Life Hacks, Product Thoughts, Startup

Thoughts on the Bus Problem

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(photo by https://unsplash.com/photos/HOtPD7Z_74s)

What’s the most important thing you do at work?

Most of us, when asked “how do you create job security”, default to explaining a way of interacting with others that only we can do. If you have unique skills, of course you would want to create a solution where you can solve the problem. It’s romantic to think that you – the cowboy or cowgirl – can race into the important situation and solve the problem where no one else can, or do it faster than anyone else.

Described differently, “I am the only one who can get it done on time and under budget” also looks a lot like “I am a bottleneck”, or “my company is now vulnerable to the ‘Bus Problem’, where if I get hit by a bus my company will have absolutely no way to do the things I know how to do. These statements now look a bit different.

A Corollary To What You Do Today

But what if creating personal job security looked completely different and had more to do with creating systems everywhere you go that help everyone else in the company raise their game? In this version of the bus problem, maybe the solution is to make bus schedules (so that all buses run on time), and develop contingency plans (like snow routes) for what happens when there is inclement weather or other unexpected behavior like traffic?

The best way to solve the problem of institutional knowledge sharing is to share that knowledge. Duh. But it means more than simply barfing out that information in whatever messaging suite happens to be the flavor of the month. True knowledge sharing means that you can isolate the facts and share the strategy implications of changing course, that you can write a procedure anyone in your company can follow, and that if you are not in the office the process works without you there.

What does this look like in practice?

Let’s say for the moment that you are responsible for updating the team on a new feature in your product. As a consumer of that information inside of the company, each person in each role needs something different. Sales might need to know if the price of that product changes or if specific customers had been waiting for it. Marketing might need to know if there are marketable features that could be shared with a wide audience. Engineers might want to know if there are new things to test and build. And Customer Support needs to know the typical things customers will ask and how to solve their problems.

Compare your original goal of becoming the only one who can solve a critical problem with the goal of sharing information with everyone in the company at the right time to ensure a productive product release. If you don’t create systems that ensure people on your team know what they need to know before you can tell it to them, you will fail. Your participation in the process should be the reinforcement of the knowledge, rather than the only way they know that information.

Start today by writing down an important thing that no one knows into instructions that person can follow, and then take the day off. Train a trusted resource, take the day off, and see how things went. If you get to “One in a Row” on this problem, you’re ready to tackle the next critical business process you own until the whole business can run without you telling them which buses run next on the schedule.

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Product Strategy, Product Thoughts, Uncategorized

One of the most difficult product decisions is “not yet”


(Photo courtesy of https://unsplash.com/photos/3IVOgGIBsM0)
I recently had a (great) idea for a product. In my head it made perfect sense – a way to make it easier for people building presentations to get instant help from a trusted freelancer. Surely many people would be excited to try it out. 

The idea went from sketched-out prototype to tech exploration to see if it was possible to execute the thing I was thinking about, and two things happened. First, two very smart people asked whether this is a problem that anyone has,  and whether I had any data to prove the size of the market. Second, I realized I hadn’t done enough work to move from idea to execution.

“Of course,” I said, sharing market validation stats and thinking about channel partners. But then it hit me – I hadn’t yet taken the fundamental step to validating the market need by hand with no tech investment and no real effort spent. Ideas are a dime a dozen until they have some traction.

And it made me consider the optimal way of moving from idea to idea++, or taking the first next step toward validation. “Paper prototyping,” – the effort to simulate the experience of building product without actually building that product – is useful when combined with tests to establish demand. 

In this case, what was needed was a plan to ask people (ideally those I don’t know) to state that 1) they needed help with presentations and 2) that they are willing to pay other people to solve that problem.

One way to test that would be to use an existing site where people request freelance assistance (let’s say Fivvr, Upwork, or similar) and put up an ad for services. The responses to this ad would give one set of signals for demand. Then, the type of work that resulted might help me determine whether the initial hypothesis is worth more thinking. And third, the initial revenue would give clues to the potential profitability of the idea.

