Monthly Archives: September 2009

Join us this Sunday at ProductCamp Toronto

Product Camp Toronto logo

ProductCamp Toronto is fast approaching. Join in and help make the event a success.

  • Suggest a tagline or vote for an existing suggestion. Hurry, voting closes today!
  • Suggest a session topic or vote for an existing one. Voting for topics closes on Friday.
  • Pre-register to indicate that you want to attend or volunteer.
  • Become a sponsor. It’s not too late!

And most important of all, show up on Sunday morning, October 4th at the Ted Rogers School of Management in downtown Toronto. Learn from others, share your experiences, meet new people, and maybe win some prizes from our sponsors.

See you there.

8 lessons we can learn from Infomercials

pitchmenYou know you’re a Products Geek, when you find a show like Pitchmen appealing.

Pitchmen, on the Discovery Channel, is a behind the scenes docudrama about infomerical marketers and how they  identify products to promote, develop the pitch and then take the products to market.

The show stars the late Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan, two very successful and well known television direct marketers.

While it’s very easy to brush these guys off as selling gimmicky items to uninformed consumers, there are lessons to be learned from watching these guys operate.

And that’s what I like about the show. It presents some of the discipline and process they follow for the products they market and sell. Here’s a list of some of the behind the scenes work they do.

1. They look for problems that a lot of people have.

  • Stain or smell remover: Yes
  • An acoustic shark repellent: No

2. They test out the products and validate they actually live up to their claims.

  • Can the odor remover get rid of foul smells from hockey equipment?
  • Can a vertical grill actually cook as well as a traditional horizontal grill?

3. They listen to others carefully, getting feedback from potential users of the product.

  • For a self-rotating pool side lounge chair, aimed at removing the need to manually rotate a chair to get optimal exposure of the sun, they enlisted some swimsuit models to test them out. After the trial, they not only asked what they thought of the product, but asked how could the chair be improved. One of the testers suggested cup holders.  Not a bad suggestion.

4. The benefits of the product have to be clearly demonstrable with a number of use cases.

  • For a food grater, they grate garlic, chocolate, cheese, citrus zest and other foods. The objective is to present a broad number of real use cases  to show utility and value. This is clearly an area where technology companies need to improve when thinking about how they demo their own products.

5. They always try to find at least one “Wow!” aspect for each product.

  • For a shoe insert product that claims to eliminate impact from running or other sports, they put their hand under a pad made of the same material as the insert, and then hit the pad with a hammer. Then they took their hand out and wiggled all their fingers to show they were undamaged. Can you say “Wow!”?

6. They craft the messaging and the pitch, being very particular to the words they choose.

  • Whether via rhymes or alliterations or carefully crafted wording, the right word at the right time can make a big difference in how a product is perceived.  For example, with a product for grating food, the lines “grate cheese with ease” and “for zest it’s the best” are used. Don’t think these stick in people’s memories? Remember that line from the OJ Simpson trial? “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must…”

7. They ensure price points that will be appealing for their audience.

  • With a vertical grill product (think of a big single slice toaster that grills burgers, steaks etc. vertically) they went to one of their partner companies who tried to source a manufacturing partner that could build product cost-effectively enough that they could sell it for $50.  The partner couldn’t bring the price point low enough and so they said “No” to the product, even though it met all their other criteria.

8. They are data driven business people.

  • While they may come across as shady marketers, they are clearly rather sophisticated (and successful) in what they do. They test out their pitches in local markets, measure the results, adjust their pitch, and test again. When they go national, they are very confident that they have something with mass appeal that people will buy.
  • This is probably the most important lesson that Product Managers should remember. They definitely follow the “Nail it, then scale it” mantra.

Overall, I find Pitchmen to be a bit of a guilty pleasure. I’ve got it scheduled for recording on my PVR. Even so, it is educational and every episode reminds me of basic marketing principles that have broad applicability and value.


$20,480 per Gigabyte!!!

Here’s a great example of where cost vs. pricing is completely out of control.

I have a BlackBerry for work. I travel quite a bit in my job. My travel is primarily within Canada and the United States. Living in Canada, I needed a phone plan that included North American long distance and roaming, as well as data access throughout North America.

Clearly with a BlackBerry, data access is critical.  I do try to minimize the data I access with it where possible. I don’t open big email attachments with it, and I have turned off image download when browsing websites.

I spent a few weeks this summer in the US. I got my bill and was surprised to see data overage charges amounting to about $40. I have a data plan with a 1 GB limit and I know I don’t even come close to that amount in a given month.

