Why a Product Manager Needs To Wander

Inbox zero, one-on-ones, daily sync calls, daily standups, weekly meetings, roadmap planning, sprint planning, quarterly planning, exec offsites…oh, and…screencasts, wireframes, designs, qa testing, a/b testing, analytics, customer interviews, customer feedback, support tickets, user stories…and on and on it goes.


I love to travel for work and always have. I love to hike and ski by myself too. I like doing things like walking my dog, running, riding my bike and riding the bus alone.

I like to wander.

As you walk through the airport, take a moment and observe people and think about their day. Where are they from, how did they start their day, did they drive to the airport or did someone drop them off, what is stressing them out in their life right now? See that annoying person over there? See that pissed off looking person waiting in the security line? How about the friendly looking older couple walking slowly to their gate? What do you think could make their life better? What business are they in? What experience or product do you think significantly impacted their career ten years ago?

Here’s what Brad Feld was thinking about this morning in the San Jose airport.

As a Product Manager, this is one of the most important things I do even though most people don’t get it and ROI can’t be tied to it. Being empathic is often cited as an important trait of a Product Manager. Wandering helps build this muscle. When I wander, I start to see patterns, feature ideas flow and I meet people and have serendipitous interactions about new ideas that aren’t possible in most contexts.

Establishing cadences, rhythms and process is key to succeeding as a PM, especially as your team scales. Just remember to break yourself out of those molds from time to time and go get lost.

Next week I’ll be in NYC visiting the IBM Watson team at Astor Place. My early mornings and late nights won’t be totally packed with meetings and dinners, I will protect that time and wander around. Who knows what I’ll think of.

Can you explain Programmatic Advertising to your friends and parents?

I can’t either and many of the companies I’ve been working with base their businesses on programmatic ad buys.

Basically, programmatic ad buying is when computers buy and sell ads instead of humans.  One in five ads are bought and sold this way today.  The more the computer understands the content on the page you are browsing, the more relevant the ad is that you see.

Here are some terms to know:

Data Management Platform (DMP)
A huge database of customer information that big companies have.

In many of these systems, Marketers can also buy 3rd party data directly from within the system or sell their own data to other systems.

Ex: BlueKai (Oracle)

Demand-Side Platform (DSP)
Software used by Advertisers to purchase ads in an automated way targeted at specific users based on their location and browsing behavior.

Ex: Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager

Ad Exchange
A Publisher (a big website with lots of traffic) makes ad space available through ad exchanges.

Ex: AppNexus             Here’s a list of the top five exchanges

Hopefully now you an give a quick overview and hang with a conversation about programmatic ad buying!  For further reading, checkout these articles:

WTF is a demand-side platform?
What is an Ad Exchange?



Friends ask me if I like Stapleton and I tell them a story about how I once vowed I would never live there. I wanted to be in a ski town or a loft downtown, never in a lame, boring, family type neighborhood.

Like most things in my life, every few years I look back and realize what an idiot I was just a short time ago. Obviously, I have changed my tune about Stapleton and couldn’t be happier calling the neighborhood my home. With two little kids, my priorities and lifestyle have also significantly changed.

Stapleton is easy livin’. Walking to the pool, cruising around on bikes, going for runs and hikes on trails, bike commuting to downtown….it goes on.

If you’re interested in the neighboorhood or showing your friends around, this map is my recommendation for experiencing Stapleton. Definitely use Zillow to checkout house prices, etc and remember that April and May are when a lot of houses come on to the market in Stapleton. I’m no realtor (talk to Pam Rios for that), so this knowledge is based on anecdotal observations.


The Stapleton Tour

1. Stop at Starbucks at fuel up. Yes, Starbucks. I know it’s not hip but everyone is super nice and it’s easy. If you’ve never been to a Starbucks because you are so incredibly hip, order a Clove, it’s like a pour-over.