Do I know whether I have a great product idea? Not yet. The next step is to validate whether presentations made “good enough” are sufficient for most people, most of the time. If that’s the case, on to the next idea, until there’s a bit more signal that this one is more than a momentary aha!

Marketing Strategy, Product Thoughts, Uncategorized

New things are easier to sell when they seem familiar

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Marc Fulgar

Imagine you are selling a new drink (perhaps in a new category) and you’re competing against Coca-cola. You’ve invented a nootropic brain drink that helps you stay calm and alert while coding, and it has a pleasant natural fizz to it. It might even be an unusual color like purple. Taste tests from prospective customers have been successful and the effects bear out from your claim – coders love it! Continue reading

Customer Success, Media Mind, Uncategorized

As a customer, when do you really feel a company is listening?

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Courtesy of http://www.gratisography.com

“Speak into the phone and let me know why you’re calling today.”

“It sounds like you’re calling about tech support.”

“Most problems can be solved in just one phone call by resetting your modem.”

“Press 1 to reset your modem”

“Please wait 30 seconds for your modem to turn off and on again.”

“If you see all of the lights flashing, please try to visit a site on the Internet.”

“Are you able to browse a web site? Press 1 for Yes, and 2 for No.”

If this exchange sounds familiar to you, you might have recently called Comcast. Continue reading

Career, Generous, On Writing, Startup, Uncategorized

When you get a chance to go back to a great team, jump at the opportunity!

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courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/hernanpc  

Have you ever been on a great team?

I mean the kind of team that people and alumni talk about years later. I’m talking about a team that produces results, leads the market, and is the kind of team that spawns other great teams. It’s hard to produce these kinds of results once, so it’s all the more remarkable when the same team produces another high-performing team (and highly correlated to success in the new venture)

In my career, I have been on great teams, and also participated in not-so-great teams.

Here are a few things that great teams do that mediocre teams do not do:

Great Teams Focus Their Efforts

In a startup (or really inside any company) there is always too much to do and almost always not enough time and resources to do it. Great teams build a culture where people focus on the next best thing they can do to improve the company, and make it easy for people to work together to gain results. For example, when you cut a lightly used feature and take the time to improve an existing feature, you are lowering the surface area of your product and helping the whole team to feel better about the quality of your software.

Mediocre teams work on many projects at once and never ship. On these teams, someone always claims credit for doing the work instead of giving kudos to another team member to congratulate them on a job well done. Mediocre teams endlessly add features without taking the time to ask customers whether the existing features meet their needs.

Great Teams Identify and Amplify Team Strengths

On a great team, it’s easy to find specialists. They are busy doing what they do best – not struggling at tasks they do the worst – and producing strong results. Some of the specialists have a specialty of getting other people to make decisions, push themselves to do new things, or to reduce the overall quantity of work to produce higher quality work. Great teams form around individuals who have strengths the whole team can use. These teams ask “how can I help?” to each other rather than saying “I’m too busy – can you ask someone else?”

On a mediocre team, it’s hard to determine what anyone does well, because everyone is meeting with each other in the same meetings. There is no time for work during the work day, because no one comes prepared to discuss items at meetings, and people spend the meeting time multitasking and doing the work they could not complete in their previous meetings. Mediocre teams leach away the strength of their individual specialists by creating an environment where no one knows how to make a decision and where no one feels empowered to ask for that decision.

Great Teams Are Resilient

Having a great team does not isolate you from conflict. Great teams are effective at meeting conflict head-on, discussing the problem, finding a solution, and then moving forward either by “disagreeing and committing” or by genuine consensus. These teams are resilient because during times of trouble team members lean on each other’s strengths and find solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

Mediocre teams fall apart or descend into chaos during stressful situations. There are few things more disappointing than thinking you’re on a great team, encountering a stressful situation, and then realizing your team is rather mediocre. Instead of the support you get from a great team, on a mediocre team it ends up being every person for themselves.

Great teams are hard to find.

I recently joined the team at Kustomer because this is a great team solving a hard problem in an important market – CRM for support customers – and I wanted to be part of that effort. So far, working at Kustomer feels similar to the atmosphere I shared with some of the team members when we worked together at Assistly. We work hard, we play hard, and we are building a business centered on our customers. But what makes a team great?

