Microsoft iPod

Like most Web 2.0 sites, YouTube is not nearly as easy to find good content as it was a year ago. (Side note... I think that is why Google is going to have YouTube's lunch... YouTube has to figure out how to scale discovery). However, I did find this video on . I had heard about this from friends at Microsoft (they got a big kick out of it) but hadn't seen it yet. Very clever, and a great lesson in Product Marketing.

We recently went through this when launching WebStore and Fulfillment by Amazon. Fortunately, a couple product managers got together, and instead of proliferating the use of inconsistent names for Amazon Services products we drove to simplicity for the customer (merchants) in renaming our products and designing the external website. Not sure we hit a home run, but I would argue we did a nice job driving toward simplicity.

Makes me wonder what Zune will look like :)



It occurred to me recently: with all the study on leadership, what it is, how to be a good one, how to measure it, etc, there is no discussion on being a follower. Think about it! By definition, leaders have followers, and it can be argued that there are far more followers than leaders (and of course an individual can perform both roles simultaneously). Why is so little written about following? Is there no market for it? Do followers not pick their leaders? Or, probably more accurate, are followers not interested in being better followers or finding better leaders? Would the world rather complain a la Dilbert than better their situation?

I'm in a great career situation right now for one reason: I chose the right leader to follow. I am going to help change the world, and I am doing it at the ground floor, because I sought out an opportunity with my current boss.

It takes a team to deliver anything non-trivial. That's a truism for leadership. It's also a truism for followers.


Ramblings on Web 2.0 and its evolution

Deja Vu. All over again. As I watch the hub-bub over web 2.0, I feel like I'm watching a history channel movie about. Tons of "Web 2.0" sites in the works, getting funding, etc, most of which don't solve a problem, don't have a business model, or focus on too narrow of a space to create any value. Wow, apparently people don't learn from history.

Don't get me wrong, some great concepts in the Web 2.0 space, and I love innovation. Gmail. Flickr (even though I don't use it as it doesn't meet my needs). RightCart. But, here we go again, I keep reading how the world is changing. Those are alarms going off in my head.

Tagging. I like it. Makes many of the sites I use useful. At least it did. But it doesn't, and won't, scale. Sorry. Tagging is just another semantic name for directories, without any support for hierarchies (in fact I would rather have directories than tags). Just like Yahoo! had to evolve from a directory to a search service due to scaling, Web 2.0 services will have to figure. Already tagging is pretty useless in Technorati as a content discovery tool.

AJAX is here to stay, no question. About time, frankly. I think Ruby will make a big impact too. It's too slow, I know. So is Java. Or so it was said back in the mid-90s.

Side note: consider that it was Apple that finally commercialized digital music.

MySpace. What happens when the millions of teenagers decide MySpace is uncool? It will die as fast as Friendster did. I actually give MySpace another year, and in fall 2007 new registrations will stop and usage will decline in favor of another fad site. Actually, a company in the apparel space, which is an industry that understands fads, would do well to figure out how to tap the same trendiness.

I think the economics of the next generation of the web is going to be driven more by disruption caused by SalesForce.com (AppExchange) and Amazon.com (EC2, S3) than by site eyeballs (gee, where have I heard that before). Heck, I think SecondLife has a better chance of surviving Web 2.0 than most anyone.

I also like what Zopa is doing. A real business opportunity leveraging the Internet, much as PayPal has done for payments. And I do like all the work being done in the travel space to align flight arrangements with real user use cases rather than just "find a list of flights between point a and point b."

We'll see how it plays out. Maybe I'm clueless about this and showing my age and can't relate to this space. While we aren't to the level of irrational exhuberance in the Nasdaq that we saw in the late 90s (yours truly was caught up as well), it seems like we are following that path. I expect in 5 years some clear winners will emerge, with very few of today's darlings falling in that bucket.

Yet another post without a point. A free lunch to anyone who's read this far.


Your invisible competitor

As a product manager, it is my job to perform good competitive analysis.

