Categories
Uncategorized

The First 10

It was an intense but a healthy discussion I was having with my co-founders. We were debating about our strategy, our positioning, how we are different than our competitors, what story we should tell to VCs so they would fund us, how can we define a new category and be a leader of that category, how can we build a big independent business instead of entertaining early acquisition interests, etc.

All were important topics. But after a while, I realized they were just not timely. We were talking about the end state after 18 months, 3 years, and 5 years.

I was worried about this month and this quarter. All I wanted to do was – onboard first 10 customers for Avoma.

Somehow we agreed on key points and wrapped up the discussion. But the first 10 customers concept stuck in mind.

Since then, while I continue to think about longer term vision, strategies, etc., but in the end, I always bring the conversation back to getting the first 10 of whatever that key milestone we wanted to focus on.

Some of the examples are:

  • The first 10 manual prospecting emails before we implement email automation
  • The first 10 trials converting into paying customers
  • The first 10 paying customers that we don’t know
  • The first 10 customers who absolutely love us and can’t live without Avoma
  • The first 10 customers came from one particular channel
  • The first 10 customers that were referred by existing customers
  • The first 10 $10K+ contracts

This mindset always helps me to get tactical and start acting on the next milestones immediately, without getting lost in over planning and delaying the execution.

Obviously, the downside of this mindset is that once you are bogged down in achieving the first 10 of “x”, there is a high chance that you are not thinking about the bigger picture. You need to find a good balance between the both.

As they say, entrepreneurs are a special breed who need to have a great macroscopic vision and at the same time they need to have a great microscopic vision.

Categories
Uncategorized

2017 Retrospective and 2018 Goals

My reflections on what worked well and what didn’t in 2017 and what I would continue to do and do something new in 2018.

I’ve started this practice last year — to retrospect on the last year’s achievements, misses, and learnings and define the goals for the next year at the beginning of the new year. I have written about why I started doing this exercise in my last year’s post, but if I want to summarize it in one key reason — it would be — to be accountable and answerable to the world about my new year’s goals.

But before I begin, wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year 2018!

Retrospective for 2017

Overall, it was a great year. I made satisfactory progress across many areas and I feel good about it. Having said that, I still feel I could have done better in a few areas.

As mentioned in my last year’s goals, my 3 big priorities were —

  • Family
  • Health (Exercise + Sleep)
  • Startup (Venture + Programming)

Family

On the family front, I enjoyed spending a great time with family in general.

Travel
We traveled to India, Hawaii, and Tahoe together and spent a great time with the extended family as well.

Daily routine
The most important habit I’ve been following for the last couple years that I continued even last year was — I try to be home from work between 5–6pm instead of staying up late till 7pm or so such that I can spend more time with the kids before they go to bed by 9pm. I catch up on work after they fall asleep.

Health

On the health front, overall I did decently well, but I’m personally not very proud of it.

Workout
My key goal was to complete 3 routines of P90X-3 — that is 30 minutes intense exercise for 90 days — and do it for 3 times in the year. Unfortunately, I finished the entire P90X-3 routine only once, and then for 2 times, I started the routine and gave up in the middle after 4–5 weeks into it. So in short, collectively I’ve worked out only for 5 months than the planned 9 months.

Sleep
Overall as planned, I continued to sleep well for an average 7 hours/day. Even though we had an infant baby and I had my ambitious startup plans, I managed to get a decently well sleep. Obviously, a lot of that credit goes to my wife! 🙂

Meditation
Overall, I had not planned to do meditation in the last year but learned to do a guided meditation, Pranayama and different breathing techniques to meditate well. I learned this in the 2nd half of the year, but managed to do 20 mins meditation in the early morning at least 3–4 days/week.

Food
As I started exercising actively, I adopted some good food habits too. Most importantly, a drastic reduction in sugar intake — for example, no sugar in Tea, Coffee, etc., but also, in general, less consumption of sweets. In addition, I’ve also increased protein intake mostly through plant-based supplements in smoothies/shakes and energy bars.

I’ve also seen, when I didn’t exercise as per the plan for the half of the year, I lost my control and ended up eating more junk food. So the lesson learned is — when you exercise actively, the guilt of eating junk food is very high.

Work

On the work front, I think I’ve made good progress, but again, I’m not completely happy with my own accomplishments and believe that I could have done more.

Startup
The biggest focus for the last year was to start my new venture. I started exploring the problem, solution, etc. since Jan 2017, finalized what I want to work on in Mar 2017, assembled the co-founding team in Jul 2017 and officially started — Avoma, Inc., and raised a pre-seed funding in Oct 2017.

We’re still in a stealth mode and have launched the product in private beta to a few early customers and iterating on our product. So technically while we’ve made a lot of progress, obviously, I would have wished this would have happened a lot sooner and we would have achieved a lot more things by the end of this year.

Programming
While my initial goal was to re-learn programming and launch a meaningful application by the end of the year, ideally for my startup only, unfortunately, I just learned different programming languages and frameworks but did not end up building a real-world application.

I learned Python, Django framework, Javascript, React and Redux. I’m still not an expert in any of this. Since I was not an expert yet, I was being a bottleneck in our startup’s product development efforts while other cofounders were pretty strong technically. So I ended up getting out of their way and let them handle the end to end product development.

Miscellaneous

Reading
My last year’s goal was to read a book per month. While I read 10 books in the entire year, I must admit — I didn’t really read them each book per month. Sometimes it took longer to finish a book more than a month, and sometimes I read smaller books and could read more books in a month.

The books I read are (with my ratings) –

Blogging
My last year’s goal was to write a blog post per week. I failed miserably in this. I only wrote 14 articles in the last year. One of the challenges was — writing a thoughtful article takes around 5–8 hours per post. So sometimes even though I had a lot of lessons and point of views to share, I ended up not prioritizing blogging over other important tasks at hand.

Goals for 2018

In short, for 2018, I won’t be changing a lot of things from my 2017 goals— just a couple minor changes. My goals for 2017 were pretty decent, and I plan to just repeat those this year too.

