What is Google’s Mission?

With all the talk about whether Google is the new Bell Labs (or isn’t), and the curiosity around their recent acquisition of Boston Dynamics, I thought it would be interesting to look at what Google says their mission is:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

And here’s their philosophy statement What we believe:

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

The one that seems questionable given the breadth of their research and product development is #2 (It’s best to do one thing really, really well).  They say:

We do search. With one of the world’s largest research groups focused exclusively on solving search problems, we know what we do well, and how we could do it better. Through continued iteration on difficult problems, we’ve been able to solve complex issues and provide continuous improvements to a service that already makes finding information a fast and seamless experience for millions of people. Our dedication to improving search helps us apply what we’ve learned to new products, like Gmail and Google Maps. Our hope is to bring the power of search to previously unexplored areas, and to help people access and use even more of the ever-expanding information in their lives.

I think you can argue that Google Maps fits within the domain of search.  I almost always start my local business searching there – even if I’m looking for hours-of-operation, phone-number or even the website link.  Android, Chrome and Glass are about having some influence / control / protection over where people start their search journey.  Without them it might have been possible for some other web-browser (desktop or mobile) to gain huge market share and direct search queries to a Google competitor.  In that sense these investments are defensive around their primary search business.

As for robotics and autonomous cars – this is where it’s a stretch.  These seem to be areas of innovation that Google is pursuing because they are big opportunities and they leverage existing Google assets (extensive map data, machine learning capabilities, etc).  In a sense Google is best equipped to pursue them, so they’d be remiss not to.

I think doing one thing really, really well means making sure you’re #1 or #2 in your main/first business.  Sort of like GE’s goal to only be in business areas where they can be #1 or #2.  As long as Google is still doing really, really well in search, then its appropriate and smart for them to branch out into opportunities where their existing capabilities give them an advantage – sort of like Amazon branching into platform-as-a-service (Amazon Web Services) because they already built and managed a global web-scale automated platform to support their Amazon.com business.

Mission statements help to point a direction and energize the troops – they shouldn’t necessarily be used to kill off potential product / service ideas with big opportunities for real impact and value.

Better to grow the mission to accommodate new successes.

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Entrepreneurship: The Coin-Flipping Biathlon


Entrepreneurs are participating in a coin-flipping biathlon – they just don’t know it.

I was listening to an old Marc Andreessen presentation at Y Combinator’s Startup School in 2008, and I love that he talked about Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness (see my review here).  He mentions that you could account for Warren Buffett and other highly successful investors as simply winners in a coin-flipping contest: they bring money to the table, flip coins to move forward (heads you move one, tails you lose), and eventually there are a few big winners – those who had significant runs of heads.  

I think there’s a lot of truth to that.  There’s so much that is out of one’s hands: timing, access to helpers, the general market conditions, behavior of competitors, health, etc.  But it fails to account for the other necessary conditions that don’t involve luck, e.g. showing up and working hard.  Success requires several necessary conditions, one of which is luck.

So I like to think of entrepreneurship as a coin-flipping biathlon:  

Competitors line up in heats.  They race on cross-country skis 5km to the first shooting range.  There they flip coins and anyone who gets a tails is out.  They repeat this (ski then flip) 8 times.  First one to the end wins a big pot of gold.  

And in this universe there is no just-cross-country ski race – it’s the coin-flipping-biathlon or nothing.  So you never really know who was the fastest skiier – and it doesn’t matter.  

If you listen to the winner, they will talk about how their special diet was super important, and how they got up every day at 5am work out.  Commentators will mention how they trained year-round at high-altitude, and someone else will mention their crazy devil-may-care attitude and wild outfit, and someone else will mention that they were rich and had a ski tutor since age 6, etc etc.

So what do we think of the winner?  Only 1 in 250 should make it pass 8 coin flips.  But of those who remain the fastest should win.  So you can’t won’t win if you don’t show up and train hard.  You also won’t win if you aren’t lucky.  And it’s highly likely that person who trained hardest for the skiing lost out on a coin-flip.

Next time you hear someone mention that entrepreneurship is a marathon (or a sprint) – throw out the idea that it’s really a coin-flipping biathlon, and see what they think.

