Monday, April 30, 2012

Kickstarter: get customers to fund the project

When I first heard of crowdfunding back in late 2010, I didn't think much of it.  I remember thinking that  micro-financing would be one idea to fund technology start-ups.  But quickly dismissed the feasibility of the idea because of logistics of raising money through many individual investors and lack of insight provided by experienced VC firms.  Money from crowd would not be smart money unlike VC funding.

About year and half later, Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites are proving me wrong.  Kickstarter lets you pitch your idea to masses with quick video clip and a webpage.  If you have a cool product, people might support you to build your product.  If enough people show interest of getting it built, project gets funded and you can get started on your project.

One genius idea with Kickstarter is this: Investors are also customers.  By launching Kickstarter project, project owner is not just looking to raise the money.  What he also gets is many engaged customers and their invaluable feedback even before product gets built in scale.

Determining whether market is there and willing to pay for the product is not an easy thing to test.  But Kickstarter elegantly solves that market research problem along with raising cash to fund the project.  Brilliant.

A poster child project that is being funded by Kickstarter is Pebble E-Paper Watch:

At the time of writing this blog, it received $7.47 million from 50,461 backers.  The project still has 17 more days to go.  That's not a bad place to be for a young start-up.  It it had not been Kickstarter, Pebble would have to seek outside capital and their ownership would have been diluted far more than where they find themselves now.  And that's not counting thousands of comments from enthused customers who cannot wait to get their hands on the product.

That's the power of crowdfunding.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tim O'Reilly: The guy with the most data wins

Tim O'Reilly has been talking about impact of location data.  He references Google Autonomous Vehicle and Alohar Mobile during his interview by Forbes editor Jon Bruner.

Tim O'Reilly spoke with Jon Bruner about impact of location and other data
at Where Conference 2012 back in April.

What caught my attention was his view about how our data consumption pattern will shift.  Instead of collecting and serving the raw data log, end users will expect to see how to make sense of the data.  Given different context, whether it's getting from point A to point B, increasing marketing effectiveness, or analyzing personal behavior, users expect to get help in solving their own problems at hand.  Raw data themselves are critical ingredients, but they need to be processed and analyzed by correct algorithms to solves the problems at hand.

Big data generated from Google Street Map is
one of critical ingredients to Google autonomous car;
Tim O'Reilly presented the
slides in Washington D.C.on March 30, 2012.
Having large data is where it all starts.  With multiple sensors available on connected smartphones, it has become easier than ever to collect location data.  In addition, once all our online social network persona data are combined, it will create rich set of data that we can all analyze.

One aspect of big data revolution is how big data will change our personal lives.  We will have far more data about ourselves and people around us to run analytics on them.

This also means that we'll have to be mindful of where we store our data.  We all need to be aware of what data that we share with whom because in larger sense we are in fact the sources for the companies that we choose.  We are not just consumers for these big data companies.  We are also the sources.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Marc Andreessen: Software will eat the world

I recently came across a couple of articles about Marc Andreessen's 5 big ideas on Wired and Forbes.  Here are his 5 big ideas starting from his Netscape days:
1. Everyone will have the web
2. The browser will be the operating system
3. Web business will live in the cloud
4. Everything will be social
5. Software will eat the world
If you have not known Marc's career as entrepreneurs for past 15 years before his VC career, these may sound like his current investment strategy.  All of them are still applicable today.  We are still in the middle of browser based development, HTML5 and javascript-based technologies.  We are yet to see the peak of SaaS. Social is literally changing the world as we speak.

Although all these seem so much relevant even today, these were the ideas that he had as basis for launching his own companies.  He was ahead of the market with Loudcloud and Ning, both of which he launched after leaving Netscape.

Marc Andreessen had on-stage interview at event last year;
Marc talked about software eating the world starting at 11:50 minutes.

I agree with Marc's point.  Software is already eating the world, starting with retail business.  Netflix is eating (some might say already ate) Blockbuster.  Amazon is eating Barnes and Noble and BestBuy.  Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are educating internet users of what's possible with seamlessly connected and always on-line communication network.  End users are bringing in their own mobile devices at work to fill the gap between enterprise software and iPhone apps that can be downloaded for next to nothing.

Largely three factors driving this disruption:

1. Explosion of internet-connected mobile device
2. Cost of launching a new service is dramatically lower now than 10 years ago
3. Consumers leading the technology, not enterprise

Combination of these three factors are making the next 4-5 years very critical time for all businesses.  It will be existential threat to those incumbents that cannot adopt the new changes while it will be great opportunities for new players to quickly scale up the market share.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday inspiration: be awesome, live in present tense

I stumbled upon Chris Strom's blog yesterday through Twitter.  He's the principal consultant at EEE Computes consulting.  And he's been writing a blog a day every day for past 366 days on topics that he did not know before.  Through this process, he wrote 3 books and he is on his way to continue learning the latest web programming techniques and to continue on his daily blogging streak.

