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/

3 Ways Entrepreneurs and Consultants are Alike

Entrepreneurship and Consulting don’t usually go hand in hand. Entrepreneurship is all about taking necessary risks in order to develop, organize, and grow a startup, usually dealing with small businesses and other startups. Consultants are usually subject matter experts who share their knowledge and expertise to clients in order to add value to existing business functions for large corporations. For years I’ve always believed them to be polar opposites when it comes to navigating the corporate jungle. After working with startups and consultants, I’ve come to realize that the two professions are very similar. Here are 3 ways Entrepreneurs and Consultants are very much alike:

1. There is no job manual, they’re constantly learning on the job


Entrepreneurship is rarely a degree and must be learned on the job. There is no manual for being a successful entrepreneur, only books, networking events, internet, and numerous sleepless nights. There are hundreds of books and videos online that tell you how to build a successful small business or startup. Everything from picking your team to employing the right SEO strategy and even travelling abroad. All of that information can be instrumental in planning your business strategy, but it’s all in the execution, something you add to your Experience Bank and learn from first hand. While working on FreeSkies, we had to quickly learn about customer acquisition, navigate the venture capital jungle, and generate revenue first hand. That’s not something you learn in the classroom.

Consulting is very much the same. After joining Accenture, we were sent to St. Charles, Illinois for Analyst School, a 2 week course designed to quickly introduce new hires to various business and software tools often used by consultants. They covered business process modelling concepts, gathering requirements, conducting test scripts, and even Salesforce.com training, but with one caveat; there was the possibility that we would never use any of these tools in our day to day projects. With Consulting, you learn the necessary skills on the project and must be able to mold yourself to the specific project you’re assigned to. Consultants must be versatile and self-learners. There is no job manual.

2. They build and leverage their network

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As an Entrepreneur, it’s crucial to start building your network early with early-adopters, investors, or potential partners. Starting a small business or launching a startup is no easy task, and starting one alone is even harder. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs are those that have mentors that guide them through rough patches, partners who expand the breadth of their business, and investors with unwavering support of your common vision. While working on FreeSkies, we had a business mentor working out Research Park at the University of Illinois that helped us make challenging business decisions, we had an influential advisor, who helped us navigate venture capital and set ourselves up for investment, and we had strategic partnerships with various drone companies that allowed us to expand our reach and exposure.

Consultants build networks as well. As a Consultant, it’s your job to find a project that best suits your skill set. You build an internal resume, attend company wide networking events, and build strong relationships with project managers. This concept was new to me during my first month at Accenture. It was like finding a job within a job, but it’s that network that sets you apart from your peers and comes in handy when promotion season comes around. I remember when I started, the lack of direction and immense focus on building your own career at Accenture was astounding. It was our responsibility to reach out to project managers, find projects we were interested in, and control our career path. Consultants must build and leverage that network every day in order to be successful.

3. They mitigate risks and challenge the “norm”


Entrepreneurs are always mitigating risks and challenging the status quo. At FreeSkies, we had limited resources and time which meant that we had to take some big risks, but that also meant we needed to mitigate those risks to the best of our ability, whether it’s conserving funds, choosing customers, or taking a gamble with investors. With the current competition within startups, following the “norm” just won’t cut it. Entrepreneurs pour their heart and soul into their company, and they don’t let a “No” stop them from building their business. A “No” is just an opportunity to learn, understand, and grow. When an investor says “No”, Entrepreneurs ask “Why?”, they strive to understand and they challenge the “norm”.

Consultants mitigate risks on a day to day basis. Working with clients with approaching deadlines and cross-functional teams leads to a lot of disarray and confusion. Navigating that chaos and mitigating risks are the job of a Consultant. They must prioritize tasks, overcome challenges, and they challenge the “norm” when it comes to seeking out projects. They do their research on past projects managers have worked on, clients they’ve been with, and their hobbies and interests. When a manager says “No”, Consultants seek to understand “Why?”.

Entrepreneurs and Consultants are always on the move, learning on the job, building a strong network, and mitigating risks. Whether you’re a Consultant or an Entrepreneur, it’s apparent that there are many more similarities than you might have guessed.

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.

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.

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#_=_ .

La Villa Rouge

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It’s been one hell of a week. I arrived here last Thursday night, and it’s been quite a ride since. Toulouse is a beautiful city, with great people, and the program has kicked off with a great start. Not going to lie that it hasn’t been a struggle adjusting, but it’s been an experience. So far, when we haven’t been exploring the city, we’ve taken courses on aircraft economics and safety with our first exam tomorrow, can’t wait for that. With the time that we did have in the city, we explored on our own and also had the opportunity to explore the city with a guide.

