Sunday, March 31, 2013

Excerpts from Fresh Air interview with Frank Langella

Frank Langella gave an interview at Fresh Air from WHYY August 2012.  It happened to be on the radio the other day, and I was fortunate to catch the tail end of the interview.  I found Langella's interview to be very moving.  I had to go back and listen to the whole interview.

Before listening to the interview I was not familiar with Langella's work.  I found out that he starred in Robot & Frank, Frost/Nixon and other films.

Instead of paraphrasing his comments, I want to share his quotes talking about how he learned to be more tactful in sharing his views with others, and how transient everything that we once claimed as ours.  I just cannot help but be humbled by this 75-year-old man reminding us that we are all passing through our lives.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chris McCann: StartupDigest and GroupTie

Chris McCann is a serial entrepreneur who started StartupDigest and GroupTie.  He started StartupDigest soon after he packed all his belongings in his car and drove to Palo Alto without a place to stay.  StartupDigest is a free weekly email digest outlining the startup events and resources in hundreds of cities around the world.

He has been running his personal blog since 2009, and here are some blog entries that I found interesting:

Friday, March 29, 2013

Email as messaging system

I ran into Sachin Agarwal's blog about how email is the de-facto standard messaging system of Internet.  I totally agree.  Email is a very simple tool that everyone understands.  Although I hate using email as collaboration tool, email has its killer use case, and it is here to stay.

I can think of the following compelling reasons why email is not going away.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pebble watch, first impression

I finally received my Pebble watch yesterday.  I backed the Pebble project on Kickstarter last April.  Originally Pebble team projected their ship date to be somewhere in September, but it got shifted out indefinitely as the team tried to figure out how to deal with massive number of orders through Kickstarter.  I got the news that the watches were getting shipped starting January.

The packaging reminded me of Amazon Kindle packaging.  It was made with 100% recyclable material.  Inside the recyclable box, it had two simple pieces.  One Pebble watch and one USB charger cable.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A conversation about startup

A: Hey, long time no see!

B: Yeah, it's been a long time.  How have you been?

A: Slogging through.  Still in the middle of startup phase.

B: Startup?  I thought you are well passed that stage.  I don't think anyone would consider your company as a startup.

A: Perhaps.  There are just lot going on, you know.  Hiring, getting new people up to speed, working out team dynamics, etc.

B: Sure, but that's not a startup-only challenge.  That is true for any growing company.

A: Yeah...  I am with you on that.  What would you call startup?  What makes a company startup?

B: For one thing, if it is a brand new, then obviously it's a startup.  Once someone told me that startup is a phase when money is invested for future revenue.  Basically, burning cash.  But that can't be it because my earlier startup we started making money about a month in.  It was small, but we were making money right away.

A: Positive cash flow right away.  That is the ideal model for self-funded bootstrapping.

B: Look, I have to run.  Have a meeting starting in a few minutes.

What does make a startup a startup?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Innovation comes from fuller understanding of the problem

I am still ruminating on sessions that I attended during Silicon Valley Product Camp 2013.  One remark someone made about innovation is circling around me.

Innovation comes from fuller understanding of the problem.

I don't recall who exactly said it.  Whether it was Steve Johnson or someone in the audience, I cannot quite remember.  Yet I think it captures the one aspect of how innovation happens.  That is, thinking about the problem and understanding the constraints under which a new solution needs to be proposed.

In its simplest sense, we have to understand the problem before we can come up with creative solutions that solves the problem.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Ask why?

I once remember reading that Toyota had this process called 5 Whys.  Whenever a process fails or they encountered a problem, they would ask why the failure occurred.  When they find the answer, then they would ask why again to figure out the reason for the answer being the way it was.  The would repeat this asking whys 5 times for each failure.  Only after understanding the five-levels of why, they would make changes to prevent the root cause from happening again.

I believe that asking why is an important step in understanding the entire problem domain.  Without understanding the real problem, we end up treating the symptoms.  When the band aid wears off, it soon happens again, and we would have to fix it all over again.

