Monthly Archives: December 2008

Oh yeah? Compete with this!

Throx

Creating defensible competitive advantage and differentiation are something we’re all familiar with. Here’s one product that tries something a little different. I’ll give them points for trying, but really, how defensible is this?

Introducing Throx.  The cure for the missing sock.Yes it’s short for “three socks”.

  • 3 socks — for when you lose 1.
  • 3 socks — for the price of 2.
  • 3 socks — last longer than 2.

When I first saw all this, I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me. But, this is no joke. Throx is a real, AWARD WINNING product! And the guy who created this product, Edwin Heaven, is defined as an “inventor”. He was even on CNBC! Watch the video for yourself.

So where to begin?

First: “the cure for the missing sock”

Is this really that huge a problem? A sock goes missing or gets a hole in it, you buy another pair, or two! Who needs the hassle of keeping track of a spare sock?

Second: “3 socks for the price of 2″

Now that’s a defensible competitive advantage. Not!

Third: “3 socks last longer than 2″

Yeah, well 4 last longer than 3!

Fourth: The name: Throx

Sounds too much like “anthrax” and “pox”. Note to marketers. Don’t name your product something that sounds like a deadly chemical, a disease or an affliction. Anyone remember Ayds appetite suppressant. While named before the AIDS epidemic, the similar sounding name permanently damaged sales of the product once the disease spread.

So Throx, best of luck, but I don’t see a huge success in your future.

But just in case there is a market for “3 instead of only 2″ products, I’m officially calling dibs on the following:

3 earrings aka Threerings ™

3 two-way radios aka Threekie Talkies ™

3 mitts aka Tri-Mitts ™

Note: the mitts are each designed with a patented reversible thumb slot so they can be worn on either hand!

And finally:

3 layer thick processed cheese slices (for those really indulgent grilled cheese sandwiches you always wanted, but never have the nerve to ask for) aka Fromage a Trois ™.

Sorry couldn’t resist that one.

Got suggestions for other numerically challenged products, leave a comment.

Saeed

OnProductManagement.net

Hi,

A public service announcement here.

We’ve redirected the blog to http://onproductmanagement.net.

This is through WordPress’s redirection service so there should be no problems, but this is technology and software, so we know better.

Please leave a comment if you encounter any problems with blog access, visibility, your RSS  feed or anything else.

Also, the original http://onproductmanagement.wordpress.com address should still function properly.

We’ll work through any issues you alert us to as best as we can. Hopefully this change causes minimal disruption over the holidays.

Saeed, Alan, Ethan.

Experience, IT and Surveys

In addition to his personal blog, Good Product Manager, Jeff Lash also hosts Ask A Good Product Manager where he solicits answers to common Product Management questions from other bloggers.

I’ve answered a few questions on Jeff’s site over the last few months. Here’s a summary of those responses.

Question: How can I become a Product Manager without any experience?

“…There is no well defined path to becoming a PM in a technology company. Technology PMs need domain knowledge, need a good technical background, and need to be able to drive a product through from conception to completion and into the market. It is a multi-disciplinary role, and one that can be both quite frustrating and very rewarding at the same time.”

Read the full post here.

Question: How do you manage product ownership with the technology organization?

“…To get the most out of the creative talents of that team, involve them in the requirements definition phase. See what ideas they have that align with the business objectives that need to be met and decide from that input, what makes sense to prioritize.”

Read the full post here.

Question: What is the best way to design a questionnaire/survey to get customer feedback? How do we know that we have the right questions and are getting the right answers?

Two questions here. When designing a questionnaire/survey, focus on the objectives and use those to guide you in the type, length and content of the survey. To get the right answers, simply ask the right questions. :-) Don’t know if you have the right questions? Test the survey with a small sample of the target audience and use that information to refine what you have.

Read the full post here.

Saeed

Software Development vs. Home Improvement

under-constructionWe’re all familiar with the software development project that went off the rails, took too long to complete, didn’t fulfill the original requirements or wasn’t completed to proper quality standards.

Have you ever lived through a kitchen upgrade or a renovation to a house?

All I will say is that those kinds of projects make virtually every software release I’ve been part of look and smell like a bed of roses.

