Some of the best product advice I ever got.

I was fortunate to listen first-hand to Steve Blank explain, in no uncertain terms, that if he ever found his Marketing team in the office again, he’d fire them. Because the answers aren’t in the office, they’re “out there”. So go “out there” and find the answers.

So many times I see people guessing at the answer as to why their product or feature isn’t being used. It’s ridiculous. Go talk to your user community, face-to-face. Watch how they use the product, watch if they use the product. If you’ve done any homework at all you’re usually just a few small tweaks from the feature being really useful. If you’ve just guessed at what feature your user community needs, well, then you’ve got a much bigger problem. You’re probably screwed to start with.

Know the difference between kicking the ball around and scoring a goal.

In one of the recent podcasts I listen to the statement was made “…people just don’t know how to think…” and I’ve been struggling with identifying this for a while. One company I worked for, you could just see the decline in YoY profitability, yet they were on-boarding people (because the solution didn’t scale but that’s another post) at a tremendous rate. I characterized them as having a triangle shaped hierarchy – a lot of people in management positions but relatively few doing actual work. At some point there would be just one poor schmuck at the bottom doing everything. You could see it, it was obvious, yet behaviors didn’t change. They literally looked like a bunch of 5 year old kids kicking the ball around on a soccer field. After unsuccessfully trying to point this out for a year, I decided to get the hell out. From the same podcast “..my dog is a genius [compared to these people], he knows what he needs and goes and gets it…”  I’m baffled why people don’t understand what makes it profitable, and focus maniacally on those few things.

The Real Role of the Product Owner

Here it is: provide clarity where there may not be any, and enable the team to consistently and predictably deliver value to the company.

Some may describe this as the intersection of UI/UX, Business, and Tech. Others may describe this as building the right feature at the right time. It is without a doubt, a strategic business role that requires both long and short term perspectives.

How do you measure the success of a Product Owner? As Josh Elman has stated, “The only metric that matters is, are people using your stuff?”

That’s it, keep it simple.  If you can’t keep things simple, you can’t execute consistently.

 

From Concept to Launch, Own the Results.

One of the best lessons of product ownership I ever got was from a CEO who asked me “How did this get away from you?” My response was “Well, Marketing took it over…” He lost his shit over that response, and rightly so. The initial intent of the product got away from me and got watered down. What launched publicly was embarrassing and had almost nothing to do with the original intent that I had identified. When you bring people on to help with a product (and you’ll have to, you’re not omniscient) they should elevate the product. Add to it, improve it, make it better and make it something that everyone is proud of. If it goes to a committee, I guarantee you it’s going to turn into a piece of shit. You need one person that’s responsible for making sure it meets or exceeds the original vision of the product.

Product: It’s difficult and time consuming.

Building a solid product, or even building a solid product team, takes time. If you’re responsible for a product and you don’t understand this, it’s going to be a difficult time for both you and the team.

Here’s an analogy. Races aren’t won on race day. They’re won or lost on all the days leading up to it. Race day is where you show how hard you’ve worked on all the little, seemingly inconsequential tasks. I’ve seen some people show up on race day and think they can just push themselves harder than anybody else. But their lack of dedication and commitment shows quickly and they get left behind. You’ll usually hear these people say “we didn’t work hard enough in the race” completely missing the point that excellence is a day-to-day habit. It’s incremental. It’s trying to get .5% better every day, and even that is exceedingly difficult to do. A tiny improvement every day completely changes the end results you’re able to achieve, and, in my opinion, they stick with the team over time. It’s the same with a product and the team building it. Tiny changes make a big difference in the long run.

Not fully understanding your systems is a sign of complexity, not incompetence.

Tom Wujec. Singularity University, Sketchbook, Autodesk. If you have not yet seen his TED talk on visualizing complexity, you may want to see that first and come back. At the end of the video he describes how he help a company recover approximately $50 million in revenue. Most of it recovered when the company’s executives realized how overly complex their business processes were. Lots of waste. Lots of lost revenue.

They’re not unique. How well does your team understand the business processes which govern the day-to-day operations? When I hear managers say “I have to protect the team…” I absolutely know that there’s bureaucracy running unchecked. Have a handful of teams doing this and your company will begin to slow to a crawl and you won’t know how it happened. Well meaning people to be sure, but unaware of the implications of adding process on top of process. As a CEO or COO, make the investment in understanding how the teams and their processes affect one another. You’ll be shocked at how much this is slowing you down.

Where Florida Investment Dollars Went in Q3 vs Q2 2016.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-9-11-24-am Overall investment in Florida increased 162% from Q2 to Q3 which was driven mainly by Healthcare Services and Biotech. Total investment in Q2 was about $57 million while Q3 was roughly $93 million, ranking Florida 13th overall for investment for the quarter.

Interestingly enough, both late stage and early stage investment expanded from Q3 to Q2.

 

Founders and Allocation of Shares

I found myself trying to explain, in detail, how startups allocate shares and on what basis. My common answer is “who risks the most, gets the most” but below that, how do you technically set up allocation of shares? Since I’ve only done this on one of my startups, I’m clearly not a go-to person to answer any of this. There are several investors out there that strive to be as transparent as possible. @FredWilson@jason, @davidcohen, and @bfeld being the top four resources in my opinion.

I was looking for guidance on how to authorize shares, and then the mechanism to issue a specified percentage of shares to the founders. I also wanted to better understand what the non-obvious effects are to the founders down the road when it comes to issuing or authorizing more shares, or an equity event occurs. What I found was this post from Fred Wilson (the link to answers.onstartups no longer works, here’s another link to the post by Joel Sposky that Fred refers to.)

If you need guidance on how to handle giving equity to advisers, Jason Calacanis has a pretty detailed rundown here.

If you do issue shares that have restrictions (such as a cliff, vesting, etc) you have 30 days to file your 83(b) election to the IRS. The topic is covered in Do More Faster by David Cohen and Brad Feld. There’s an in-depth discussion of it here.

 

 

Reading Speed.

Basically everything we’re involved with today is text based. One key skill I see all the time that’s lacking is the ability to consume that text and be able to retain it. I see people reading word-for-word, or moving their mouth while they read. Even if you’re not mouthing every word, you may be “saying” that word in your head, a technique called “subvocalization”. Your brain gets bored quickly, if it’s not intaking information fast enough it will wander. And subvocalization causes that. But here’s a great video from Tim Ferris that can teach you a simple technique (that you need to practice) that will help you increase your reading speed.

Give it a try, give it a chance. Good luck.

Athletes and the State of Flow.

Aryton Senna

“And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension.”

-Aryton Senna

This may seem like an odd post for someone who usually writes about innovation and entrepreneurship, but.. too bad.

When I was 10 or 12 years old I played baseball, either catcher, pitcher, once in a while I played 2nd base. Second was my favorite position because I got some pretty good plays. What was weird was, and I didn’t really consider it at odd at the time, I knew where to stand. Not in the “you play 2nd, so you stand about 5-10 feet off 2nd base” but in a very different way. There was this odd thing that I’d experience – as the batter got settled into the box I’d shift around a little bit: left; right; front; back; back a little more. The best way I can describe it is feeling like you’re standing in a small depression in the field. A little to far left and it wouldn’t “feel” right, I’d feel like I was out of the “groove” and I’d move back. I’d then test it a little bit, move to the right. Same thing, out of the groove. I somehow “knew” where to stand. And once, just once, I heard the crack of the bat… and the ball was in my glove. I never saw the line drive that got fired straight at me. I don’t recall ever having moved my arm to make the catch, and I didn’t know how the ball got there. As a kid I didn’t know to question it, I got the out and that’s all that mattered. I didn’t want to sound like a weirdo to my team so I didn’t talk to them about it.

In they 90’s I found a copy of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book “Flow” which goes through the psychology of optimum performance. I’ve since lost the book book but did pick up a copy from Amazon lately while I researched this post. What he describes is the state of “flow”. The disconnect between the body and the consciousness. How athletes and others see events before they occur. A transcendence between what is going on around you, and what is about to happen. Schumacher described it as “the perfect lap” where you literally don’t know how you just did what you did. It’s not a result of just training, it’s not a result of great reflexes, it’s not luck. It’s well beyond that. Senna had the seeming ability to bend the car around the armco at Monaco. You’re at 120 mph and 2 inches from the barrier. How do you bend the car around anything?

Flow is where everything becomes effortless, you’re a super-human, you have no limits, you can go all day, and you become one with what’s going on around you. It just happens. You can’t force it. It’s a Zen-like state that when you experience it, leaves you in tears and in awe. If you’re lucky, even pro athletes may experience it 2-3 times in their life. I’ve experienced it twice, once in baseball, once in cycling.

There’s a level of performance above that which most of us experience, what most of us know about. If you’re lucky, you’ll experience it once in your life. It is a humbling “that wasn’t me doing that” experience.

If you’re an athlete at any level, I hope you experience flow at least once. If will change you. If you’re a young athlete, you’re more prone to these types of moments. There’s still some research going on to try and identify exactly what’s going on in the brain. But I think we’re a long way from being able to explain it.