Monday, March 26, 2012

Google+ - The Problem and Solution

Why Google+ isn't as great as it can be?

This is my letter to Google to help them with Google+. I've been thinking a lot about this and I think I have some ideas to help, but before I dive into ideas to help, let's start with what's wrong. If you don't understand the problem, how can you solve it?

Problem #1 - Social Networks are no longer about the number of users. That was Social V1.0. It's now Social V2.0 and it's all about engagement. According to a recent article, Google+ users spend 3 minutes a month on Google+ vs. 405 minutes on Facebook for Facebook users. Touting the number of users isn't going to help engagement.

Problem #2 - Focus on users, not businesses - Google+ adds value to businesses and marketers because it impacts search results. But where does it add value to users? Sure it's got a couple of bells and whistles, but the reality is that it is not enough to encourage growth. Compare that approach with Facebook's approach. For Facebook they focused on users almost to the point of neglecting businesses. They focus on engagement (e.g. expanded open graph). They built a large and engaged population and then businesses flocked there. They had no search engine to help them grow. Here's a great article from Social Media Examiner titled "Why Major Marketers are Moving to Google+". Can you see the problem here? Why should I, as a user, ditch my friends and pages on Facebook and have to start all over again on Google+? Will I do that because major marketers are moving to Google+?

Problem #3 - Google waited too long to be that "fast follower". The reality is that Facebook got so big and folks were so engaged, where are they going to find the time to spend on a very similar social network. The advantage of being a follower is that you can fix the mistakes of the prior market entrant. Google did that, but they did it too slowly. Folks will accept a inferior design/product simply because of the network effect. Ask Microsoft and Apple about this.

Now it's time for solutions:

  • Solution #1 - Be different - Talk to Pinterest about this. Talk to instagram. Don't be a me too product.
  • Solution #2 - Open your wallet - Buy startups and leave them alone and learn from them. You don't always know better. Don't wait too long. I remember YouTube and Google Video.
  • Solution #3 - Stop thinking about search results and businesses and start thinking about people. Nobody cares about search results. They care about sharing their lives.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Shame on you Inc. Magazine

Why working more than 40 hours a week is such a poorly written article with a sensationalized title. The title is misleading as the article never proves the premise. In fact the article clearly states that " increasing a team’s hours in the office by 50 percent (from 40 to 60 hours) does not result in 50 percent more output...In fact, the numbers may typically be something closer to 25-30 percent more work in 50 percent more time."

So the reality is that your productivity drops, but the math is clear…working 50% more (e.g. going from 40 to 60 hours per week) results in approximately 50-52 hours of actual work. So yes it isn't as productive, but to say it is useless is simply misleading. Creating an extra 10 hours of productivity per week results in an extra week of productivity per month. Does that sound useless to you?

Shame on you Inc. magazine, perhaps a little bit of extra effort would have resulted in a more accurate title.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Top 3 signs that your job offer may belong in the recycle bin

So during my career I have been lucky enough to get a wide spectrum of experiences at many different companies large and small. Obviously, part of that involves interviewing and negotiating job offers and I've had my fair share of ups and downs so I've decided to share some obvious signs that your shiny new job offer may belong in the recycle bin:

#1 - They aren't willing to work with you on salary
This is especially true if the offer is significantly lower than your current salary. While salary is only one component of compensation and the job itself (think culture, team, product/market, etc.) it is important. Typically salaries are negotiated and the best negotiations are those that end with both sides feeling like they have won. If the company doesn't really give you a good reason for not budging on the salary...think more carefully about your expectations and theirs. Is there a match?

#2 - Executives don't really have a clear picture on the health of the company
This happens more often than you would think especially at smaller companies. I'll never forget the one meeting I had with a CEO of a SaaS company many years ago and I asked him what metrics do you measure and follow to keep a pulse on the health of the company. Instead of ARPU, Active user count, retention rate, etc. I got the following "I get an email whenever someone signs up and I go and research them". I left that meeting feeling like if I took the job I would be like in the middle of nowhere without a map.

#3 - Multiple interviewers complain about a particular employee
This is a big red flag. I had an interview and every interviewer (with the exception of one) pretty much asked how I would handle a micro-managing CEO. Fair questions, but when some interviewers say things like "You'll be successful if you can get the CEO off my back" or "I don't mean to bad mouth the CEO" then those are some challenges that you should think about more deeply.