It's really inspiring to see what he has done over the last year.  Chris Strom recounts how he started doing this:

"How did I do it?
Blogged every, single day. For one full year. 366 days. Every day. No matter what.
I honestly don't know why I started doing this. One night I had a brilliant idea and before I stopped and thought about how stupid it was, I publicly committed myself to doing it."

It was as simple as that.  He was able to write 3 books on topics that he knew nothing about by committing himself to write a blog every single day for a full year.  Rain or shine, in sickness or in health, whether he's off to a vacation or came home late from night out.  It was as simple as sitting down to answer the question that he thought of, find out facts about the problem, and answering them in his daily blog.

The reason why we get amazed by Chris' streak is because we are seeing the entire corpus of his work all at once.  But that's not what Chris wrestled with.  What he did was to focus on what he had to do now, what he had to do today.  To borrow his words, he "tricked" himself into being awesome therefore he had to be awesome everyday for a past year.  In other words, he was operating entirely in present tense.

“What day is it,?" asked Pooh.

"It's today," squeaked Piglet.

"My favorite day," said Pooh.

Chris references RadioLab's You vs. You episode on his blog.  It talks about elderly lady named Zelda quitting smoking in cold turkey after thirty years of smoking, and how she was able to match long term goal of quitting with immediate action of choosing between donating $5,000 to KKK or lighting up to smoke.  And guess where she got the idea of donating $5,000 to KKK.  It was Zelda's idea.  By prescribing her own medicine and committing herself to it, she was able to choose between two choices at each moment.  Again, she was also making her choices in present tense at each moment.

If we think about it, there are only presents.  Although our minds wander off often and think about what might happen in future or what has happened in the past, what really matters is what you do now.

Live in the moment.  Make a decision to do something awesome.  And do that every day.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

LinkedIn iPad app: iPad is not a bigger iPhone

LinkedIn launched their new iPad app yesterday.  I had a few minutes to play around with it, and I like it.  LinkedIn has spent time thinking about how iPad users are using tablet, and what LinkedIn users are looking for when they open the iPad app.

From calendar with participants mapped to LinkedIn users
to who viewed my profile, new LinkedIn
iPad app has something for everyone.
When I use tablet, I am rarely in my upright sitting position.  I pick up my iPad and go slouch on my couch or climb on to my bed leaning against headboard.  Tablet is a preferred device for consuming content.  It's a perfect reading and browsing device.  And LinkedIn demonstrates that they understand how tablet is different from smartphone.  Smartphone is for messaging.  Tablet is for reading and browsing.  Contrast that with Facebook iPad app, you'll see the difference in LinkedIn's approach.

There are some rough edges, however.  Some characteristics of Version 1.0 product were sluggish response to scrolling when browsing list of connections with new positions and back button not working consistently.  But these are something you would expect from newly released app.  Considering it is completely redesigned application, it's quite understandable.  I'm sure LinkedIn will release quick successive updates in coming weeks to improve their V1.0 product shortcomings.

As I find more interesting content from my LinkedIn News, this new LinkedIn iPad app has all the potential to become the app for my curated news source.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

User Interface: if it's not helping, it's hurting.

Over the years I used and built software product, I developed my own sense of what a good design is.  I won't repeat many good design tips that are available from popular websites.  Instead I wanted to share a few of my thoughts around what a good software product design should be and why good design will increasingly become more important for software products in future.

First, one of my good UI design theories:

All elements in UI should be necessary to carry out intended user story.

Another way to state this is that any UI element that is not necessary will distract user.  Therefore it will diminish the overall usability of product.  Anything that is not required to carry out intended task should be removed.

UI design at best;
click the button to get the placebo effect.
Behind this theory is the idea that product should communicate clearly what it does to all users.  With a quick scan (and research shows people scan, not read HTML pages), user should be able to figure out what the product is supposed to do.  This can only be done if product is designed to solve a specific problem that can be clearly articulated to someone on the street.

Here's why I think it's getting even more critical to do a few things and do them right.  It's because cost of building an application is dropping fast, and each application is becoming more specialized to solve a few specific problems.  Exhibit A is 500,000 available applications on Apple App Store alone.

It used to be case that users were happy to use a handful of software products installed on their personal computer.  Think back in early 1990's.  When people needed to create a spreadsheet to track P&L, they used Microsoft Excel.  When they needed a quick way to maintain list of customer contacts, they used Excel as well.  That's why over the years Excel's feature set got bloated, and added all kinds of features like graphing, pivot table, built-in functions and scripting options.

It will be silly to start using Excel for all your book keeping.  There are many other excellent tools available as SaaS and on mobile devices, often multiple purpose-built applications to solve specific problems.

With explosion of mobile applications and user's short attention span, each software product must be able to communicate clearly what it does and how it can help user solve her problem.

