Great managers tell you how you suck

My favorite managers are the ones that helped me grow the most.
Most of us want to keep improving – studies have found learning is a core human desire.
But we can only improve if we know our strengths and weaknesses.
Naturally, we have trouble evaluating ourselves – who could be more bias about me than me. 🙂 Having someone help us know ourselves better is a great gift.
My best managers took the time to formalize their understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. They asked my peers and partners for feedback. They asked me what I thought and they asked what my last manager had told me.  As I’ve done this as a manager, I’ve usually found consistent themes in each employees’ feedback.
I think we naturally fear that telling someone they aren’t good at something will feel like an attack and be demotivating, but in my experience, when communicated correctly, it shows the manager believes the employee is worth investing in.
To my managers that helped me understand my weaknesses and strengths, thank you. I’m more grateful than you know.
P.S. Thanks to one of my managers, I know proofreading is one of my weaknesses.  Now I ask others to proofread my work – most often my loving wife.

How do you grow a new product?

The process of coming up with a new product has always seem very nebulous to me, but, at the 2013 Growth Hackers Conference in SF, Sean Ellis (first marketer at Dropbox, Lookout, Xobni, etc.  interim marketing exec at Eventbrite, Socialcast, and now CEO of Qualroo) outlined the most logical, repeatable, and believable description of a process for growing a new product/company that I’d ever heard.  He’s done it enough times to feel credible. Here’s what he said (more or less).

As explained by Sean, a new product or company goes through three major phases:Sean Ellis's Startup Pyramid

  1. Assessing Product/Market fit.

  2. Transition to Growth

  3. Growth.

Stage 1: Assessing Market/Product Fit

In this stage you, as a leader of a company, are trying to figure out the core value of your product and how you can build a business around it.  He feels this stage requires hyper creativity & inspiration.  There can’t really be a formula or a time-frame for this stage of the company.   He said it’s hard for marketers to add value  during this stage.

The best test for market fit in his opinion is  an onsite survey  that ask visitors “How disappointed would you be if you could no longer use this product.”  For him,

successful market fit is when 40% of your visitors answer that they would be very disappointed if they lost access to your product.

Note: His company, Qualroo,  provides onsite surveys – sure there is some bias, but that’s also why he became CEO of the company.

Example The Story of Tagged by the Founder of Tagged also at the conference
It took Tagged four years to find product/market fit. For the first four years they ass-umed the core value of their product was like Facebook: a way of  keeping in touch with friends.  After four years, they launching a massive feature, but it had no impact on engagement.  Bewildered they surveyed their users and learned that people
 were using Tagged to meet people they didn’t know.  Based on this insight they
 pivoted, focused their features on helping people meet new people and saw engagement take off.  Lesson: don’t assume you know your core value, ask your visitors.

Stage 2: Transition to growth

The goals of this stage are to understand

  1. your products core value

  2. how to market your product

  3. the main points of friction

At this stage you can apply a formula to accelerate progress.  The first step is a deep investment in analytics as data will be guiding most decisions.

The first thing he likes to understand is what is the must-have value of the product.  He suggests doing another onsite survey, this time

asking visitors “what do you value most in our product?”

He uses this open ended question to identify themes.  He then runs another survey asking the same question, but providing only multiple choice answer using the themes. He uses this to get a read on which themes are most important.

 The other part of this stage is is tuning the experience of getting more new visitors to the core value.  Things to do:

  1. Marketing should try experiments with mapping the core benefit to the best marketing copy/hooks.  How do you communicate the core value most effectively?

  2. Marketing should use interviews or survey to learn what hold ups  people have with using the product.  Ex: they are worried about spam, they don’t believe it is free.  Then experiment with ways to reduce the hold ups with better messaging or product changes.

  3. The products team should use funnel analysis to look for product friction and remove that friction with product changes to sign up, first use, etc.

Growth is explicitly not a goal of this stage.  Growth is only used to be able to run AB experiments faster.

(When you have more people on your site you can finish AB tests and surveys faster).

His favorite tools for researching and experimentation are KissMetric, clicktale, Optimizely,, unbounce

Stage 3: Growth

Now that you know the core value of your product, how to market it, and you’ve removed the main friction you can spend time and money on acquisition and they’ll act like accelerants on growth.

There is always a tension between focusing on engagement vs. conversion.  Evernote has said they focus on engagement.  For Evernote conversion is “crazy high” among people who stick with the product – aka: engagement leads to conversion for Evernote.

Thanks to my employer, Redfin, for sending me to the conference!  It was the best conference I’ve been to.

Forest for the Trees

As a product manager, I am painfully aware of how often well-intentioned groups of people get too focused on solving a problem and lose sight of the real purpose of their work.  I saw this sign in the park a few days ago and it struck me as a wonderful/tragic example of this struggle.  Below is the existing sign and then my suggested revision.

Existing sign: 


My revision:


Same information. Different spirit.  Parks are wonderful resources our governments works hard to provide to enhance our lives.  Governments want to encourage their use.  It seems crazy to greet your “customers” with a closed sign (regardless of the time of day).