Family

  • Continue to spend a good time with the kids and wife — these times won’t come back again
  • Don’t plan to travel much this year due to startup commitments, but prefer to spend more quality time on a daily basis

Health

  • Complete P90X-3 routine at least 3 times
  • Meditate 3–4 days/week
  • Continue to follow good eating habits — no/less sugar, no/less fried/oily food, more protein, more vegetables and fruits
  • Continue to sleep 7-hours a day

Work

  • Achieve revenue and funding goals for my startup — Avoma, Inc.
  • Take Machine Learning, NLP courses from Coursera
  • Build a real-world application — preferably relevant to my startup, but in case if that’s not possible, then a side project

Miscellaneous

  • Continue to read 1 book/month — preferably 50% fiction and 50% non-fiction (or at least non-business related)
  • Continue to write 1 blog post/week — including both for personal and professional (startup related) blog

If you’ve read until this point, then I would request if you have any suggestions to improve my thinking or to achieve my goals, then please free to comment or send me an email at aditya dot kothadiya at gmail dot com.

Also, if you haven’t already done any retrospective for your 2017 and planned your 2018, then I would highly encourage you take a moment and think about it and write down what worked well and what didn’t in 2017 and what are your plans for 2018 — if not publicly, but at least for your own benefit.


Once again, wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year 2018! Hope you all crush your 2018 goals!

Categories
Uncategorized

The Delusion of Success and Failure

How Success and Failure are dependent on each other and are also tangled with each other.

I had shared this brief thought on LinkedIn the other day, but due to their number of characters limit for the post (BTW, it’s 1300), I couldn’t explain the thought in detail. So expanding it here.

The Context

A few days ago, I met a founder, who was very smart both academically and intellectually, and had raised a solid Seed round from Valley’s top-notch VC firms, but after 2 years of execution, they had to shut down the company.

In her own words, they failed to achieve a product market fit. They had built an innovative solution, which was looking for a problem.

In her defense, it’s not that they didn’t know how to identify a problem. She had read everything about Lean Startup, Customer Development, Paul Graham’s Startup essays, etc. and had done extensive customer development interviews. Despite all of this, they still failed.

While it’s one thing to learn these things in theory, it’s a completely different ball game to follow it in practice.

Failure?

Meanwhile, I kept thinking, did she really “fail”? And failed from what perspective?

If you consider her entire career span is just 2 years, then yes, probably she has failed.

But if she’s still early in her career, then in my opinion, this is just a setback. Her entrepreneurship journey is not done yet. She can come back again with a new venture and be successful next time.

You could argue that she failed to return investors’ money.

But again, if she had executed with her best effort and intent, then those investors will most likely back her again for her future venture, which could be wildly successful too.

Success and Failure — Dependent

The boundaries between success and failure are diminishing now.

Many times you become successful in future after you face a failure. And many times you fail in future because success goes too much in your head.

Success and failure are pretty much dependent on each other.

If you failed to achieve your desired objective, but keep the right attitude and rise up again, the chances are you have more drive and are better prepared to achieve it this time around than the first time.

In that founder’s case, if she keeps the positive mindset, and decide to start her next venture — (it need not be immediate as she could take a job somewhere and learn more skills as well), then a combination of her on-job training and her lessons learned from previous failure, she would be much better prepared for the next venture.

Similarly, as we’ve also seen in many cases for celebrity people, if you achieve too much success too early, chances are you will lose it all if the success goes too much in your head as with the success, your behavior, priorities, and expectations change.

I just saw this tweet from Alok Kejriwal on my Twitter timeline today morning — it’s very relevant and consistent to the point I’m making here –

Success and Failure — Tangled

On the other hand, we classify “failure” as if everything was lost and there was nothing to gain.

Failure can be absolutely devastating if you look at it from only one perspective.

But if you look at your journey to achieve any objective and the number of other things you gained before you failed in achieving your core objective, you will realize that it’s not a zero-sum game.

In that founder’s case, I could argue that while she failed in her core objective, she had achieved success in other areas like — learning lots of new personal and professional skills, building strong relationships and network, etc.

I’m not saying that we should take pride in failing and nonetheless celebrate it because we learned something.

In fact, I argue that you could be considered failure too from one’s perspective while you’re wildly successful from many’s perspectives.

I’ve known some people who’ve achieved great financial success, but at the cost of some health issues, family problems or some kind of personal sacrifice.

In that founder’s case, I could also argue that there are actually thousands of other people of her age who took more stable, less risky, high paid salaried career paths. So financially they are successful, but from one perspective, they could be considered as a failure too because they didn’t take the risky route she took and didn’t gain those valuable skills and relationships, etc.

Conclusion

So the best way is for us to confront these failures as much as possible early in our life as we do successes too.

And we should treat these failures as more of temporary setbacks in our journey than calling it an end.


☞ If you enjoyed this story, then please 👏 below to help others discover it too!

Categories
Uncategorized

How To Deal With Stress

A friend called me recently out of nowhere and asked — “Dude, how do you deal with stress while running a startup? I feel so stressed every day and want to know how do you handle it”.

We don’t talk that often, so I was surprised to receive a call from him and on top of that, was even surprised to hear that he wanted to talk about stress!

Quick background — he’s a first-time founder running a B2B company. He’s solving a good problem, has built a great product and technology, has raised some money, and has already got some marquee customers onboard.

But before jumping to answer his question, I probed him to give me more context — What does he mean by he is stressed? How exactly does he feel? What is the current state of his business because of which he’s feeling stressed?

His primary concern was — he was getting too anxious about the deals taking a lot longer to close. Some days things go well, and he’s close to closing a deal, and the next day it all goes south with lots of uncertainties and delays making him anxious. This anxiety was causing more problems as he was not able to focus well on other business priorities. In the end, he was not finding things were under his control.

With this additional context, it helped me understand his situation, but I also felt it wasn’t just about this one issue (“deals not closing faster”) at hand, but a more holistic approach to how he was running a startup.

Obviously, running a startup is hard. It’s a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs — and probably there are too many downs than ups. There is always something that doesn’t work as per your plan. There is always something that takes the twice amount of effort, cost and time than you intended.

