Getting Products out from under the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve and Exceeding Expectations (SVPMA)

Given the key role Product Managers play in creating the environment for their teams… what must they do to avoid the bell curve of mediocre products that unfortunately are the norm? I shared my perspective as the guest speaker at the SVPMA (Sept 3, 2014) based on my own experiences and other authors/speakers that I trust.

Presenting @ SVPMA

I discussed specific ways to set clear goals and establish the right metrics. Dipping into my eBay days, I shared a little known story of the importance of asking for forgiveness rather than permission in driving innovation that resulted in the launch of the eBay iPhone app.

Some other takeaways from this talk 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.

I was pleased to host the event at Comcast Silicon Valley where I work.

A full review of the talk posted on the SVPMA website.

My First Lean Startup – In Brief

At last night’s Lean Startup meetup (video), Eric Ries inspired us to share stories of how we’re applying various techniques, so here goes… 

In January, I had the the idea to build a new app which would enable us to make more meaningful birthday wishes to our friends in the form of something called a  BirthdayGram. However I was determined to avoid investing millions of dollars into an idea only to find out later, it wasn’t needed or desired by customers. Having recently read The Lean Startup, I was inspired by the Intuit “intrepreneur” story and thought it fit well my situation operating with the larger Comcast. So I convinced my team and my boss that we should give Lean Startup a try and we were on our way.

Over the course of next few months we applied the Lean Startup principles and shaped our nacent product. We started running experiments almost immediately as we aimed to validate our most core hypotheses. We also were determined to only build what was necessary to gain learning and deferred issues of scaling / marketing to later as we didn’t need very many users to measure success.

Part of our concept is combining videos from multiple friends into one montage to be shared on the recipient’s Facebook Timeline on their birthday. However building a complex automated video editing solution would be quite resource intensive. Since we only expected a manageable number of users at the beginning we decided to have a small team in India manually edit the videos by hand (turned out to only cost about $0.20 / video). 

We also focused solely on iOS to start even though we knew we’d like to offer a webcam and Android experience eventually. While we’d track interest in those other two platforms we could easily understand what we were “missing out” in terms of virility without them. 

In launching our MVP in April the lessons learned went on overdrive. We were able to measure all our metrics in realtime using Mixpanel and see what aspects of our viral engine of growth were working (lots of people invited) and which were not (invite conversion sucked). We also saw how meaningful it was for recipients to receive a BirthdayGram which inspires us to persevere.  

Assuming there’s interest I’m could expand with details on the following topics:

  1. Defining Hypotheses and Running Experiments – How focus enabled us to find creative ways to gather customer feedback and only build what was necessary. 
  2. Optimizing a Viral Engine of Growth – How we used AARRR funnel metrics to understand whether we were improving our core engine even with just hundreds of users. 
  3. Using the Five Why’s – Examples of how running a service for real and having problems taught us way more than if we had waited longer to launch. 

Time will tell if this all turns out to be a good idea. But either way, I’m learning how to be a better entrepreneur. 🙂

Why Facebook *really* shut down another contact info exporter today

In the news today we see yet another case of Facebook shutting down a service aimed at librating contact info from the Facebook walled garden.

Facebook believes you shouldn’t be able to export the contact info your friends have shared with you—Except when it doesn’t believe that (their Dec 2009 deal with Yahoo! which enabled contact export from FB to Yahoo Mail)

Flickr: Walled GardenFrom a PR perspective, Facebook spins their “lock-in” strategy as in the best interests of protecting “your” contact info. But the fact remains that you cannot take your friends contact info with you to another service FB deems competitive (e.g. Google+, your email contacts, your smartphone) unless it’s also in the best interest of Facebook (Yahoo deal).

If they truly care about protecting that contact info, why allow Yahoo users do something they don’t allow anyone else to? I figure it’s because in Yahoo outsourcing social to Facebook they also agreed not to compete on social which means I think FB is really out to protect its business more than it’s users data. 

Latest news coverage of Facebook’s shutdown of a contact exporter:

An Important Milestone at Plaxo

It’s been a while since I’ve shared my thoughts here and so I thought I’d give you a glipse in what I’ve been up to the past 9 months or so in my new gig at Plaxo. Here’s a copy of what I wrote up on the Plaxo Blog:

An important milestone – and it’s only the beginning!