In order to be able to ask why, everyone needs to clearly understand the objective for each step and the reasons why the decisions were made the way they were.  But that's not always easy.  Team members may be geographically distributed, each member can have different perspective from each other, hence may see things from a different angle.  Combine them with aggressive schedule, team members may feel that their primary job of writing functional code is all that matters, and do not take time to ask whys.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Silicon Valley Product Camp 2013

Silicon Valley 6th annual Product Camp 2013 was held yesterday at eBay San Jose campus.  This was my 3rd time attending PCamp, and it was very exciting to see fellow product managers in the Silicon Valley area.  I have learned a lot from attending earlier PCamp events, and this year was no exception.

I wanted to share some random points that stuck with me from the sessions that I attended.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rob Walling: Lessons Learned by a Solo Entrepreneur

Rob Walling is a serial entrepreneur who advocates launching small startups and staying small.  He has launched several startups and has been sharing his experiences and lessons learned on his blog, Software by Rob.  He has launched several self-funded startups and also acquired technology to re-launch using variety of marketing techniques.

Here are some articles that I found interesting from his blog:
He also gave an interview outlining the steps that he took to acquire, long tail SEO site:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Product Management: Communication priority

Product manager needs to be a masterful communicator.  Information must flow from product manager to engineering, marketing, sales and support group.  No other role has as much direct visibility from all departments as PM role does.  That's because any question on product behavior or roadmap will ultimately be answered by PM.  In order to educate and empower everyone in the organization to influence the product, PM must be talking to all departments.

That's just the internal communication.  PM must also speak to customers to find out how the product is getting used and deployed, find out the areas to improve, and identify future opportunities even before customers can clearly articulate the problem.

That's a lot to handle.  All departments, all key customers, and let's not forget executive team.  Everyone of them are important constituents to design, make, sell, support and enhance the product.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wishful thinking: Enterprise licensing and deployment platform

Having worked for enterprise software company, I have seen many times where brand new software license gets shelved and never to be deployed.  I say "never to be deployed", because by the time customer decides to deploy either there is a new version of software available, or the product gets merged with some other product, older product as sold effectively getting EOLed.  Surprisingly this actually happens from time to time.  Hence enterprise software sales person talks about separating selling versus delivery.  Buying does not necessarily mean it will get rolled out immediately.

This happens for several reasons.  Having to spend the left-over annual budget at the end of fiscal year, looking for a solution and buying it before the year end.  Not having internal resource to train, deploy and manage the software once it has been purchased.  Incorrectly estimating the number of users who will be on the system.  And even the purchased system not solving the right problem.

Good enterprise sales person is one who can identify these opportunities and take advantage of them.  It takes uncanny skill of understanding budgetary cycles, political power distribution and knowing which button to press to get the biggest deals closed without slipping the deal.  In practice many enterprise sales people can separate selling versus delivery so well that they can sell something without having the actual product.

End of 15 hour work day

I spend about 13 hours a day working.  It is not something that my boss demanded of me.  I just put in as much as I can to solve things that are coming my way, and when I count all the hours that I spend on average, it comes out to be about 13 hours a day.  That does not include chores like washing up, eating and commuting.  It's 13 hours in front of my laptop doing one thing or another.  That means I work about 15 hours each day, Monday thru Friday.

When I put in 15 hours day in and day out, I started to notice that I lose my daily rhythm.  Each day bleeds into another.  Back-to-back 5 hour sleep cycle starts to wear on me as mid week rolls in, and by Friday I become a walking zombie kept awake by the power of black Peet's coffee of the day.  There is no unplugging, hence there is no transition.

I am finally acknowledging that it may be causing more harm than doing good.  Being always on is not the answer to increase the productivity.  I have to take a longer term perspective, and pace myself.  The race won't be determined by who gets to cram in more working hours a week.  Instead it will be about how fast I can evolve the product, and whether I will keep going when product-market fit starts to find its sweet spot.  As they say, it's a marathon, not a 100m dash. 

Simply allocating more time to get more done cannot be the sustainable strategy.  I first have to specify the beginning and end of each day, then put the rest of things within the available time.

It's going to be difficult to do because I'm used to adding more time to get things done.  But it's something that I am willing to try.

Let me see how successful I can be.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Facebook becoming more like Twitter in a bad way

WSJ had an article today discussing how Facebook is revoking its API access to applications that compete with Facebook's core functionality.  Facebook is making lot of ifs-and-buts about what third party apps are getting blacklisted.  Twitter's Vine, MessageMe and several others have been officially banned from using Facebook social graph.

