannerHi Friends and Family,
I’m doing a 2-day bike ride (Sept 21-22) to help end multiple sclerosis (MS). I decided to ride with and in support of my son’s godfather who was diagnosed a few years ago. If you are familiar with MS you know that while there are treatments available to try and slow the disease their effectiveness is sporadic and there is no cure .

If you can sponsor me and my team in this ride, your donation will go toward treatment and cutting-edge research to both stop and reverse the damage done to the nervous system by this disease. Ways you can help:

  1. Make a tax-deductible donation to Bike MS.
  2. Investigate if your employer offers a matching program.
  3. Share this link with someone else that might be able to help.

If you can’t help financially now, maybe you’re a cycler and you can offer me some advice before I hit the road for 90 miles. Thanks! :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIQTCCaz7lM

UPDATE: Thanks to all who supported me in 2013! We raised over $2,800, which with the rest of the riders that weekend, contributed $2 million to research and treatment of MS!

Posted in personal Tagged with: ,

A fun new way to pick a flick, together

Today I’m demoing at the NCTA Cable Show  in Washington DC  a slick new “app” we built to help groups of people pick a movie to watch at home, called Movie Night. Tony Werner, Comcast’s CTO, invites me and my team to demo on stage.

If you’re like me, you’ve been on the couch trying to pitch to your spouse or friends movie ideas only to either end up settling for a movie you’re not thrilled about or just give up altogether. So a few of our best engineers and designers were also interested in this problem and over the last 6 weeks put together a collaborative experience that gets everyone in the room involved–and having fun while doing it.

Movie Night Screen

This is just one of a number of innovative products we’re incubating using Lean Startup methods in Silicon Valley as part of Comcast Labs. If you’d like to join us, let me know… we’re looking for more product, design, and engineering talent.

Video of Presentation (jump to 21:50 – 33:28 for Movie Night)

Photo of demo on stage 6/12/13 (by Josh Kennedy):

On Stage Demoing Movie Night

Posted in comcast Tagged with: , , ,

March Madness on X1

I love seeing the Sports App on X1 our team here made while it’s March MadnessX1 Sports App for March Madness

Whenever you want to catchup on the tournament just launch the app on your TV, browse all the live games, and click on the one you want to watch (no need to remember if its CBS, TNT, truTV, etc).

Then while you watch that game you can decide to keep a detailed “game cast” for a 2nd game up so you can decide when you want to hop around.

While we’re working on lots more improvements to this popular app, its great seeing the basics work during a big event like this.

Not at home? XFINTY subscribers can stream all the games live to a tablet or computer:

Posted in comcast

I’m hiring! Join our team!

I’m on the lookout for a strong mobile PM to join our team focused on redefining how people enjoy, discovery, and interact with TV. Here’s a short job description I put together as well as an example of one of the products you’d manage in the role.

What's On TeamHere at the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center we’re also hiring designers and engineers. It’s a great team with some of best I’ve worked with so if you or someone you know might fit the bill ping me.

Posted in comcast, jobs Tagged with: , ,

Play by your own rules

Listen to your users more than the press. Don’t get sucked into the gravity hole between you and your competition. Ruthlessly run your own path, not someone else’s. – Josh Williams

An excerpt from an insightful piece by Gowalla’s co-founder on how he let the competition and the press shape his startup’s priorities. A must read for anyone building a product.

I see it also as a classic case of letting “vanity metrics” drive decisions rather than focusing harder on rate-based metrics that might lead to the kind of breakthrus he alluded to in his piece (e.g. Instagram).

Posted in product, strategy Tagged with: , ,

2013: TV is dead! Long live TV!

Logos for TV Companies

It’s both and 2013 will be the year it happens.

If you’re interested at all in TV you can’t miss rumors of the (real) Apple TV or the rising sales of the actual Apple TV as the most popular “accessory” for iPhones and iPads (10 million sold). We also hear that Intel’s announced its working on its own TV killer. And the one less talked about, which I think is much more likely, is the possibility of a Kindle TV by Amazon–they continue to rack up content deals (e.g. CBS, NBCUniversal) for their streaming service, have hired countless folks from the TV industry, and have a proven track record of building consumer products with billing relationships tied to them (Kindle).

Logos for TV Companies

Who will shape the Future of TV?

If you’re new to thinking about the TV space then I recommend a primer on the business done by Kit Digital which outlines the players, how they make money, and their general strategy. As someone operating in the business, I’d say its fairly accurate:

The 7 key players, circa 2013: The Networks, The MVPDs, The Premium Networks, The OTT Networks, Smart TVs, Third Party devices and Social TV. –Alan Wolk

The primer addresses many of the common questions I tend to hear in discussions like “When will HBO sell HBO GO a la carte?” and “Why are there a bunch of channels I don’t want bundled into ‘Basic Cable’?”

As you might expect, I disagree that all MVPDs are standing still or against innovation (see 5 things you didn’t know Comcast offered). As we innovate in the TV space though we’d be wise to better understand why people pay for TV in the first place. Perhaps the best piece on this was recently shared by Jeremy Toeman (CEO of TV startup Dijit Media) on GigaOm:

As the primary way of watching TV shifts from a traditional broadcast, linear, scheduled, single-device mode to one that is all on-demand, on all devices, available at any time, anywhere, the consumer’s TV watching world is suddenly filled with a curse of choices. If everything we watch requires us to navigate menus, pick from lists, and choose, choose, choose — TV watching is in danger of losing its primary function: escapism. – Jeremy Toeman

In many ways the TV Industry is on the verge of great change in a similar way the mobile phone market was 6 years ago and music industry 12 years ago. Technology is enabling greater innovation, customers are interested in trying alternatives, and there are millions of dollars being invested in developing new products at companies big and small.

In the end I think the winner will need a good combination of understanding the user, great design, saavy business development, and the ability to achieve broad distribution.

Posted in tv Tagged with: , , , ,


Preston builds apps that shape Comcast's next generation mobile and TV experiences at its Silicon Valley Innovation Center.

Former GM of Plaxo.com (acquired by Comcast), User Experience Design leader at eBay, Microsoft PM. MBA from UC Berkeley.

Danville Dad of Three.