Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Product idea: Collaborative problem definition database

When I run into something that I don't know, I google.  This morning Fresh Air from WHYY had William Macy as a guest.  I made educated guess from his comment about starring in Fargo as a car salesman.  But I couldn't quite picture how he looked like.  I googled.  Within a second I had 16 photos of William Macy on my iPhone.

I can get to the answer instantly for those questions with definite answers.  Retrieving facts is largely a solved problem.  If someone has uploaded something about the fact, search engines will get me the answer.

But there are still lot of things that I cannot search.  Things like when was the last time you noticed something was broken, or what ideas did you have recently to improve your quality of life are a few examples.  These are questions that everyone has as we live our lives.  But they are not possible to search because they are not available on the internet.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How do you deal with uncertainties?

Everything in life is uncertain.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Your idea may have a good chance of working.  Or it may not.  Your brilliant product may take off given a good marketing push.  Or it may not.  The startup that you are working on may be a huge success.  Or it may not.

No one knows for certain that your project will succeed.  No one can guarantee whether your product can find customers who are willing to pay for it.

This raises an interesting question.  How do you know whether your product idea is a dud?  What can you do to test whether your product has a chance of getting some traction?  How do you know how much traction is promising enough to continue investing your time and money?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Product Management: No is never an acceptable answer

There are two answers that you need to master as a product manager.  'Yes we can' and 'yes we would like to.'  Everything else is not an acceptable answer.

Product manager is an odd position.  It's about the only position where you are expected to know enough technical details to interface with engineering about what the product should do yet know enough about sales to help deals get closed.

It looks like many product managers, including myself, have challenges in doing the second part, that is, getting better at selling (I am guessing it's true from looking at a Quora article like this).  That has been especially true for me, a guy with engineering background wearing a product manager hat.

One of the hardest thing to master is to never say no to a customer.  Product managers should never say no to a customer at any time.  Perhaps this is one of the trickiest things to do in a customer call.  During sales cycle, a product manager is often invited to critical deals to add credibility to the product vision and story.  Often the discussion drifts off to feature requests, landmines that competitors have planted or some integration requirements specific to their environment.

Do the right thing.  Never start your answer with no.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Daniel Tenner: Startup is not as scary as jumping off a plane

Daniel Tenner is a cofounder of GrantTree.  Before he started GrantTree, he had two other failed startup experience and worked at Accenture.

He keeps a blog site where he shares his startup experience and perspective on running a startup.  Here are some sample articles that he wrote:

He had also shared his learnings with other entrepreneurs.  Recently he gave a talk at Startup Academy at Belgrade about his take on launching a startup.

Education is teaching the love of learning

When I finished my graduate school and joined a startup, I thought I was off to a good start.  I thought my degree afforded me to push my idea.  I thought my graduate degree was a proof that I could think analytically and gave me an endorsement to pursue my ideas with little or no collaboration.

I was dead wrong.  Not only did my degree mean very little in terms of working at a startup, but also I realized that my ideas were often wrong.  And it took me repeated failures over many years to see this fact.

Now that I look back at my first 15 years of my career, I can say that one of the biggest mistakes that I made many times was not collaborating more with people around me.  Somehow I had mistakenly thought that the most creative thoughts happened when I was alone sipping my coffee at my desk.  Wrong again.  It turned out that creativity and innovation are a collaborative process, not a light bulb flash by single stroke of genius.

Where did I go wrong?  Why did I have to relearn to work with my coworkers?  It was simple.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Twitter bets on Vine

I somehow missed this news earlier that Twitter acquired Vine around October last year.  Apparently Jack Dorsey liked the Vine demo so much that he pushed for Twitter execs to acquire near-launch Vine.

Since the acquisition last year, the team Vine has been polishing their app and integrating it with Twitter for native display.  Just the other day Vine iPhone app has just hit the market.

The concept is really simple.  Vine lets you record video snippets up to 6 seconds, and share it with other users.  It acts and feels much like GIF animation in that it loops the video, but different from it in that it adds sounds.

Twitter community is starting to debate whether this is a good move for Twitter.  Some are concerned that adding video will complicate Twitter UX and cause Twitter to lose one of its key asset, simplicity.  Some believe that it is a brilliant move that readies Twitter for upcoming IPO (I don't think there is much disagreement in inevitability of its IPO).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Quora, the next blogging ecosystem

I made a mental note to myself to check out Quora's blogging platform.  Quora has launched its standalone blogging support, and now allows any user to create a blog on its site.  Earlier today I had a chance to register and wrote my first quick article.

User experience of setting up a new blog was a breeze.  Writing an article was also a very pleasant experience.  With minimal UI for the blogger to write an article and easy edit feature, it was a joy to use Quora to write.  All the lessons that Quora has learned over the years perfecting Q&A site shine through its bare essential UI/UX.