So the first thing I told him was that he’s not alone. Most of the people who are running a startup are also in the same bucket. Everybody has to experience this rollercoaster ride.

The only advantage an experienced founder might have over a first-time founder is — how they handle ups and downs and deal with the stress in those situations.

Since I had thought about this for a while and had been practicing few principles in my day-to-day life quite actively, I shared my perspectives with him. After talking with him, I realized these principles are not only applicable for people who’re running a startup but for any working professional who is experiencing the same level of stress and anxiety at their work. I am sharing these principles with you so some of you might find it helpful.

There are many ways to deal with stress, but at a high level, I think about it in 2 ways –
1. Strategic guiding principles
2. Tactical tips

1. Strategic guiding principles

These are some of the core guiding principles about how I operate in life in general. These are more important than the tactical tips.

1. Have a long-term perspective

Most of the things I do in life have a long-term perspective. Any project I start, or a resolution I make, or a deal I sign, or advice I give to other people — always have a long-term objective or benefit associated with it. Very rarely I have optimized something for my short-term gain.

And since most of the things have a long-term perspective, naturally I have the right expectations set from the beginning — the timeline, the kind of outcome, or the effort required to achieve it.

And since my eyes are fixed on the long-term objectives, even if I get any setbacks in the short-term or failures on the way, it doesn’t demotivate me. While I do get disappointed when things don’t work out as per plan, it doesn’t stress me out much as I know I’m in this for a long haul.

2. Focus on your efforts

I’m a strong believer of I can only focus on my actions and efforts to achieve the desired outcome. But, unfortunately, as we know, the outcome will not be based on only my actions and efforts. There will be many other factors that are not in my control, which will play a role to determine the state of the outcome.

And if there are things that are not in my control, then why I should be stressed if the outcome doesn’t result in my favor?

As long as I’m completely honest with myself that I’ve given my best efforts, then I don’t worry and overthink about the outcome. I accept it as it is. But if I know that I fell short in my efforts, then I recognize it as my mistake and decide to focus on not repeating it next time.

3. It’s not critical, unless…

I firmly believe that we’ve been misusing the “critical” word a lot in the corporate world. Unless you’re dealing with someone’s life, it’s not truly critical. It could be important, and some of those things could be urgent, but still, it’s never critical unless someone’s life is at stake.

So next time you hear someone telling you a particular project or deal or deadline being critical, just hear it being “important” and give your best shot to respond it in your best capacity, but don’t stress out as if somebody’s life is in danger.

2. Tactical tips

Now on the tactical front, there are a lot of great tips on how to reduce stress on a day to day basis on the internet. I follow below tactics — some of them quite regularly and some of them on a need basis –

1. Being disciplined

I don’t shy away from touting myself as a very disciplined guy. The more disciplined and organized I am, the more sanity I have in my day-to-day routine. That, in general, keeps my day-to-day stress level at quite low.

2. Writing things down

I typically find myself stressed when I’m thinking about too many ideas, planning for future, contemplating on past, etc. Writing down all those ideas and to-do tasks in whatever crude way help me clear up my mind.

3. Focusing on one thing at a time

I avoid multi-tasking. My experience is — trying to do more than one task at a time just adds more stress. And very rarely it’s necessary.

4. Spending time with kids

I have two daughters (5yrs and 1yr old), so spending time with them every day either in-house or outside in the park always helps me realize that there is more to life than just work.

5. Exercising

I’ve been doing P90X-3 routine intermittently. But every time I do it regularly, it helps me to gain both mental and physical strength and confidence. If I can’t do proper exercise, then just a short walk in the neighborhood also helps to gather my thoughts.

6. Meditating

I use guided meditation app to slow down myself a bit. I find instant benefits if I slow down my breathing, and focus on the present by scanning the body or on breathing. This helps me to reduce my anxiety.

7. Talking with my wife, family, and friends

In the end, just talking with my wife or close family members or friends about what I’m working on and what challenges I’m facing helps me crystallize my thoughts and sometimes gives me answers that I was looking.


I hope these strategic guiding principles and tactical tips will help you too dealing with your stressful situations.


☞ If you enjoyed this story, then please click 👏 below to help others find it too!

Categories
Uncategorized

12 Questions to Ask Before Starting a New Business Venture

A framework to choose which problem you should solve

Yesterday I met few friends after many years. After everybody sharing their whereabouts, it was my turn to share what I’m working on. I explained I’m working on a new venture and also shared the details of the problem we’re solving. The first question one of the friends asked was — “why did you decide to solve this problem?

It was a great question. As they say, as a startup founder, you should be able to answer these 3 questions with high clarity and conviction –

  • Why this? (Focuses on problem statement and opportunity)
  • Why now? (Focuses on market and technology landscape)
  • Why you? (Focuses on founding team)

The good part was, I had thought a lot about why I want to solve this problem from various perspectives, so it was easy to answer my friend’s question.

So I thought I should share a framework with you all that I used to decide which problem I want to solve.

As mentioned in my previous post

I researched and brainstormed a couple of problems extensively, discussed it with other people too, and eventually decided to solve a problem that I faced every single day in my professional life as a knowledge worker, and is also applicable to pretty much most of the knowledge workers in the world.

I want to fix the productivity and information loss problem that happens during every “meeting” — the necessary evil of a corporate life.


While it was a simplistic overview of why I picked up the problem that I’m currently working on, here is a list of questions I used to choose the problem I want to solve and start my next business venture —

  1. Do I personally face this problem? If yes, do I face this problem very frequently and how frequently?
  2. Do other people also face this problem? If yes, how many such people exist? Is it a very large population?
  3. Do I have the basic understanding of the problem and the solution domain?
  4. Is there a lot of progress happening in the larger space of that domain?
  5. Do I have initial thoughts on what will be the differentiation compared to competitors?
  6. Is it a hard problem to solve such that it will not be easy for too many competitors to enter into this space?
  7. If I make it affordable and at the same time deliver high value, will people pay? If yes, who will pay and how much will they pay?
  8. Will a single user receive a value from this solution or will it require more people using this service (e.g. entire team or organization) to receive basic value?
  9. How will I sell this solution? Can I sell this using bottom-up B2C2B model or will I need a typical top-down enterprise sales model?
  10. How will I distribute this solution? Are there any viral/referral distribution opportunities? Are there any platforms/partners that I can integrate with to distribute this solution?
  11. Do I believe by solving this problem, will I be making a positive impact in many people’s lives and the world a better place?
  12. Finally, if I fail to solve this problem, will I learn something new that will prepare me for the next wave/demand in the technology space?