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On Monday we had the opportunity to visit downtown Toulouse and explore some of the cultural buildings that encompass the city through a guided tour. Toulouse is home to over 450,000 people and is the fourth largest city in France in addition to being the center of the European Aerospace Industry. The buildings in the city are mostly made of brick and dirt from the Garonne River, dubbing Toulouse with the nickname of “la ville rouge”. Some of the buildings are made of stone, however, this is uncommon since the stones come from the Pyrenee mountains and are difficult to. Being in the heart of Midi Pyrenee, we learned about the architecture and the occitan culture that has influenced the city.

First up on the trip was the heart of city, Capitole! We were lucky to get in since it is usually being used to house an event. The building was originally constructed in 1190. While the building, as it stands today, wasn’t built in any single time period, the interior dates back to the 16th century while the facade was built more recently in 1750. The building was once used as the as the seat of the government as Toulouse became known for it’s wealth and influence. Today the building houses the city hall, Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse – an opera company, and a symphony orchestra. It is known that you must be very talented to perform here. One unique fact about the plaza outside the city hall was that local officials wanted to keep the appearance of Capitole as untouched as possible, so they declared that any business around Capitole needed to color their signs gold, to keep with the history of the gold and silver mines surrounding the city. Even McDonalds wasn’t an exception.

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During this tour, we saw many boutiques and art around town. The history of the town was displayed through this art. We saw a few monuments and fountains were the people of Toulouse gathered engaging in conversation. There were some paintings on the ceiling in front of some boutiques that told stories of Toulouse such as the love for rugby and how Toulouse plays a large part in the Aerospace society.

Later in the day we visited La Basilique Saint-Sernin, a beautiful church built between 130 and 1385 at the site of a previous basilica which contained the body of Saint Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse, in c. 250. While most of the basilicas were made of stone, this one was made mostly of painted brick to mimic stone. Inside of the church we learned a little bit about the architecture printed on euro bills.

Another place we visited was the Couvent des Jacobins. One of the many unique characteristics of the building is something the locals affectionately call, the “Palm Tree”, a 22-meter high column with groin vaults banding up in a shape similar to palm tree fronds. The monastery also features dark blue and red stained glass windows that allow light inside the building to change from cold light to warm light as the day goes on.

I’ve enjoyed the trip thus far and can’t wait for these upcoming weeks. Keep checking for more updates!

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1871 Start-up Weekend

Last weekend, I had an opportunity to attend the first ever 1871 Start-up weekend at the 1871 Start-up Incubator in downtown Chicago. 1871 is a collaborative space where Chicago’s brightest digital designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs are shaping the technical landscape. They provide a community, education, mentorship, and networks to digital start-ups to get their start in Chicago. They decided to host a weekend where students from the best schools in Illinois would come together and form start-ups of their own in a single weekend.

Over 80 students met at 1871 for a weekend-long event to build their own startups and participate in Startup 101 crash courses, keynote speakers, mentorship, pitches, and a grand prize for the winning team.

Mike Huffstetler, VP at 1871 summarizes the event perfectly. “1871 CEO, Howard Tullman, kicked off the night with a fast-paced, eye opening keynote: “So, You Want to Be an Entrepreneur?”. Howard shared his ideas about why businesses and technologies fail or succeed, and spelled out the keys to entrepreneurial success through the lens of his 40+ years of experience.

Over 53 people pitched their ideas. Students voted on the top ideas and eventually self-selected into 9 teams ranging in size from 6-8 people. Saturday was packed full with startup courses and mentors engaging with teams to identify their core problem and validate their ideas in the community. The day kicked off with ADMCi’s workshop about customer validation. Students were taught how to ask the right kinds of questions to to properly validate an idea and fulfill a need in the market place. Using complementary Divvy passes (thanks Divvy!), students explored the city to find and interview potential customers.  Upon return, they now had the insights required to synthesize their findings. This led to several thoughtful pivots, and then to ADMCi’s design and prototyping course.

One of the highlights of the weekend’s was Eric Lunt’s Saturday keynote: “A Code to Code By”. Some of Eric’s key lessons included:

  1. Code quality is more important than code quantity.
  2. Code must be peer-reviewed before it is committed.
  3. If the code isn’t tested, it isn’t finished.
  4. Make short iterations, and communicate frequently.
  5. No territories! No code belongs to one, single person.
  6. Set code formatting standards.
  7. Use free, open-source offerings to supplement creation and deployment (you don’t need to pay!).
  8. Design for scale at the very beginning.
  9. Any network, i/o can, and will, fail.
  10. Development environment should mirror production environment: at least two of everything.

Sunday afternoon arrived in a blink of an eye and after a massive amount of late night Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza delivery on Saturday night (courtesy of SingleHop who also provided free hosting for teams throughout the weekend!), teams added the finishing touches to their presentations. Mentors arrived in the morning to help refine each team’s pitches. 

Sunday was game day, and Fizz was born!

More information about Campus 1871 and Fizz can be found at www.1871.com and www.fizz1871.tk and in subsequent posts.

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