For example, in examining eBay over several months, I reached a conclusion: eBay had to do something about their core eBay marketplace getting so cluttered with commoditized items and Buy It Now auctions. (Disclaimer for those unaware, I work for Amazon.com). As I watched their ProStores and Express offerings, it became clear to me: eBay was executing a strategy to clean up their core marketplace for their customers. That's why the screaming from the eBay seller community is falling on deaf ears: eBay wants those sellers to sell through ProStores or Express. Often times, this is easy to do from the outside - no trees to try to see the forest.

(Side note... as an eBay fan, I applaud eBay's move... maybe I can start finding stuff on eBay again)

But what about future competitors? While it's obvious to look at existing competition, big or small, it's not so obvious to take a look at non-existing competitors. Sometimes it is obvious - Google, for example, is showing it's taking on all comers in all spaces of software applications. Any online offering is likely to compete against Google now or in the future.

I have begun looking at future entrants to my space and predict what they will do. What will their value proposition be? What strengths will they leverage? Where will they be weak? What will their roadmap be? What market segments will they target?

Try it. Extremely interesting stuff. Better yet if you do this for a no-name, startup that enters your space.

WebStore by Amazon

While we launched this product a couple months back, the PR launch for WebStore is today. Will be interesting to see the public response to it.

WebStore is the product/program I managed for over a year, and WebStore is a complete rewrite, taking advantage of AJAX to deliver a great user experience. It uses Amazon Web Services (ECS, S3, CBOP) as the underlying technology, which means any developer could build a similar offering.

Can't wait until my current product hits the market. :)


Product Testing with real Customers

I recently completed a Product Trial with T-Mobile.

One of the key reasons I signed up for the trial was to learn how companies do modern day product trails and see if I could steal any ideas. Unfortunately, I didn't get any good ideas to steal! It seemed like this was a marketing trail, meaning they wanted to learn how to position the product and create the right messaging. It certainly wasn't a product development trail. Not surprising, as it looks like T-Mobile is going to launch this service soon. The only lesson I learned was : If you want to measure the alignment of the product to your messaging, you need to get your messaging to the customer before they sign up for the trail and before they start the trial. T-Mobile tried to measure the benefits without explaining what they benefits are. Can't get actionable data from customers if you aren't putting their frame of mind in the context you're measuring.


XPM: eXtreme Product Management

This is something that has been festering in my head for about the last year: Agile Product Management. As I refine it more and more, and as I apply and learn, I have addapted it to eXtreme Product Management. Why eXtreme? Because I've learned that its in the spirit of eXtreme Programming (XP) that I am finding techniques that work. I interpret XP to be: if it's worth doing, it's work taking to the extreme (and if it's not worth doing, don't do at all).

So, I ended up with the very uncreative eXtreme Product Management. As I usually do before I blog, I Google to see what's out there I the topic I write, and turns out that someone has beaten me to the punch!. Good for them. But, I'm not going to read the article or any trackbacks yet. Instead, as I write this, I am going to execute the following process:

1. Get my thoughts down on XPM
2. Read articles on XPM
3. Augment my thinking with what I read
4. Update and finalize

So, let's get started!

Reagan's Postulates

So, what is XPM? Well, I don't have it all down, and, like XP or Agile, there is no clean, single definition, but rather a set of components:

Postulate 1: Customer pull

If customer-centric is good, take it to the extreme. There is a lot to this one, as it should be. Let customers define your opportunity spaces. Let them pull you to the market. Talk to them. Visit them. Don't survey them. Ask about their problems. Don't push solutions, probe for problems. Form a product advisory board. Expose your ideas to them early, before development, before definition, before.

On my current product I talked to customers before writing the Press Release and the FAQ (see postulate 3). Really changed the way we were thinking about the product and helped us solidify.

Every feature on my roadmaps have an entry for the customer(s) that requested the feature (either as a feature or a problem). All key features are specifically requested by a customer. Not that they come up with every idea, but they validate and set the priority.