The current problem I’ve decided to solve met all above requirements and had very compelling answers for each of the question.

I hope this framework and a list of questions will be useful to you too to choose your next business venture.


☞ If you enjoyed reading this article, then please tap or click “♥︎” below to share these thoughts with others.

Categories
Uncategorized

Product Managers should be Problem Managers, not Problem Solvers

A friend of mine, who’s is a product manager at a large company shared her frustration recently that there were some reorganization and changes in her company that caused her to manage a different product than she was hired to do.

I immediately resonated with her situation. I had personally experienced similar situations multiple times where I had to give up the ownership of products I had started to other colleagues and take the ownership of new things. But most vividly, I remember a conversation with a teammate of mine, who had also gone through a similar experience.

We had hired him as a Product Manager for our Mobile initiatives, but due to some business reasons, management decided to move the entire product (Engineering, Design, Product Management) to a different geolocation center. And he wasn’t happy with this decision at all. He kept mentioning that he was hired as a “Mobile Product Manager” and that’s what he had done in the past and is great at.

I acknowledged everything he was saying, and tried to give him another product in the Web domain which had similar “consumer psychology” problems, but he wasn’t happy. Then I explained him the framework that I use for any decision making for my product or personal career decisions –

  1. First and foremost, is this in the company’s best interest?
  2. Second, is this in my team’s best interest?
  3. Third, is this in my best interest?

I would always put the company first and my interest last. Every single conversation and decisions I’ve made were based on this framework.

With this context, I explained to him that he was thinking about this change in the exact opposite order. He should understand why this is a good decision from the company’s perspective and support it.

Instead of getting too attached to “Mobile” domain and getting obsessed about the app ecosystem or particular features, he should think that — he was attached to solving customers’ problems and Mobile just happened to be a medium to solve those problems.

I convinced him that he should give a chance to other domain, understand those customers, learn their problems and give it a shot. The Web is just a medium through which we solve those problems today.

Eventually, he agreed and took up the new role. At some later point, he appreciated me for changing his perspective — and that’s why I remember this story vividly.


Everyone loves to be a problem solver. It’s a common believe that if you’re exceptionally good at solving problems then you have a distinct advantage to become very successful in your career.

But I cringe to give this advice to Product Managers.

Product Management isn’t a well-defined function. Its role is changing rapidly over the past few years. A common understanding is product managers identify problems in the market, come up with a bunch of ideas to solve it, define how the idea should look and work, and then give it to designers and engineers to build it.

I’ve also done this mistake in the past too. When I was new in my Product Management career, I received the feedback from a VP of Engineering — “Aditya, can you please mind your problem boundary?”. That feedback was harsh, but it completely opened my eyes. I realized what I was doing wrong. But I took that feedback positively and quickly stopped my day to day involvement in coming up with different ideas and solutions.

Since then I strongly believe —

Product Managers shouldn’t be problem solvers. Their focus should be to —

  • identify the right problems that their company and a team should solve
  • prioritize which problems to solve first and which can wait later
  • communicate the rationale behind these decisions to their team and other stakeholders

Essentially Product Managers should identify “what” problems they should solve, “why” their company and a team should solve it, “when” those problems need to be solved and then communicate all these things really well to their Design and Engineering teams and to other stakeholders.

And then let Design team come up with “how” it should work and look, let Engineering team come up with “how” it should be built, and let Sales and Marketing teams decide “how” to give it in customers’ hands.

The most important reason for letting other specialized teams to solve specific problems is — they feel valued and empowered.

If you, as a product manager tell a designer what to design and how it should look like, then they don’t appreciate it. Similarly, if you tell an engineer how to architect a solution or use specific technology stack, then they don’t like it. They don’t feel empowered enough to take key decisions. If you take decisions on behalf of them, they don’t feel as motivated and involved and then hesitate to take responsibility for those decisions.


In fact, I believe that we should change the title of a “Product Manager” role to “Problem Manager”. Because of the “Product Manager” title, there is this notion that they are the owners of the product and get credited for the success or blamed for the failure.

In reality, they’re just team members playing a particular role in identifying and prioritizing problems. The rest of the team is responsible for solving those problems in elegant, scalable and profitable ways. While product managers are the face of their respective products, they rarely make or break the product. It’s a collective team who is responsible for the success or failure of the product.

By calling Product Managers as Problem Managers, it will keep them away from solving problems and will remind them to focus only on identifying and managing problems.


Having said all of this, if you’re a very early stage company and can’t afford to hire specialized Designers, Engineers, Marketers, and Salespeople, then yes, as a Product Manager you might need to play different roles and get into “problem-solving” mode too. But as the company starts scaling, you should let go your other responsibilities to specialized teams and focus only on identifying the right problems and prioritizing them.


☞ If you enjoyed reading this article, then please tap or click “♥︎” below to share these thoughts with others.

Categories
Uncategorized

Andy Rachleff on Product Market Fit

How I was wrong about some of the concepts of Product Market Fit and how Andy Rachleff clarified it.

I listened to this Mixergy podcast episode with Andy Rachleff, co-founder of Benchmark Capital and founder of Wealthfront. It is an exceptionally great episode. Normally most of the podcast episodes I listened to are great and I learn a lot — every single time. But this episode is special. It had some key nuggets that I had misconceptions or little different understandings. But the way Andy explained it, it made it crystal clear. So I felt compelled to share these nuggets with you in its entirety. Ideally, you should listen to the 1-hour episode, but if you’re running out of time, read the key nuggets here.


“Product/Market Fit” (PMF) is a common concept in the startup world. It is widely used in every conversation, especially in early stage startups.

