Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don't Guess, Learn

I'm currently building a product for WiredScore. We're not talking about the product publicly, so that's all I'm going to say about it.

To continue learning to be a better product manager, even while I'm practicing, I've been immersing myself in the best talks and videos on product management I can find. This morning while getting ready I watched this great video by Tom Chi on Rapid Prototyping at Google X. And Tom did really rapid prototyping; the first prototype of Google X took him about an hour, and they produced 15 hardware prototypes a week.

If there's one line to take away from Tom's talk it's, "Don't guess, learn." (link goes to a two-minute clip of just that section). Most meetings are "big guessathons." "I think the customer will want this." "I think they'll want that." "Stop guessing, go build the thing, and learn," Tom says. It's good advice. Most of us won't have access to the tools, brainpower, and endless test subjects that Tom had at Google, but I'm going to do my best to stay in this ethos.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Buzzfeed Explained

I think it's safe to say that Buzzfeed remains an enigma to most people, even in the digital media industry. They do things so differently than everyone else [1] and in such a non-obvious way [2], and yet how is it that they are worth so much [3]?

There's been a lot of talk about their internal tools and platforms, but since no one outside the company uses them, they remain shrouded in speculation. How else can you explain Episode 40 of The Exponent podcast by Ben Thompson and James Allworth, two of the most respected tech and digital media analysts out there. At around 16:55 of the episode, James asks Ben, "Have you seen any of their tools? ... There's all this talk about the tools and the learning organization. I understand it conceptually, but if you're a writer sitting down to write one day at Buzzfeed ... what is it that the system gives you that gives you an edge over the competition?" Ben then hypothesizes that it's about making it easier to create a listicle, and then makes some other highly abstract conjectures about the tools, what works, what channels to use, ending with, "quite frankly I don't see how that's any different than a newspaper sharing its actual page with an advertiser. They're just sharing the tool, and the canvas. They're not sharing the actual writers ... " [4]

But Chris Dixon and Jonah Peretti sat down last August for a podcast, and did a pretty good job of explaining exactly how and why Buzzfeed works, in concrete enough terms that I feel like I finally get it. There's no need to explain how listicles and adorable cat pictures work, but I'll do my best to try and unpack the three parts of Buzzfeed that are perhaps less obvious based on what I've heard other say about them:

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Rise of the New Edtech

Edtech used to be this sleepy, backwards corner of the technology industry where idealistic entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas and even fantastic products would try to make enterprise sales to impossible educational bureaucracies – I saw this firsthand when I sat on the Wharton Technology Advisory Board, and we were relatively one of the best technology organizations out there - only to burn out or sell for disappointing outcomes in the best cases. 

In recent years though a couple of factors have pushed ed-tech forward to the point where LinkedIn would pay $1.5Bn to acquire