2. Cruise down 29th ave to get a sense of the mixed architecture styles. You’ll see super modern, townhouses, regular houses, apartments, etc all on the same block. Turn right on Central Park then left on 26th. Checkout the rock climbing park, one of a zillion playgrounds for the kids all around the neighborhood.

3. Continue on 26th and wind around Westerley Creek Elementary. Yes, Stapleton schools are good. The PTA and parent support is super strong for the several middle schools in the neighborhood.

4. Wrap around back to 26th again and cross the Westerley Creek open space. This is a great place to run and ride bikes with the kids.

5. Turn left on Fulton street, you’re now in the East Bridge neighborhood and my stomping ground. Turn right on 28th and drive another block to see a park with a playground and pool. There are several of these around Stapleton.

6. Continue East on 28th and turn left on Iola St then right on 29th. Drive a minute and you’ll see the Bluff Lake Nature Center on your left. Turn into the parking lot, get out of the car and walk around for a few minutes. This is a great place for running or hiking with the kids.

7. Get back in the car, turn right out of the parking lot and wind around, you’re now on MLK blvd again. Drive a minute and look to your right to see the Central Park Rec Center. This is a great gym with yoga classes, lap pool, kid pool, etc.

8. Keep going on MLK another few minutes and look to the right again to see Central Park. This is a great running, sledding, bouldering and kite flying park with a huge playground. You’ll see road races on the weekends and an occasional cyclo-cross race in the fall.

9. Turn left on Unita then right on 29th to see the Bistro and Wine Cellers at Stapleton. This is your amazing lunch or light apps and glass of wine conclusion to time well spent touring Stapleton. In the summer, cruiser bikes and craft beer dot the Stapleton landscape. If it’s Fri or Sat between 4p-7p stop in the Wine Cellers for a free tasting.

10. Turn right on to MLK then left on Central Park Blvd to head towards I-70. You’ll see the old Stapleton tower and a new neighborhood called Central Park North. On the left you’ll see the RTD bus stop and the new light rail station, it’s super easy to get to DIA from Stapleton. Cross the bridge and you’ll see a gigantic outdoor mall called Northfield. That’s where Target, Bass Pro Shop and stuff like that is. (see “Last minute xmas shopping”).

Good Luck in your Stapletopia journey and feel free to reach out with questions.

Learning from the Launch Festival

Two weeks ago I shook Peter Thiel’s hand, said hello to Chris Sacca, ran into some old friends and got about 25k steps per day going for beautiful runs and walks around the Marina area of San Francisco.  Those are only four of the fifty or so awesome things that happened in a three day span at the Launch Festival.

Tony Hawk and Chris Sacca talking to Jason

I’ve come to the Launch Festival a few years in a row now, here’s why I enjoy it so much.

Watching Startups Pitch On Stage

Each day, there are a bunch of Startups that “launch” their companies on stage. As a Product Manager, you can learn a lot from watching tons of pitches. You will see common patterns, demo techniques and recognize the difference between a clear value prop and a rambling one.

Getting Demos and Talking Product

At every conference I like to walk around and get demos. I’ve been in those shoes, standing for 2-3 days in a row on booth duty talking to tons and tons of people. Try and help each person demoing to you. Give them honest feedback, tell stories about how you would use the product and tell them what you understood about the pitch and where you got confused. The best conferences have either the Founder or Product people at the demo pod.

Great People Watching

I like the contrast between early stage companies looking for their first round of funding and the incredibly successful fireside chat speakers. It’s interesting to listen to the fireside chat macro views then walk over to the demo pit trenches and think about how truly hard it is to get a Startup to go big.  And of course, there’s always a wonderful mix of eccentrics, startup t-shirts and tech fashion to observe.

The Demo Pit, a great place to talk with awesome Startups about life and products

It’s Like Working From Home But At A Conference

During Launch, I spend a lot of time half listening and half writing blog posts or working on wireframes. Being surrounded by tons of cool features, products, apps, designs and ideas is a good influence on my projects.  Sometimes being away from the office is more important than being there for creativity and productivity.