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Lean Startup Conference Livestream at Indeed Austin!


I’m super excited to announce that Indeed Austin has been chosen to livestream next week’s Lean Startup Conference!  Full schedule of talks below.

When: Mon/Tues Dec 9th/10th.  10am doors open.  11am livestream starts.  8:00pm livestream ends.  Free food and WiFi provided.

Where: Indeed Austin.  7501 N Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin, TX 78731

RSVP:  http://www.eventbrite.com/e/lean-startup-conference-livestream-simulcast-tickets-9679227831


On December 9 & 10th, the biggest names in the Lean Startup world, plus dozens of terrific speakers you don’t know with must-hear advice, and more than a thousand entrepreneurs will gather at The Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco. Indeed Austin was named an official simulcast partner for Austin and will stream the entire event at our office on HWY 360.
Brimming with founder stories you’ve never heard, fresh case studies and in-depth expert advice you can use immediately, the conference delivers advanced lessons in entrepreneurship.

Whether you’re new to Lean Startup methods or have been putting these practices to use in your organization, this event promises to educate and inform. The Lean Startup Conference brings together leaders from startups, Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and non-profit organizations to share lessons for building innovative lean organizations. More than 70 entrepreneurs will share their first-hand experiences, including:

  • Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner at Andreessen Horowitz
  • Kent Beck from Facebook, expert on product development, and a creator of Agile programming
  • Cindy Alvarez, head of user experience and product design for Yammer (a Microsoft company)
  • Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur, author, lecturer at Stanford
  • Catherine Bracy, Code for America’s director of organizing and engagement
  • Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup

Lean Startup Conference Livestream Schedule – Indeed – Mon 9 Dec

11:00 AM to 1:00 PM – Early Morning Talks

Opening Remarks
Eric Ries @ericries THE LEAN STARTUP

When Lean Startup Arrives in a Trojan Horse–Innovation in Extreme Bureaucracy
Experimenting on Experiments–Bringing Lean Startup to Scientific Research

Using Lean Startup to Do Plenty with Very Little
Kimberly Bryant @6gems BLACK GIRLS CODE

How You Can Start the Next Zipcar
Robin Chase @rmchase BUZZCAR

An Interview with Matt Mullenweg
Matt Mullenweg @photomatt AUTOMATTIC/WORDPRESS

1:00 PM to 1:30 PM – Break

1:30 PM to 3:05 PM – Late Morning Talks

What Works in Silicon Valley Doesn’t Work Everywhere: How to Apply Lean Startup in Asia–and Win the Emerging Global Startup Wars
Kevin Dewalt @kevindewalt SOHELPFUL

Build a New Product, Infect a Whole Organization
Catherine Bracy @cbracy CODE FOR AMERICA

Toyota: From Lean Manufacturing to Lean Startup
Matt Kresse @mattkresse TOYOTA ITC

Jazz Engineering
Kent Beck @KentBeck FACEBOOK

Risk, Information, Time and Money (in 20 Minutes)
Dan Milstein @danmil HUT 8 LABS

An Interview with Reid Hoffman
Reid Hoffman @ReidHoffman LINKEDIN

3:05 PM to 4:40 PM – Lunch

4:40 PM to 5:20 PM – Afternoon Breakouts

Jazz Engineering–the Deep Dive
Kent Beck @KentBeck FACEBOOK

5:20 PM to 5:40 PM – Break

5:40 PM to 6:00 PM – Afternoon Breakouts

Beyond Landing Pages: Five Ways to Find Out if Your Idea Is Stupid
Laura Klein @lauraklein USERS KNOW

6:00 PM to 6:20 PM – Break

6:20 PM to 6:40 PM – Afternoon Breakouts

Overcoming Biases to Make Better Decisions

6:40 PM to 7:00 PM – Break
7:00 PM to 8:00 PM – Closing Session

The Biggest Implementation of Lean Startup on Earth
Eric Ries @ericries THE LEAN STARTUP
Sarah Broderick GE
Stephen Liguori @stephenliguori GE
Michael Mahan @michaelbmahan GE HOME & BUSINESS SOLUTIONS