When I called my service provider to ask about the overage charges, the CSR said that my data plan only applies to Canada and that when in the US, there is a charge of about $1 per MB of data usage.

This was surprising for two reasons:

  1. I have a fairly expensive plan that I thought covered all my my North American dialing and data
  2. $1 per MB is $1024 per GB of data!!!

Think about that one a minute.  About $1000 to wirelessly download 1 GB of data when I’m in the US. I didn’t realize electrons and radio waves were that expensive! Thank goodness I turned off the image download when browsing the Web.

When I expressed my surprise to the CSR about the extreme cost of this, he said that I was actually getting a discount on my US data access because of an option I had purchased with my data plan.

Without that option, the cost would be $20 per MB. Yes, that is twenty dollars per megabyte, or over $20,000 per gigabyte of data! WTF??

I said in shock, “Are you kidding me? That’s completely ridiculous!”

He started a sentence where he was going to tell me how expensive it is for them to provide the service. In mid sentence, I asked him to stop because I really didn’t want to hear whatever excuse he was going to give.

I know this cost of $20 per MB is artificially high because the companies want to extort incent people into getting additional service options, and (at least in Canada), the lack of any effective competition and incentive makes Canada one of the most expensive countries in the world for cell phone rates.

honda accordBut really? $20,000 per Gigabyte??? I could buy this car for about that much money?

So, if you’ve got about $20,000 burning a hole in your pocket, give it to me(!), or go to your nearest Honda dealer and get a new set of wheels.

Or, make sure you DON’T have a US data plan with a Canadian cell phone provider, go across the border with your Blackberry or iPhone, and then click this link, login, download and look forward to your next phone bill.


Product Management Metrics (part 2)

In Part 1, I defined the mandate of Product Management as:

Product Management’s mandate is to optimize the business at a product, product line or product portfolio level over the product lifecycle.

I’ve emphasized 3 words: optimize, business and lifecycle.

Optimization is the process of changing a system to make it work efficiently within a set of given constraints.

Fundamentally, this is what Product Management is all about: how to invest limited resources to deliver competitive products to market, that are in line with market demands and expectations and then working with other teams to better enable them to reach their targets that make up overall business goals. :-)

Product Management must always keep business goals in mind and work to achieve or help achieve those goals within the context of the products or product lines.  Business goals are typically related to revenue, expense, customer acquisition, market share, geographic expansion or organizational improvement. This is a sample list of goals and doesn’t imply that Product Management must focus on these areas.

It’s important to keep in mind that business goals differ across the product lifecycle.  A product lifecycle can be defined as having the following stages:

  • Development
  • Introduction/Launch
  • Growth
  • Maturity
  • Decline
  • End of Life

There may be variations on these stages, but this represents the major phases that a product will pass through. And the goals and objectives for the product will vary at each of these stages. For example, the Development phase usually is pre-revenue. In this phase, Product Management is focused on understanding market needs and working with various parties (internal and external) to create a product or solution that addresses those needs.

With Launch, the goals for the product can include initial customer acquisition, validation of the product in the market, educating influencers, generating awareness etc. Revenue obviously becomes a major factor after Launch, as do goals such as customer retention and ongoing competitive differentiation. The other phases — Growth, Maturity, Decline and End of Life (EOL) — all bring their own challenges, constraints  and objectives.

Given the changing objectives over the product lifecycle, the goals of Product Management will change, activities to achieve those goals will change and the metrics that are used to measure them will change.

In part 3, I’ll get more specific, and lay out a model that people can apply to their products or product lines. It is important to note that there is no “one size fits all” solution here. Only at the highest level of business reporting– customer acquisition, revenue, customer retention etc. — can there be a single set of metrics for most products.

Because of the breadth of potential technology products — e.g. SaaS vs. Licensed software, a consumer product vs. a B2B product, infrastructure vs applications, a retail product vs. an OEM product  etc. — specific metrics across the lifecycle will vary.

Department vs. Role

I do want to make take a few moments to address a question related to role metrics vs. department metrics. That is, the metrics used for measuring a Product Manager, vs. the metrics used for measuring Product Management as a whole.

In small  companies, there may only be a single Product Manager for a given product or product line.  I’ve been in that situation myself a couple of times. In those cases, metrics for the Product Manager are pretty much the same as that for the Department.

