Entrepreneurship

Good Product Manager vs Bad Product Manager

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading “The Hard Thing about Hard Things”, a great book by Ben Horowitz, would definitely recommend for anyone working in fast growing companies or teams that are looking for advice across all facets of a business.

As I was reading through the book, I came across an excerpt written by Ben titled “Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager” where he walks through some of the good and bad qualities of product managers across a variety of industries.

In essence, he states that good product managers know the market, the product, the product line and the competition extremely well and operates from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence. They are the CEO and owner of that product and they must take full responsibility for the success or failure of the product. They are responsible for right product/right time and all that entails. A good product manager knows the context going in (the company, our revenue funding, competition, etc.), and they take responsibility for devising and executing a winning plan (no excuses).

Bad product managers have lots of excuses. Not enough funding, the engineering manager is an idiot, Microsoft has 10 times as many engineers working on it, I’m overworked, I don’t get enough direction. They voice their opinion verbally and lament that the “powers that be” won’t let it happen. Once bad product managers fail, they point out that they predicted they would fail. They define good products that can’t be executed or let engineering build whatever they want (i.e. solve the hardest problem). They get very confused about the differences amongst delivering value, matching competitive features, pricing, and ubiquity. Good product managers decompose problems. Bad product managers combine all problems into one.

You can read the entire excerpt here: https://a16z.com/2012/06/15/good-product-managerbad-product-manager/

10 things I learned from a Venture Capitalist

Working on a start-up is one of the most self-fulfilling experiences you’ll ever encounter. Nothing ever goes as planned, you’ll fail numerous times, and you may experience some of the hardest moments in your life, but you learn at such a rapid pace that you either keep up, or be left behind. Many of my prior projects have failed, and many others were successful, but I’ve learned so much from every single one of them. Entrepreneurship can never be taught, it must be experienced. The following is what I’ve learned about entrepreneurship from my experience working with a Venture Capital Firm.

1. Entrepreneurship is hard, many are called, but few are chosen

If entrepreneurship was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn’t have a 10% success rate. It’s easier said that done. You’ve learned about startups failing in class or from others, but it’s not until you’ve experienced it that you realize how difficult it really is. With FreeSkies, we ran into numerous obstacles over the course of the summer in legal, business, and tech. You must be willing to tackle every problem that comes your way. And don’t expect overnight success. You hear that term thrown around often, but every successful company took years and years of hard work and failures before they figured it out. Hang in there and you will be successful too.

2. Entrepreneurship requires more than just energy, it requires insight and timing

The Market always wins. Never let your own passions and beliefs deceive you. You may have the greatest idea and best business model, but if the timing or market isn’t right, you’re sure to fail. Before we ever wrote a single line of code for FreeSkies, we interviewed hundreds of potential clients to see if we were solving a problem they truly had. If you can’t find a market for it, it’s either not the time, or a market doesn’t exist. Iterate on the market, not the product.

3. Sell, Design, Build, in that order

NOT Build, Design, Sell. Before you ever start building, evaluate your market. If you can’t sell your product before you’ve ever built it, there is no market for it. Engineers tend to build before selling. You think you have the next big idea, put in months of work, release the product, only to realize you’re the only one with that problem. Sell before you build! Test your assumptions, then go build what customers will love and recommend. Your product is 80% vision and 20% reality. Spend more time on that vision, figure out the real problem you’re solving, and once you’ve sold your product, that’s when you begin to design and build.

4. Only desperate people buy from startups

Go find that desperate customers and win them over, make them your chief evangelists. Find your niche market, and pursue it voraciously. If your end user isn’t willing to use an 80% product, they’re not your desperate market segment. Your desperate users are those who are willing to use your product no matter how many bugs or issues it may have. It doesn’t need to be complete, it just needs to solve a desperate problem. A great example of this is Cisco. When they first came out with their telecom system, half of the products they shipped arrived dead on delivery. What happened? Their customers bought another one. Cisco was solving a desperate problem that hadn’t been solved, and people were paying an arm and a leg to solve it.

