Then what: Cloud storage

Cloud storage wars are getting intense on the storage size front. A WSJ story on Box’s new offering describes what is to come and predicts marginal cost of storage reaching zero. When that happens, competitiveness will likely move towards the abilities of viewing and processing various file types.

Google currently has 2x high ground with:

  • Gmail. Users can perform “View in Google Drive” for email attachments.
  • Google Drive. Users can view and edit docs, spreadsheets, presentations on the web and on mobile. Collaboratively.

Dropbox has 1x high ground: Mailbox. Users will perform “View in Dropbox” for email attachments.

Box is at a disadvantage with no horse in mail apps. But, they partially mitigate that with a strong footprint in enterprise market.

Then what? Competition will go shopping to expand and enhance their file viewing and editing abilities. The shopping lists will likely contain Aviary, Goodreader, LiveLoop.

A Comprehension List for Entrepreneurs

Becoming an entrepreneur largely depends on being resilient and dealing with ambiguity. Being resilient is important because you are constantly in an uphill battle in customer acquisition, conversion, business development, PR etc. Dealing with ambiguity is important because you are in charge of creating something meaningful out of a large fuzzy cloud filled with pain points, customer needs, competitor offerings, monetization options, hiring challenges, patent possibilities and all.

This list is to help with the latter. Some thoughts, frameworks, mental models, suggestions targeted at decreasing the order of complexity for starting up.

One key warning. I don’t think reading a lot necessarily makes the entrepreneur better prepared. We are living in a world where the flurry of new content is paralyzing our ability to comprehend. So, my suggestion is to focus on quality rather than quantity on this. Spend 20% of your time on reading, 80% on comprehending.

On ideas

On building

On managing

On fundraising

  • in process

Product managers eat and breathe products

Last year, I was interviewing with a public internet company and I entered the office of their product chief to have my final session. After a few minutes of warm-up, he fired:

What do you consider as a bad product and why?

I took maybe 10 seconds and responded: Skype and Playstation. It didn’t take any longer. Now, I usually prepare meticulously for things that are well-structured and expected. Interviews fit these criteria. But, this was not one of the questions for which I planned ahead. Yet, I realized, just when I was replying, that I was more than ready to count a few more beyond the two I already counted. The fast response also surprised the product chief. So much so that he asked me if I got some insider info on his interview style. I hadn’t. The interview went on and on, with some really deep discussion about those products. Throughout the conversation, we rarely agreed on the points I was making about those products, but that was not the expectation, nor the recipe for a successful interview. The real deal for a good product manager was more about:

  • A genuine interest in products. Be it Skype or the bike racks on University Ave.
  • Critical thinking on what makes any product good, bad, better or worse.
  • Ability to integrate a wide variety of sources of feedback into meaningful snippets that can be used to take actions.
  • Forming opinions and schools of thought that can be applied to a multitude of products in different verticals.
  • Tinkering. A lot of that.

Product management is not an exact science. Not even a field that one can consider as an expertise; one of the reasons why you don’t see a single MBA course on this even though it is consistently ranked in the Top 3 post-MBA careers. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one end, you don’t get to learn product management in a structured way. On the other hand, this is a great opportunity for builders who can work in ambiguous environments, and build a great deal of insights and paradigms through pattern recognition and experience.

A year later, I am leading Score Beyond and building the team to develop the most effective mobile education solutions for test prep. Every now and then, I get to meet prospective hires for product management and design roles who haven’t downloaded our free app from the App Store. Yet, they talk about how passionate they are for the edtech space or how they want to apply gamification to education. This is the lowest hanging fruit you can ever have for a product management position. If you ever want to get such a role, get to be aware of the products around you. Form an opinion, good or bad, and identify why you consider a product in one way or the other. Eating and breathing products will not guarantee you the role, but not doing so will definitely take it away.

Mobile vs Web – Product-Market Refit

For companies offering services over the web, mobile is usually a tough-to-get-it-right area. Which of the 83 features offered on the web can be squeezed into a 480×320 screen? Dealing with this seemingly tough question, most companies do two things wrong: (1) They try fitting as many features as possible, at the expense of a confusing UX and (2) they constantly worry about the features they left out. This worrying consistently drives complex trade-offs down the line, like UX changes, data-intensive operations and sluggish performance, that aim to make mobile as rich as the web features.

