Monthly Archives

December 2016

Amazon Go

By | technology | No Comments

Earlier this month Amazon released a cool video that spread like wildfire centered around it’s new venture called Amazon Go. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now.

It’s a brick and mortar store. Walk in, pick out your items and walk out. No lines, no cashiers. Just go.

I was captivated watching the video and fireworks went off, “Of course that’s where we’re going!” I admit I’m a little slow, IBM put this thought into the world ten years ago. It makes sense, taking those self checkout lines from the grocery store to the next level.

For the next few days I kept thinking about it, and the fact that it’s opening in the next few months. This new concept and new technology will be live in the world. In fact, it already is. Amazon is currently beta testing the flagship store with their employees. How long will it be before “Just Walk Out” technology is in every city? How long before it takes over full grocery stores, big box stores, department stores?

And beyond that…how does it even work, really?

I found this article which gave an overview. Basically you need an Amazon account, a smartphone and the Amazon Go app, all of which I assumed.  You check in with your phone, which also makes sense. Then when the shoppers are in the store they are tracked via cameras and microphones. This is where it started to blow my mind:

“Combined with embedded sensors, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, the Amazon system is so nuanced that it can distinguish when two people are reaching for the same item based on individual skin tones.”

That’s crazy cool.

It’s a similar technology to that which is being used in self driving cars using cameras and deep learning.

But why has Amazon decided to take another step into the real world when their vision is focused on creating a business centered around giving people the ability to find anything they need to buy online. I believe they’ve made a realization that at this point people aren’t ready to buy everything online and while I think these pop-up stores will be more like convenience stores than grocery stores to start the impetus is the struggle to get people over the hump of having groceries delivered.

In my house we use Subscribe and Save for things we used to go to Costco for. Paper towels, toilet paper, energy bars, this green stuff I drink every morning and other non-perishables. There very may well be a day in which all our groceries are delivered, but we’re not at a point now where Amazon can replace running to the corner store for a gallon of milk, a quick bite, or as an excuse to get out of the office for a few minutes. Amazon Go is beginning to tackle this. This is just the start, but you can be sure they techology will begin to permeate through our society in the coming years.

Of course with this new technology there is concern that the technology will eliminate jobs of the many, and it will. There is opportunity for it support other jobs, such as the prepackaged food that they will be supplying, but for the standard cashier they’re now in as much danger as truck drivers are of the self-driving relationship taking their livelihood away.

The world is changing rapidly and this is only one of the major shifts we’ll see in the coming years. It’s an exciting time but one that must be considered and talked about. This statement from Stephen Hawking is a good place to start. It’s about a five minute read, take the time and check it out. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

What Makes a Good Culture

By | team | No Comments

At a recent job interview I was asked a question that I’d never been asked before so I had to take a moment to collect my thoughts before answering and in the moment I didn’t address it as completely as I would have liked.

“You’ve said that company culture is important to you, what are the 3-4 most important things that create a good culture?”

I’ve been blessed through the years at having good teams of people to work with and specifically while at Millennial Media, two diverse teams that were both stellar and some of my fondest working experiences.

The best barometer for a good company culture is a good vibe. Your home has a certain vibe. Could be

At a recent job interview I was asked a question that I’d never been asked before so I had to take a moment to collect my thoughts before answering and in the moment I didn’t address it as completely as I would have liked.

“You’ve said that company culture is important to you, what are the 3-4 most important things that create a good culture?”

I’ve been blessed through the years at having good teams of people to work with and specifically while at Millennial Media, two diverse teams that were both stellar and some of my fondest working experiences.

The best barometer for a good company culture is a good vibe. Your home has a certain vibe. It could be warm and inviting. It could be sad and cold. Starbucks has a vibe…and not all of them have the same vibe as hard as they try. And your workplace definitely has a vibe.

Some companies just have good energy without even trying.  The team gels, there’s a varied set of personalities and you’re moving together towards something great. This energy creates your company’s vibe.

The cornerstone of this vibe is the leadership team. What they exude trickles down and infects the rest of the company. I don’t mean those pep rally meetings that happen every month or two to get everyone pumped up. Done right those can be very energizing and motivating, but I mean on a day to day basis, how does leadership work, what do they exude as they move through the office, how solid is their swagger. It all starts here.

Passion adds a layer of depth to this and a clear vision adds another giving employees a true north to follow. The feeling of “we’re all going to win together.”

Beyond the vibe, what makes a good culture?

I like to think that this article, about Google studying what makes “the perfect team” holds some of the keys to that and it’s just a portion from the book Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg. A major factor in the success of teams is the idea of psychological safety.

