Becoming a PM, Uncategorized 0 comments on I build rocket ships

I build rocket ships

I’ve decided to refresh how people see me across various networks. One of those is LinkedIn where my summary is the one I wrote as a college student… which is now almost 10 years old. Here’s a cross-posting of the new, updated summary. I’ll post the old one tomorrow for posterity sake.

I build rocket ships. Let me tell you how:

It’s deliberate work.
Which demands attention to detail.
And it can’t be done alone.

But it’s not enough to just build rocket ships…

So I captain rocket ships. Let me tell you how:

I inspire a crew.
We point to an uncharted piece of space.
And we shoot for the stars.

But success does not come just because you’re brave enough to fly.

So I fill in my journal with adventures that show me the way. Let me tell you how:

As we explore new questions, and find uncertain answers.
My crew and I improve our rocket ship in real-time.
And invite many new characters along the way to join us on our journey.

Success is a difficult finish line to find. It means many things to many people.

So I speak many languages. Let me tell you which ones:

I speak the language of the crew who follow me – to listen, to direct, to inspire
I speak the language of the aliens we meet – to empathize, to relieve, to delight
I speak the language of the ones waiting at home – to validate, to capture, to defend

I build rocket ships. Then, with my crew, we take those rocket ships to unexplored heights. We bring value to those who believed in us, and delight to those who we meet on our journey. The rocket ship we bring back looks very little like the one we started with. It’s faster. It works better. We’re faster. We work smarter. And with those lessons learned, I build another rocket ship.

Becoming a PM, Entrepreneurism, Uncategorized 5 comments on Moving faster than the documentation

Moving faster than the documentation

I’ve decided to hop back into the game, and build a new app. I’m not announcing what it is yet because it’s no where near ready, but I really like the idea.

I’ve also decided to be really trendy, and use the latest in software development tools. This kills many birds with one stone:

  1. Challenge myself to learn a new programming paradigm as recommended by my favorite programming book
  2. Keep up to date with some of the newest, coolest toys on the block
  3. Connect more personally with the customers of the products we build at TokBox to better understand their needs in modern JS development

And I have to say that while I know we have a long way to catch up as far as TokBox technical content goes, we’re miles ahead of the current state of the coolest toys on the block in JS world.

In full disclosure, I’ve only tried the React.js stack, and not the Angular stack. I’ve also avoided Backbone, underscore, and many others. And so this may not be true in other places.

But I’m fascinated at how far ahead of the documentation and developer experience Facebook has moved on these projects. Tutorials written six months ago are grossly out of date with the latest code bases. GitHub issues that look like the problem I’m having have actually nothing to do with what’s in front of me.

I jumped into this world because I saw that the folks at Automattic had done so for Calypso. I figured I’d follow their lead. But I’m getting swamped.

What’s the killer resource folks are using? What’s the bare minimum project that I should be starting from? What’s the Slack channel I should subscribe to to learn bottoms up?

Any and all help is greatly appreciated.

Becoming a PM, Uncategorized 0 comments on Starting with questions

Starting with questions

It’s very easy to see when there is trust in a culture/community/unit – people start with questions. 

The opposite is true as well. When there is no trust – people start with solutions. 

The reason that questions signify trust is that asking questions brings both parties into the topic without the need for defense. These questions often start with why did we assume, or why didn’t we assume. 

Solutions assume that there is some clear and present gap in the current status that requires immediate correction. They also don’t allow the questionee to share the framework they’ve built with the questioner. 
Usually though, those that start with solutions also come in with unaligned assumptions. And that’s where the true breakdown is. Because when assumptions, objectives, and agendas aren’t aligned and the conversation centers around how to fill specific gaps and holes, you don’t  build trust, you debate execution. 

 So I say lets get better at starting with questions. 

Becoming a PM, Uncategorized 2 comments on Accountability requires humility

Accountability requires humility

A big area of improvement for any product manager is demonstrating that they can be more accountable for a larger and larger scope.

First I think demonstrating that you can properly own a product is hard enough. Customer development, documentation, was it the right feature, should we kill it. All of these are not easy to get right.

Then add building and selling a road map to the mix. Vision statements, frameworks in which to make decisions, making long term bets. That doesn’t make it any easier. And you have to keep getting better at the first set of things.

And now, it’s all about doing the above  while putting together a series of large bets. Based on market analysis, competitive analysis, willingness to pay from the customer, intuition about what’s next, and how willing you are to fire your present to invest in your future.

The only way to do it is to admit you don’t know what you’re doing, and start to climb.