As per Marc Andreessen, who wrote about ‘Product/Market Fit’ in his post “The Only Thing That Matters”:

Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

So the gist is — the best team with the best product will fail if the market is not there (using product and service interchangeably). So achieving PMF is “the only thing that matters” and that companies should strive obsessively to achieve it until they do.

So I was under impression finding a great (large and growing) market is the most important thing in finding a PMF. But as per Andy Rachleff –

In contrast to what most people think entrepreneurship is, which is evaluating a market to try to find the holes or the problems and developing solutions of those problems, that leads to very mundane outcomes.

The truly great technology companies are the exact opposite. They are the result of an inflection point in technology that allows the founder to conceive a new kind of product.

The question then is, “Who wants to buy my product?” So you start with the product and try to find the market as opposed to starting with the market to find the product.


PMF is also divided into two key concepts — i) Value Hypothesis and ii) Growth Hypothesis —

First you need to define and test your value hypothesis and then only once proven do you move on to what’s known as a growth hypothesis. The value hypothesis defines the what, the who and the how. What are you going to build? Who is desperate for it? What’s the business model you’re going to choose to deliver?

Until you prove your value hypothesis, you waste money to spend money trying to acquire customers. Unfortunately, most people try to get the growth before they prove the value hypothesis. You don’t want to get the cart ahead of the horse.


This is another big misconception I had — if you’re struggling to find a PMF, then you continue to iterate the product until you find it. But that’s plain wrong. As per Andy —

Now, within the value hypothesis, people think, “I should iterate on the product until I find something people want.” No. You stick with the product. You figure out if the first group I approach isn’t desperate, then I’ll try to find a different group that’s desperate.

Now, most people don’t do that. Most people just keep on trying more people to see somebody’s got to want it. The first class in my product market fit class I ask, “Should everyone like your initial idea?” The answer is absolutely not, because if they do, then the only reason they do is they’ve been conditioned to like it by someone else. Means people aren’t desperate for it because somebody else is serving it.


This is also a great advice on finding ideas.

Great ideas find you, you don’t find them. If you sit in a room trying to figure out, “What company should I start?” then by definition you’re starting with the market, trying to come up with the solution and that leads to mundane ideas.

Howard (Andy’s investment idol) describes the investment business with a two by two matrix. I think this matrix describes entrepreneurship as well.

On one dimension, you can either be wrong or right. On the other dimension, you can either be consensus or non-consensus. Clearly, if you’re wrong, you don’t make money. What most people don’t realize is if you’re right in consensus, you don’t make money because all the returns get arbitraged away. The only way to make outsized returns is to be right and non-consensus.

So starting with the market to try to find a problem, everybody can do that. That’s a right and consensus approach to entrepreneurship. Starting with an inflection point in technology which allows you to build a product and find a solution, that is non-consensus. If it works, it works big. That’s where the great venture capitalists all focus, back to the point I made earlier.


If I really want to summarize my understanding of PMF in one sentence is — finding a group of people who are desperate to use your product.

What do you uniquely offer that people desperately want because if they’re not desperate, there’s a good enough alternative. Let me tell you, if there’s a good enough alternative, you’re doomed. So, if you want to build a big business, an advantaged business, people need to be desperate.


Also, having a big vision to conquer a big market is great, but your strategy should be to start small in a niche and dominate it —

If you want to build a big business, you don’t go after the big market first, because those people only buy based on references, and you don’t have the references. You need to create a beachhead, a niche you can dominate. Through references, you grow from that niche of early adopters.


☞ I hope you found these nuggets valuable and useful. If you enjoyed reading this article, then please tap or click “♥︎” below to share these thoughts with others.

Categories
Uncategorized

Starting up… a new chapter

Today is my birthday. Birthdays are generally a good milestone to start something new, to have new resolutions and goals, to reflect on the past and think about the future — very similar to the beginning of a new calendar year.

Today is that day for me. I’m starting a new chapter of my life — one of the most important chapters of my life for the next several years — I’m starting a new company.

A day before y’day, I resigned from my current employer, [24]7 and jumped off the cliff again to start a new venture.

4 years ago, my co-founder and I had sold our previous startup Shopalize to [24]7 Inc. As a part of the acquisition, I joined [24]7 and worked there for the past 4 years. During my stay there, many people (friends and acquaintances) used to ask me when am I starting my next startup?

As they say, once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. So their question was quite valid. But I didn’t have a satisfactory answer. I knew it was not going to be “soon”. Very honestly, it was partly because we had some payouts over the period of 4 years, but largely also because I didn’t want to rush into a startup rat race for the sake of doing it and because it’s a fad.

While I had to wait there for 4 years for the full payout, I enjoyed every bit of this period on both work and personal fronts. Overall I had fun working at [24]7. I enjoyed working with some of the smartest people, built some great relationships, learned a lot of about Enterprise space, built some cutting edge innovative products, failed in getting traction for some of the products and made some mistakes too.

One of the most fulfilling reasons I enjoyed working at [24]7 is — I was able to contribute and make a direct impact in the company’s strategy and vision. It was a full package experience — I not only learned what to do in my next company but also learned what not to do. But overall, it was a great experience.

But for the past 6 months or so, I started feeling plateaued. I wasn’t able to make the progress I wanted. I wasn’t learning something new. And at that moment, the decision became stronger to start something new on my own and accelerate the learning process in pretty much everything.

Once it was clear I wanted to start my venture, I didn’t have a shortage of problems I wanted to solve. The question was — which problem should I pick to solve — and dedicate the next several years of my life for it.

For the past 3–4 months, I researched and brainstormed a couple of problems extensively, discussed it with other people too, and eventually decided to solve a problem that I faced every single day in my professional life as a knowledge worker, and is also applicable to pretty much most of the knowledge workers in the world.

I want to fix the productivity and information loss problem that happens during every “meeting” — the necessary evil of a corporate life.

I don’t hate meetings. In fact, I love them — but when they are productive. So much knowledge gets shared, so much progress is made, and so much alignment is achieved when you have good meetings.

But there is a downside to it the way how meetings are getting conducted today. So much of time is wasted and so much of knowledge that gets discussed in the meetings gets lost. And I hate that part. And that’s what I want to fix.