Lean Startup Conference Livestream Schedule – Indeed – Tues 10 Dec

11:00 AM to 12:30 AM – Early Morning Talks

Opening Remarks
Eric Ries @ericries THE LEAN STARTUP

Acquiring Your First Users Out of Thin Air
Kathryn Minshew @KMin THE MUSE

How to Build the Product When You’re Not the User–and You Don’t Even Know Anybody Who’s the User
Alexis Ringwald @alexisringwald LEARNUP

Work With Customers Before You Write Any Code
Daina Burnes Linton @dainalinton FASHION METRIC

Funding for Lean Impact
Christie George @christiegeorge NEW MEDIA VENTURES

Preparing for Catastrophic Success

Evidence-based Entrepreneurship

12:30 AM to 1:10 PM – Break

1:10 PM to 2:55 PM – Late Morning Talks

Using Kickstarter to Run an MVP

Learning to Be an Organization that Pivots
Keya Dannenbaum @keyajay ELECTNEXT
The Human Side of Continuous Deployment
John Goulah @johngoulah ETSY

Lean Startup–From Toyota City to Fremont to You

The Medium Is the Message
Patrick Vlaskovits @Pv SUPERPOWERED

Lean Leadership Lessons
Brad Smith @IntuitBrad INTUIT, INC.
Laura Fennell @IntuitInc INTUIT, INC.
Hugh Molotsi @IntuitInc INTUIT, INC.

Integrating Development, Design and Product Management to Deliver Great Products
Drew McManus @drewmcmanus PIVOTAL LABS

Frame Before You Build, Measure, Learn
Zach Nies @zachnies RALLY SOFTWARE

2:55 PM to 4:20 PM – Lunch

4:20 PM to 5:00 PM – Afternoon Breakouts

Seriously Advanced A/B Testing
Wyatt Jenkins @wyatt_earp_ SHUTTERSTOCK

5:00 PM to 5:15 PM – Break

5:15 PM to 5:55 PM – Afternoon Breakouts

Getting Customer Feedback When Your Product Doesn’t Live on the Web

5:55 PM to 6:25 PM – Break

6:25 PM to 6:45 PM – Afternoon Breakouts

Transitioning Teams to Lean
Cindy Alvarez @cindyalvarez MICROSOFT
Ethan Gur-esh @EthanGuresh MICROSOFT CORPORATION

6:45 PM to 7:00 PM – Break

7:00 PM to 7:20 PM – Afternoon Breakouts

Using Lean Startup Principles to Close the Digital Divide

7:20 PM to 7:35 PM – Break

7:35 PM to 8:30 PM – Closing Session

An Interview with Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon

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Today’s Psych Lesson: The ordering of words matters


Twice as many people will volunteer for an “Experiment at 7AM” versus a “7AM Experiment” (56% vs 24%).  So mentions Zach Hamed  in a great post “The 20 Best Lessons from Social Psychology“.

The examples most relevant to a product manager are:

5. How we’re approached and our desire to be consistent affect our decisions.

If I asked you to volunteer for an “Experiment at 7AM,” would you do it? What about a “7AM experiment”? 56% of people asked to volunteer for the first did so, but only 24% volunteered for a “7AM experiment”—fewer people want to wake up early, so the ordering of the words matters. In another experiment, some participants were called and asked if they would hypothetically volunteer for the American Cancer Society. When they were contacted a few days later and asked to volunteer, 31% agreed—versus 4% of people who were cold-called and asked to volunteer for the first time.

8. Comparing people to their friends is the most effective way to make them do something.

When an electric company tried to encourage people to save energy at home, telling them “your neighbors are reducing their energy use” led to a 2% reduction in household usage. Telling people “save energy to save money” or “save energy to save the environment” did not decrease, and in some cases increased, energy usage.

10. The more you’re exposed to something, the more you like it—this is called the mere exposure effect, and it works in milliseconds.

Participants shown a foreign word frequently were more likely to say the word had a positive connotation. The most immediate application of this effect is advertising; the more often you’re exposed to a commercial or ad, the more positively you will rate the company. Flashing images that elicit positive or negative emotions for only a few milliseconds subliminally conditions your attitude.

As a product manager, these remind me that I can’t presume to know how users will respond to a product and messaging.  Framing and priming are powerful and significant factors.  You have to design an experience, then get it in front of customers to observe how it’s perceived and measure how it’s used.