Any element that does not add value is adding clutter.  Avoid them like pests.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Twitter IPA: good start to fix a big problem

Last week Twitter announced that they will start implementing Innovator's Patent Agreement (IPA).  Core idea of IPA is a novel one.  It's Twitter's attempt at addressing broken software patent system.  Instead of seeking legislative overhaul of our current patent system, Twitter is declaring that they will use their software patents only as defensive measure, and the control of patent, if used in other than "Defensive Purpose", will remain with inventors, not with Twitter.  Twitter is encouraging other software companies to follow suit.

I like the idea.  There are way too much resources being wasted because of patent trolls suing companies just to monetize their patent portfolio.  Many of these patent trolls are not even original inventors.  They buy broadly applicable software patents from inventors or companies with sole purpose of suing others.

Patent infringement suits have real cost.  Just yesterday Facebook announced that they are buying about 650 patents that Microsoft acquired from AOL recently for $550 million in cash.  Earlier Microsoft bought hundreds of these patents at $1.06 billion from AOL.  This is a good example of how one bad actor (Yahoo suing Facebook for software infringement) can have ripple effect on how all other players in the market.

Current software patent system is broken.  The right thing is to fix the current system which creates drag for everyone in the tech industry.  Company should not be allowed to use software patent to sue others unless they have implemented a product using the patent and using software patent to protect themselves.  There are many cases that still fall outside this category (like Apple suing Samsung and other smartphone makers), but it would eliminate many obvious patent trolls.

I applaud Twitter for taking leadership role in improving software patent system.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Product Management: solve the right problem

Everyone works hard.  We put in many hours to handle all the requests that land on our plate.  We all try. But sometimes our efforts do not pay off.  When I look at my own failures, I see lot of times where I did not solve the right problem.

This happens often when I speak to customer.  There are largely two cases.  First case is where I understand what customer wants.  This is most often when I get to speak to customer one-on-one or in-person.  It allows the maximum flexibility to talk about candidly what the product does well or does not do well without getting wrapped around politics of who might be listening.  When you are talking to customers in person, you can compensate for this political correctness by reading body language and other non-verbal cues.

But this is more exception than norm.  Most customer calls happen over the phone, even worse it happens over several-timezone away with many other participants.  That's the second case.

Not the right way to sell your solution;
first make sure you understand the problem
Second case is where I think I understand what customer wants, yet in reality I am off the mark.  This happens often when I get second hand information about what customer is looking for, or get to listen to their description about what their proposed solution would look like.

Without having a chance to probe into why customer is looking for such a solution, I often fall into a trap of misunderstanding why they want such a solution.  In such cases usually it turns out that I either missed a critical pieces of proposed solution or entirely missed the point of why customer wants to solve the problem in first place.  Not knowing the root cause, likelihood of solving the wrong problem is far higher.

The problem gets aggravated when there are multiple participants on the customer call.  It's easy to lose track of who owns which pieces, and who will ultimately be responsible for putting a plan together to get back to customer.  Especially when product manager is brought on as a subject matter expert to help customer solve a problem for quarter-end deal that needs to get closed in a few days.

Fellow product managers, don't ever trick yourself thinking that you understand customer problem on your first phone call.  Ask for their number and get back to them with your assumptions.  

If you are invited on the call to solve a problem, most customers will be happy to take a call from you and will appreciate your gesture to understand their problem.  In the process you might learn valuable insights as to why current problem is causing pain for customers and other environment related issues that you might not have discovered.

So do yourselves a favor.  Call customer and talk to them to make sure that you are solving the right problem.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We are all feeding big data

A week or so ago, I wrote about Placeme app by Alohar Mobile, mobile application that automatically records your location.  If you feel that a device tracking your whereabout at all time is creepy, you are not alone.  It's natural to feel that way.  But whether we like it or not, we are all getting swept up in big data wave.  That's because everything about what we do is getting recorded.

Think about anything that you do online.  Whenever you are visiting a website, you are causing the web server to respond to you with a web page.  Each time that happens website can record the fact that it served the page to you (if you are registered user, if not just IP address).  Imagine getting all these data available for quick search by the visitor.  It will tell the website that what users are doing.  More importantly it will allow the website to model how you have been acting, and predict what you might do next.

It's not just online data.  Technology for recording our driving habit is already around us.  Since 1996, Event Data Recorder has been a part of most automobiles sold in U.S.  It records acceleration, brake, rpm, etc. each time you get behind the wheel.  Chances are that you are driving a car that has EDR recording every driving decision that you make.

And installing EDR is about to become a law.  Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) will mandate all auto manufacturers to install EDR and record all driving history.  The data will be accessible to car owners and will be requested by court if needed in legal proceeding.