This week’s relaunch of Plaxo and introduction of Plaxo Personal Assistant marks an important milestone for our company, and I hope a key signal to you that we’re focused on building always accurate, up to date contact list – accessible wherever and whenever you need it.

Our CEO Justin Miller has said, “Plaxo is back and we’ve got a relentless focus on the address book,” and we are determined to solve the two customer pain points Plaxo was founded in 2002 to address:

  1. Contacts scattered across multiple devices, services
  2. Maintaining up-to-date address book info

The Plaxo Personal Assistant goes after that second problem with updates sourced by publicly available information and for our Plaxo Basic users we’ve also recently added contact card sharing. As for problem #1 we’ve reinvested in Plaxo Platinum Sync and made our mobile sync apps all free.

For a glimpse into our mission here at Plaxo check out this 60 second video.

To give you a sense of the scale of our efforts, we’ve reviewed 3 billion contacts in Plaxo’s Cassandra database, compared them with publicly available data sources, and identified approximately 600 million unique people with contact info—as a comparison the White Pages, which powers the Hiya contact management system, claims 200 million. It’s this massive scale that enables us to make suggestions that our customer’s report is correct about 92% of the time.

While this week’s news marks a big step forward in solving the problems above we’re far from done and you should expect a regular cadence of additional improvements as we continue to listen to your feedback.

The smart address book category is finally starting to see some focus, maturity, and a healthy dose of competition, which has sparked an unprecedented era of innovation. We expect to play a leadership role as this space continues to grow and evolve.

An Important Milestone at Plaxo

It’s been a while since I’ve shared my thoughts here and so I thought I’d give you a glipse in what I’ve been up to the past 9 months or so in my new gig at Plaxo. Here’s a copy of what I wrote up on the Plaxo Blog:

An important milestone – and it’s only the beginning!

This week’s relaunch of Plaxo and introduction of Plaxo Personal Assistant marks an important milestone for our company, and I hope a key signal to you that we’re focused on building always accurate, up to date contact list – accessible wherever and whenever you need it.

Our CEO Justin Miller has said, “Plaxo is back and we’ve got a relentless focus on the address book,” and we are determined to solve the two customer pain points Plaxo was founded in 2002 to address:

  1. Contacts scattered across multiple devices, services
  2. Maintaining up-to-date address book info

The Plaxo Personal Assistant goes after that second problem with updates sourced by publicly available information and for our Plaxo Basic users we’ve also recently added contact card sharing. As for problem #1 we’ve reinvested in Plaxo Platinum Sync and made our mobile sync apps all free.

For a glimpse into our mission here at Plaxo check out this 60 second video.

To give you a sense of the scale of our efforts, we’ve reviewed 3 billion contacts in Plaxo’s Cassandra database, compared them with publicly available data sources, and identified approximately 600 million unique people with contact info—as a comparison the White Pages, which powers the Hiya contact management system, claims 200 million. It’s this massive scale that enables us to make suggestions that our customer’s report is correct about 92% of the time.

While this week’s news marks a big step forward in solving the problems above we’re far from done and you should expect a regular cadence of additional improvements as we continue to listen to your feedback.

The smart address book category is finally starting to see some focus, maturity, and a healthy dose of competition, which has sparked an unprecedented era of innovation. We expect to play a leadership role as this space continues to grow and evolve.

My next chapter

I’ve decided to wrap up 7 great years at eBay and will be leaving in a couple weeks. I’m proud of the design team I’ve built there and wish them and all my colleagues the very best as the eBay Marketplace completes the turnaround that’s well underway. Since finishing my MBA I’ve been interested in making a more formal transition to product management as well as building experience within a smaller organization.

I’m joining an old friend of mine, Justin Miller, who’s now CEO at Plaxo, to head up the Product Management team as it’s Senior Director. I’m looking forward to joining the leadership team to focus on the renewed vision of building a truly smart, socially-aware, and pervasive address book.

UPDATE 4/30: I’m hiring a Product Manager to head up Plaxo’s growth areas (Position filled) and there is also an opening for a lead designer. If you or anyone you know is interested in hearing more, let me know.

Recent April Techcrunch interview on the future of Plaxo: