Essential articles about product management

Lots of people write lots of articles about product management and startup strategy, but most just rehash content that originated elsewhere or are about winning the lottery.

Here’s some that I go back to often:

Startup Metrics for Pirates by Dave McClure of 500 Startups is a classic because it quantifies successful product design (Another, medium format; a longer format.

The One Cost Engineers and Product Managers Don’t Consider, derived from a talk by Kris Gale, VP Engineering at Yammer. Probably the most level-headed argument for saying “no” more often, where most people simply assume it must be true because Steve Jobs said so.

How Design Thinking Transformed Airbnb from a Failing Startup to a Billion Dollar Business, derived from a talk by Joe Gebbia. Most people are familiar with the “do things that don’t scale” myth of AirBnB, but the “Let people be pirates” part is arguably more valuable.

We don’t sell saddles here by Stewart Butterfield, founder of Slack.

The Law of Shitty Clickthroughs by Andrew Chen articulates why first-mover advantage applies to marketing, not product. Read alongside Marc Andreessen’s statements on product-market fit and this breakdown of how product-market fit is distributed across competitors.

And read all of Paul Graham’s essays. Some aren’t great, but most are worth it.

Stuff I’m reading – Sept 10

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

Here’s stuff that tickled me brain this week:

  1. Andy Cranberry referenced this article as an argument for the prodmans’ continued existence. Contrast with Posterous founder’s article about the last thing a product needs is a prodman.
  2. An old article from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and some other guy about how Google manages smart people effectively.
  3. A couple of articles from Chris Dixon and Caterina Fake about using APIs as cheap, Darwinian business development tools. I could not agree more. There’s something beautiful about telling a small scrappy startup who wants to partner with you that “your idea sounds great – here’s an API key. Take a shot and let us know how it goes.” Similarly, as a small fry it’s fun to have that key to get started on a proof of concept. We’re doing some of that with various APIs at OpenSky for things like tools to match shoppers to sellers. But it’s not always super clean, as we learned at KickApps, so Hunch’s BizDev lead wrote this great overview about how to merge traditional BD with self-serve APIs to optimize your growth.
  4. This great Mormon design blog has a slick paraphrasing of Edwin Land via Fred Brooks:

    Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, once said that his method of design was to start with a vision of what you want and then, one by one, remove the technical obstacles until you have it. I think that’s what Steve Jobs does. He starts with a vision rather than a list of features.

    (original Wired article)

  5. Don’t waste your precious pre-launch time” is a great cautionary tale of some common pitfalls that people should avoid when starting a company. The 1st and 3rd, not worrying about your name and aggressively cutting features, are obvious but bear repeating. The 2nd, not chasing early adopters, was a new concept to me and worth considering.
  6. And finally, these 6 tips for increasing creativity are meh. I wish someone would really tackle this topic well.

And here’s Evan Williams talking about how he made Twitter grow so big so fast:

Mike Crozier animation and drawrings

SNASK from Mike Crozier.

Croz is also an illustrator and graphic designer whose work is reminiscent of Barry McGee and the rest of that mid-2000’s illustration revolution that’s still in effect in design circles – lots of hand-drawn patterns and wrinkly, burly cartoon men. I’m a fan of his pizza box work, like this one:
Croz - pizza box portrait

See the rest of this series at http://cargocollective.com/croz#87965/Cut-It-Out-Salvage.

Thanks to Andy “The Sauce” Fisher for sending me to Vimeo’s homepage.

Reposting web prodman resources

I have been a product manager long enough that I’ve begun to frame much of my world view in prodman terms – just this past weekend I spent an afternoon cruising the aisles of a supermarket, searching for foodstuffs and thinking “and this is exactly why folksonomies trump hierarchical taxonomies!” (if this sounds interesting, check out Clay Shirky’s eloquent missive on the topic). I also spend a enough time rereading books, training new prodmen, and thinking about product management, product design, etc., that I’ve built small libraries, both online and off, and am beginning to lose track of things.

Enter the Web Product Manager Resources page, my list of useful stuff to read if you’re a prodman.

If you have any recommendations for additions to this list, please let me know. I’d like for it to be comprehensive but not crufty.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s best interview question

The NY Times recently interviewed Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. Most of the published conversation focuses on building a good corporate culture.

When asked for his best interview question, Tony offered this:

What would you say is the biggest misperception that people have of you?

Really good one. I usually ask “if I called someone who reported to you at your last gig, how would they describe you?” I used to explicitly require 3 good things and 1 criticism, but once or twice I forgot to set that criteria and quickly learned hear how many people start with something critical when left to their own devices.

Tony’s question is likely to elicit even more information, as he explains:

It’s a combination of how self-aware people are and how honest they are. I think if someone is self-aware, then they can always continue to grow. If they’re not self-aware, I think it’s harder for them to evolve or adapt beyond who they already are.

Tim Ferriss productivity tips

Reminders from Tim Ferriss for being productive instead of being busy

Via BNet. I love Tim. Seriously.