All these data recording is what's fueling big data.  And we are seeing the first wave of this big data.  With Splunk IPO, expect more big data companies and data analysis firms to make headlines.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Product Management: be the #1 user of your product

Since I started playing product manager role, there are a few things that I believe in that will help me become a better product manager.  One of them is to be the #1 user of my product.

Let me explain what I mean.  When I say the number one user, I quite literally mean the number one user.  You must become a user that you are going after.  This means not only you are using the product, but you have to be the user that you are targeting.

Remember Sy Sperling;
“I'm not only the Hair Club President,
but I'm also a client.”
It may be easy if you are building a consumer-facing product for masses.  It may not be so easy if you are working on a product that solves specific industry problem where you have little expertise in.  It may be impossible if you are building something entirely new or for a few unknown users (government contract or big enterprise project still works this way).  Regardless of what your situation is, do everything in your power to become the user.  Not just any user, but the number one user.

I liked Roger Mcnamee's comment that he made on the talk at The Paley Center for Media.  He's using his band's website to test out his theory of small business owner building his own multimedia HTML5 website.  His VC firm, Elevation Partners, is bullish about HTML5 as the next phase of internet revolution that will fundamentally change the way we think of internet as static media.  He believes that HTML5 will provide level playing field for all websites to become a web channel where visitors can spend many hours, starting from browsing content, interacting with other fans and purchasing items without leaving the site.  In order to test his idea, he used his band's website to be the first customer of HTML5 capabilities.

I run social media product line for Actiance.  I realized that at the core of social media is allowing everyone a voice to speak to masses.  In order to build a product for businesses that want to use social media to increase their marketing effectiveness, I had to understand marketing teams better.  So I literally decided to become one.  I started my own blog site and started blogging.  By launching my own blog, I could understand more about what business owners think about and what challenges marketing teams are faced with tools in the market today.  And by doing that, it helped me understand what marketing folks cared about.  It made me see what features will help me immediately versus nice-to-haves.

I strongly recommend that you try be the number one user of your product.  If you are not using your product, there must be a reason.  Fix them so that you can use your own product to get your customer's job done.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Creativity: a couple of random inspirations

I believe sparks for creativity are all around us.  We have to let creative thoughts enter our minds.  It's not something that each of us sit on our separate chairs and think hard about the problem that we want to solve.  High school algebra problems would be suitable for approaches like that.  But any real life complex problems will need creativity to solve it differently and solve it better.

Creativity comes from sharing.  We have to share ideas with each other.  In the midst of exchanging ideas, we are knowingly and unknowingly provoking each other's thoughts from all of our past experiences and lessons.  Being able to take in someone else's ideas and get inspired by them are critical ingredients to be more creative.

In that spirit, I want to share a couple of short stories with you.

First one.  I was doing some testing last night with engineering team in India.  It was Twitter application that we were testing, and we had to come up with short tweets to see if system worked ok or not.  Knowing all tweets are public, I knew I wanted to say something meaningful than "hello word", "test 123", "foobar", etc.  It was just past midnight, and I was trying to come up with clever things to say.  I think it took me about 15+ seconds to come up with each tweet.  Even then I was not coming up with interesting things to say.

Then I saw this tweet from one of QA engineer:
"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love. - Mother Teresa"
Even before the quote sank in, he followed up with another famous quotable:
"It is never too late to be what you might have been." - George Eliot
While I was struggling to come up with something interesting to say, he knew what to share exactly.  Interesting quotes make perfect sense.  It's thought-provoking yet easy to share without getting distracted by trying to come up with something original to say.

This instantly reminded me Buffer App.  Buffer App suggests interesting things to tweet about when you run out of things to say.  Perfect solution for those who want to start a conversation, but not sure what to talk about.

Second one.  While I was browsing the web for news, I stumbled upon this YouTube clip.  It was about an architect, Hong Yi, who started a personal project to paint the basket player Yao Ming.  To make it interesting she used basket ball instead of paintbrush to paint Yao Ming's portrait.  She pushed this idea further to paint Jay Chou, Taiwanese musician, with coffee cup and coffee stains which she got inspiration from one of his song lyrics.  Now she's pursuing another project where she is drawing inspiration from bamboo stick laundry hangers commonly seen in China.

Not only is her project interesting, but also she nicely lays out how she's collaborating with coworkers and Facebook fans by exchanging ideas with them.

Where are you drawing your creative inspirations from?  Don't look for them far from you.  Capture those that inspires you, and build on them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

BranchOut: growing fast, but will it work?

There is some buzz around BranchOut.  Its pitch is simple.  It's a professional network built on top of Facebook.  BranchOut recently closed $25 million third round.  From number of new user acquisition, they are doing really well.  Currently ranked at the 25th most popular app on Facebook, their user base is reported to be about 25 million.  Top top them off, they are adding about 300K users a day.  Things must be really looking up.

Well, I am not so sure.