But in larger companies, where there truly is a Product Management team, most likely with differentiated roles for PMs (e.g. Technical Product Manager (TPM) , Sr. Product Manager, Director Product Management etc.) the metrics that would be used to measure individuals likely would be different that those for the entire team.

For example, a TPM would likely spend much of their time working with Engineering during a development cycle or researching technical issues for upcoming releases, whereas a Director would be more focused on overall product strategy, business alignment, strategic partnerships etc.

The Product Management team may be measured on product revenue, delivering a new release successfully etc., but individuals in that team would have other role specific metrics tied to their individual activities and responsibilities as well.

As mentioned earlier,  in part3, I’ll get more specific and present a model that could be applied or adapted by Product Management teams.


Input needed: A tagline for ProductCamp Toronto


We’re just about 2 weeks away from ProductCamp Toronto on October 4, 2009. We’re coming down to the wire on picking a tag line.

We’re using UserVoice to generate ideas and let people vote.

—–>> Click here <<——     to view, suggest and vote on a tag line.

Voting will close Monday Sept. 21, 2009, so hurry up and have your voice heard.


Canada’s Innovation Gap (part 1)

While this post is targeted at the innovation, funding and technology issues in Canada, it may apply to other geographies as well, particularly if you don’t live/work in technology hot spot such as Silicon Valley or Boston or Banglalore etc. This is a topic that is very dear to me, given that I currently live and work in Canada, but spent 6 years earlier this decade living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an great article in The Globe and Mail newspaper (one of Canada’s leading daily papers) entitled Canada’s innovation gap. The article, by Konrad Yakabuski, outlined what I think is both an accurate and troubling picture of the state of R&D and innovation in Canada. Here are some highlights from the article.

  • Innovation in Canada is in deep trouble. Productivity is stagnating; the manufacturing sector in imploding, and the government policy makers seem asleep at the wheel.
  • Once the flagship of Canadian high tech, Nortel is being dismantled and it’s best assets are being sold to foreign companies.
  • While Blackberry maker Research in Motion is a true global leader, and often cited as an example of what is possible in Canada, there are few if any other Canadian companies that can be held in the same light.
  • Canada’s economy is heavily resource based, and those companies spend very little of their revenues on R&D, even though they made enormous profits before the recession due to high commodity prices.
  • While Canada was moderately successful at moving from a provider of raw resources to foreign countries to a more modern economy, the last 10 years have reversed that process.
  • Historically, the  small group of elites that got rich on these resources controlled the political levers to ensure nothing changed. [Note: I personally think this still applies although not as much as it once was]
  • Innovation is the only sure way for Canada to be more productive.

I could go on. It’s a great article, and it should be a wake up call to every politician and business leader with any sense of commitment to the future and well-being of this country.

Change is a process

Change is needed on a lot of fronts. While many politicians are quick to highlight that the Canadian economy has faired better than other industrialized economies in the current economic crisis, it doesn’t change the fact that there has been a huge disruption in the Canadian economy, widespread layoffs, plant closures and bankruptcies.

Keep in mind that billions were spent to help manufacturing companies, particularly automakers with vociferous unions, but little if any was spent or allocated to help technology companies or create environments to make investment in high-tech much easier. A quote from the article:

“Canada is not being productive because it’s not being innovative,” said Robert Brown, chief executive officer of Montreal-based CAE Inc., the world leader in aircraft flight simulators and training. “A lot of innovation occurs at the interface with the customer. But when you look at the make-up of Canada’s economy, with so much dependence on resources, there is less contact between [our biggest] companies and end users.”

I think this is a polite way of saying that there are a lot of companies that are more than happy to cut down trees or dig minerals  or pump oil out of the ground and then ship it off to some other country to be processed and have value added to it.

Aside from being innovative, Canada needs to look to add significant value to whatever industries it has. We have great R&D minds in this country, but there are problems in productizing the research and funding and scaling businesses.

My personal experience

I moved to California back in 2000 to seek better opportunity – i.e. professional and financial gain — than I could find here in Canada. One of my best friends from high school — a brilliant guy who did his undergrad at Harvard and his Ph.D at Princeton, is now a research professor at another Ivy League school, even though he really wanted to come back and live and work in Canada. He told me back in the early 90s that the opportunities just weren’t here for him. He’s a great example of the brain drain this country faces on a regular basis.

I moved back to Canada a few years ago for personal reasons and I have to say it wasn’t easy coming back. Aside from the nicer weather in California, I knew that my career opportunities would be more limited than they were there.