But they are not what makes Quora a strong contender among other blogging platforms.  The reason why Quora is an interesting blogging platform is because it can help both readers and writers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What are you doing to get better?

When I look around and see many people who achieved greatness, they seem to share a few things in common.  Dedication, passion for what they do, and persistence are there to name a few.  In addition all those who achieved mastery seem to do one thing very well.  That is practice.

It's not any practice.  They ask the following question, and then practice to master the craft.

How do I get better at what I'm doing?

Asking this question seems to be at the core of achieving greatness.  Masters always ask themselves how to improve their skills.  Then make efforts to get better at it.  They expend their attention to consciously practice the area where they want to get better.

It's important for a few reasons.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Yahoo +=

Yahoo and have jointly announced acquisition of  The deal is announced to be around $10M plus earnout bonus for the team members according to TechCrunch. was a 10-person startup that launched in 2011, and they reportedly have been in the talks with Yahoo for several weeks.

Here's a short clip of what did (I'm using the past tense because Yahoo decided to shut down its service):

Based on Marissa Mayer's vision, people are speculating that team may be working on integrating their latest features into Yahoo Social News products.

Unfortunately I never got to use  I am hearing good things about it from the web.  Yet it seemed like they were not able to get the traction on their own fast enough.  (This traction problem is a hard problem to solve for any startup.)

From this acquisition, Yahoo is getting serious about investing on social products and making it appealing to today's users.  It seems to validate the earlier vision laid out by Mayer.

It looks like she's doing all the right things.  I look forward to seeing compelling social products from Yahoo soon.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Do the job well: Don't sit on the reply

What I'm about to share is based on my personal experience.  I'm still in the middle of perfecting my technique and getting better at communicating with the team.  If you have any suggestion or improvement idea, I would love to know.


I thought I was different.  I thought I knew better.  I somehow felt that I did not have to subject myself to explain every details of my thought process.  I believed that sharing too much detail was counter productive.  What mattered the most was the result, the final answer.

It may have been watching too much Apple commercials in the late 1990's.  Or it may have been cockiness of a recent graduate where just about everything was graded on a curve.  I fell into the trap of thinking that I was different, and I knew a better way to deal with emails.

And that led to not sharing information quickly.  I would rather have the perfect final answer in an email rather than sending a premature half-baked reply.  When I get an email requesting for some information, I would dig up my old email to confirm, retest the code to validate and send what I personally verified data back to the requester.

Aaron Swartz: Raw thoughts

I'm sure most of you have heard of Aaron Swartz.  I have known his existence from news, but only found out about his writing after his untimely passing.  After going through random samples of his work, I can now see how much we as society have lost by not having him around any more.

He started blogging as early as 2004.  (I read that he started publishing earlier from Wikipedia, but couldn't find the links from his website.)  His writings are found from his website.

He wrote about many topics covering startup, productivity, education and information sharing.  Here are a few samples that I found interesting:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

EFF's creepy Facebook Graph Search user stories

After reading EFF's article, The Creepy Details of Facebook's New Graph Search, it made me think about how users are creative in coming up with their own use cases for any product.

EFF points out that the search can be used by marketers to target advertisements or find out socially awkward facts from your friends.  And this discoverability is creepy because it was not easy to do earlier.  Nowhere would the information be so easy to find for people, and Facebook users need to re-evaluate their Facebook usage.

Wouldn't it be awkward to show if anyone shows up on this search?
Think twice before you 'like' something.
While I agree with EFF's observation of potential abuse, I think that the discoverability of information is going to get even easier, and people will learn how to cope with this easy discoverability.  People will adapt to the new norm.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

We all create something new from what we have

Never underestimate the power of user's creativity.

This is something that I learn and relearn each day.  Truth is that no one knows how your product is going to be used in a real-life scenario.  Once the product is released, it's up to user to decide how to apply the tool to solve his problem.

Let me give you examples.


What about this?

Set your goal, measure your steps

Let me talk about how to do things.  I come to realize there is a simple binary logic to getting things done, and improve the performance of getting things done.  My algorithm is as following:

  • Write down what I want to do.
  • Is it obvious how I can do it?
  • If not, I have a goal; subdivide the goal into multiple steps that will get me there.
  • If obvious, I have a step; do it.
  • Repeat until the original 'want' is done.

In this algorithm, everything is either a goal or a step.  A goal is something that you want to do, but don't know how to achieve.  A step is something that you know how to do.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Facebook wants to be a social search engine

Facebook made its official announcement that they are launching its Graph Search.  It will be available on limited users for pilot testing and based on experiments Facebook will roll it out to more users.

Product Management: What do I do to be a PM of my own idea? (Part 3)

This post is the continuation of my earlier post about how to start out as a product manager.  If you did not read the first two, I recommend you start from the first two articles which are available here and here.