From what I can tell, BranchOut is a Facebook application.  Hence it's operating like a Zynga.  It does not have its own platform for users to connect.  That may be fine with casual gaming, but is not for an application that aspires to be a professional networking tool.  Reason is simple.  People don't think of Facebook as business networking tool.

Here's a quick test for you.  Do you have all your co-workers on your Facebook friend list?  Probably not.  But what about LinkedIn?  Probably yes.

Most of your Facebook friends are your school buddies;
that's the biggest challenge for BranchOut
That's because Facebook is still used as personal relationship network.  And that is the reason why Facebook is the largest.  It's because it's built on top of social relationship graph, and that social graph is attracting people to sign up on Facebook.  People want to communicate with friends.  That's a big reason why Facebook has 845 million users and growing.  Facebook is personal medium.

BranchOut has one thing going for them, which is the size of Facebook network.  But even with 845 million users, people tend not to friend someone for professional networking purpose on Facebook.  As I wrote earlier about Dunbar's number, average Facebook users tend to have around 120 friends or so.  That's because most Facebook friends are from your school and family.

It is difficult to see how these personal networks can be extended to cover professional settings.  If you are hiring manager and you know a friend who is a great fit, yes.  But other than that immediate connection, it's difficult to see how your past school friends and family network will be a good source of your next job search.

Unless BranchOut creates its own social networking platform, it will be difficult to be considered seriously as LinkedIn competitors.  I would have to think that folks at BranchOut is thinking about creating their own network.  They must have seen Fred Wilson's advice earlier, and how Zynga has opted to create their own independent destiny away from Facebook.

With $25 million in the bank, I think they have a shot at building the next LinkedIn.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Roger McNamee: 10 hypotheses for tech investing

Roger McNamee is a partner at VC firm, Elevation Partners.  His tech investment fund did well thanks to Facebook and Yelp.  He has interesting perspective on tech investment with his long history in the industry.

He puts out 10 hypotheses on technology investment.  I think this predates the one that I posted earlier from his blog back in January.

Roger gave a talk to The Paley Center for Media on June 28, 2011.  He described his view on HTML5 and how Google is in a difficult position due to its own success in making all data search flat.  It's interesting to hear what he had to say.

Most interesting stuff happens in the first 27 minutes.  After that it's Q&A.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Product Management: time management

Alarm rings.  It's 5:40am.  I get up.  Turn off the alarm, change out of my pajama, and I'm grab my iPhone.  Now I'm already at work.  As I start to make my way down the stairs, I start to flip through all news updates that came in while I slept.  That's how my day starts.  Or should I say that's how my night continues?  Because it was just about 6 hours ago when I last checked the news from iPad...

Setting deadline will create boundaries in your day,
and create urgency to get it done in time.
I'm sure my story is similar to most of yours.  There is very little disconnected time.  Even if you put in 8-to-6 working hours each day, you come home and get right on to your mobile device.  You don't really have downtime when you can decompress.  And it's getting worse, not better.

I don't think it is coincidence that I find more blog entries talking about how to do more in less time, how to better deal with stress of having to catch up constantly, and how it is more efficient to work on one thing at a time.  Everyone is feeling the pinch.  Starting from your boss to you and your direct reports, everyone is putting in more hours just to keep up.  Or is it?

As we have get more connected and stay connected all the time, it's becoming more important how and where you set the boundary.  I think time management is going to be increasingly more important skill to have.  The gap between top time managers and the rest will widen as it becomes so easy to get sloppy about how you use your time.

After thinking about this for a bit, here's what I am doing to better manage my time.  I encourage you to make your own list of things that you can do.

1. Make a big chunk of time (i.e. don't get distracted by emails)

It's important to make a solid block of time to concentrate on a task.  For me, a key thing is not to get distracted by email or IM while I'm on that block of time.  Create as big of a chunk of time as you can, and work on the important thing first.

2. Set up the end time, and end by it

I still remember how my college English professor defined self control.  Self control is knowing what to do, when to do it and when to stop.  Setting the end time and sticking to it is important for two reasons.  One is that it creates sense of urgency and boundary so that I can get that extra boost from knowing the deadline.  The other is that without knowing the end it's impossible to plan the rest of day around.

3. Do the task that has multiplier effect first (i.e. do important ones first)

I work on something that's important first.  When I get up, I remind myself what I am to focus on this week.  Based on weekly agenda, I decide what needs to get done each day.  If a task is going to move your weekly agenda a step closer to completion, that's what I'll be working on first before I look at any other task.

4. Aware of duplicated work, and avoid them in future

I watch out for your time waste by looking for duplicate works.  Whenever I notice that I'm doing copy-and-paste or trying to recall something that I should know, I take a note to improve the process.  These are signs of redundant work or avoidable context switch.  Once I had trouble writing weekly status, I started writing daily as and when I knocked off a task and updated on our collaboration platform.  No more trying to recall what I did or copying and pasting from other format.