Great teams sometimes form by themselves and sometimes are made. People know a great team when they experience it. Great teams do not last forever, because culture is hard. When you get the band back together, it doesn’t always work. But when it does, it’s amazing.

Kustomer is a great team. We are crushing it. That doesn’t mean we’re always right – it means we are going after a great market with proven technology expertise, deep domain expertise, and a kick-ass attitude.

Life Hacks, Photography

A Practical Guide to Uploading An External Hard Drive of Photos to iCloud

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photo by flickr.com/photos/lisbokt

 

In The Old Days, We Only Printed the Good Ones

Photos used to be easy to manage in the pre-digital era. You bought some film, took some shots that you hoped would turn out well, and then printed all of the pictures. Or if you were more picky you decided to print only the good ones. It was expensive to print, time-consuming, and difficult to store.

Fast forward to 2017 and things are very different (duh.) Storage is almost free, it’s trivial to store tens of thousands of photos so that you can print them on demand, and relatively easy to store if you have an access device like a phone or a computer. Scrolling through a photo album looks much different than it used to, but also opens up many more opportunities for creativity and organization than ever.

What Happens if You Have A Lot Of Photos?

If you have a lot of photos (let’s call this 10,000+) that you want to load and maintain accessibility using a cloud service of your choice, managing these photos can be challenging. Here’s the Job To Be Done: determine how to synchronize 10+ years of photos made pre-cloud services so that they update with all of the handy-dandy cloud services without breaking the bank and while maintaining the discoverability we like from cloud services.

I’m choosing to optimize in this example for a consumer or pro-sumer set up where the main goal is viewing the image or movie on lots of different devices. I’m also viewing this from an Apple-biased point of view, so a spoiler here is that the recommendation will not end with the option to use Google Photos and Just Forget About it. (Though this is a perfectly fine answer).

What and How Do You Back Up?

There are a few obvious options when considering a backup procedure for your photos (or for your whole computer).

Here they are, in order of “solves everything” to “solves a point solution like photos”:

  • back up the whole computer to a shared location (Carbonite, Crashplan, or similar)
  • create a local backup NAS using RAID and AWS
  • continue with lame local back up to a single hard drive
  • upload photos to a cloud service like Google Photos or iCloud

Option 1: Whole Computer Backup

Backing up the whole computer to a shared location in some cloud somewhere seems like a great option if you have an unlimited symmetrical internet connection. For people with a fiber connection, this one would work great. For those of us with a typical cable modem connection for internet, have you thought about how long it takes to upload data?

If you haven’t thought about it, here’s a handy table from that article:

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Most of us are looking at the 10Mbps link speed and somewhere between 100GB and 1000GB to upload. Once you start talking about hundreds of gigabytes or more of data this might take days (or almost a week) to complete unless you want to take the radical step of using an Amazon Snowball and putting your data in deep storage.

More practical services like Carbonite or Crashplan will still take days to run a full backup.

So what’s a way that you could back up everything yet still keep a copy locally?

Option 2: Network Attached Storage

Being geeky as I am, I love the idea of purchasing new hardware to back up files on the computer seamlessly to a local storage server on the network and then seamlessly upload the files as needed to a cloud service that maximized the savings.

This is a fun idea, but it’s not cheap either. If you were going to set up a home NAS you might investigate a Synology NAS (2 or 4 or 8 bay) which will set you back a minimum of $600-800 including the right number of hard drives for the storage you need. There are other, cheaper solutions available from Western Digital but frankly I’d be worried about uploading to someone else’s cloud not named Apple, Amazon, or Google.

The goal here was not to optimize for local storage but to find a place to upload about 175GB of photos and videos that have accumulated over a decade.

Maybe there is a simple, practical solution – a local USB drive is fast, easy, and cheap (I have a 2TB Western Digital Passport, and that’s good for the Sneakernet at my place).