But I think that realizing that humility comes with this climb is something people forget. Humility to say, “I did that wrong. I own it. Let’s try again”. Humility to admit, “I don’t know what that is or how to do it. How can we figure it out?”.

I think companies need it as they grow up. People need it as they advance in their careers, and paths in life.

I also think it’s rare to see, hard to appreciate, and oftentimes a victim of finger pointing, and infighting.

So the question I need to solve is how do I create a culture of accountability (not hard) with humility (very hard)?

I’d love any ideas because I’m pretty close to all out.

Becoming a PM, Uncategorized 0 comments on Focusing on appreciation

Focusing on appreciation

We’re an extremely email happy culture at TokBox. We have automated emails, out of office emails, working from home emails, and then just a bunch of emails about getting things done.

As I’ve been drowning in email lately, I started to notice a pattern that I really don’t like.

In an effort to move through the deluge of communication coming my way, I very quickly, and often curtly, reply to emails or start new email threads. I don’t stop to do any level of thanking, appreciation, or even common courtesy.

As email is such a large part of our culture, it would be as if I came up to someone’s desk, didn’t notice their hair was dyed blue, and left without saying as much. I don’t like that. And so I’m going to change it.

I’m going to do two things differently:

  1. I’m going to stop sending as many emails that lead to conversations. I want to do conversations with people, get their frank opinions, and understand exactly what they’re saying while being physically present in the conversation. It means no more midnight emails, but it also means being actively engaged in the outcome of a discussion, and not just being able to throw bombs across the table, and be agnostic to the result.
  2. I’m going to open emails with positive comments as opposed to direct actions, negative comments, or unsolicited thoughts (which will lead to a conversation). This just feels like it makes the email feel more like I’m at the person’s desk getting a quick status update on something while making sure that their sick kid is doing okay. It’s what I would do in real life, and so why not in the virtual life I’ve built?

I don’t know how it’s going to go as I love sending and receiving email, but we’ll see soon. Very soon 🙂

Becoming a PM, Fatherhood, Uncategorized 0 comments on Learning to let go

Learning to let go

I always tell people that I have 3 babies:

  • Amelia

  • Luka

  • OpenTok

And all three have had an amazing year. They’ve gone from needing epic hand holding to having a village around them that makes them better than I could alone.

At work, the hardest part has been learning to trust that others can love the product as much as I do. The team I’ve built makes me feel so confident in the wider set of problems that we’re solving. And now, as they develop their own ideas, I’m really seeing what OpenTok will be. It’s really amazing.

This past week at swimming class my other two babies surprised me so much. Luka is getting so damn confident. Amelia did the older class by herself, and she was just amazing!! And the whole time all I want is to hold them back, and feel like I’m on control and can help them.

But as I said to my team at TokBox, my challenge this quarter is learning to let go. I guess it’s destiny that it all has to happen at once 🙁

Becoming a PM, just thinking out loud, Uncategorized 0 comments on 6 years later

6 years later

I started at TokBox six years ago today.

It’s been an amazing journey to say the least. I interviewed with 20 companies my 5th year of college. I got a ton of first round interviews because I’d worked my ass off to build a killer internship resume. I just couldn’t close the door though on a bunch of companies (Mint, Facebook, Apple, Google to say the least).

But TokBox took a chance on me.

It all started with Timmy Wenzel who did my pre-screen interview. Turns out he had no idea what he was asking, but damn did he have me fooled. I came out to SF, interviewed with Ron, Nick, Kundan, I think Jason. It was scary. I wore a tie, and they all made fun of me. None of them are TokBox-ers today 🙁

I got my offer letter, and asked Timmy for more money. He said no. I took the job offer. Just asking Timmy for more money scared the shit out of me, but my dad said I had to do it. Timmy later told me if I’d asked again he would have said yes. I couldn’t though. His hair was too perfect.

There is genuinely only one other job I think I would have considered, and that was to go work for Steve Jernigan. I didn’t believe in the product Part of me thinks I should have just followed Eishay wherever he went. The road would look so different had I done that. I’d be a much, much better engineer though

Over the years the faces changed (a lot). Micky joined that November. I chased her the following January. Ian came the following May. Deidre came and left in that window. I think she was just 2 years too early. She and I just couldn’t convince folks quickly enough that the API was a legitimate thing.

It’s felt like three different roles. I exploded as an engineer under Yang. I exploded as a PM under David. And now only God knows what I’m doing under Scott. But all three of those experiences are A+.

In this epic state of nostalgia I think about all the things we could have done differently. What if we’d killed the load time llama, and just converted to an HTML based site? What if we’d hired that CTO guy? What if we’d handled the pivot differently from a company organization point of view? What if I’d left when everyone else was seeming to go?