5. Value before Growth Hypothesis, but not together

The value hypothesis tests whether a product or service really delivers value to customers once they start using it. The growth hypothesis tests how new customers will discover a product or service. Before you think about your growth, ensure you’re delivering value. Don’t try to scale too quickly, have some patience and make sure you are deliver real value to your customers before anything else, growth will follow.

6. Double down on what’s working, and don’t worry about what isn’t

It’s inconsequential. It’s important to learn from your mistakes, but stop dwelling on the past. If a certain plan doesn’t work, learn from it, and move on. Find what’s working, whether it’s speaking with certain customers, marketing on a specific medium, or speaking with investors, find what works and double down. When we attempted to contact potential users through blogs and forums for FreeSkies, we generated more response on certain forums, and less on others. Instead of spending time on why we weren’t generating leads from certain forums, we doubled down on the ones that were. A few other teams during our fellowship catered to very few clients, solving only the problems that they had. By the end of the fellowship, they realized they weren’t their real customers, and had built a product with no market. Double down on what’s working, and leave the rest.

7. Leadership requires selflessness

A Leader does not delegate tasks and watch as others do the work. In a startup, a leader is able to put down their ego and place the company above themselves. It’s not about what you’ve accomplished, it’s about what your company has accomplished. Leadership requires sacrifice, it requires taking risks. Pick a direction and go with it. “We might be wrong, but we are not confused.”

8. Be Compelling, Be Passionate

“Follow your passions and you’ll succeed!” Many of you may have heard this advice, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. While it’s important to work on something you truly enjoy, you must also be flexible. A startup requires multiple hats, and if you’re not well equipped, be prepared to fail. You’re not just an engineer, designer, or businessman in a startup, you’re an entrepreneur. Be compelling and passionate in everything that you do, whether it’s coding, presenting, designing, or all of the above.

9. Treat People the Right Way

With Integrity, Honesty, and Kindness. It goes a long way when you’re building your networks. In the startup world, relationships and connections go a long way, treat them with respect. Maneuvering Silicon Valley isn’t about having the best product, it’s about who you know and that applies to everything, jobs, friends, leads, customers, what ever it is, it will be based on relationships. Never burn bridges.

10. Embrace that you are a stumbler

We all are. We all make mistakes. Recognize your mistakes, hold yourself accountable, and be honest. The biggest mistake you can make in a startup, is inaction. You may be wrong, but at least you’re not confused. At FreeSkies, we’ve made many mistakes over the course of the past few months. We recognized them and learned from them, but always held each other accountable. If you make a mistake admit it and learn from it. Heroism comes from empathy.

Bonus: People don’t remember what you say, they remember how they felt when you said it

Make yourself memorable. You’re not selling a product, you’re selling an experience. Focus on the problem you’re solving and don’t play up your product or technology. Focus on their emotions, and you’ll win the crowd.

How To Get More Done At Your Desk

A few days ago, one of my close friends, Ben Ng, wrote an article illustrating “How to get more done at your desk”. As a college entrepreneur himself, he has the experience and knowledge to know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to being a college entrepreneur. He summarizes that it’s important to have a warm, humid environment, an ergonomic desk and keyboard, a posture defining chair, a cooler light around your desk, and a large monitor. All of these factors come together in ensuring your work-space is as productive as possible. You can read his entire article at the link below:

How To Get More Done At Your Desk

Quito, Ecuador

It’s that time again. In less than 10 hours from now, I’ll be headed abroad once again. Destination: Quito, Ecuador. It might be the new year talking, but thinking back, I never really envisioned myself travelling abroad as much as I am. It may even be the best experiences of my undergraduate career. Coming into college, as a freshman I knew nothing about what I wanted to do with my life or even what I wanted to do in college. Studying abroad has served as that answer.

These next 2 weeks will be another adventure, but different than my experiences experiences. Madrid was my first experience abroad and alone. It allowed me to learn more about myself, the people around me, and taught me a lot about the Spanish culture. Toulouse was different in the sense that it compounded on the knowledge and experiences I’ve collected in my Experience Bank from Madrid, and allowed me to open my mind to engineering in Europe and engineering standards abroad. I learned a lot about the culture, but I also met with companies, collaborated with engineers, and got up close and personal with an A380.