There’s something powerful about the feeling of safety in being able to express ideas and opinions without judgement or ridicule. I believe that the teams that I worked in had this and I believe that’s why we excelled and were successful. The article also mentioned that team members spoke a similar number of words per meeting and this was something we accomplished by taking turns around the room, though not formally.

This relates to the overall culture, because beyond energy, what makes a place great to work is the ability to be open, share ideas, and feel like you’re having an impact. Having a company wide understanding of what you’re going after it and knowing that the piece of the puzzle that you’re responsible for is being put into place is extremely gratifying.

Another thing that can directly contribute to a culture is what I call a shining light. Someone who takes up the mantle and whom other people gravitate towards. If you have someone like this in your company, cherish them and support them and watch the effect. A buddy of mine is running a team and every few months plans an offsite outing or an after work event, and takes his personal time to do things outside of work with those that would like to. It’s no surprise to me that his team is one of the highest performing teams in the organization.

Finally, culture is something you have to nurture and as your company grows culture is going to shift and change. A few of the companies I’ve been involved with have fought against this instead of leaning into it and trying to understand what the shift was about. The last key is communication. Talk to your people and see what’s going on and get a temperature.  Adjust as needed.


Halfway Through December

By | self-analysis | No Comments

Halfway through December!

Well, actually we’re almost 2/3rds the way through December. I intended to post this on the 16th, but between sickness and my awesome accomplishment from yesterday it got pushed to today.

It’s important to take time and look back at your progress (or lack there of) as you tackle your goals. In this case I’ve been very open along the way about the steps I’m taking towards evolving this site in bite-sized chunks, mostly at the end of other posts, but today is totally dedicated to looking back and evaluating the progress so far.

I have posted every day without fail. Feedback has been positive towards the style of sharing the building of the site and personal stories, so I plan to keep intermixing that with high-level direction.

Posting every day has been a challenge, but one that has been worthwhile even during an unexpectedly busy month. Not every post has been stellar but they are out in the world and allow for evaluation towards the evolution of the overall theme.

So far I have 10 sign-ups, which is 10% of the way to my goal of 100 by the end of December. Through the one push I did do last week I got a 16.75% sign up rate, which I was pretty psyched about. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do so at the top of the page.

I thought I’d be further along in this area, but it’s definitely taken a back seat.

I have update the theme to something more flexible and while plain, will be easy to add some flair to. I also played with some CSS to make the text more readable and update the link colors to blue from yellow…why would you use yellow?

I don’t have an About page yet…but I do have a Contact page set up.  On Day 1 the About page was a priority for the first week and here, three weeks later it’s still on the back burner. Sometimes that’s the way it goes.

I did take the time to implement the signup collection through Sumome as well as throw in a favicon because that blank page in the tab kept shouting out like an eyesore to me.

My wife doesn’t like that the dates don’t show up on mobile so I’ll be tackling that at some point in the near future.

Outside of these key learnings is that my initial hypothesis of having more content will translate to increased confidence in the blog itself. I was on a call today with a friend who asked about product vision and I pointed him directly to what I wrote on Defining Product Vision as well as Rapid Prototyping. Instant value to the conversation.

Moving towards the end of the month I have some fun posts planned and hope to round this all out during the week of January 1st with a look back on the overall experience and share the full analysis.

Which post has been your favorite so far? Let me know in the comments.

My First Chin-Up

By | self-analysis | No Comments

Consistency, it’s a staple of this blog which I harp on over and over again…consistently even. Today that consistency paid off for me in a big personal win. Today I pulled my body from a full hang position to achieve my first ever chin-up.  And I mean…ever.  It’s just something I’ve never been able to do and never cared about doing.

About six weeks ago I agreed to participate in a Savage Race with two of my buddies. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a 10K run with obstacles throughout, 25 to be exact. You can see our race here. I’m excited but feel ill-prepared. I’ve done the Warrior Dash (5k version, less intense obstacles) 3 years in a row now, and it’s a great time. And there’s beer at the end so that’s a bonus!

In an effort to be prepared I had set some goals to help me feel I’d be better prepared.

  1. Run a 10k in 56 minutes.
  2. Do 20 pull-ups
  3. Do 20 chin-ups

And with that I was set.  I’d been setting and hitting 5k goals over the past 6 months, and just after I hit my goal of running a 5k in 28:30, I injured my knee. So I’ve been on the bench with the first goal, but in a way that’s been good to focus on the other two goals.  I did an internet search and found this program and have been following it for a regiment of close grip and wide grip pull-ups, as well as chin-ups and today after pulling myself up to my nose for a week now I was able to do a full chin-up.  And I felt like Captain America. It’s one tiny step toward my goal, but it happened after weeks of consistently following the program I set out for myself.