Seriously. At least there is a real level of discipline in software development. There is a sense of rigour and structured model that people work by.

There is nothing at all like that in most home reno projects.  Contractors come and go as they please. They say they’ll show up at 10 AM, but don’t show up until 2 PM the next day (!) and don’t call to tell you that they are delayed.

Every aspect of the project, from floors to electrical to plumbing to tiling to counters etc. all are done by different people who have no clue how to work together. They all speak their own professional dialects and don’t want to leave the silos they inhabit. Little is documented along the way unless the home owner forces it to happen, and in the end, if something goes wrong, unless it is patently obvious it is a particular person’s fault, the finger pointing happens without hesitation.

I used to think that auto mechanics were the least trustworthy people I’d ever dealt with:

So Mr. Khan, while we were changing your oil, we noticed that your transmission is leaking and there’s a major problem with the alignment. We don’t consider the vehicle roadworthy.

but it seems home reno tradesman are a rung lower.

As you may have guessed, I’ve been dealing with these people lately. We found an excellent roofer in the Toronto area — seriously, need your roof repaired, I know the perfect person, just ask me — but on the other hand, we’ve had to deal with a window company that has not fixed problems with windows they installed over 1 year ago!

All I’ll say is that, the home reno industry is ripe for the picking if some outfit came along and delivered on what they promised for a fair price and provided dependable service.

Makes me really consider hanging up my software hat and getting into some hardware that isn’t based on silicon chips! If I don’t do it, I’m sure someone else will, and from where I’m standing, the competitive bar is set really low.

Saeed

The 12 days after GA

snowflakes

It’s that time of year, so here’s a software industry adaptation of a familiar holiday song.

On the first day after GA, my team reported to me:

A bug in the installer.

On the second day after GA, my team reported to me:

Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

On the third day after GA, my team reported to me:

Three evals pending,
Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

On the fourth day after GA, my team reported to me:

Four angry prospects,
Three evals pending,
Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

On the fifth day after GA, my team reported to me:

Five suspect leads,
Four angry prospects,
Three evals pending,
Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

On the sixth day after GA, my team reported to me:

Six critical patches
Five suspect leads
Four angry prospects
Three evals pending
Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

On the seventh day after GA, my team reported to me:

Seven production crashes
Six critical patches
Five suspect leads
Four angry prospects
Three evals pending
Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

On the eighth day after GA, my team reported to me:

Eight proofs of concept
Seven production crashes
Six critical patches
Five suspect leads
Four angry prospects
Three evals pending
Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

On the ninth day after GA, my team reported to me:

Nine sales reps selling
Eight proofs of concept
Seven production crashes
Six critical patches
Five suspect leads
Four angry prospects
Three evals pending
Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

On the tenth day after GA, my team reported to me:

Ten  new requirements
Nine sales reps selling
Eight proofs of concept
Seven production crashes
Six critical patches
Five suspect leads
Four angry prospects
Three evals pending
Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

On the eleventh day after GA, my team reported to me:

Eleven requests for info
Ten  new requirements
Nine sales reps selling
Eight proofs of concept
Seven production crashes
Six critical patches
Five suspect leads
Four angry prospects
Three evals pending
Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

On the twelfth day after GA, my team reported to me:

Twelve deals a pending
Eleven requests for info
Ten  new requirements
Nine sales reps selling
Eight proofs of concept
Seven production crashes
Six critical patches
Five suspect leads
Four angry prospects
Three evals pending
Two corrupt downloads
And a bug in the installer.

Saeed

Good PR or simply self-serving?

It’s that time of year when individuals and companies give money to those in need.

vizioncore donates to unicefSome companies donate privately, while others make it quite public. Here’s an example of a company that put out a media advisory about their donation to UNICEF. I’m assuming they want to show how generous they are.

According to the advisory, Chris Akerberg, Vizioncore’s President and COO presented the cheque for $10,000 to Casey Marsh, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s Director of the Midwest Region

“Vizioncore is proud to donate to UNICEF, which saves the lives of young children across the world,” Akerberg said. “We decided to contribute to UNICEF rather than sending out holiday cards this year as part of our mission to contribute to society as a whole, which we take seriously as part of our corporate responsibilities.”