For the next 2 weeks, we will be exploring Ecuador while interning with companies for social good in Ecuador, finding problems, performing case studies, and developing solutions. Quito will combine my past study abroad experiences with the Silicon Valley Workshop that I was a part of last year. It will allow me to speak with entrepreneurs who have started social start ups in Quito for the betterment of the Ecuadorian people. We will be visiting startups like ROMP, the Range of Motion project in Ecuador working to provide prosthetic and orthotic care to those in need. We will also be visiting Inga Alpaca, a family owned business working to increase jobs through producing goods made of Alpaca yarn. I’m looking forward to another adventure in Ecuador. If my past experiences have anything to show for it, it’ll be another journey to add to my Experience Bank. For news and updates on my journey, be sure to check out this site often.

The Experience Bank

What is the meaning of life?

No, I’m not trying to pose a question with a philosophical solution to the ultimate question, but it does beg the relatively simple question, “What do you want to do with your life?” Most people would say they want to have a stable job, a family, settle down, make a lot of money, retire, live happily, but none of these responses really answer that question. People have a tendency to pursue happiness. While there can be misconceptions about how to attain happiness, it is in our nature to pursue it, and to find meaning and fulfillment in our lives. People have conceived various solutions to satisfy this craving, from religion to government, to satisfying our curiosities, but we are so busy cultivating our intellectual skills in the pursuit of successful careers, that we neglect the pursuit of happiness. Very rarely do our solutions satisfy that need for happiness. In response to that problem, I’d like to propose another solution, the experience bank.

Your Experience Bank is a collection of many firsts throughout your lifetime, from big firsts like your college graduation, your first job, your first car, your first house, your first child, to little milestones like your first time driving, first love, first road trip, first time injured, first time abroad, and so on.

Throughout the course of your lifetime you’re constantly depositing experiences into your experience bank. It provides a glimpse into you, your identity, your being. These very experiences shape who you are as a person, both good and bad.

I’ve had many experiences that I have deposited into my experience bank. Experiences like being involved with Business Professionals of America, an experience that has helped me grow personally and socially, attending the University of Illinois, an experience that has helped me understand college and understand what my identity means to me, starting SnoHassle or FreeSkies, experiences that have allowed me to grow my skills in entrepreneurship while expanding my knowledge beyond the field of engineering, going abroad for the first, second, and third time, an experience that has shaped my understanding of the world and ignited my insatiable desire to travel. These experiences have allowed me to learn more about myself, and have shaped my identity. It is because of these experiences, consisting of both actions I’ve taken and those I haven’t, that have determined my future, and allowed me to attain happiness. The actions you take and the decisions you make over the course of your lifetime can be both good and bad, slowly carving out your identity, and filling that bank.

It is at these crucial moments in your life that a few important questions must be asked. Is that experience worth adding to your experience bank? Where do you draw the line? How does this experience shape your identity? Some experiences can grow you while others can hurt you physically, mentally, and psychologically. Some experiences may be illegal, some can compromise your morality, some can hurt those around you, some can test your honesty, your character, and your trust. It can be wonderful to fill your experience bank with every experience possible, but it’s also important to understand that certain experiences can mar your identity and degrade your character. Not all experiences can be controlled by you, in fact, many of them have been imposed on you, both good and bad, but it is in your power to make the most of that experience and shape it in a way that benefits your experience bank.

So this is the challenge I propose to you. Take it upon yourself to fill your experience bank with the best experiences. When making decisions throughout your life, think about how it affects your experience bank. Will having a stable job, settling down, earning a lot of money, or retiring grow your experience bank? When you’re on your deathbed, it’s not about how much money you have or what your job was, it’s about how you’ve filled your experience bank, and what you’ve experienced.