It's not so surprising that Facebook is doing this.  After all, Facebook has a long history of not letting its competitors access their users' social graph.  It started with Google's potable data policy.  While Facebook accepted import of Google contacts, Facebook did not allow its content to be shared with any other network in an easy way.

Now that Facebook is staking out its ground against Twitter and many mobile applications, it makes sense for Facebook not to share its treasure trove of 1 billion users' social graph for their short-term gain.  In that way, Facebook is becoming more like Twitter.  Becoming more and more unpredictable and unwelcoming platform for third party developers to invest their time to build useful applications.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Blogging: Quality vs. quantity

I have heard that quality and quantity can go hand in hand.  In context of writing, the idea is if you write often, then there is a higher chance of writing an article of higher quality.  Also writing more will help you be more disciplined and learn the skill of writing clearly faster.

This is obviously this is true if you don't write anything versus dedicate time to write something.  If there is no writing, the quality of writing is non-existent.  It is the worst possible case.  As you write more, you are taking more shots.  Assuming that your writing quality is not even, there are bound to be some qualitative fluctuation.  Therefore there are bound to be some higher quality writings and some lower quality writings.

But that can be said about anything.  Statement like that can be made about any normal distribution.  There will be some above average, some below average.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What's more important, great product or great team?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to talk to a product manager at a partner company.  We were having a casual dinner and talking about different topics.  One of the topics was about launching a startup.  She had thought about launching her own startup and she mentioned that she didn't have a concrete product idea yet. She felt that identifying a worthwhile problem to solve and coming up with a solution was where startup got founded.  She wanted to find a problem that was socially responsible as well as personally interesting as studying impacts of global warming on ocean life.

That's great, I thought.  Finding meaning in one's work is important to persist through all the trials and tribulations.  It is also true that identifying a problem that is worth solving is an important step in creating a startup.  But there is more important piece.  That's putting together a right team.

Martin Zwilling: Startup Professionals

Martin Zwilling is the founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, Inc.  Prior to founding Startup Pro, he was a managing partner at Southwest Software Ventures & Consulting.  He also writes for Forbes, HBR and Huffington Post.  He is an active blogger and has been writing daily articles on his blog Startup Professionals, Inc, helping entrepreneurs sharpen their business plan and find their initial funding.

Here are some blog entries that he wrote in the past that I found interesting:

Friday, March 15, 2013

There is no good time to lose a solution

Google Reader is going away.  Many fans are upset that they are losing one of the first RSS feed readers.  Some are even warning Google may lose more than what it has bargained for.  Others are busy recommending alternate solutions to the devoted fans.  People are switching.

It is never a good time to lose a solution.  And it's true for everyone.  Users lose because they have to go and find a new product that solves their problem.  They have to learn to use a new product.  Company loses because it is turning users away, however small the user base may be.  Everyone understands how difficult to launch a product and build a user base.  With Google Reader, it is more painful because it had small but dedicated fan base.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Is Samsung developing phone in agile method?

I ended up watching about 25 minutes of Samsung Galaxy S4 launch event at NYC Radio City.  While I was watching, multiple thoughts ran through my head.  I wanted to share some of them.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What does "social" mean to you?

Recently I was asked to think about a question.  What does "social" mean to you?

This gave me a pause.  I have been talking about what it means to enterprises and companies.  But I don't think I sat down to think about social media means to individual users.  Especially what it means to me.

After thinking about it for a while, here's what it means to me:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Product Management: Simple, easy, obvious

Product should be simple, easy and obvious.
  • Simple so that user understands what problem the product solves
  • Easy so that user can pick up the tool and start using it with little training
  • Obvious so that user can expect how the product is supposed behave
Designing a product that is simple, easy and obvious takes work.  A lot of work.  It takes whole lot more work and iterations to make the product simpler, easier and more obvious.  I come to realize that complexity, difficulty and sophistication are signs of product immaturity.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What happens to social media data after you die?

I was listening to NPR, and they were talking about data stored in social media accounts: What happens to your data in your social media accounts once you die?  It sounds like a morbid question to be asking until we remind ourselves that Facebook has +1 billion users.