As Steve Blanks says “no facts exist inside the building, only opinions” so you’d better be a little humble with your beliefs – because real people behave in surprising ways.

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Is Marissa Mayer a Classic Short Sleeper?

marissa-coverBusiness Insider published an outstanding biography of Marissa Mayer that I just discovered last night and couldn’t stop reading.

It’s absolutely fascinating and I highly recommend it if you have any interest in Marissa or what’s been happening at Yahoo since she took over – but set aside 45 minutes because it’s long!

One interesting thing that stuck out was that apparently she only sleeps four to six hours per night.  I did a little Googling that seemed to confirm this.  She says she recharges by taking a week vacation every four months.

Apparently 1-3% of the  population can get by on just a few hours of sleep per night.  The Wall Street Journal wrote an interesting article about this back in 2011:

Natural “short sleepers,” as they’re officially known, are night owls and early birds simultaneously. They typically turn in well after midnight, then get up just a few hours later and barrel through the day without needing to take naps or load up on caffeine.

They are also energetic, outgoing, optimistic and ambitious, according to the few researchers who have studied them. The pattern sometimes starts in childhood and often runs in families.

Not only are their circadian rhythms different from most people, so are their moods (very upbeat) and their metabolism (they’re thinner than average, even though sleep deprivation usually raises the risk of obesity). They also seem to have a high tolerance for physical pain and psychological setbacks.

I remember reading about Jack Dorsey working full time at both Twitter and Square, leaving him with only 4 – 6 hours of sleep each night.  And there are other examples of well-known business leaders who claim to get by with less sleep than the rest of us.

I wonder if Marissa is sleep deprived or not.  If not, I can’t help but wonder how much of an advantage it is to need less sleep.  For someone as smart and as motivated as Marissa, those extra hours could be extremely productive hours – and I bet they are.

Which raises that uncomfortable issue about success and hard work.  It’s unfortunate but true that working harder for longer – if you don’t get burnt out – produces results.  But most people cross the point of diminishing returns at some point around 6 – 10 hours of hard and/or creative work per day.  And theres lots of discussion and evidence that some slack is necessary for creativity to flourish.  However Marissa is not known for her creativity, but rather for her attentive concern for the user experience and for the data behind product decisions.  For Marissa, working smarter vs longer may simply not be a tradeoff, and she can work harder and longer than most.  Which would help to explain why she’s at the helm of a multi-billion-dollar business and seems to be doing very well there.  Long may she reign.


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Google’s Principles of Innovation, according to Marissa Mayer


I recently found this old video of Marissa Mayer speaking at Stanford about Innovation at Google.  The talk was organized around 9 slogans, and each was accompanied by practical examples:

  1. Ideas come from everywhere.  “In an environment like Google … we expect everyone to have ideas: our engineers come up with ideas, some things come top-down, some ideas come from our users.
  2. Share everything you can.  “Its amazing – when you take a lot of smart, motivated people and give them access to a huge amount of information – how well informed their choices are about what they want to work on and what needs to be done.”
  3. You’re brilliant.  We’re hiring.  “It’s really wonderful to work in an environment with really smart people […] because it challenges you to think and work on a different level than you really thought possible.”
  4. A license to pursue dreams.   “I went and mapped the last six months of 2005 – all of the Google product launches and all of our feature launches – and tried to determine which came from 20% time, and which came through the normal process, and the answer was 50%. […] It turns out when you take really smart people, and give them really good tools, they build really beautiful amazing things that are really exciting and they do it with a lot of passion and momentum.   […]  The key isn’t that it’s 20% – or one day a week.  I think that our engineers and product developers see [20% time] and they realize that this is a company that really trust them, that really wants them to be creative and really wants them to explore whatever it is that they want to explore.  And it’s that license to do whatever they want that really ultimately fuels a huge amount of creativity and a huge amount of innovation.”
  5. Innovation, not instant perfection.  “When we were small we launched really rough things that weren’t very good all the time – but the key is iteration.  When you launch something can you learn enough about the mistakes that you made, and learn enough from your users that you ultimately iterate really quickly? […]  A lot of time people say ‘look at Google, there’s all these innovative things’ and they remember the high points and they’ll ask me sometime ‘have you ever made mistakes?’ and the answer is that we make mistakes every-time, every-day – thousands of things wrong with Google and its products that we know we could fix – but if you launch things and iterate really quickly people forget about those mistakes and they have a lot of respect for how quickly you build the product up and make it better.”
  6. Data is apolitical.  “The internal politics inside Google have remained minimal compared to other corporations of its size because we rely so much on the data.  We do so much measurement, that you don’t have to worry if your idea will get picked because you’re the favorite or will someone else’s idea get picked because they’re the favorite – or because they have a better relationship with the decision-maker?  The decisions get made based on data – and that really frees people from a lot of those types of concerns.”
  7. Creativity loves constraint.  “A lot of times when you constrain your thoughts, that’s when you ultimately see a lot of innovation happen.”
  8. Users not money.  “A lot of people say ‘Aren’t you worried as you roll out new products, will there be a business model there?’  And to be honest we don’t really worry about that.  We worry a lot about whether we have users, but we don’t worry a lot about the business model in the beginning because, it turns out – especially on the web and especially with consumer products – money follows consumers. The consumers may choose to subscribe to things themselves.  Advertisers also follow consumers, so if you manage to amass a huge amount of users, and you’re doing something that they use every single day, you’ll find a way to monetize it.  This is the ‘if you build it they will come’ strategy.”
  9. Don’t kill projects, morph them.  “In an environment like Google where you have really smart people, if an idea has actually managed to make it out the door – there’s a real product there and theres a lot of people working on it – usually there’s some kernel of truth in it; there is something interesting and innovative in that space and it may be that the way we packaged it or the way we implemented it isn’t quite right.  But it’s important to recognize that that really smart and talented person got interested and excited about this for a reason and there’s probably something that you can do to ultimately make it successful.”

Interesting stuff.  And fortunately you don’t have to have assembled the smartest people in the world to benefit from these principles.  Although if you have, they still help.

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Don’t talk about Innovation, talk about Growth

Don’t talk about Innovation, talk about Growth.

What CEOs, management teams and shareholders care about is growth—revenue growth, greater user adoption, increased market share, bigger margins, etc. So the first step for any corporate  “innovation” organization is to tie the word, “innovation,” to the more tangible concept of “growth.”

So says David Butler, VP of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The Coca-Cola Company, in this great post on Steve Blank’s blog.  In it David discusses how Coca-Cola, a company with more than 500 brands, 4000 products, and market cap around $170B organizes for disruptive innovation.


David begins by acknowledging existing corporations are good at growing through optimization of the current business model (sustaining innovation), but not so good at discovering new business models (disruptive innovation).

Steve Blank et al had originally described 8 principles of corporate innovation, and David was inspired by those – and added a couple more.  You should read the whole blog post for further explanation, but here they are in summary:

  1. 21st century corporate survival requires companies to continually create a new set of businesses by inventing new business models.
  2. Most of these new businesses need to be created outside of the existing business units.
  3. The exact form of the new business models is not known at the beginning. 
  4. Companies will have to maintain a portfolio of new business model initiatives, not unlike a venture capital firm, and they will have to accept that maybe only 1 out 10 initiatives might succeed. 
  5. To develop this new portfolio, companies need to provide a stable innovation funding mechanism for new business creation, one that is simply thought of as a cost of doing business. 
  6. Many of the operating divisions can and should provide resources to the new businesses inside the company.
  7. We need a new organizational structure to manage the creation of new businesses and to coordinate the sharing of business model resources.
  8. Some of these new businesses might become new resources to the existing operating units in the company or they could grow into becoming the new profit generating business units of the company’s future.
  9. In building capability, the company should look for “starters,” not “scalers.”
  10. But it’s not only about creating new revenue streams—creating new behaviors across the company’s culture is key.
  11. Finding the balance between transparency and opacity is critical.
  12. Nobody, no matter how smart they are, can do this alone.

One thing that I noticed in the blog post is the use of the term starter (vs scaler) when describing the type of people required for disruptive innovation:

Starters have a completely different mindset and skills than scalers have. We found we needed to hire expert starters—people who knew how to bootstrap, build MVPs, find a free or very low-cost way of testing a hypothesis, pitch, pivot, etc.