The horizon for a VC-backed platform company is very different from a consumer-app company. We lost on that big time. And yet, Telefonica is allowing us to do great and big things. Silver linings abound.

I’m most proud that Janine and I convinced Ian to pivot. The technology was always meant to be a platform play (even if I had no chance of being the engineer to make it really happen). I told Ian once, “You’ve got me and Janine. That’s all you need to make this thing happen”. I was almost right.

I’m most sad about how many people we churned through along the way. I’ve never worked anywhere else, and so I don’t know if it’s typical to have such a “death” toll. It was a steep emotional cost to say the least.

This week Ian’s back. The vibe in the office is full of energy. The opportunities in front of us are so clear, so full of potential. The time coming up looks so much more full of potential than the time passed.

And I think that’s a sign that after 6 years… I did something right. Something to be proud of.

Becoming a PM, Uncategorized 0 comments on Team bonding

Team bonding

This blog post is 6 days late. It all started when I got sick, fell behind, and I’ve been playing catch up ever since. Some of these catch up blog posts are relevant to the day. Others are just random musings.

Yesterday we went to wine country as a product team, and it was fantastic!

We’ve lost a few folks, and we’re adding one new person (and hopefully another new person soon). We needed to reset the team, get to know each other, and start over. I asked Nicki Dexter for some activities to do, and they were awesome.

First – We made crests for ourselves that answered 6 questions:

  1. What’s your passion?
  2. Describe your home life
  3. Describe your family life
  4. 3 personal values
  5. Most proud accomplishment
  6. Most annoying habit

The answers were fantastic, and I really learned a lot about everyone as a result.

We then drank, ate, drank, drank, played horse shoes, and drank some more.

After that we headed back (driven by Faysal, our Turkish driver). We did two more activities:

  1. Your personal headline at the end of the year
  2. Your three values for the Product team

Again, great answers, a lot of overlap, but also some room for each of us to learn and be inspired from each other. It was a really great outing… the beginning of a really great team.

Becoming a PM, just thinking out loud, Uncategorized 0 comments on It’s a scream out loud kind of day

It’s a scream out loud kind of day

Getting out of email, and being able to solve real problems is hard.

Fighting technology as basic as wireless router vs. cooling system is frustrating.

Feeling like no matter what you’re 2 days behind is just depressing.

So tonight I just hit the reset button. Micky and I let the kids stay up late. We had spaghetti together. They fell asleep. We fell asleep. And I pushed a magic reset button. The roller coaster has been really extreme lately. I get ahead; then I fall behind. I know what’s next, and then the horizon fogs up again.

So this weekend, I’m going to go one step further, and make the list of all lists. I want to understand what the entire quarter needs to look like, put names against each item, and then figure out how we’re going to get there. Because at some point it all scales or it falls apart.

Oh shit, this is going to be a fun ride over the next 90 days :-/

Becoming a PM, Uncategorized 1 comment on Competing with equity, passion, and entrepreneurship

Competing with equity, passion, and entrepreneurship

This week we lost both Betsy and Byrne to true start ups (venture backed companies as opposed to our corporate backing). The lovely Nicki Dexter is in town, and we’ve been jamming about what it is that makes TokBox tick.

The combination has led me to think quite a bit about how we can fight the Silicon Valley game.

The obvious things don’t make for an interesting blog post. They are what they are, and we’ll do our best to make them work. The selling points for joining the product team at TokBox are actually quite simple:

  1. You want to solve a problem that can fundamentally disrupt a 100-year old industry
  2. You enjoy solving problems that have non-obvious finish lines because getting there is most of the fun
  3. You’re going to come out of the experience as a premier product-experienced platform talent

#1 really speaks to the kinds of problems you want to solve as a product manager or designer. Do you really want to customer insight your way to the next widget on the machine that makes it 10% better? The answer should be yes for 99% of people. And that’s okay. I want that 1%

#2 speaks to your personality. The non-obvious, and the vaguely defined have to be friendly or somewhat well known playgrounds. Coming from a well established place that has millions of customers doing trillions of events against your stack isn’t going to translate. We’ll be there in two years. But today you’re playing with different numbers, and so the game has less of a playbook.

And I think #3 is the one that should speak to your career the most. Platforms are the next (or current) major contribution that Silicon Valley is throwing into the world. Platforms take really hard problems, and they make them accessible to folks who don’t want to solve those hard problems. Learning how to be great at developing product is transferable to the fullest order, and we know how to build platform.

So I can’t give you equity or visibility to the latest VCs in the business. But I can help you change the world, and be excellent at it in the process.

So come join us 🙂