Any time management tip that you care to share?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Peter Norvig: Design of Computer Programs

I wanted to share free online course that I found yesterday while surfing the web.  It's served by a site called Udacity.  Udacity is an e-learning site that focuses on providing university-level courses on the web with low cost so that many can benefit from course materials.

The class that I found was by Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google.  It's about how to design computer programs and just started today.  As you might expect, course materials are pre-recorded and available to watch at any time.  Best of all, it's available for free.

For those of you who want to brush up on computer programming or someone who want to pick up how to program, this might be a good opportunity.  Check out the trailer for his Design of Computer Programs, and see if you can benefit from this free lecture series:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Product Management: don't be wedded to cash cow

When your product gets a traction and starts making money, you are on your way to having a proverbial cash cow.  You will soon have customers, feature requests, product roadmap, release planning, etc.  All these activities will require you to scale your sales team, support staff, engineering team and product management team.  Once you are caught in this expansion cycle, it's very difficult to look away from your cash cow.  It's even more difficult to start up experimental project that can be seen as resource drain.

Keep your cash cow,
but take risks in venturing out other areas;
use MVP to minimize your risk
But that's exactly what you should do.  It's because changes are always closer than what you expect.  Market will change, customers will have alternative, your cash cow will stop paying sooner than you can ever expect.

You don't have to look far to find examples of cash cow shrinking rapidly.  Kodak has run into it with film market largely disappearing.  Yahoo has run into it with rise of searchable web brought by Google.  Google is running into it with Facebook bringing social network for hundreds of million people.  Even Facebook is running into it with company like Instagram coming up with new cool way of sharing from mobile devices.

Problem of having a cash cow is getting wedded to it.  So wedded to it to a point that you start slowing down your innovation to avoid upsetting your existing customers and employees.  People have natural tendency to continue on what they have been doing.  Newton's first law applies.  Changing course is hard because it's full of unknowns and there are always many reasons why it can fail.

Slow down of innovation and shrinking risk appetite are very contagious.  It quickly finds its way into cultural fabric of a company and becomes a way the company thinks about solving any problem.  Employees put their existing customers on their top priority.  Combined with aversion to failure by employees at various ranks, it's easy to continue on milking the same cash cow that you know.

No doubt that cash flow is important.  It's also a no-brainer that existing customers are valuable.  But there has to be active risk taking.  You have to invest in creating a new cash cow when you have cash flow.

Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe's, talks about importance of encouraging risk-taking

As a product manager, you have to be a thought leader in creating an environment where taking calculated risk is encouraged and rewarded.  Having an executive sponsorship is critical.  It's also important to know how to minimize your risk of failure by implementing minimum viable product and iterating fast, so that you fail fast and fail often.  Once you fail, you can learn from it and change your course.  But do that fast.  Very fast.

Facebook-deciding-to-buy-Instagram fast.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Transplant entrepreneurs

Here's what I love about Silicon Valley.  It's full of people with dreams.  I don't think there is anything special about people who live in this area.  I don't think there are disproportionately more people with dreams in the valley.  But it's about the environment and tools that allow those dreamers to take a shoot at realizing their dreams.

Tim Draper was one of speakers at Blackbox;
congratulation and best of luck to all Blackbox graduates! was one of such tools.  It's a bit unique in that it's focused on bringing entrepreneurs from all around the world and connecting them with local VCs and mentors.  Foreign entrepreneurs fly in for two weeks of intense networking and mentoring sessions from leading figures in the valley.

Blackbox had its second graduates this week, and had demo day party last night.  I found out about it via Robert Scoble's Google+ post last Wednesday, and decided to stop by.  I have to love the fact that I'm so close to events like this.  At the demo party, I saw many talented people who traveled from many corners of the world.

I love the idea.  I think our advantage is our culture and environment.  Culture that allows everyone to value their ideas and give them a chance to pursue, and environment where financial and human capitals are abundant.  That is what's putting Silicon Valley in the map of entrepreneurs' top-place-to-visit list.

That's why I feel it is so important to protect our culture and environment.  A few things that threaten our environment are short-sighted regulation like SOPA, ineffectual software patent system, and others.  We have to make sure that we maintain our competitive advantage that attracts talents.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Yammer: Facebook for companies to collaboration platform

Yammer acquired OneDrum Wednesday.  OneDrum allows you to real-time collaboration with Microsoft Office document.  In other words, OneDrum turns your Microsoft Office applications into Google Wave docs. It's pretty cool to see people working on a same piece of document and being able to see updates being made in real time.

With acquisition of OneDrum, Yammer is vying to become a contender in enterprise collaboration platform market.  As more people realize email is not a collaboration tool, adoption of enterprise collaboration platform will grow rapidly.  I see many companies moving away from email to collaboration platform.  In some instances, companies are going cold turkey and banning the use of email to force the adoption.