I must have read the post 5 times over the past two weeks and each time I found something new that I can apply as leader of Indeed Labs.  Hope you find it useful too.

p.s. Indeed Labs is seeking starters to help power disruptive growth.  Together we can help more people get jobs.  Get in touch.

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Amazon Product Management, Working Backwards


“We start with the customer and we work backward”, that’s how Jeff Bezos describes their product philosophy.  But what does that mean in practice?

Thankfully my Quora Weekly Digest contained an old thread about Amazon Product Management, and the top answer (by Ian McAllister, a senior product leader at Amazon) was fascinating.  It talked about how they start by trying to put together a press-release first:

For new initiatives a product manager typically starts by writing an internal press release announcing the finished product. The target audience for the press release is the new/updated product’s customers, which can be retail customers or internal users of a tool or technology. Internal press releases are centered around the customer problem, how current solutions (internal or external) fail, and how the new product will blow away existing solutions.

If the benefits listed don’t sound very interesting or exciting to customers, then perhaps they’re not (and shouldn’t be built). Instead, the product manager should keep iterating on the press release until they’ve come up with benefits that actually sound like benefits. Iterating on a press release is a lot less expensive than iterating on the product itself (and quicker!).

The rest of the answer goes into more detail about the press release.  

While doing a little more searching on the topic I discovered a great post from 2006 by Amazon’s CTO Werner Vogels that describes their “Working Backwards” process at a higher level.  Writing the press-release is just step 1.  There are four steps to complete before they start building the product:

  1. Start by writing the Press Release. Nail it. The press release describes in a simple way what the product does and why it exists – what are the features and benefits. It needs to be very clear and to the point. Writing a press release up front clarifies how the world will see the product – not just how we think about it internally.
  2. Write a Frequently Asked Questions document. Here’s where we add meat to the skeleton provided by the press release. It includes questions that came up when we wrote the press release. You would include questions that other folks asked when you shared the press release and you include questions that define what the product is good for. You put yourself in the shoes of someone using the product and consider all the questions you would have.
  3. Define the customer experience. Describe in precise detail the customer experience for the different things a customer might do with the product. For products with a user interface, we would build mock ups of each screen that the customer uses. For web services, we write use cases, including code snippets, which describe ways you can imagine people using the product. The goal here is to tell stories of how a customer is solving their problems using the product.
  4. Write the User Manual. The user manual is what a customer will use to really find out about what the product is and how they will use it. The user manual typically has three sections, concepts, how-to, and reference, which between them tell the customer everything they need to know to use the product. For products with more than one kind of user, we write more than one user manual.

The really interesting thing here is to compare it with the Lean Startup approach.  Both are customer centric.  But the Lean Startup approach aims to put a concrete prototype in front of consumers to validate the product.  Step 3 above includes mock-ups, which can be used to validate with customers – but Werner’s post doesn’t mention validation or user testing.

My belief is that the Amazon approach can be coupled with lean startup principles in a couple of ways:

  1. Take the press-release, work it into a simple marketing site, with some kind of “Coming Soon” and the opportunity to leave an email address.  This allows you to see if the product resonates with potential customers.  Some startups use this approach.  It can help to identify duds – products with almost 0 interest – but it’s harder to know how to interpret some interest.
  2. Validate the customer experience that is being developed in step 3.  Get out of the building, find some potential customers and see if they are excited about this product, and would find it usable and valuable.
  3. Save the FAQ and User Docs until you’ve validated the product.  Once validation is complete I could see how the FAQ and User Docs could form the rest of the product specification for engineering – relieving you from creating detailed product requirement docs that will eventually get thrown away (the FAQ and User Docs can serve as requirements and can have value for customers).

Overall an interesting concept and something to try when pursuing a new product.

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To solve real business problems, know how their kids are doing.

“But we’ve got great free lunch here every day!”


Occasionally that’s the response I get when I ask a new colleague to go out for an offsite lunch.  And it’s true, there’s a fabulous, healthy, cooked lunch served daily here at Indeed in Austin.  But I’ve only actually tried it once so far.   That’s because I’m spending my first few weeks going out to lunch one-on-one with colleagues in my department and other departments.