 

To Succeed, Be The One Everyone Can Count On

The CEO and Founder of the 1871 Start-up Incubator that I work at, Howard Tullman, recently had his article featured on the INC homepage. He talks about some basic skills everyone should have to be successful, whether it be in their careers, relationships, or their entrepreneurial endeavors. You can check out his inspiring article below:

To Succeed, Be The One Everyone Can Count On 

BY   @TULLMAN 
LINK: HTTP://WWW.INC.COM/HOWARD-TULLMAN/TO-SUCCEDD-BE-THE-ONE-EVERYONE-CAN-COUNT-ON.HTML

Talent is great, hard work is essential, but there’s an intangible quality that makes all the difference. Here’s how to develop it.

It’s not just country music that we rely on to say the simple things that need sayin’. And the Blues doesn’t have a monopoly on tellin’ it like it is (or how it ain’t), or the way it should be. The fact is that over the years many songs from many genres have told stories that resonate with millions of listeners; that’s how “hits” become timeless classics.

Sometimes, but only rarely, is it a memorable hook that drives the widespread appreciation of these classic tunes: a special intro (like Keith’s on “Satisfaction”) or a guitar solo (think Carlos Santana). Most of the time it’s the immediate and intimate connection we have with the lyrics that seals the deal. They seem to speak directly to us, ultimately “killing us softly” with a sensation of unexpected emotion.

Putting aside all the songs about love (including love of country) and loss, what strikes me is that the single most successful and consistent message in the largest number of classic songs is one that’s just as significant in our business lives as it is in our personal affairs. It’s about the importance of being there.

Think about it. What have you got “when you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand”?  Of course, you’ve got a friend. And who will “take your part when darkness comes and pain is all around”?  Simon and Garfunkel–for sure. And for all those times “in our lives when we all have pain, we all have sorrow”?  We know we can lean on Bill Withers.

Everyone needs someone in their lives that they can count on, someone to call when there’s no one else to call. And, these days, with radical change and ongoing disruption a constant part of every business, the most valuable people in any company are the ones you can count on in a crisis or a crunch–the “go-to” guys and girls. The people who are there in a pinch and who you naturally tend to run to, not from, when the feces hits the fan.

This isn’t part of anyone’s job description, and it’s not something you can create on the fly. That’s why there’s no better investment you could possibly make in your career or your future than being the first stop when someone’s looking for help, versus the last resort.

The good news is that this is a trait you can develop over time, like any other part of your reputation. If you’re truly committed and your efforts are sincere and authentic, you can make it happen. Here’s how.

1. Stay Up (Perspiration)

Be the early bird at the office. Effort and energy trump talent all day long. And it never hurts to be the night owl, too. Not the guy who’s the last to leave the office after the TGIF party, but the person who puts in the extra time to make sure that things are done right the first time. Turns out that the buddies you buy beers for aren’t very often the ones you’d bet your business on. And, as often as not, while you’re bellying up to the bar (or buying someone a breakfast burrito the next morning) the real winners are back at the ranch taking care of business.

2. Step Up (Passion)

Make sure that everyone knows you’re interested and available, that you’re excited about the business and the opportunities and that you really want to be a part of the program. Ya gotta want it and it’s gotta show. You need to put it out there and understand that all anyone can do is say no–they won’t eat you.  And, if you keep asking, I guarantee you that it’ll only be a “no for now,” and it’ll be full speed ahead soon enough. Anyone who tells you it’s not cool to be out front and eager these days will soon be changing the bottles on the water cooler while you’re being welcomed into the club.

3. Study Up (Preparation)

Even in the world of great entrepreneurial BS’ers, it actually does help to know what you’re talking about. “Wingin’ it” is good for sports bars and on Thanksgiving, but it’s not a strategy for success in business. As I said recently, saying you don’t know something these days isn’t a commentary on your lack of knowledge but a confession of laziness and lack of interest, because the information is out there; it’s mostly a matter of looking. The kind of knowledge, research, and situational awareness that matter don’t happen automatically or without help. You’ve got to put in the time, do the looking, and ask for assistance when you don’t have or can’t find all the answers, in order to be ready when someone asks for a hand.