"It's estimated that three Facebook users die every minute. Those accounts used to be deleted, but now the company offers the option to memorialize those pages..."
- 3/11 NPR News Hours

It pauses an interesting question.  Who is the rightful owner of the data?  Can friends and relative get access to the data once you're gone?  What should you be doing to keep track of online digital records?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Not obvious if you are not using it

Today was Kim's resident's Spring cleaning day.  As part of spring cleaning, we decided to pick up a bookshelf and a drawer, and went to IKEA.  It was the first time that our family of four visited IKEA since Abigail's arrival.

What started out as pleasant shopping experience quickly started to deteriorate when Toby, my 3-year-old, started to get fussy.  As we were completing our round of the second floor (Emeryville IKEA starts shoppers off with the second floor; not sure whether that's how it is with all IKEA stores), he started to throw temper tantrums.  Luckily I had been writing down the model numbers along with aisle and bin numbers.  We took a quick elevator down to the first floor.

Then I struggled a bit trying to remember where shoppers picked up their carts.  I missed the card dispensing machine, and I went all the way to register just to find out there were carts as you enter the warehouse storage area.  So I ran back to the machine and picked up a cart.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Jason Cohen: A smart bear

Jason Cohen is a founder of Smart Bear and WP Engine.  He has successfully started multiple startups, and grown them to over million dollars of revenue.  He currently runs WP Engine, Wordpress hosting company.  He has been sharing his startup lessons on his blog, a smart bear, since 2007.

Here are some articles that I found interesting:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Integrate perspectives to solve the entire problem

As a young boy, I remember reading a puzzle went something like this.

Q: There was a bus that only allowed 10x10x10 inch carry-on luggage.  A boy had a 15x1x1 inch stick and he wanted to get on the bus to get home before dinner time.  Somehow he was able to manage to bring the stick on the bus.  How did he do that? 
A: He put the stick in the 10x10x10 box diagonally and carried the box on board.  Because diagonal distance of 10x10x10 box was roughly 17.3 inches, 15-inch-long stick fit in the box.

When we get multiple descriptions of a problem from different perspectives, it is easy for us to think that the problem is not solvable.  But there could be ways to solve the problem while satisfying all or most of the constraints.  The trick is to think of the problem holistically without getting bogged down by any one of the constraints.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Facebook announced updated news feed

Facebook unveiled updated news feed design.  Bigger photos, more white spaces and streamlined navigation icons on the left were main points of news feed redesign.  When looking at the newly redesigned Facebook news feed, I couldn't help but think of Google+.  Already users are making comments about Facebook taking design cues from Google+ news feed.

Google+ on the left; Facebook on the right.
Hi-res photographers wanted.

Clearly Facebook wants to become a more multimedia friendly social network.  Larger hi-res photos and videos provide more emotionally engaging experience to the users.  I have to think that they have picked up some design cues from the photo-first social network, Google+.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Product Management: First explain why

I often have a conversation like this with engineering team:

A: So what happened with X?  The piece that we discussed the other day?
B: No update.  There was a discussion and that was about it.
A: Didn't we agree that we will do Y to get more data?
B: But we weren't sure whether it's really needed.  We didn't think customer was asking for Y.  It was not clear to us.
A: We just lost a few days.  When we realize there is something wrong, we have to do something.  Anything.

There are two lessons in this conversation.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Twitter is retiring TweetDeck mobile

TweetDeck iPhone and Android app are going away.  If you have been following Twitter, they have been making series of changes.  They are replacing Twitter API 1.0 with API 1.1 to put tighter control on API rate limit.  They stopped their support for posting tweets to Facebook.  Speaking of end of Facebook support, TweetDeck will no longer be supporting posting to Facebook either.  (Facebook still continues to support posting from Facebook status update to Twitter.)

Au revoir, TweetDeck.
Interesting that the last update was support of Instagram,
the network that could have been Twitter's.

What do all these mean to Twitter users?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Location-based social network

Two weeks in a row I have been on a plane heading out to customer site.  Whenever I get on a plane, I check for wifi connectivity from my iPad.  More airlines are starting to offer wifi connections, yet I have not seen any one offering for free.