I’ve often read that it’s important to spend time with colleagues so you can build your network, or be visible, or build allies.  Somehow this advice seems self-centered and nefarious.  But the truth is that it is vital to the effectiveness of the business to spend time getting to know the people you work with.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. It establishes trust.  Trust is the basis on which teams operate efficiently.  If you don’t have trust you have disfunction, and you can’t compete.  Life is too short to work in an environment of low trust.  If that’s where you are, you need to fix it, or get the hell out.  If you don’t understand this already then read The Five Disfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni.
  2. So you can see the person behind the title.  If a colleague is merely a name and a title to you, then you don’t really see them as a person.  And if you don’t see them as a person, it’s way too easy to make attribution errors – to assume (often incorrectly) the reasons for their choices and behavior.  It’s human nature.
  3. So they can see you instead of your title.  It works both ways.  You want them to know you – not just the role you fill in the org chart.  You don’t want them to make assumptions about your priorities, your willingness to be flexible, etc.
  4. It makes work way more fun.  It’s great to know people and to have people know you.  We’re social animals. Introverted or extroverted – it’s nice to be surrounded by people that you know.  You’d be amazed how transformative it can be to work in a place where people know each other.

So how do you get to know your colleagues?  Easy – invite them out to an offsite lunch.  I make sure to do this face-to-face, explaining that I’d like to go out to lunch so we can get to know each other better.  Then I follow up with a meeting invite.  Since the purpose is to spend some time together, I set the invite for at least 1.5 hrs.  Be sure to travel together in one car – already you’re sharing someone’s non-work space and you learn things like whether they have young kids.  Then just enjoy lunch and ask them about their history with the company, their history before the company, what they like to do in the city, etc.  Volunteer the same information.

Imagine the difference this makes in your first difficult conversation with a colleague in your new role.  Traditionally, this might be the first time you and this person have had direct interaction or conversation.  You’re strangers, and now you’re having a tough conversation about how your team accidentally brought down the site for 10 mins last week.  You’re defensive.  There’s not mutual trust or understanding.  It’s a lot harder to collaborate.

Now imagine that you’ve already been out to lunch together a few weeks ago.  You know their work history, that they’ve got young kids, etc.  They know a little about you and that you’ve got the business interests at heart.  It’s much easier to not be defensive and to work collaboratively.

Some companies already know how important this is to their business – so they offer structured programs encouraging colleagues to go have lunch.

Who should you invite?  If you’re a manager start with the folks who report to you.  Then your peers (the folks who report to the same person you do).  You should already have had this kind of lunch with your new boss before you accepted the role, so you can skip them.  Then look at any standing meetings you attend – these are the people you work with and will need to make decisions with – invite them.  Then consider peers in other departments – knowing a person or two in sales, marketing, hr, ops, support, etc can make coordination much more effective.  But you don’t really need to go overboard and do this with everyone – unless you really enjoy it (and some folks do).

When I first started doing this at a past company, I would invite colleagues out to lunch, and would pick up the tab (I thought this was necessary because I invited them).  Sometimes I would expense it, and sometimes I wouldn’t.  But this could get expensive and is not really necessary.  I learned to be more comfortable asking folks out for lunch, and being comfortable splitting the bill.

It’s easiest to do this when you’re new.  That’s why I suggest you start doing these lunches whenever you join a new company or start a new role – and you keep doing them until you run out of people to invite or money.

Further Reading:

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Great Video for Entrepreneurs: Steve Blank at Commonwealth Club of Cali

I’ve been on the hunt for great videos for entrepreneurs and those interested in Lean Startup / Customer Development / Inspired Product Management.


Yesterday I found a gem: Steve Blank at the Commonwealth Club of California in Aug 2012 speaking on “How to Build a Great Company, Step by Step“:

It’s 60+ minutes of solid gold.  Sometimes you just need to hear this stuff instead of reading it.

p.s. Don’t waste your time on his 2013 talk with Gary Shapiroat that same club “Startups, Entrepreneurs and Ninja Innovation.”  Not enough substance in that talk IMHO.

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