Instead, with a “product/market refit” mindset, organizations can benefit amazingly well from the experiments they can conduct in their mobile product roadmaps. While there can be many dimensions, I have two main insights on my mind:

  1. Think as hard about what mobile can do better than what web can. Due to the already-established web product, mobile development starts on the wrong foot. The frame of reference is always those 83 features already available on the web. Instead, it is important for the product team to instill a positive and open mind and think about what mobile-only features can be offered. I have a number of examples listed below that illustrates this approach.
  2. Build mobile product roadmap in such a way to understand how important each feature is for the users. Don’t pack the first 30 features blindly. Start with an MVP of 5 features, even though your web product offers many more. Understand how mobile users are using those five. Iterate and add new ones in small batches, so that you can effectively measure the impact of each feature well before you add all 83 features! What you shouldn’t forget is that your users’ needs and desires are also changing as they shift to mobile. Don’t assume each and every one of those web-era features are still relevant in a mobile experience.

Here are a few examples that are done right from these angles. You will realize that some of these are no-brainers. Those are the better ones that you should hold onto, as they usually are the lower hanging fruits for the user experience boost you are shooting for.

  1. In Twitter iOS app, I can seamlessly switch among multiple accounts. Something I can’t do on the web. Consider logging in and out every time you needed to switch…
  2. Also in Twitter iOS app is a feature to “Quote Tweet”, which is part of the Retweet experience. In Twitter web product, there is no such thing.
  3. For most of the web products, your browser cookies expire after a few weeks at which point you need to login again. In mobile, it is a smooth experience to login once and stay logged-in ever after.
  4. In Instagram iOS app, a double-tap gesture yields a “like” for a photo. So fitting for a mobile experience that we don’t see on the web.
  5. In LinkedIn web experience, you need to specify the nature of the new connection when you are sending a request to someone. In some cases, you have to enter the email address of that person. In LinkedIn iOS app, you can send a request to anyone with a single tap. No questions asked, friction removed.
  6. In Amazon iOS app, you can read the product reviews but you can’t create one. The jury is still out there for Amazon’s general policy here that prevents giving a rating without a verbatim, but a better mobile experience would definitely be the mobile-exclusive ability to rate a product (single tap on a star) without the need to put in verbatim.
  7. MessageMe, a fast-rising messaging app with a focus on high-quality aesthetics, enables you to search Google Images if you want to send a photo in lieu of an emoticon or a photo.
  8. LinkedIn has built a separate app called Contacts to tag your contacts and take private notes about them. These features are missing from the LinkedIn iOS app while they were recently made available in LinkedIn web product. If these mobile-exclusive features become high-engagement tools in the standalone app, LinkedIn can consider bringing them into the flagship mobile app or making those feature more prominent in the web product.
  9. Unfortunately, while Apple literally owns the mobile experience, they don’t do a good job in soliciting app reviews and ratings. Even after the iOS 6.0 rebuild of the App Store, you still need to enter your password before writing a review on your iPhone. Apple doesn’t even allow you to provide a star rating in iPhone (without launching the text input view), while it allows for that in iPad. Apple should have been a better leader in setting the high bar for frictionless UX in mobile.
  10. Facebook tried long and hard replicating each and every web feature in its mobile app without necessarily understanding which features are cornerstone to a mobile experience. It should have instead tried several mobile-exclusive features. One good example could have been enabling a rich variety of emoticons in status updates and comments early on the mobile roadmap. There is no wonder emoticons has risen to become an integral part of mobile social interaction; the real-time nature of mobile sharing makes sure the feelings are “here and now” and the difficulty of inputting text on mobile make it much more valuable to “say a thousand words with one icon.”

Meaning

Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.

John Gardner

Oracle of disruption

Disruptive innovation is a very fashionable subject to talk about in regards to what happened or what is happening right now, but it is extremely hard to use it to predict what will happen.

That is why I come back to my notes on Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, which was published in 1997, and refresh my learnings.

Here is how he flat out describes the Software-as-a-Service businesses:

In the near future, “internet appliances” may become disruptive technologies to suppliers of personal computer hardware and software.

Clearly, Christensen holds several pieces of the puzzle that we are trying to complete in the Valley.

Startup product management

There is no MBA or CS course on this, and don’t expect to find a book on Amazon. This is something you get to know by talking to people and master by actually doing it.

Here is a good reads list for you to pinpoint who you should cold call.

David Lieb - Cognitive Overhead, Or Why Your Product Isn’t As Simple As You Think

Put your user in the middle of your flow. Make them press an extra button, make them provide some inputs, let them be part of the service-providing, rather than a bystander to it. If they are part of the flow, they have a better vantage point to see what’s going on.