If you are not using collaboration platform, or have no plan of using one, then in a couple of years you'll be behind the pack.

Yammer + OneDrum from Yammer on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Placeme: are you ready for auto journaling system?

Imagine this story.  It's 7pm.  It's your usual commute back home time.  You close your laptop, and pick up your smartphone.  Then your phone, touched by omniscience and gift of voice, starts speaking to you:

Phone: Jae, it may be better to leave in 15 minutes because of major backup on 101 North.

Me: Neat.  Thanks.

Phone: By the way, you may want to stop by dry cleaner on the way home.  It must be ready since you dropped them off last Monday.

Me: Ok.  Thanks for the reminder.

Phone: While we are on this subject, let me also tell you that there are cheaper place closer from your way home with better review.  You might want to try them and cut down your drive time.

Me: Hey... thanks but no thanks.  I think you know too much.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New Google+ UI is working for me: I'm discovering things

Google+ just announced their new UI.  Honestly I have not been on Google+ as much as I have been on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  So I don't know what has been changed in today's update versus changes from earlier update.  But when I took a brief tour of Google+, I can say that it's working for me.

Here's why:

1. UI is easy to navigate for new users.

It is intuitive to navigate the UI.  I think it's because of chunky navigation icons on left hand side bar.  Being able to lay out logical actions that Google+ user wants to do makes sense.  Starting from simple and chunky icon that is easy to understand lowered the learning curve for new user like me.

2. I'm discovering interesting content, i.e. Explore is working for me.

Once I was on, the first thing that I saw was interesting content.  Google must have understood this.  Users are signing on to Google+ to discover interesting content.  Problem with new social network is that first-time user experience.  As a new site owner, you cannot let first-time user figure things out on his own to subscribe users to start getting interesting content.

Right from the Home, Google+ showed a couple of posts from "Hot on Google+".  This solves the problem of user not finding interesting things to look at.  The more engaging content Google+ can surface, the longer user will stay on Google+.

I also liked the fact that I can click on "Hot on Google+" to jump to Explore to keep discovering stuff.  I was able to discover following YouTube clip about an East L.A. boy who built his own cardboard box arcade.  It's exactly what Google+ needs to serve to new Google+ users:

Later found the same video going viral on Google News;
maybe it's time to include Google+ to my daily news source...

3. Setting up a Page was a breeze.

Business Page support on Google+ has been available for a while.  But only today I found a reason to go back to Google+ and spend a solid few hours exploring.  I'm proud to say that I was able to create a Page with a little effort.  

Creating Future of Social Network Page on Google+ took a couple of minutes (and most of those two minutes were spent trying to find suitable photo for the Page, which I couldn't).  Once I found that Page icon was hidden under More icon on the left hand side navigation bar, I was more than a half way there.

It will be very interesting to see how users respond to the new Google+ change.  It looks like Google is doing all the right things to make it more usable social network for users to spend more time.

There is one big missing piece, however.  It's robust and open API to update Google+ status updates and Page.  Google is currently working on pilot testing the API.  Until Google makes the API available to third party, it will be missing one leg on four-legged stool.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What else can $1,000,000,000 buy? 800 patents

Just as Facebook was announcing $1 billion acquisition of Instagram, there was another one billion dollar deal happening.  It was Microsoft buying 800 patents from AOL.

Microsoft announced $1.06B patent purchase from AOL;
winner is clearly AOL, but it will take more than
patent sales to turn AOL around.
Yes, Microsoft has agreed to pay $1,060,000,000 to AOL for 800 patents.  Not knowing any detail about those patent, only intelligent thing about that deal we can say is that each patent is costing Microsoft about $1,325,000.  It means there are some patents that will be worth more than that.

When you look at this deal side by side with Facebook's Instagram acquisition, it makes Instagram deal look like a bargain.  Why would Microsoft spend money to get these patents instead of acquiring growing mobile start-up like Instagram?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Facebook += Instagram: has era of consolidation begun?

Facebook made an announcement today that they are acquiring Instagram for $1 billion.  Blogosphere and tech news sites are buzzing with reactions to this announcement.  Aside from being awestruck by Instagram's meteoric rise to 30 million users with team of 13 over 2 years, there are a few common questions that everyone seems to be asking.  I thought I might add my own question to this mix.

Congrats to the Instagram team!
Will this be the end of Flickr integration?
Will Facebook start buying social network sites with all the cash that it's getting from pending IPO?  In other words, has the era of social network consolidation officially begun?

Although Facebook may not want to admit it, we may be seeing the start of selective consolidation.

Facebook has acquired Instragram for specific reason.  They wanted to get rid of growing competitor and complement their relatively weak mobile photo sharing experience.