So what do you think? Should companies promote their charitable giving or should they do it quietly and simply for the benefit it will bring to those who receive the help?

Are there any “unwritten rules” you’d recommend on this topic?

Take a poll or leave a comment. I’d like to hear from you.

NOTE:  If you are from VizionCore or a partner company or a competitor, don’t be a jerk and try to skew the results one way or the other. :-)

Wither Tradeshows?

If there’s one thing that I always loved as a Product Manager, it was a trade show.

No, really. All you other Product Manager can stop scoffing. It was a chance to get out of the office, to take a break from arguing with the development team. I got to meet not just customers, but honest-to-god PROSPECTS, people who might buy my product but haven’t or won’t. I got to check out the competition face-to-face and shoulder-surf a demo of their product. Heck, I even did a bit of networking to line up potential future jobs.

But the trade show has fallen on tough times: Novell Cancels BrainShare Conference After 20 Years. Apple announces its last year at Macworld Expo, no Jobs keynote. Attendance at conferences like SD West and JavaOne is way down from their glory days during the 2000-era bubble. Travel costs remain high, making it hard to get a compelling ROI on trade show lead generation while web- and email-based lead generation tools are better than they’ve ever been before.

So what’s a Product Manager to do? Stick around the office all day and stare sullenly at your half-finished MRD that lacks compelling user stories?

One – start your own conference. Eloqua (where I used to work) started their own user conference, Eloqua Experience. Eloqua isn’t a huge company – their customers number in the hundreds, not the thousands. But the product becomes the primary tool for the marketers that purchase it, so Eloqua has an incentive to get really deep with their users to help them be successful with the product and to try to understand what they need to do to make the product better. And since Eloqua is a Saas product, keeping customers happy and getting them to renew their contracts is incredibly important. Holding your own conference is a huge investment of both money and the time required to organize a big event, but it can pay off, both directly (it’s not hard to run a profitable conference) and through improved engagement with your customers.

Two – find an “adjacent” conference. If you can’t go to Brainshare, maybe a Microsoft conference would be the next best thing. Assuming you have the budget of course.

Three – find a new way to generate leads. If you’re going to a trade show just to scan badges and collect business cards then let me be the first to tell you that you’re behind the times. Web-based lead generation is far less expensive and far more effective than trade shows. And please don’t tell me you’re still running magazine ads too. I mean, how hard is it to start your own magazine these days?

Four – dedicate more time to making old-fashioned phone calls. Call small customers. Call big customers. Call everyone that dropped out of your sales funnel last month. I don’t think telephone calls can ever replace the much higher value of a face-to-face conversation but until it’s back to the good ol’ days of fat travel budgets, do what you can.

And finally, skim a few dollars out of your budget to buy some stupid tradeshow swag to hand out to everyone in the office. Nothing improves morale like a ceramic shot glass with your logo or a squeezable foam kidney.

The New Rules of (almost) Everything?

economiccollapseEvery day there seems to be a new story about the economy that spells doom and gloom. Words like “meltdown”, “depression” and “collapse” are spoken with a frequency I don’t recall from previous downturns.

Like many others, I was living in the heart of Silicon Valley during the last downturn. I was laid off from my job just days after 9/11. Talk about a tough environment to find work.

While the last downturn was focused very much on the technology industry (hardware, software, semiconductors etc.) – I still remember how much emptier Hwy 101 was in the spring of 2002 vs. a year earlier – I’m wondering if this one won’t be equally difficult for us “techies”.

Consumers and Business are hard hit

Both consumers and corporations are in financial trouble. Consumers in the US in particular because of the housing meltdown (there’s that word again), but in general because consumers have a much higher debt load (even outside of housing) than say a decade ago.

And I don’t have to tell you about the issues in business. Finance is a mess and will take time to unravel. The interconnectedness of the worldwide financial system was laid bare these last few months. Aside from the collapse of firms like Bear Stearns, nations such as Iceland, Peru, Turkey and others, who had nothing to do with the root cause of the financial problems are being held hostage because of international investment portfolios and an international credit squeeze. Iceland’s currency has dropped almost 40% against the US dollars over the last 6 months.