Option 3: Local Back Up to a Single Drive

This is the least bad option (given that I’m using it today) but it doesn’t protect against the inevitable hard drive failure that will happen at some point. Local back up also doesn’t protect against loss from theft or fire and fails to solve the basic problem of “how can I use these images more effectively instead of looking at them in a file tree once every 6 months?”

As a backup (not the only backup), I think this solution actually works quite well. The primary benefit of being able to put a 2TB drive in your pocket is that you can easily move a large number of files between computers even when you have a relatively fast wireless internet.

So we’ve got a solution for local backup, and haven’t yet landed on the right solution for cloud backup.

Option 4: Upload photos to a cloud service

There are lots of cloud services you might choose to solve this problem, though I lean toward the paid version to gain a little bit of leverage around getting the data out should one of the services go away in the future.

So which one should you choose? The free one (Google Photos), the paid one (Dropbox), or the more expensive and integrated one (Apple iCloud)? Perhaps you like to solve your own problems and would like to buy raw storage using AWS. For this solution I’m optimizing for ease of use and a turnkey system.

Google Photos gives you instant upload and permanent storage, and a decent photo editing and management service. It is also optimized for the Android ecosystem – it works for iOS, but doesn’t show up natively within Apple Products unless you are super clever about how you set things up.

Dropbox offers plenty of storage (1TB for $99/year) but is more of a file synching service than a photo synching service. It is extremely handy for sharing large files and less easy to find that photo you were looking for (the Carousel photo app notwithstanding).

So, Apple has trapped me again into making a choice based on the discoverability of files and lock-in to the ecosystem I use most.

Getting the files to the service takes a little work

You’re not quite done. If you pick iCloud like I did there is some work you need to do first to ensure that you don’t fill up your hard drive.

  1. Open Photos while holding down the option key – this will give you the option to create a new System Photo Library in the place of your choosing.
  2. Make a new System Photo Library on an External Hard Drive
    This gives you the ability to let OSX’s magic “Optimize space setting” expand to whatever amount it needs to without taking up space on your primary hard drive. If you don’t care or have a gigantic hard drive, have at it. But until Apple changes this setting this is the only way to separate your iCloudified photos and videos from your hard drive space.
  3. Next, enable this new Photo Library to use iCloud
  4. If you don’t want to create an ever-growing photo library, deselect photo > settings > general > copy items to the Photos library
  5. Next, select photo > settings > iCloud > optimize mac storage or set to download originals if you’d like to make a backup at the same time. You’ll need to have enough iCloud storage to store your originals (but you knew that anyway).

Now, you’re ready to import photos from your external hard drive.

Use the Import option in Photos (file > import) to import the photos you’d like to add to your iCloud library.

When this is done select the Import New Items option to add these to your Photos Library.

There’s one more thing you’ll need to do – create a smart folder of “referenced” photos – before you can add these external photos to iCloud. Now, use the File > Consolidate… option to add the photos to iCloud.

Great! You are on your way to seeing all of your photos and videos more often. There’s one final thing to consider, which is that iCloud imposes a daily, weekly, and monthly limit on uploading.

Product Thoughts

A Reminder Hack For Daily Metrics

What if you had a conversation with your metrics about how to improve your business? Or more accurately, what if your voice-enabled agent asked you every day how you were doing?

A simple idea with with big implications

You might start with a simple question, like:

Hey Siri, how many widgets did we sell yesterday?

Ok Google, Which Customers Do I Need to Talk To Today?

And you might proceed to a more complicated idea, like:

Help me write a white paper to encourage more people to try my software today who match the “Small Business” segment.

In a few simple questions that you answer about your business you could determine what to do next, understand how things are going, and earn valuable insights you might not have anticipated.

Meh – you say – not possible. Objectives and key results are based on multiple variables that are difficult to correlate effectively. The metrics they are based on do not collect themselves. In addition, how would you isolate the behavior that drives these metrics?

This is a human-centric way of thinking. Because we’re used to the idea that machines are dumb calculators or not yet capable of building models to make the kinds of decisions we make every day, we discount the future that might happen if we create a model for decision-making that we train every day. Continue reading