I’m teaming up with few other people who are equally passionate about solving this problem. It’s a hard problem and it will take many years until we achieve our final vision. But every attempt to reach towards that vision will be worth taking to make a positive impact in knowledge worker’s life.

We’re barely getting started, so the more details will get shared very soon and very frequently on this blog. So stay tuned…


☞ If you enjoyed reading this article, then please tap or click “♥︎” below to share these thoughts with others.

Categories
Uncategorized

17 Things Newly Hired Product Managers Should Do In Their First 90 Days

A friend of mine recently joined a big company as a Sr. Product Manager after heading the product at an early stage startup. He asked me how should he go about joining a big company, which will be very different in culture, pace, processes, and expectations perspective compared to his early stage startup.

I was surprised he asked me that question as he is an experienced product manager himself with 5+ years of relevant product management experience under his belt. In any case, I shared my thoughts with him and then thought I should expand it more and share it with the larger audience so that all newly hired product managers, irrespective of their position, may find this useful too.


Here are few tips (mostly in the order of its priority) on what you should do in your first 30 to 90 days as a newly hired product management professional in your new company —

1. Be excited

First and foremost, you need to be excited about joining this new company and the new possibilities. You’re going to meet new people, work on new products, and solve new problems. So bring your excitement to the office every day. There will be a lot of information overload and at the same time a lack of clarity in the early days. So unless you’re excited and motivated to come to the office every day, it will be hard to navigate through this haziness.

Also, your colleagues will notice your excitement and enthusiasm. They will understand you are there because you’re interested in the problem they’re solving and want to make a difference and not just to earn yet another paycheck.

2. Understand the vision and strategy of the company and your product

Your understanding of what the company is doing and what is their vision will be limited based on just interview conversations with them. So you need to dig deeper and make sure you truly understand their vision and strategy.

Talk to the CEO or VP of Product and understand the vision and strategy at the company level. Also, talk to your manager and peers to understand the vision and strategy at your product level.

Make sure you’re able to connect the dots between your product’s vision and strategy to the company’s vision and strategy. If you’re not able to connect the dots, then discuss in detail with your manager or VP of Product to explain how your product aligns with the company’s vision. That clarity in alignment is absolutely crucial to make sure you will be spending time on the important and required things.

3. Meet 1:1 with as many relevant people as possible

Make sure to meet every single person from your product development team — not just the leads or managers, but every single person.

Identify which other products your product is dependent on. Accordingly, meet other product managers and engineering leaders of those products as well.

The success of a product is not only dependent on the product builders (Development, Design, etc.), but also on the business functions of the product too. So meet with all key cross-functional leaders like — Marketing, Sales, Finance, etc.

The common theme in these meetings should be — introduce yourself, but more importantly, learn about them. When did they join the company, what do they do now, what do they enjoy most, what do they hate most, what do they expect from your product team and specific from you, is there anything you can help them in the short-term, etc.?

4. Write down as much as possible

Take good notes. Everything will be new to you — people, products, processes, acronyms, etc. So take good notes when you’re meeting people 1:1. It will come handy in future as you start executing.

It would also exhibit your disciplined and detail-oriented execution approach to your colleagues.

5. Build relationships

Don’t treat 1:1 meetings as a one-time checklist item. As they say, it’s a people business. Continue to hang out with your teammates at lunch, coffee, or any casual occasions and build the relationships. It will be a lot easier to get things done from people when you’ve good relationship with them.

But make sure you don’t abuse your relationship. Be authentic. Everyone is smart. They can smell your fake or aggressive tactics. It takes months to build a good relationship, but it would take minutes to destroy it.

6. Understand the culture — mend or bend as necessary

While talking with people, learn how do they work —

  • How are decisions made — authoritative or consensus?
  • What gets rewarded — results or efforts?
  • What is preferred — pace or perfection?

This will help you understand what’s the true culture of the company. Culture is not what’s written on the “About Us” page of the corporate website or some posters hung up on the office walls.

Once you understand the culture — decide what you want to mend and when do you want to bend. As a newbie, you will find a lot of things different, inefficient, and broken. But resist the urge to fix everything.

First, try to understand the context and history of why certain decisions were made in a certain way. Accordingly, decide what you absolutely need to mend based on your product goals and vision. Sometimes, some battles are not worth fighting, at least in the early days of your career, so just learn to bend during those situations.

7. Be a power user of your product

Based on what kind of product you’ll be managing — a consumer product or a B2B/Enterprise solution, there will be a different level of easiness to access and play with your product. In either case, setup a demo of your product—and be a power user.

Observe everything — friction points, delightful experiences, wow moments, bugs, lack of documentation, etc. Make notes of these observations and discuss with your design and engineering leads about shortcomings and understand if this is something already known to them, and if it is on their roadmap or is it something by design a particular thing was done in a particular way.

Your goal is to not fix everything. It’s to understand your product in and out — what are its strengths and weaknesses, the reason why it’s designed and engineered that way, etc.

8. Understand the nuts and bolts of your product

Once you become a power user of your product, it’s time to understand the mechanics of your product. Meet with the engineering leaders and architects to understand the basic building blocks of your product —

  • How data flows end to end?
  • How your product interacts with other products in your company?
  • Why was this architecture chosen vs other?
  • Why was a particular tech stack chosen?
  • What are the limitations of a current solution?

At the end of this exercise, you should be able to draw a high-level architecture on a whiteboard.

While understanding the past and current mechanics of a product is a great thing, it will be equally important to understand what will be its future. Make sure you get some inputs on —

  • What new architectures or technologies these engineering leaders are considering to use in the near-term future?
  • How will it help to achieve the desired business outcomes?

9. Understand your product’s metrics

Get access to your analytics system and understand the usage of your product. Understand which metrics are most crucial that defines the success of a product. Don’t just look at the numbers, but ask your manager “why” certain metrics are they way it is. It will help you understand how your customers behave.

If there are certain insights you want to know and if those are not available, then discuss it with your manager and see if can you add it. It will accelerate your learning of the analytics and reporting system inside your company.