I started out by laying out 7 steps to become a product manager for your own product idea.  Here were 7 steps:

1. Pick an expensive problem to solve in your life.
2. Come up with a product idea that you can use yourself.
3. Write down how you are solving the problem without the product today.
4. Spell out how you want to interact with your product.
5. Fake the product to your potential customer.
6. Remove an interaction one at a time until you cannot remove any more without becoming useless.
7. Write down your finding.

We were discussing Step #5 earlier.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Noah Kagan: Start with the market

Noah Kagan is a marketer/entrepreneur who had learned the art of marketing by learning from his mistakes.  His career included a stint at Intel, Facebook, Mint, KickFlip and AppSumo.  The last two companies were founded by Kagan.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

How to motivate people

A couple of loosely related things that happened today.  Here's my attempt at finding common theme from both.

Visit from a friend

I had come to know an entrepreneur through my wife's introduction.  He and I had an interesting conversation on our way to SFO to catch his plane.  Although I've met him only a few times, I could see that he is a wholesome person.  I can feel that he radiates positive energy around him.  I have been wondering how.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Product Management: What do I do to be a PM of my own idea? (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my yesterday's post.

Let me pick up from where I left off.  I laid out the steps to be a product manager (PM) for your own project.  If you are not sure how to get your foot in the door as a product manager, these steps will help you get product management experience.  In fact these are the steps that many successful startups use to launch their own business.

1. Pick an expensive problem to solve in your life.
2. Come up with a product idea that you can use yourself.
3. Write down how you are solving the problem without the product today.
4. Spell out how you want to interact with your product.
5. Fake the product to your potential customer.
6. Remove an interaction one at a time until you cannot remove any more without becoming useless.
7. Write down your finding.

Let's pick up from Step #4.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Product Management: What do I do to be a PM of my own idea?

What do I do to be a product manager of my own idea?  Can you walk that through?

Last time I shared a post about how to get started as product manager if you don't have any background.  I said "start doing the product management on your pet project."  I now realized how circular that advice might have been.

A: How do I make an omelette?
B: Don't just talk about it.  Start making an omelette?
A: ?!?

So let me share how I would go about creating my own pet product.  Here are the big steps:

1. Pick an expensive problem to solve in your life.
2. Come up with a product idea that you can use yourself.
3. Write down how you are solving the problem without the product today.
4. Spell out how you want to interact with your product.
5. Fake the product to your potential customer.
6. Remove an interaction one at a time until you cannot remove any more without becoming useless.
7. Write down your finding.

Let me explain each step.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Clayton Christensen: Danger of marginal cost thinking

One link led me to another, I ended up on Clayton Christensen's lecture at University of Louisville College of Business.  Some might know Christensen through his book The Innovator's Dilemma.

I had no plan to watch the entire video.  I wanted to get a quick headline because I was going through my daily reading routine.  But I could not stop.  The entire video is well worth your time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Thanks to mobile, we have accelerated disruption

Garry Tan of YCombinator shared a post showing the survey data of little over thousand teenagers.  He asked them to pick social networks that they used more than several hours per week.  On his top 5 chart, there were Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter.  But there were also Instagram and Snapchat.  They showed up 21% and 19% of the answers respectively.

Social network usage among 13-18 and 19-25 yr olds.
Surprise! Say hello to Snapchat.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Blogging: Help others to help yourself

Blogging is by nature sharing.  It's putting my thought out in the open so that everyone else can take a look.  Anyone can take the idea, use it, play with it and build on it.  When people do, the idea gets stronger, more refined.

The final product is no longer my idea.  It might have come from me typing away on my blog.  But all the life experiences and perspectives it gained from traveling out of my blog is certainly none of mine.  I was in effect medium.  The idea was the one that traveled from person to person touching their lives in many unexpected ways.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Gabriel Weinberg: Startup & Stuff...

Gabriel Weinberg is the guy behind the DuckDuckGo search engine.  He has been chipping away at building traction for 4 years.  I was surprised to hear that he had been working pretty much alone at building DuckDuckGo for the first three years.

He runs his personal blog discussing his lessons learned from bootstrapping his search engine startup.  He is also active in helping other startups get started.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Blogging: So you want to start a blog. Here's how.

I got a note from my sister asking for a few pointers to start her own blog.  I thought I would share them as a blog post.  Hope that you find something of value.


Ok.  So you want to start a blog.  Welcome to blogging.

Although it may not seem obvious to you, blogging is a journey.  I encourage that you get your pleasure out of writing.  Writing is of curious art.  It not only creates something that you can leave behind.  It also helps you think about things.  Learn to enjoy how it makes you feel.  Because as you will discover, finding readers in this vast World Wide Web is not going to happen over night.  Unless you draw your pleasures from writing itself, you will get frustrated and stop.  More on this later.