It’s hard not to be frustrated when week after week it seems as if little progress is actually occurring, but when I’m doing something and I hit that point where I just can’t do any more I hear a little Tony Horton in my ear saying:

“Don’t say ‘I can’t’, say ‘I presently struggle with.” – Tony Horton, P90X

From my stint of doing P90X there are a lot of these little sayings that still stick in my head but this one is the most powerful and can be applied to any task where you’re just starting out.

So, whether it’s an exercise program, starting a blog or hitting your first seven figure year, set your goal, make incremental progress, and celebrate your first chin-up, even if it’s just a big deal to you.

From Boxy to Curvy

By | design, technology | No Comments

I saw this video today and knew I wanted to share it.  How Cars Went From Boxy To Curvy

The video is cool, but if you want a more in depth reading on the matter you can see that here.

“It turns out it was largely due to three interrelated factors: European style trends, a government-mandated push for fuel economy, and new technologies that allowed manufacturers to more easily design and create curved shapes.”

It’s important to think of the evolutionary shifts in design and understand why changes are happening, even if it’s just retrospectively.  Being able to identify those trends as they’re happening can allow you to change your patterns in real time and be ahead of the curve.

Look for more on this in future blog posts, do you have any examples in your work you want to share? Add it to the comments below.

Design is not the same as Art

By | design | One Comment

“Design is the process of going from an existing condition to a preferred one.” – Milton Glaser

In a talk Milton Glaser gave at the Guggenheim Museum in October he broke down the distinction between design and art. You should read the full article here, it lit a light bulb for me personally that I’ve been thinking of since.

Using his thoughts as a springboard, some of the best engineers I know are also great designers, and often delivering on the goals of the company through well thought out, well designed back end architecture that allows for increased stability and flexibility in the future. One engineer I’ve worked closely with was by far the best whiteboard strategist I’ve seen.

Part of the power of this thinking is using it to enable us to work more closely together, Product with Engineering, UX and Design, in constant communication, all problem solvers, all designers working towards the success being defined as when our customer finds success, when they are happy.

“Art’s power is mysterious and cannot be quantified,” he explained, “while design’s efficacy is measured by how well it delivers on a clients’ goal.”

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Rapid Prototyping

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From The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, “Your best is going to change moment to moment, it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.”

I haven’t read the book, but the four agreements get posted all over social media.

I caught a nasty stomach bug, but luckily I have a great backlog of content I love to share.  It’s like movie day in elementary school. This talk by Tom Chi is very good and has actionable suggestions surrounding rapid prototyping, UX, and customer interviews.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

Video: Tom Chi on Rapid Prototyping & Product Management

Trepidation and Pushing Through

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My post yesterday on How To Define Your Product Vision took longer than most of my previous ones. I knew what I wanted to say and my personal process of focusing around a central goal in order to allow for clarity and more directed conversations but even so, I wanted to say a lot, make it concise, interesting and actionable.  That’s my goal with any instructional post I make and it was the first of it’s kind, so I had some trepidation.

A similar stall happened with the post I wrote on Habits. It was day 5 and I was stuck. I know it’s one of my weaker posts thus far. Not because the content isn’t valuable at a high level, but because it’s not directed or actionable enough. I decided for that day and for this mission of getting something out, it would have to do and I added a post to my content calendar focusing more on how to create better habits as well as a look at the book Hooked and how habits are associated with product development and viral loops in todays market.  So, through that painful, 2 hour back and forth about what to write and getting something up, just 5 days in to this experiment came some very positive learnings both about this exercise and the expansion of existing content.

In whatever you’re doing, be open to that learning.

I attended a webinar yesterday about goal setting led by Michael Hyatt. It was very high level, but the one thing that stuck out to me was a concept I’ve been trying to put into words and up to this point have been unable to. It’s been on the tip of my tongue.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt are three emotions that sneak up and keep you from moving forward for a variety of reasons, but in feeling those things as you’re doing something new and it means you’re probably on the right track. That is not to say that you should blindly go forward. You need to put systems in place to learn as you grow and adjust course, and the faster you can adjust the better the end outcome will be.  My post on Evolution was centered around that concept.

2016 was my best year yet in regards to goal setting.  I accomplished more and grew in both personal and professional capacities to a greater degree than ever before. Even so, I want to do even better in 2017 and that was the impetus for attending the webinar. I encourage you to do the same and keep learning and revisit those things that you already know really well from time to time. It’s likely you’ll pick up something new or a concept will spark a new idea off of old information.