Postulate 2: Delay decisions as long as possible

This, to me, is what defines agile. I'll even take it further than what you might think. Take this to the extreme, and it becomes push decisions onto your customers. Often I hear engineers ask "should we do x or y." My answer is usually "both!" Give the customer the choice.

Clearly, there are times that choices overwhelm, and choices need to be bundled into packages, or presented in wizard-like functionality, or defaulted. Nonetheless, a tenet of XPM is pushing decisions to customers.

Not everything is left up to the customer: pricing, go-to-market strategies, etc are all decisions that need to be made. Delay them to the last possible point in time.

Postulate 3: Begin with the end in mind.

A core tenet of The 7 Habits, taking this to the extreme would be writing your obit, or perhaps a history book. Maybe you want to go that far. At a minimum start with a Press Release, articles about the product release, and FAQs. I actually take it a step further and look at the career growth and write articles a year after the launch, how the product grew.

Postulate 4: Solicit ideas from everyone.

And I mean everyone. Your boss. Your peers. The CEO. Those at the "lowest levels." Customers. Non customers.

I've formed a nice little network in Seattle, and one thing I notice we do is talk about what we are doing, who we are targeting, what our business models are, etc. And what happens? Invariably, those discussions lead to fresh ideas and new contacts that can help.

Postulate 5: Let your development team define the product

As a product manager, you can define the constraints (a different perspective on requirements), but let the dev team define the product. Egads! you say. Hogwash. Developers that have the creativity and insight will emerge, and you will gain the benefit of a better product.. Plus, you still hold veto power :)

Postulate 6: Rethink Marketing

What does marketing mean in the extreme case?

1. Aligned with postulate 1, it means knowing the market intimately. The marketing function brings market requirements to the product management function.
2. Your product is your marketing. Period.

Postulate 7: Fail Faster

Get a product out the door, observe, react, innovate, release, observe, react, innovate. Fast! And then figure out ways to do it faster. While some learnings take a while to materialize, many things can be learned in the first 30 seconds a product is in someone's hands. "How do you...?", "What does this do...?", "Where is the...?" are all key insights to capture and ensure are in the product and intuitive to find.

Ok, that's all the insight I have. I'm off to check out what I found on Google earlier and see what the world says. Tomorrow I will update with what I find.

Reinforcing the brand promise

I've accessed public access wifi spots for almost five years now. Airports, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, etc. I saw something today that I hadn't seen in those five years: a layman's, clearly written, self-describing SSID. It was at the Tully's coffee shop near Union Station (Seattle), where the SSID is "Tullys Free Wifi." Not earth shattering, not going to change the world, but it gave me pause: why is it that this is the first time in five years I've seen something like this? You'd think someone by now would have wanted to reinforce their brand.

But that's Tully's. I think they are local to Seattle, but probably have as many branches as Starbucks. Locals who know coffee and coffee shops generally prefer Tullys to Starbucks - better coffee, better service, nicer area to lounge, and now free wifi (finally). They are truly customer-oriented, and that's reinforced even at the level of detail of their SSID.

But, back to the point of my post: why don't companies take advantage of every customer touchpoint to reinforce their brand?

Perhaps one of the hardest things in product management is to understand what exactly to do at touchpoints. Let's use product documentation as an example. Most of the time, product documentation is use based - what are you trying to accomplish? In my last product, I took a different track - find out who the customer is, and present content tailored for them. Not to the level of personalization, but profiling. Ask a couple quick questions about them: how big is their business? Do they have an existing e-commerce site? Voila, based on answers, I now know whether to give three bullets as an answer or to explain the terms I am talking about. Quite effective, and feedback from users was that this was better than hybrid models with mouseovers and "click here."

How True

Strategy+Business has a new article on the value of engaging customers as part of your innovation process.

It simply amazes me how every time I sit down with a customer, a new idea or need emerges that I hadn't considered before. It's obvious that customers offer a perspective product managers don't have, but the real learning is how helpful customers are with helping companies innovate. And why wouldn't they? They have the most to gain from getting companies to build things catered to their needs!