When entire nations are impacted so quickly and severely by, what was originally, a financial problem in the United States, it’s clear that other industries will follow.

In Canada and the US, the automotive sector is in deep trouble. In Canada, the resource and forestry industries are lining up behind the auto companies, looking for help. The housing industry is hurting, and so is manufacturing. I don’t have data on other industries, but likely they’re not immune.

Impact on Technology Companies

One interesting thing I noticed is that not yet in this downturn, and I don’t believe in the last one, did the High Tech industry go in front of government bodies and ask for bailouts or financial assistance of any kind. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall any of Cisco, HP, IBM, Yahoo, RIM,  Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Siebel etc. doing what the bankers, auto manufacturers or even in recent years, the airlines companies have done and ask for money to “save” them from collapse. Yes, most tech companies had layoffs and many failed in the last downturn, but there were no cries of the industry disappearing or industry segments disappearing.

So why is that? First, let me say that my view is somewhat biased as I work in technology and thus have a deeper insight into how the technology industry functions. I don’t have that same insight into other industries. But as a somewhat educated outsider looking in, I will say that the North American auto industry let foreign car companies (primarily Toyota and Honda) take away their marketshare.

North American (i.e Ford, GM, Chrylser) vehicles are far less reliable than those made by Honda and Toyota. Toyota has out innovated other companies with the introduction of hybrid vehicles as well. The Toyota Prius has market share numbers amongst hybrid cars that are the envy of any market sector leader.

And while it can be said that American banks have lead the world in creating new kinds of financial instruments and have “innovated”, it’s also clear that they did so in many cases for short term gain. When I moved back to Canada from the US, I once again was faced with the much more restrictive financial market here as compared to the US. On one level, the lack of variety of financial instruments makes getting a mortgage much simpler, and removes risk from the system, but I’d say this same restrictiveness makes the capital markets in Canada, and particularly the venture capital markets much less open to risk and investment.

With respect to technology companies, I see one big difference. Technology companies are built on innovation and don’t have a history of government reliance (at least in North America) to get through hard times. No one ever said anything like “What’s good for <insert large technology company name> is good for America (or Canada).”

Research in Motion (RIM) is an example of an amazing company. They’ve built great products/services that have wide adoption and have fought off competitive threats from many other companies. Over the last 5 years, their stock price has been as low as about $1.50 and as high as $140. Yes, that’s almost a 100X spread. [Wish I'd bought some stock in 2003!]. And through that I don’t recall them once going to the Feds and asking for financial help.  They ran their business, made decisions to cut staff or expenses, to invest in key areas for the future and have continued to expand their business globally.

We all can take a lesson from companies like RIM. They succeed because they deliver lasting value, not because the price of the commodity they sell goes up 100% because of market speculators or temporary demand from other nations.

So what does the future hold? I have no magic crystal ball. But similar to the period after the dot-com bubble burst, there was little talk about “the New Economy” and more talk about business focus and fundamentals. I’m certain that looking forward, the same will happen yet again.

Hey, Twitter now wants to hire a PM to figure out how to monetize their service! Perhaps this is a sign of things to come. As more companies realize that eyeballs and users and downloads and hits and PPC advertising aren’t sufficient, they’ll realize they need to understand their true value to customers and users, and hire bright people, in particular Product Managers to turn their technology company into a business.

The New Rules? Same as the Old Old Rules.

  • Solve a problem that really causes problems for people.  Simply being cool isn’t enough.
  • Figure out how to make people do what they need to do easier or quicker or cheaper.
  • Help them do something new that they couldn’t do before, but always wanted to do.
  • Understand the value you deliver and communicate it to them clearly and simply.
  • Charge a fair price for the innovation and build a scalable business around it.
  • Hire smart people to help you because you don’t have all the answers.
  • Teams of smart people have the best chance of finding creative solutions to new problems.
  • Don’t forget that the next economic downturn will come way sooner than you expect so prepare for it when times are good.

BTW, as an example of really cool, but not necessarily valuable technology, watch this video. Hopefully these guys figure out how to monetize this.

Saeed