10. Get in front of the customers or users

Numbers will tell you “what” is happening — like which product is growing, or which feature is not working. But it will not tell you “why” is it happening — why certain functionality took off or why no one is using a certain feature.

The best way to learn these things is to get in front of the customers or users. You can be a silent listener on meetings scheduled by other colleagues, attend any usability research interviews, listen to customer support calls or read customer support emails/chats. Your goal should be to understand why certain customers are happy vs some are frustrated.

11. Deliver or ship something

Once you understand what’s working well and what’s not and why it is so, look for any low-hanging fruit that can provide high value. Ship and deliver the end to end functionality and announce it to the customers who needed it. Make sure to measure the impact of that functionality and report it to management.

By shipping and delivering a functionality end to end — however small it is — even a bug, you will be exposed to a lot of processes (security reviews, tech support trainings, etc.) and systems (infrastructure, monitoring, etc.) in the company that are required to ship any feature or a product. This will be a much faster way to learn things than reading hundreds of documents.

12. Achieve or exceed your goals

Once you start shipping some features or new product releases, you’ll feel the momentum of day-to-day execution. But make sure you’re not just spending time on checking off the product backlog items. You need to achieve important goals too and show that you’ve moved the needle.

At the beginning of your joining, ask your manager what’re her expectations from you. What 1 or 2 goals you should achieve by the end of 90-days and what should be its success criteria? And then make sure you focus on these 1 or 2 goals and do your best to achieve those. Ideally, you should aim to exceed these, but since there is a lot going on, simply achieving those would also be great. In general, having a goal-driven mindset is more important than simply getting things done.

13. Develop your execution frameworks

Once you learn how your company works, what are the top sources of inputs for feature requests, what is valued more — vision or customer requests, etc., now it’s time to define your own frameworks for execution.

These are frameworks for —

  • How do you prioritize requested features?
  • How do you do quarterly roadmap planning?
  • How do you communicate product updates with the internal team, cross-functional teams and even customers on a regular cadence?
  • How do you run your sprints, retrospectives, and demos?
  • How do you handle any escalation situations, etc.?

The more you’ll have clarity and disciplined approach in handling these things, the more effective you will be in your execution. You’ll be in a driver’s seat rather than just getting driven by everybody.

14. Read market research and industry insights

By this time, you should have a good understanding of your product — what problems it solves, who has these problems, how does it solve it, how well it solves it, etc.

Now it’s time to start looking outward and learn —

  • In which domain your product gets categorized by analysts or customers?
  • What is the landscape for the underlying technology you’re using?
  • What are the key next technology trends or consumer mindset shifts happening?

Subscribe to some of the newsletters, start following few blogs, take any online courses, or buy books and learn as much as you can about your industry and it’s future. You will be able to provide a lot better recommendations in overall product strategy and future roadmap.

15. Develop a point of view

Product managers without a point of view will be just project managers — who will get things done that have been told by the upper management. But if you truly want to drive a product, then you have to have some point of view, unique insight, and some foresight about the market shift and next trends.

90-days is a good period to learn about the market you serve, your product’s strengths and weaknesses, competitive landscape, technology trends, etc. Once you have all this information, your job is to synthesize it and develop your own point of view. You need to able to clearly articulate —

  • What’s your product’s core belief?
  • What will your product stand for? How will you position it?
  • What will you do and not do in your product?
  • How will your product be different compared to competitors?

16. Educate and inspire the broader team

As you start researching about the industry and future technology trends, share interesting and relevant articles with the broader team. This is an opportunity to inspire your team by sharing with them they’re working on something that’s going to be the future of the company and going to improve the lives of many customers.

You can also share articles or podcast episodes about the best product management practices and processes that other companies are following. Be the catalyst to bring good practices in your new company.

17. Have fun

The most important thing — don’t forget to have fun! Enjoy new learning. Celebrate wins and mini-milestones. Embrace mishaps and failures. Make friendships and laugh. If you’re not having fun in what you’re doing, then it would be very hard to give your best.


While this may not be an exhaustive list, I hope I covered most of the key areas. And I hope this will help you make a great impression and build a great rapport with your team in the first 90-days of your new career.

☞ If you enjoyed reading this article, then please tap or click “♥︎” below to share these thoughts with others.

Categories
Uncategorized

Why Do Many Smart Engineers Fail To Build A Successful Startup?

Recently, I had a couple of friends reaching out to me to discuss their startups’ progress and get some advice on how to take it to the next level. In all these interactions, there were some common patterns –

  • Most of the founders are smart engineers and some of them have worked with Google, Amazon, eBay, Oracle, etc.
  • They have a B2C (focused on consumer) product, which didn’t have any transactional (i.e. user paying in some form) business model
  • They have been working on it for over a year and have a working product or technology, but are struggling to get users and increase the engagement for their product
  • They are first-time entrepreneurs

What surprised me the most is — while there is so much content available on the internet today about how to start a startup, how to follow a lean methodology, how to do a customer validation, how to build viral hooks in your product, how to implement various growth hacks, etc. but still, these entrepreneurs are making the same mistakes that many entrepreneurs have made 10 years ago.

My hypothesis is —

  1. These entrepreneurs are not investing enough time in learning as much as possible from others’ experiences by reading books, blogs or listening to podcasts and avoid some common mistakes
  2. They are not able to let go who they are and what background they came from (engineering) and grow into a new role (founder), which is required to build a successful product and a company

To build a successful software company, there are 3 skills that are essential in the founding team —

  1. Building a great technology
  2. Building a great product
  3. Growing your users/customers

After talking with these smart engineers I realized— they had largely focussed on #1 but weren’t giving enough attention and importance to #2 and #3.

If you are a great technologist and aspire to build a technology product company, then either you grow from an engineer to a product manager/designer, and eventually into a marketer/sales person based on if it’s a B2C (consumer) or B2B (SaaS or enterprise) product or have someone on the founding team who is specialized in these skills.

As an engineer, the technology innovations you’re doing are really admirable and absolutely essential for a startup. Being a smart engineer is the greatest asset you can have in this startup world. Every other “idea” guy wants you to be on their team to make their idea a reality. So by no means, I’m belittling the value and the need of having strong engineering members on the founding team.