Out for a run near Fort Mason Center

A few themes from this year:

  • SMS as the UI
  • Exploring the world (Detour Audio Tours, Recommendation Apps, Curated Social Driven Travel)
  • Group messaging apps mostly targeted at college kids
  • Content Tools (Sharing, Webinars)
  • Food Delivery
  • Wearables
You can see some of the themes merge together in companies like Etch (wearables, messaging)….and a few themes talked about on stage but not well represented in the demo pit:
Checkout the full list of companies that launched at Launch Festival and I’ll see you there next year!

A Deep Learning Primer for Product Managers

Most of my discussions lately with CTOs and Product Managers have ended with me emailing some links and info about Deep Learning. I’m a relative newbie to the space myself so hopefully this is a good primer.

For Product Managers and CTOs, having an understanding of what’s possible with Deep Learning and how the technology could impact your features and stack is quickly becoming very important.

A great summary of Deep Learning from Lee Gomes taken from this article:

The current excitement about AI stems, in great part, from groundbreaking advances involving what are known as “convolutional neural networks.” This machine learning technique promises dramatic improvements in things like computer vision, speech recognition, and natural language processing. You probably have heard of it by its more layperson-friendly name: “Deep Learning.”

Here are few more article I like:

Albert Wenger from USV talks about Machine Intelligence
Shivon Zilis from Bloomberg Beta created a Machine Intelligence Landscape

And, here’s a list of terms to explore:

Word Embeddings
Nodes and edges
Precision and recall
Frame semantics
Knowledge graph
Hypernym and Hyponym
Word sense disambiguation
Hearst Patterns
GPU computing
Stochastic Pooling
Cognitive Computing

And, some good people to follow in the Deep Learning space:

Yann LeCun – Facebook’s Director of AI Research
Geoffrey Hinton – Distinguished Researcher at Google and Distinguished Professor at University of Toronto
Yoshua Bengio – Full Professor Department of Computer Science and Operations Research
and Canada Research Chair in Statistical Learning Algorithms
Elliot Turner – Founder AlchemyAPI
Derrick Harris – Senior Writer at GigaOm
Seth Grimes – Industry Analyst

And, some websites to explore:

Google Deep Learning Community

And finally, some awesome AI videos:

Introducing Spot
Space Invaders

My Approach To Product Management

I added my answer to “What are the essential software tools for a product manager?” on Quora but wanted to go a bit further and summarize how the entire Product Management flow can work together with tools.

So often I talk with companies that are building and building but are super disconnected with their customers, the business objectives or the efforts of other teams. Or, they are growing and making progress but wish their Product Management was better.

Here’s my version of how Product Management can work. Of course, this is one of many different approaches.

Start with the Goals
When your company is cranking along it might feel lame to pause and talk about goals. Mumblings like “this is a waste of time”, “too many meetings”, “we already know what we’re trying to do”, “too much process”, “we don’t really do this”, etc may crop up. You need to push through this, having a clear goal to work with that everyone has agreed on is key to doing anything else well.

One stategy you can use is OKRs. Spend an hour watching this Rick Klau talk on OKRs on how Google does it and read this First Round Capital article about Swipely.

Example Objective: Increase Customer Engagement
Example Result: Increase user custom report sharing to 10 shares per user per month

Make sure your goals are somewhere you can add to or reference digitally. You are committing to building product to impact these goals, they need to be within arms reach.

Understand the Product
It’s important to be at a point with your product where you can understand what impact decisions will have on the product performance.

Heap Analytics
Heap is the best tool I’ve ever seen to understand user behavior. The install is a simple snippet. From there, you as the Product Manager have tons of control to investigate behavior.


SendGrid Reports
Whether you use SendGrid or another system to deliver your transactional email, don’t treat email as a secondary piece of your product, give it the credit it deserves. Spend time building a spreadsheet model that enables you to download data, add to your model and see how your transactional email is performing.