Today let's get started with blogging.  There are many crafts that people will tell you about.  Just google 'how to start a blog.'  From Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners to Commonly Made Mistakes by Bloggers, there are many self-guided instructions.  Don't get overwhelmed by them.  They tell you what you need to do to sell your blog, look for audience.  That's great, but it all starts out with far simpler, but disciplined act of writing.

This is the most important lesson there is in blogging.  Once you start, you have to write.  Set a schedule, whether daily, Mon-Wed-Fri, every week, every month, you have to carve out time to seat down and write. It's a promise that you are making with yourself to consciously serialize your thoughts.  Your most important audience is you.  Don't let yourself down.  Write it religiously.  Thankfully there are many inspirations scattered all around the web.  I will share them with you along the way.

To get your blog started, let's talk about what you need to do:

  1. Decide what to write about
  2. Set up a blog using Google Blogger
  3. Write About Me page
  4. Post the first blog
  5. Email friends about your blog
Simple enough.  Let's start.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cars as service is coming

A: It was an unreal commute this morning.
B: What happened?
A: First my ride did not show up on time.  I have been using Acme car service, but I'm not impressed.
B: Yeah, I heard Acme cars not showing up in time before.
A: It was a bad start to the whole morning.  Then it got rerouted to pick up a last minute passenger who came late to the car.
B: Oh boy...
A: Then to top it off traffic forecast was off for the second day so I had to reschedule my meeting on the last minute when I was sitting on 101 South.
B: What did I tell you.  You don't want to skimp on the car service.  Switch to CarNow, and go for Commuter Package to get the dedicated car service.  Haven't heard any trouble with their traffic forecast.  As added bonus, theirs come with free coffee service in the morning.
A: Ok.  I'll look into it.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Product Management: Practice lazy start

On occasions I get a question like this from developers.

Shouldn't we do this the right way the first time?  What do you say to writing purpose-built code instead of extending existing implementation?

My response to the question is almost always no.  That's because of two things are true when building a brand new feature:

  1. No one knows whether feature will stick.
  2. We are building the feature based on our best guesses.

Despite the best intention, no one knows whether the new feature will become popular.  There are a lot of factors that determine the feature success.  Some are within the product management and engineering team's control.  But as much as PMs hate to admit, there are a lot of luck involved in hitting the right market with the right feature at the right time.  Having the functionality alone is not enough.  The feature should be adopted by large enough user base to make the continued development economical.  And no one knows whether your feature has the magic combination at the right time.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What pending Facebook's eclipse of Internet means to us

Check out Vincos Blog tracking world map of social networks.  It shows the past few years trend as Facebook becoming the de facto standard social network globally.  Only countries where Facebook is not the number one social network by activity are mostly places where geo-political issues are preventing the open network access, China, Russia and Iran.

Facebook Blue is spreading.
One exception? South Korea.
Will South Korea be the harbinger of life after Facebook?

What does this mean to enterprise?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Product Management: How do I get started?

How do I get started as a product manager?  Where do I start?

I have often read questions like this from product management forum.  I think it's a natural question for new-comers to ask when they are trying to decide whether to get in to product management discipline.  Having been a product manager myself with engineering background, I want to share my perspective on how to start the product management career.

A little bit about myself, I graduated with Computer Science degree and spent my first several years of my career coding.  I don't hold MBA or come from business background.  So the answer that I'm about to give may be biased in some way.

Going back to the question.  How does one start becoming a product manager?  What can future candidate do today to prepare for a career in product management?

Here's my answer:

Start doing product management yourself, just as you would start coding if you want to be a programmer.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Questions for 2013

Happy new year!  

I hope everyone had a chance to think about what their goal is going to be for this brand-new year.  I have been thinking about what I want for the new year, and I have several ideas in my head.  They are a bit amorphous still.  But having them listed out will help me come back to the ideas swimming in my mind (just as I could go back what I was thinking about last year around this time).

Because they are goals in progress, let me write them in questions.  I will look for opportunities to answer them as the year winds down.

  • How can I help product managers or those who want to become one learn the craft?
  • What practical advice can I offer as an engineer now practicing product management?
  • What are the practical implications of social media and ubiquitous mobile internet access to our lives?
  • How can enterprise learn from fast changing social media landscape?  What can enterprise do to get ready for changes coming up?
  • What can we learn from the latest discussions on leadership and managing a startup?
  • Who are interesting independent bloggers, and what are they talking about?

These are the questions that are swirling inside my head at the moment.  Surely they will evolve and take on a different form, perhaps from more relevant angle given the late breaking news at the time.  Hopefully I can spend my new year answering some of these questions.  Let's see how we can do it.

Please join me opening the new year 2013.  If these questions are interesting to you, subscribe to email update or follow me on Twitter @jaeho9kim.