But I want to emphasize the need of having someone with strong product sense and/or great marketing/sales skills as well.

If you don’t prefer to have someone with product design/management in your team, then you will need to play a role of a product manager/designer to truly understand your users/customers and build something they want and solves real problems.

And eventually, you will also need to become a marketer/sales person and reach out your target users/customers, talk to them and convince them to use/buy your product, and eventually know how to do it at scale and do it repeatedly.

Just because you are a great engineer or technologist, don’t assume you can build a great product.

And just because you are a great product manager, don’t assume you can build a viable business.

There is a difference between a technology and a product — most people confuses this. And there is also a difference between product and business.

Typically, technology is an applied science. We build new technologies using some of the breakthroughs in the science world to achieve some objectives — i.e. to make existing things (technologies) faster, cheaper or better (larger, smaller, last longer, etc.)

On the other hand, a product is an applied technology. We build products using multiple technologies to solve specific problems that a user faces or tasks she wants to do.

And in the end, a business is an applied product. You need to take your product and reach out to your target users/customers and have them use it, which helps you generate a sustainable economic value.


As an engineer, we gravitate towards building great technologies. Making that code run even faster, improving the performance and accuracy of that function, etc. And some engineers are really good at that. And that’s why they get hired at some of these great companies, who have built some of the greatest products for mass consumers. But just because these companies have shipped great products, the engineers who work at these great companies start believing that they can also build great products on their own.

While that’s absolutely possible, it doesn’t come handy without you putting any efforts towards achieving that goal. If you are a smart engineer and eventually want to build a great product too, then your existing technical skills are a great asset but are not sufficient. You will need to invest considerable time to achieve those product and business skills as well.

I would recommend learning these skills –

  • Consumer psychology
  • User experience design
  • Prioritization
  • Communication
  • Business acumen

Let’s dive into each one in detail –

Consumer psychology

If you aspire to build a product that is not only useful (solves a real pain point) and usable (effortless and intuitive to use) but also delightful (that creates happy emotions).

You will need to get into user’s head to understand what specific problem they want to solve and what specific outcome they want to achieve, what effort it takes for them to do that, what emotions they feel after they achieve that outcome, etc.

Once you understand the consumer psychology very well, you will nail the product that will resonate with them very well and chances of them using it actively and recommending it to their friends will increase drastically.

User experience design

As per Wikipedia, user experience design (UXD or UED) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product.

The last part is very important — “interaction with the product”.

This is the most common mistake engineering founders make — they confuse UX Design with UI Design (User Interface Design). UX Design is a more analytical and research oriented, while UI Design is largely about graphic and visual design. While both are crucial, nailing the UX design (usable) is more critical than the UI design (look and feel).

UX role is quite complex and challenging. It involves consumer analysis, competitor analysis, product strategy, content strategy, wireframing, prototyping, usability studies, etc. So I’m not suggesting you do this everything on your own and become an expert in this. But if you understand what each function does and practice some aspects of it, then it will go a long way.

At the minimum, to provide a great user experience, focus on the lifecycle of a consumer who wants to use your product. You need to understand what they do in their life before they use your product and after they use your product. And repeat that exercise few times. This will help you understand your target consumers’ life really well to build a product that fits into their lifecycle.

Prioritization

Another most important skill you will need to learn is — prioritization.

As a technologist, you get sucked into optimizing things that are not required on the day one. You tend to build advanced technologies in-house instead of leveraging off-the-shelf services from the 3rd party providers. You believe that that’s your core IP and needs to be built in-house. You argue that 3rd party providers are generic platforms and won’t be as effective solving your specific use case. While that all is true, it’s still a mistake to optimize for these things before you even have any product-market fit. You can always build advanced technologies in-house as you start scaling.

I recently learned this from DJ Patil’s Twitter update

  • Dream in years
  • Plan in months
  • Evaluate in weeks
  • Ship daily

And –

  • Prototype for 1x
  • Build for 10x
  • Engineer for 100x

And –

  • What’s required to cut down timeline in 1/2?
  • What needs to be done to double the impact?

This is such a great prioritization framework that forces you to focus on delivering maximum value at minimal wastage. You will need to learn to be ruthless in your prioritization for all activities.

Communication

While this may sound very obvious and cliche, but written, verbal, and nonverbal communication skills are actually the most important traits you will need to master to gain credibility as an effective and trustworthy founder.

While you might be great at explaining technical details extremely well to your peers, now you will need to communicate the problem, the value and the benefits of your product to various different stakeholders — potential teammates, advisors, investors, prospects, clients, etc. You will need to wear a different hat every single time based on who is in front of you and communicate effectively in multiple languages — executive, development, strategic, tactical, etc.

Your written and spoken communication is going to be an absolutely crucial skill for your sales or marketing efforts. You will need to communicate what value your product delivers and able to align those benefits to the problems prospects have shared and eventually influence them to use or buy your product.

And don’t forget, you will need to be equally great at “listening”. Sometimes you’ll learn more when you’re actively listening as much as you are speaking or writing.

Business acumen

While this is a broad topic, having business acumen boils down having a minimum level of expertise in strategy, finance, operations, marketing, and sales. You may not need to be the expert in any one of these skills, but while communicating with advisors or investors, you will require some level of fluency and confidence in these business languages.

You will need to understand the basics like —

  • what’s the unit economics — how much it costs you to serve a customer?
  • what’s your business model — transactional, subscription, revenue-share, or ad-based?
  • how much does it cost to acquire a new user/customer (CAC)?
  • what’s the market opportunity — what’s the total available market (TAM) size, what’s the serviceable available market (SAM) size, etc.?

Now you might say, for a smart technologist by profession, learning all these skills means deviating from their core focus. While that may be true, the key question is — do you want to continue to stay only as a technologist or do you want to grow into a founder role?

There is nothing wrong with staying as a technologist throughout your startup, but then make sure you have someone on the founding team who has a great product sense and a strong business acumen.

But if all founders have technology background, then make sure at least you have someone in the founding team who wants to grow into a product manager and eventually into a business operations/marketing/sales role.