Google Analytics
I’ve never become an expert with GA or had anyone around me that was. I’ve found GA is great for understanding your audience and macro behaviors. Where does our traffic come from? What devices are being used? etc.

Internal Reports
Is there anything about your product that you need to understand it better? Ask for help from your Engineering team and work hard to uncover missing pieces of the puzzle.

Just like having clear goals set for the business, understanding how your product performs is a prerequisite to do anything else strategically.

Understand your Customers
You have heard “Get out of the building” a million times now.  What are sustainable things you can be doing to better understand the problems your customers have and how you can impact their lives?

Visit Customers
I used to procrastinate about visiting customers at their office but have since learned to love this part of Product Management.  Instead of organizing some type of user testing or formal feedback session with your customer, simply make it your goal to stop by and say hello.  “I’m in San Francisco next week and wanted to drop by and say hello.  Can you grab coffee at 10a on Tue or 4p on Wed?”  Another approach is to use conferences to talk with customers.  I have found having a conversion about work life, the customer’s products and their strategy is a great way to understand their world much better.

Use LinkedIn for Personas
Search LinkedIn for 2nd connections in the San Francisco Bay Area with keyword “Marketing”.  You’ll see people with titles like “Vice President Marketing” and “Marketing Strategy for Saas, eCommerce and Payments”.  Tweak the search and find profiles that are relevant to your product then print these out and tape them to the wall.  Cute persona names like “Mary Marketer” have never resonated with me.  I like talking about how real people would find value.

Help with Support
Try to plugin somehow with the support process.  You can be part of the team helping to answer tickets, you could attend the support team’s regular meeting, you could ask for access to their ticketing system so you can review tickets and look at trends, etc.  Understanding tone, terms customers are using and problems they are having using the product is context you need to make better decisions.

Have a Repository of Ideas
Good ideas and customer feedback pile up extremely fast. You need a system in place for storing and referencing these ideas.

In Prodpad, anyone can submit an idea via email and each idea has a business case, impact vs effort scale and user stories that the Product Manager can write. This is awesome because it gives everyone on the team a place to send ideas with low friction and empowers the Product Manager to add detail and prioritize.

Create the Gameplan
Let’s assume now that you have clear goals, understand how the product performs and a repository of ideas that could potentially impact those goals, it’s time to come up with the gameplan. Each team is different, sometimes it’s the sole ideas of the Product Manager and other times it’s a collaborative effort from the whole team. In either case, it’s your responsibility and critical that you get buy-in from the team. Talk about why certain features are prioritized and backup your thinking with evidence like user data, business KPIs and customer stories. The rest of the team is about to work very, very hard on building the product you’re asking them to build, they deserve a rock solid gameplan.

Google Design Sprint
Being able to pull off something like the GV Design Sprint with your team is varsity stuff. It requires a level of leadership, ability to collaborate and skills that most teams don’t have. I recommend watching that video for inspiration and understanding where your team’s strengths are to come up with your own version.

The Roadmap is a way to talk about the gameplan with anyone that’s not on your immediate team. It tells the story of how you are going to invest and why.


Because you have done the hard work of defining goals and understanding your product, you are not shooting from the hip now.

“We are rolling out a new report UI that will make it easier for users to share custom reports with their team. This will be measured by seeing an increase from 1.5 reports shared to 10 reports shared per user per month. This aligns with our business goal of improving customer engagement.”

Wireframe and Flowcharts
Now that the plan is understood, it’s time to dig in. Use simple wireframes and flowcharts to articulate your gameplan. For each flow, be able to talk about how it will impact one of your goals. Using tools like UI Stencils or Balsamiq Mockups makes this easy. Tape everything to a wall in your office to create an easy way to informally discuss the plan with the team.

2014-04-23 14.37.17

Get Feedback
Once you have wireframes or designs, use tools like InVision and Usabilityhub to get feedback from customers, the general public and internal stakeholders. This lends credibility to the entire design process and builds trust with your team.