And trust me, there is a huge difference in the technology industry here in Toronto and that of Boston or San Francisco. Everything from the amount and quality of investment funding, to the networks of people with connections into technology giants to the breadth of skill sets of individuals, and even to the aspirations of company founders are very different.

We’ve got brilliant people

I’m not slagging anyone here. There are very bright, dedicated and passionate people here. I’m proud to know a number of them. But when it comes to goals, too often a Canadian VC or company founder sees a $50 million exit as a big win, whereas in the US, that’s on the low end of their success scale.

And that exit often means jobs moving to the US or offshore. In many cases the key people in the acquired company (the bright, dedicated and passionate ones) move down to the US to work “at corporate”, and the brain drain continues.

I don’t want to paint a completely bleak picture of the situation here. As I said earlier, there are very bright, talented and passionate people here. In fact, after I moved down to Silicon Valley in 2000, one thing I realized was that the people down there are not smarter than the people here.

But the level of investment financing, the personal networks of skilled people, the institutions like Stanford and Berkeley all provide a critical mass of infrastructure that enable risk taking and innovation on a scale we don’t really have in Canada. The infrastructure and culture there pull bright people from other parts of the country and other parts of the world.

The issue is not the people here in Canada, it never has been. It’s all the other business levers that innovators need to “nail and scale” their businesses to be world leaders. I personally think the co-founders of RIM (Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie) should be viewed as national heroes, on the same scale as Wayne Gretzky or Gordie Howe (famous hockey players for those of you who didn’t grow up on hockey!).

I’m sure Mike and Jim had numerous incredibly lucrative offers to sell their company over the years. But they didn’t. They held on, grew the company, fought off lawsuits, challenged rivals and continued to innovate and create a global leader based in Waterloo Ontario. And just recently RIM was named the fastest growing company in the world by Fortune magazine.

So what can be done to close the innovation gap? Konrad offers some solutions in his article. I’ll get more into that in part 2.  But in the mean time, I’d like to hear what you think, particularly if you are here in Canada, or are Canadian and are living/working outside of Canada.


Related Article:

Canada’s Innovation Gap (part 2)

ProductCamp Toronto – Oct 4, 2009

In just about 3 weeks, we’ll be hosting the 2nd ProductCamp in Toronto. Last year, at the first event, over 100 people came out to participate in a day of very engaging discussions and talks about topics on product development, product management, marketing, innovation and more. Some of the presentations and notes can be found here.

Pre-register today!

There are already about 150 pre-registrations for the this year’s event!

If  you want to attend, click here to add your name to the list.

It’s free to attend, and lunch is included(!),  so come out and spend a day of engaging thought and discussion with others like you.

Suggest a Session (or Vote for your Favourites)

In the spirit of BarCamp, the day’s sessions will be voted on at the start of the ProductCamp on Oct 4. But if you want to suggest a session, or want to present one yourself, you can do so in advance.

Click here to see the sessions and vote on them, or to suggest new ones of your own.

Become a Sponsor!

A number of companies have already agreed to sponsor the event, including:

  • The Ted Rogers School of Management (providing the venue)
  • Pragmatic Marketing
  • SevenL Networks
  • Greenscroll
  • MI6 Agency

Also, our own Alan Armstrong and his jazz band will play live at the end of day reception.

Thank you to all of these organizations. But we’re looking for more sponsors. Sponsorships are used to pay for lunch and t-shirts for all the participants, as well as materials, signage and other expenses that are incurred.

Your organization’s name and logo will be prominently displayed on the ProductCamp website, on the day’s materials, on the t-shirts, and significant mention will be made of the sponsor’s during the day.

If you’d like to become a sponsor and gain visibility with innovators in the Toronto area, contact us:

  • productcamptoronto at gmail dot com


We’re looking for volunteers to help with some of the logistics during the day. If you’re interested in volunteering,  you can indicate that when you register and someone will contact you.

Twitter – #pct2

Finally, look for the #pct2 hash tag on Twitter. We’ll post announcements via Twitter ahead of the Camp and hope to have some live updates on Oct 4.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

While you were out: Top GUEST posts of the summer

Welcome back from summer vacation! We hope you took a little time off, caught up on some R&R, and some non-work reading. For those of you still vacationing, well, get on with it!

Based on our stats, you have still been reading our blog, despite the break, in record numbers. (I personally  hope you took a total break from work reading over your holidays, or focused on a really important professional book.). August and June were our busiest months since we began this blog over two years ago. We are grateful for all of our readers, and intend to continue writing in the coming year.