I know I make mistakes like this every day when designing products.  Too often we’re too close to the matter to see our own folly.    Seeing the forest for the trees.

To ruthless prioritization and speed

Some day being a Product Manager is about establishing a mindset  when you know you’ve let things go a little off course.   I try not to send long emails (in fact I try to send almost no emails), but establishing a mindset can warrant it.  Here is one I sent to my team a few weeks ago: Things in italics are redacted. 

“One of our senior devs)  brought up a great point at the end of the day today when talking about an urgent request from team X,

“We have all these requests from different teams and it’s hard to know how to prioritize across them.”

As often is the case, señor dev is spot on and it is something I haven’t been doing a good job on this month.

When we were shipping Redfin Collections we had a great sense of focus because our instinct was to punt every non-Collection related request or bug so we could focus on shipping.  While that approach isn’t sustainable long term (we have to keep the rest of our feature areas running), there is something important at it’s core:
  1. Our team is responsible for enough legacy code that small stuff can easily fill up all of our days if we don’t have ruthless prioritization.  Small stuff comes at the expense of big stuff.

  2. Even seemly small changes can become big time sucks.  We’ve seen this recently with Feature X and Feature Y this week.  I picked up the small project of task X and it’s sucked up way too much of my time this week.

It’s important for everyone, but especially me to continue to minimize changes outside of our core task. Our core tasks this year are super secret project X, super secret project Y, and equal secret project Z.  Anything else we should try to resist no matter help small and innocent it seems (everything has a bug trail).  This will mean reminding other people that they have to choose between project X, Y, and Z and the stuff they are asking for that moment.

We have a few non core projects opened (examples X and Y) and we should finish those before moving on. However, we should try not open any new ones until [a few big milestone].  If you get a request, please pass it to me to triage.
The rest of current milestones should be about X and Y.  If something else (other than a quarterly goal or fun) is taking up your time, please let me know. I’ll do my best to stay focused as well.
To ruthless prioritization and speed,
P.S. I would love to know what other PMs or engineering leaders think about things like this.  Does this strike the right tone?

How to hire a product manager

How to hire a product manager

As Ken Norton explains, hiring a Product Manager is tough, namely because it’s all about soft skills and it’s about “combines elements of lots of other specialties!”

My favorite PM candidate are like engineers – they can quickly break down large amorphous problems into something they can start working on systematically – but they’ve got the narrative power to market their idea.

Ken’s blog post: How to hire a product manager

Mt Winchester Tour Feb 17-18, 2013,

Headed out from Seattle on Sunday morning with the goal of spending the night in the Mt. Winchester Hut.  We made it to the lakes by about 2:20pm, but didn’t feel like we had enough time given the low clouds to make it up to the hut and ended up snow camping by the lakes.  No tracks of anyone up there.  Skied steep fresh powder on the flank of Mt. Winchester facing the lakes (northern exposure) that afternoon.   We headed up to the hut Monday morning.  Only the very top section was wind scoured. Hut was in great shape.  Awesome ride down.

Trail notes:
Road is blocked starting at the highway so it was a extra long skin.  About two inches of fresh snow on the road, around five inches higher up.   No skin track when we arrive.   Lots of avi debris on the trail, but easy to skin over.


Turns all year post:

Gold Hill Ski Cabin Trip

I’ve been doing quite a bit of skiing this season.  No need to write this one up, as co-adventure Matt Goyer did a lovely job of it on his blog.

A few photos:



Report Text Message Spam to AT&T on Windows Phone

Step 1: Forwarding the spam to

  1. Open the spam text message
  2. Click and hold on the text message body to open the fly-out menu (avoid clicking on any hyperlinks)
  3. Select “forward
  4. Send it to 7726, AT&T’s spam reporting number. I’ve saved this as a contact “spam” so I don’t have to remember it

AT&T will write you back thanking you and asking for the number that sent the spam.

To forward the sender’s phone number:

  1. Reopen the spam text message
  2. Click the number at the top of the text
  3. Click and hold on the number to open the flyout menu
  4. Select copy
  5. Return to the AT&T message. Click on the text entry and use the paste button.  Send the number.

Done. You’ve contributed to the war against text message spam. Yea! Pictures below

Startup Weekend, Microsoft Garage

This was the last event I landed for the Garage before moving to Redfin. The goal was to provide a training that fostered skills around team formation, ambiguous problem solving, and rapid prototyping. Liane and Kelli did an amazing job organizing it of course. The energy and openness that employees brought was radically different from a normal training and our stat scores were super high. Our facilitators from Startup Weekend/LIFFFT, Kav & Donald, were key to making it great.

What does a PM do?

What does a PM do?

As Product Manager or Program Manager for the last eight years, after being asked the question, “What do you do professionally?”  and answering, “I’m a product manager”  I am frequently asked the follow up question “So…what do you do?”   Brian does a pretty go job describing what a PM does in this post and what a new PM should aspire to do.