Write User Stories
User stories define what will be built. If you have been collaborating with the team on what to build, writing user stories should be more busy work than innovation. This is the time to think through every single edge case and be very detail oriented. During development, questions are always going to come up. The more thorough you are writing user stories, the smoother things will go.

Daily Standup
Attend your team’s daily standup even if you have nothing to add. You need to be there to answer questions and support the development of the product you are asking the team to build.

Even if you have a full-time QA on your team, I’d recommend being a key part of the testing effort. When I haven’t done this, I’ve felt disconnected from the team and hard work being put in to build the product I asked for. You need to be the expert of the product, the more time you spend on alpha and beta versions before going to production the better.

Updating the company about product development happens differently for every company. Do you need to be a part of your sales team’s weekly meeting to talk through what’s in progress and what’s on the roadmap so they can talk intelligently with customers? Do you need to demo new features at company meetings?

Creating screencasts to show off new features is powerful. I have used this technique to demo products in board meetings, company meetings and to customers. I’ve used Screenflow for Mac to author the screencast then uploaded to Vimeo to share.

Blog Post
For new features, write a blog post that talks about the value for your customer, how it solves their problems and include screenshots. Your marketing team may choose not to use the post, it may not get promoted, etc but it’s a great practice to be in.

Launching a Feature
The moment has arrived but the work is not done. Once a new feature launches, it’s important to understand early indications of how things are performing. Talk to your support team, any tickets related to the new feature? Test your analytics, is the data being recorded exactly as expected? If you are running any A/B tests, are they recording data correctly?

Numbers Review
I heard Steven Lurie describe a “Numbers Review” meeting in which the Product Manager presents performance data of a newly launched feature.

“Product teams have a bad habit of always looking forward. What’s the next shiny feature to build? When the Engineering team works hard to build something they should not be in the dark about how it’s performing.” – Steven Lurie

The beauty of the Numbers Review is that it connects many of the core concepts in this post together. In order to deliver a great Numbers Review meeting the Product Manager needs firm benchmarks on product performance prior to the new feature. They also need to reiterate the intended value of the feature and how it connects to company goals (OKRs).

These are two of my favorite images describing Product Management.



My approach is just one of a million different ways to build amazing products.  I hope you found some useful tips.

Product Management is a wonderful blend of design, collaboration, empathy, strategy and engineering.  Now, go forth and make amazing things!

Learning about Startup Investing

How are startups raising the seed funding they need to get to the next phase?  This is a very simple overview of a few vehicles that help startups raise capital and some new and interesting trends in the ecosystem.

An Angel or Fund can lead a Syndicate on AngelList. Investors that are backing the Syndicate have the option to invest in specific deals that are being syndicating. Syndication allows Investors to pool their resources and share risks.
Ex: FG Angels

Funds on AngelList are “index funds” or “fund of funds” that give Investors broad exposure to lots of deals within a specific vertical. An Investment committee votes on deals that have been syndicated.
Ex: AngelList Consumer Fund

Corporate Investment in Super Angels
Recently, Mailchimp invested $2M into Sig Mosley’s $30M super angel fund.  Thriving companies like Mailchimp see this type of investing as a way to diversify cash, help startups and get early access to the most innovative companies in their space.

Many startups choose to go through an Accelerator program. Typically an Accelerator program will take an equity stake in the startup and provide seed capital and a convertible note option, a loan that converts into equity at some point in time.
Ex: Techstars provides $118k for a 7-10% equity stake

Angel Investors
Individual Angels are a core part of the ecosystem. Startups will often bring on several Angel investments in combination with going into an Accelerator or using AngelList to assemble the seed capital they need.

Hardware and hard goods startups are using a combination of Angel investing to get the company running with a prototype built and Kickstarter to fund the first product release.  Ex: Ubooly

I recommend reading Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson to get schooled on VC investing.