I have grown so used to having internet connection wherever I go.  When I open my iPad, I assume there will be some connection available somehow.  It has become a habit of mine.

Same happened today.  I opened my iPad, tapped on Settings and went to check what wifi connections were available.  It was showing SouthwestWiFi.  Neat.  When I tried connecting, browser redirected me to the Southwest landing page.  Not a surprise.  Reading the fine prints, I found out that internet connection was sold for $8 per flight, and only available for free to A-list passengers (Southwest frequent flyer club).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Product idea: Solve one of retailer's problems

Over the weekend I flew down to southern California to help out my parents close their beauty supply store. They have been running the store for almost 16 years.  But slowing economy since 2008 financial crisis and online shopping have made it very difficult for them to keep the doors open.  They finally decided to switch out their light for good.


I have been watching how the store was run for the past two days, and I noticed there were many problems that my parents faced that they had to solve for themselves.  I want to capture a few of them here so that bright hackers can create tools for small retailers around the U.S.

1. Tracking customers, collecting data

There were no tracking of customers other than putting their names with their face.  All tracking, if any, would be done by saying hello to Mrs so and so, or Mr so and so.  Because there were no customer tracking data, there were no visitor data either.  Only metrics my parents had was daily revenue and what products were getting sold in anecdotal sense.  They couldn't easily keep track of who is buying what product, how often, and at what price (they had liquidation sales going on where they eventually discounted some products upto 70% over the weekend).

Imagine every small business had a tool like Google Analytics for all visitors to their stores.  Think of all the data and how useful they will be if all purchase records are kept and can be analyzed in its aggregate form.

2. Easy way of tracking the inventories

Tracking inventories is a problem that has been solved.  But small business owners like my parents want a no-frill inventory tracking software at almost no cost to them.  What they need is a system that is really easy to use, minimize the data entry process, yet allow them to access the all richness of data analysis).  Why not use mobile phone to scan all products sold, track what products need to be re-ordered, and backfills the missing inventories based on the past sales records?

3. Getting the foot traffic into the store

One of the toughest challenges is getting the foot traffic into the store.  This sounds easy, but as small business owners, they never have enough budget to market their stores among the locals.  Groupon solves this problem for one store per day, but the overhead is too steep, and it tends to be a flash in the pan, not lasting longer than the day when the store was featured on Groupon.

4. Finding out the price that market will bear

It's also difficult to find out what the right price ought to be for customers to buy.  Having the right price is important for obvious reasons.  If price is too high, customers don't buy.  If price is too low, owners are leaving their money on the table.  What if the owners can determine the right price point for the products by looking at the historical data and projections from pricepoints around the owner's store?

5. Easy way to liquidate products

When the time came to liquidate the inventories and close the store, it is difficult to sell products even at loss. Finding a non-profit organization to donate the products was not an easy task because there was no single place where all local charitable organizations that accepts product donations are listed in a single place.

Any taker to implement any of these ideas?

Jacques Mattheij: Technology, coding and business

Jacques Mattheij is an entrepreneur and M&A due diligence technology consultant for hire.  He is a founder and owner of, and loves to tinker with technology.  He has been actively blogging on his blog site since 2008.

Here are some interesting blog articles that he shared to date:

Friday, March 1, 2013

What to measure, how to measure

I wrote this post soon after I wrote this earlier post on my flight out to NYC earlier this week.  I was thinking about how to measure what I do, and figure out whether I am making progress or not.  If you want some context as to how I arrived at my thoughts, you can read the following earlier posts:


There are two things that you should measure.  Measure what you do everyday, and measure the impact of your everyday action.

What you do everyday is your steps to your goal.  It measures how well you are executing your actions.

The impact of your actions is your goal.  It measures whether your steps are having the effects that you hoped for.

Both are important for different reasons. Let me tell you why.

Andrew Mason's farewell to Groupon

Andrew Mason has been fired.  He posted a very candid farewell letter publicly anticipating that the letter will be leaked to public anyway.  You can read the letter here.

I have only watched the his interview on Charlie Rose, and seen his talks, so I don't know how he has been in the office.  But the farewell letter really spoke to me as his genuine message.  The way he shared his disappointment was well handled and I think it offers a few lessons that we can all learn from.