  1. Elimination, not organization, is key
  2. Single task – focus on start-to-finish completion of a few critical tasks
  3. Pareto principle (80/20) – you’ll get 80% of results from best 20% actions
  4. Divorce effort from results – performance instead of presence – focus on results and clearly defined milestones – “Crutch” activities e.g. checking email are really procrastination
  5. Optimize your environment that forces you to do the proper things instead of relying on self discipline (e.g. Paul Graham’s 2 desks) – Parkinson’s law
  6. Culitvate selective ignorance – catch up when need be, instead of keeping up – let things wait

Iconoclasm Fail

Interesting statement from an article by Emily Yoffe on Slate (the rest of the piece is a mini-memoir on the Facebook experience and  doesn’t add much meat):

Brenda Bradley, a Cambridge University zoologist doing research on primate evolution […] explained a theory about what drove the evolution of human intelligence: It was the need to monitor and maintain complex social networks—the most successful primates were the ones who understood the dynamic social relationships around them. Developing these skills was the precursor to, for example, being able to hunt cooperatively, not vice versa.

Compare to the anecdotal argument from Richard Hamming in his essay on doing great work:

I notice that if you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most. But 10 years later somehow you don’t know quite know what problems are worth working on; all the hard work you do is sort of tangential in importance. He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important. Now I cannot prove the cause and effect sequence because you might say, “The closed door is symbolic of a closed mind.” I don’t know. But I can say there is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder. Somehow they seem to work on slightly the wrong thing – not much, but enough that they miss fame.

(This guy was coming from Bell Labs and when he’s talking about “fame” he’s talking Nobel Prizes.)

Interesting to compare this to articles on the importance of enabling “flow” states in a work environment. I guess this means it’s important to have lunch with your peers?

Holy poop – Migrating Drupal to WordPress

Well, I’m mostly done with the “migration” part of this little exercise. I used some great scripts found online (will update with links later) that got my content and links over but lost some critical metadata including categories, timestamps, and published/unpublished settings. This led to the shocking dicovery that a full 40% of my blog posts never make it past the draft stage, mostly because I think the concepts warrant an in-depth handling so I bog down after the initial outline. This, in turn, means that my favorite posts never get published. Ah well.

Another hiccup showed up in the form of weird domain behavior. I now have the updated blog living on cycloneranger.com while the old Drupal site persists at chriskeane.net (they used to be mirrors) until I’m ready to finally pull the plug.

So next comes the process of pruning weak posts, moving pages back into pages, possibly adding timestamps, figuring out the missing images, and general cleanup. After that it’s 100% WordPress joy – themes, plugins, and more posts.

I chose to migrate off of Drupal in part because I realized that I’d never achieve my dream of building a blog-plus-pages-plus-gallery personal site, so a full CMS was overkill. Drupal releases frequent code updates which, in my n00bish experience, often jeopardize my content data during the update process. The developer community and plugins are also a bit more DIY than WP, which is cool in theory but a timesuck if you aren’t interested in refining your PHP skills beyond script kidding. WordPress, on the other hand, is delightfully elegant, is still only at v2.7, and has Akismet baked in. What’s not to like?

Drupal will live on though, as I work on setting up a back-end for non-KickApps functionality on Dub & Reggae and create a Drigg site for dub enthusiasts at dubmusiconline.com.

As for those draft posts, I have a lot of writing ahead of me…

It’s hard out here…

Still pimpin’ sites, this time a good one: Rachel’s Mountain Reviews is a great place to find member-created reviews of ski and snowboarding runs across the US.

Her profile page should give you a better idea of what the site is all about. You can join and create your own profile using the “Sign Up” links in the upper right on every page on the site.

Rachel writes:

A lot of you probably already know that I have a skiing website called Mountain Reviews that I work on in my spare time. I just got done adding user accounts, so now you can track the mountains you’ve skied and your days on the snow. Think the “Cities I’ve Visited” Facebook app, but for skiing (I’ll be building an actual Facebook app soon,also). There’s still a lot of stuff to come, but I wanted to get it out and get people using it before the season really gets going.

Pass it along to any friends who ski or ride and might be interested!

Rachel is a former Meetup developer, now cranking on code for Wee Web, so it’s safe to say she knows how to build a good community/UGC site. She’s an avid skier, so Mountain Reviews is bound to be good.

If that’s not enough, Rachel is promising a beer to anyone who gives her feedback; she also has 2,000 Moutain Reviews stickers so you can probably get a few if you join.

Pimping my new site – Widget Death Match

Yes, I love that widgety goodness, so I’ve set up Widget Death Match to create a home for the best widgets on the web. Currently running KickApps on the back end, I’m working on augmenting it with Pligg (Drupal-based Digg clone) so it’s easy for people to share and vote on widgets around the web.

Update: First off, it turns out that despite it’s popularity, Pligg is a POS. It’s not even based on Drupal! For that, you need Drigg, which is the bastard child of Pligg’s former dev talent. It was all too much, so I switched WDM to use WordPress; it’s now waiting for a skin job.