We owe some of our own vacations to the guest bloggers who have contributed some terrific articles over the past few months. Check out:

Thank you to all of our guest bloggers. Our summer wouldn’t have been the same without you!

To learn how to submit your idea or article to On PM, click here.

Seth Godin's reading list

Seth Godin posted a long list of interesting books he’s been reading these days. Worth a look.

Here it is: Seth Godin’s Book Roundup 09/09

By the way, if you don’t already read Seth’s blog, I highly recommend it. I subscribe by email. He offers very short pep talks and insights on a daily basis. Even on the weekends.

For me, Seth’s blog is like my morning espresso: Quick, strong, opinionated, with a good morning kick. Yes, I could take an Americano, but small is the new big, after all.

- Alan

Guest Post: Stop, Collaborate and Listen

NOTE: The following is a guest post from Jim Holland. If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.

Sometimes a picture says it all. Not too long ago, I was in the car with my son. As we stopped at an intersection near a college campus where my money lives, we looked up and saw the following sign.stopcolllisten We laughed about who would have spent the time to create a stencil and apply this to the sign. My son said; “Do you know where this phrase comes from?” I thought for a few seconds and had to admit that it’s part of the lyrics from the Vanilla Ice song “Ice, Ice Baby”.

First, let me apologize for that interjection. Many of you may have spent time in counseling to wipe away those lyrics and images or maybe you’re one of those who believe Vanilla Ice was an icon of urban music culture.  Either way, I’m not going further with the topic, only to use the lyric “Stop, Collaborate and Listen” to surface a few thoughts on Product Management.   Now, stop humming that Vanilla Ice tune and read on.

STOP – the frenetic pace. Let’s face it, product managers and their leaders are constantly side-tracked by the list of “busy work” that often overshadows the true purpose and value of product management. Steve Johnson in the Strategic Roles of Product Management, said; “the strategic role of product management is to be messenger of the market, delivering information to the departments that need market facts to make decisions.”

How do we better focus on the messages from the market and build credibility if we’re buried in “busy work” that no one cares about and it doesn’t create sustainable value? In a recent post on Games Executives Play, Alan Armstrong shared, “the underlying problem is often very deep and hard to fix.”

While there are several ways to “fix” the issue, Bill Warner suggests that we “need to manage the CEO collectively and use the experts hired for their expertise.”  If you’re thinking, “I can’t manage my CEO or it’s not within my role” then who will? We all have to take an active part of seizing every opportunity to promote and communicate the strategic nature of product management and STOP the “busy work.”

COLLABORATE – is not an idea, it’s an action. When I moved into product management, one of the first things my mentor and manager taught me was that product managers are successful if they do two things.  First, you have to become the leader of the product and make all product decisions with empirical data. The second was to collaborate on a continuous basis ensuring that number one happened.

Over the years I’ve learned that collaboration is more than “jointly working with” but more understanding the relationships required and how to actively sustain them.  In a recent post on collaboration and leadership, Art Petty stated, “it’s a lean, mean world right now, and the better you are able to find ways to participate in value-creating activities with the leaders around you, the better off your firm will be.” As Product Management and its leaders, we have to personally engage with all those who can provide insight, validation and honesty in the decision making process.

LISTEN – there’s an old saying, “hearing is a gift and listening is an art.” One of the attributes that product management and its leaders must sustain and leverage is listening.  How good are we at listening? I’m not sure, but if you ask those who watch you such as colleagues, customers, and executives, they’ll swear we’re all hearing impaired.

Seth Godin was right when he said, “more than anything else, I think prospects, customers and citizens watch what you do more than they listen to what you say.” How can you be the messenger of the market if you don’t get the message? As you look for ways to improve your listening skills, perhaps eliminating some of the ground noise we all create would help. Find some time to disconnect before you engage.

If product management and its leaders take the time to “stop, collaborate and listen” I believe we will expand our credibility internally and externally and be better prepared, or as Vanilla Ice would say, “You better hit bull’s eye, the kid don’t play.”

Jim Holland’s passion is enabling product marketing teams. With a lifetime of experience, he has a fresh and unique perspective in guiding product teams and has a knack for sensing markets, synthesizing ideas and turning them into reality.  If you’d like to connect with Jim, he may be reached on Twitter at jim_holland or drop him an email at jbhprivate[at]gmail[dot]com.