How To Define Your Product Vision

By | implementation, product, starting, vision | No Comments

All the way back on Day 2 of my 31 days of blog posts, I asserted that to build great products you needed to Know Your Vision, inside and out. Understand your why and shout it from the rooftops, or at least be able to spit out an elevator pitch.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek, Start With Why

I’ll expand that for the product managers out there to say that you can’t expect your team to blindly support what you’re building, but they will bend over backwards if they believe in why they are building it.

One of the most important responsibilities for a product manager is to inspire and lead their teams towards a common goal. No matter the size of the company or the size of your product, you need an overarching goal in order to create a strategy on how to get there. On top of that, your vision is the thing you point to in moments of doubt or to justify changes in strategy.

This goes beyond product and engineering. It should also guide marketing, sales and the team that will have to support your product before, during and after launch.

The way that I like to think about it is that you’re painting a version of the future that is better because of what you’re building. A future where what you’re building is delivering value to both your business and your customer and they’ve got big smiles on their faces.

For SpaceX, their vision is enabling human life on Mars.

Talk about a vision. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the product you’re building is not quite as grandiose in scope, but in this case size doesn’t matter. You should have the same passion and ambition behind your vision.

Before you can truly define your product vision you have to understand your product. As the product manager, that’s your job. You need to understand all aspects of your product, beyond the features to include:

  • Key Product Goals
  • Target Customers
  • Competition
  • Differentiation

One way to go about creating a vision is to follow the template from Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm.  All you have to do is fill in the blanks:

  • For (target customer)
  • Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
  • (Product name) is a (product category)
  • That provides (key benefit)
  • Unlike (the product alternatives)
  • Our product (statement of primary differentiation)

You’ll end up with a vision statement like this one I made up for
For the bill-paying member of the family who also manages the budget and is tired of tracking multiple accounts in order to have a clear financial overview. is a web-based program that automatically ties in to all financial institutions and automatically updates in real time. It is optimized specifically for the everyman budgeter and is free to use.

It’s a fine vision statement but, it doesn’t get me jazzed and quite frankly it’s way to long. You want to shoot for short and sweet. Could I use it to point to and support my product decisions.  Sure, but getting engineers and salesmen to recollect it and follow it is a stretch. Plus, it’s just not cool.

It’s a good starting point, and in fact is a great exercise to go through with your team and make sure that the foundation of the vision is solid throughout your organization. As the product owner it is your responsibility to create the vision statement, but along the way you should take the time to include everyone else that has a stake in the product and get their input. Involving your partners early and often will ensure that everyone is on the same page even before you distribute the clean, concise, dare I say, sexy final version.

Now, take that statement and break it down to it’s most essential pieces. What’s the heart of the product that you’re trying to create for your target customers. How will their lives be better and different in the future? Break that out and craft a statement or two.  Then take another pass and see if it gets you excited.

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed.  The vision pulls you.” – Steve Jobs

Is what you have now pulling you? Is it ambitious? Will it engage the troops when it’s time to kick it into high gear? Is it short and sweet? And most importantly, does it make sense?

If not, rework it until it does.  When you’ve got a vision that excites you and paints that better version of the future, then communicate it throughout your organization and ensure that everyone is inline, from the C-level down to your entry-level engineers.

With this, you’ve set the direction and everyone is moving together towards the higher purpose and a full understanding of your why, which ultimately makes your team more of a team.

Here’s a few examples that I like:

To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.

To inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

To create a better everyday life for the many people.

Toys ‘R Us:
Put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parent’s faces.

Final thought:
One thing I liked about SpaceX’s mission is that before stating the goal they also said this “SpaceX was founded under the belief that a future where humanity is out exploring the stars is fundamentally more exciting than one where we are not.”

That is heart and passion and raw, real, truth.  So when you’re looking to create your vision, think about SpaceX and let it be a little raw.


By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Had a great meeting today with Phylly from Way Out Visual and I realized it’s already the twelfth and I haven’t let anyone know that this site exists…aside from word of mouth with friends. It’s been on my list, but I keep putting it off, day after day, with the priority being the writing. Well, that and the fact that then it would really be out there, rather than this pseudo corner of the internet thing I got going on.

So we discussed some strategies and she’s going to help me get out there starting tomorrow via social. On my own I’ll be writing a killer blog post and then following 0 to 100 in 3 days challenge from Pat Flynn. I’ll report back here, and share my learnings over the next few days.

It’s been a while since I’ve reported on the incremental improvements. If you look now you will find an About and Contact page. They should be chock full of…nothing, but they are there.  I’ve also changed the formatting and presets to make everything a little more presentable. I shifted from using the SumoMe pop-up to scroll box which asks users to join the newsletter when they scroll a certain percentage down the page.  One of my buddies was having issues where the pop-up wasn’t showing but his screen was being obfuscated with no way to exit out.

Till tomorrow.