Everyone knows that mobile will be even more important platform in future.  Studies project that by 2016 there will be more number of mobile devices than entire world population.  Given this explosive growth of mobile and most of social networking users are increasing using mobile to share data, Facebook had to face Instagram's challenge.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

SEO as customer listening tool

Eric Enge shared a post on Search Engine Watch titled "Integrated Marketing: Why Search Needs a Large Seat at the Table".  His core messages from the post were two folds:

  • Search can be thought of as call center harvesting demand created by traditional marketing.
  • Because search can be thought of as call center, keyword searched by customers can be collected to analyze customer need.

Marketers are on track to spend more on online ads than
printed ads starting 2012.
After thinking about this for a while, I decided to apply these two points to my blog.  What are my readers telling me about what they are looking for?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

New layout and color scheme

I've been thinking about changing Future of Social Network blog layout.  You will notice that I've executed on that plan.

There were two problems that I had with earlier layout, and one stylistic issue.

One was font size.  I've found that earlier font size of 12px Arial was too small for comfortable reading.  From my survey of popular blogs and web sites, I found size 15px or 16px to work well.

The other was width of main frame.  It felt slightly narrow at 930px for embedded content.  I've widen it a little to 960px.  Most of time main frame is what people focus on, and I wanted to maximize the reading space.

Third was more of stylistic issue.  I thought that Future of Social Network can use a bit of color scheme change to make it look cleaner.  As always I used the existing color scheme and layout provided Blogger.  I ended up choosing was Awesome Inc. layout with sage green color scheme.

I hope everyone likes the changes that I made.  If you have suggestion to make it more readable, please let me know.

Friday, April 6, 2012

When you're online, you are in public place

The Boston Phoenix ran a feature article on Philip Markoff, Craigslist killer, the other day.  It was a 2009 homicide case involving Philip, a medical student, and a victim whom he met through Craigslist.  As part of homicide investigation, Boston Police Department has subpoenaed Facebook to provide Philip's and a few other user data to build a case against him.

And Facebook complied.  Here's what Facebook released to Boston Police Department:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Twitter: suing spammer - step forward or sidestep?

It's no secret that most Twitter users don't tweet.  Just the other day Ask Your Target Market (AYTM) released survey of 200 Twitter users in U.S.  According to the survey, only 20% of Twitter users make at least one tweet a day, and vast majority of users either don't tweet at all (13.5%) or rarely tweet (42.5%).  If you look closely at daily active users, only about half of users are making multiple tweets a day.  That means most of traffic is generated by only about 10% of users.

AYTM released survey data of 200 Twitter users from March;
but this is not news, it's been well known fact.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jonah Lehrer: how creativity works

Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, was on KQED Forum earlier today.  For anyone who wondered about how to be more creative, Jonah shares practical tips and stories about creativity.

Although it did not air today, he appeared on City Arts and Lecture today as well.  I think it will air on KQED soon.  Jonah has been appearing different speaking engagements as well.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

littleBits: power of abstraction

Fred Wilson shared littleBits TED talk on his blog today.  Without further due, let me embed the video.  It's short, about 5 and half minutes, and interesting:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Enterprise software market is ripe for big disruption

I wanted to share a couple of articles that I ran across today that illustrates how enterprise software market is ripe for big changes.  As I wrote earlier about enterprise software, there is an big opportunity for disruption for enterprise software market.

Glory days of Oracle may be behind us
unless it reinvents itself
WSJ ran an article today talking about how Oracle customers are frustrated with high maintenance fee.  Although customers are paying annual maintenance fees, most of them are forced to do so because of "end of support" of earlier versions.  In order for customers to upgrade they must stay current with annual maintenance subscription, and they have no choice but to continue to pay Oracle to get software upgrades.

It used to be normal for big enterprise to make a top-down decision about consolidating one vendor's product to reduce the cost of fragmentation.  As a buyer, it made a perfect sense to choose one vendor rather than multiple vendors.  But often these buyers were not actual users.  Big if, which often was not true, was whether user adoption will follow once system is deployed.  Enterprises assumed once you build it, users will follow.  Anyone who worked with enterprise system will know this is not the case.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Product Management: be your own customer

The most important thing that PM can do is to build a compelling product.  Although PM is not the person who executes product development, PM articulates what to build, whom to sell it to, and how to sell.  Because PM is responsible for whether product provides good enough value for customers to buy, PM needs to be grounded with market situation including competitive landscape.

Henry Ford on his first Ford car;
he raised his workers salaries to allow them to afford
the cars that they are building
In order to build a compelling product, it's no surprise that most PMs emphasize the need to understand customer.  Market research, customer focus group, persona marketing are all aimed at understanding customers problem and how to create a compelling product that solves their problem.  Therefore having a couple of key customers who are willing to spend time to talk about their problem is very valuable.  Especially they are customers who are forward looking and believe in your capability to deliver (Steve Blank calls them earlyvangelists) can be critical to building a successful product.

Then why would leading innovators like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs left contrarian quotes like following?

“If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”
- Henry Ford
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
- Steve Jobs