4. Stand Up (Principles)

You can’t create value if you don’t have a set of real values that consistently guide and inform the way you behave. Charismatic leaders can attract a lot of followers, but the attraction is to themselves rather than to something greater and more important. Cause leaders bring the multitudes along with them in support of doing things that matter, and make a difference not simply to a single business but to a broader and more general good. It’s important for the people you work with (and for) to understand that you believe that the best plans and the best businesses are focused on creating situations where everyone can benefit and where it’s a win-win-win all around. Not easy to pull off, but very important in the end.

5. Bear Up (Perseverance)

Execution is everything. Keeping at it, getting knocked down and picking yourself up again, making it clear that you won’t settle for less or take no for an answer–these are all behaviors and traits that the big dogs in the business will quickly pick up on, because (a) it’s absolutely a part of their own DNA and (b) it’s also a big part of what got them to where they are. Winners have a Spidey-sense about other winners and, while their ears don’t actually perk up like a dog’s, you can’t miss the shift in their interest and attention when they encounter another of their own species. Wanting to win is fine; wanting to do the work that it takes to win, and to keep at it until you do win, is what makes the difference in the end.

That’s all it takes. You can make it happen, and there’s no time like the present to get started. It’s a lifelong, iterative journey, and the good news is that it gets better all the time.

If there’s a goal or an endpoint to the process, it’s very simple. When the chips are down and the fat’s in the fire, you want to be the one who people can count on.

Entrepreneurship and Traveling Abroad

I found this article a few weeks ago before I headed to France and I thought about how it affects me and what I hope to achieve after graduation. I realized that there were benefits and consequences to immersing yourself in another culture, but that living abroad truly does open your mind to experiences that you may have never experienced before, from culture shock to understanding different perspective. The article is called “Travel Much? Living Abroad Tied to Entrepreneurship” written by Jessica Stillman for Inc. Her article is quoted below:

“International travel can make you more creative and a better problem solver, research suggests, but only if you approach the experience right.

What makes a regular person into an entrepreneur? Is it her parents and a particular type of upbringing? Or is it certain born preference and qualities? Maybe a stint at a start-up accelerator or training program can have an influence?

Certainly any and all of these biographical details can contribute to the making of a successful entrepreneur, but so can living abroad, research suggests.

much discussed 2010 study by professors from INSEAD, the Kellogg School, and Tel Aviv University found that “travel and living abroad have long been seen as good for the soul. What’s perhaps less well known is that they’re also good for the company. People who have international experience or identify with more than one nationality are better problem solvers and display more creativity,” according to the Harvard Business Review.

Clearly, better problem solving abilities and boosted creativity will only be good for your business career, but if you’re still not convinced of the benefits of international travel, a whole host of nomadic entrepreneurs,bloggers, and economics professors (and more economics professors) have expressed why they feel travel is valuable for reasons ranging from conquering fear to heading off future regrets and challenging our bias for the status quo.

But just because lots of folks recommend spending time abroad to aspiring entrepreneurs, doesn’t mean that simply packing your bags and grabbing your passport is enough. It isn’t just important that you travel but also how you travel, according to a series of three studies recently conducted by an Israeli professor. The research shows that that the mental benefits of life abroad only accrue to those who neither cling to their home country nor go completely native. Those who get the most out of travel learn the mental agility to see things from the perspective of both their own culture and the one they’re visiting. Or as the BPD Research Digest reports:

To extract maximum benefit from time in a foreign land, what’s needed is a “bicultural” perspective–the ability to identity with your new home, but all the while continuing to connect with your native country too.

This form of dual acculturation breeds creative and professional success, the new findings suggest, because it encourages a sophisticated style of thought. Juggling the conflicts and complexities of a dual-identity fosters an ability to register multiple perspectives and to understand the conceptual relations between them.

Of course, international travel isn’t a cure all, right for everyone or without its downsides (Ben Casnocha has written thoughtfully about them) but these studies do suggest that it’s an option worth considering for young entrepreneurs.”

While I don’t believe I’ve reached that level, I do hope to find that bicultural perspective by combining what I’ve learned over the last summer and this summer. It has been challenging trying to adapt to another culture, but it has opened up new perspectives for me.

You can read the original article online here: http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/living-abroad-makes-better-entrepreneurs.html#_=_ .