I'm not suggesting that any/all of these reasons are reasons you should turn down that job. Merely these are reasons to think more deeply about the job offer.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The top 5 Interview mistakes people make

I've done my fair share of interviewing and am known for giving tough interviews. Depending on the position and individual I try to assess their capabilities while also giving them an honest perspective of what the work will be like. I always try and remember that an interview is a 2 way street. The interviewer is trying to assess the individuals attitude, aptitude, and skills while the interviewee is trying to assess the company and the answer the questions well at the same time. Over the course of my career I have noted the following mistakes that candidates make when interviewing.
  1. Don't know who is interviewing them - Knowing your audience is key. What are their goals and their passions. I'll give you a great example. At one point in my career as a product manager, I was interviewing to be the Director of Product Development and I was being interviewed by the lead technical writer/information architect. Before the interview I spent some time on her linkedIn profile and the profiles of her team members. I saw that she had a passion for DITA and I was already familiar with DITA from a previous job. During the interview I made sure to highlight my experience and interest in DITA. You should have seen her face light up! I guarantee you I was probably the only person she interviewed that connected with her in that way.
  2. Don't do any research - Research the company and team you are interviewing for. Your interviewer will ask you if you have any questions, if your question does not appear to be informed or is too generic, it will show. Also, as you are interviewing you can indicate and ask questions about the market, competitors, etc. This will help you get a feel for your potential new employer and will give them insight into the depth of your knowledge vs. other candidates who did not do their homework.
  3. Don't dress appropriately - This is an easy one. People form their first impression of you very quickly. One thing I like to do is to ask the recruiter what is typical and their expectations. Their goal is to get your hired so they will give you good advice. My advice is that if you are interviewing for a leadership position, suit and tie is best. If it is more informal, then a jacket with no tie is probably OK. For me personally, jeans are probably not OK.
  4. Don't show up on time - There are a lot of factors at play. It is likely that I've never visited this company's location before so I'll of course get a sense from Google Maps of the distance. I'll also note the time of travel (i.e. will there be traffic?). I like to try and get to the interview location at least 20 minutes early. I can then sit in the car for a couple of minutes and review my notes and talking points. No need to feel rushed going into an interview.
  5. Don't smile and have fun - Interviewers pick up on nervousness. Being relaxed, having fun, and smiling will show your enthusiasm for the opportunity and give you confidence. No company will ever hire a leader who is not self-confident. Just have fun and be honest. If they ask you a difficult question like "How many piano tuners are there in California?" Use a pen and paper and think out loud. Can come up with an answer, then give it a guess or range. Either way, don't feel defeated, have fun with the question!
Let me know what you think!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Creating a Facebook App with the new Open Graph Part 1

Part 1 - Creating the FB Application

So I attended the Facebook F8 Conference last year and got really excited about the expanded open graph and authored this byline in Mediapost (click here). I think Facebook and social media is in its early stages of development. The expansion of the Open Graph will continue and I think there are many great opportunities for businesses to expand their social media footprint to drive traffic and grow! But enough with all of this marketing speak, let's get to it!

Being a former developer I thought I would give it a shot with my blog using the new action "read" and the object "website". This blog post highlights the learnings and challenges I faced creating (Part 1) and adding the application (Part 2) to my Google Blogger blog. Hint: adding the application to my blog was WAY harder than creating the application.

Facebook actually makes this easy (click here for the steps), but I'm going to walk you through specifically what I did.

Step #1 - Create your application
This is actually the easiest step. Since this was a FB app for my website I put in the URL for my blog for the "app domain" and "site URL" fields. The site URL must begin with an http or https. I made up a namespace (which must be at least 7 characters long) and a name. The key here is to make sure you copy and paste your App ID. Trust me you will need it later for Part 2. For this type of application you don't need to host it anywhere so don't get confused by the Hosting URL or Cloud Services section of the page. I also would recommend selecting your image an logo at this step.

Step #2 - Define your Actions and Objects 
Click here for a great explanation. Essentially these are the nouns on which your actions (e.g. verbs) will act. For my blog, the object is a website. As you type in the 2nd text field, you'll see the website option appear. 
Here's what you should see now (expect for a different title at the top)

For some reason I was able to create an object type of Website with an action of Read, but now Facebook is forcing you to have an Object Type of Article if you pick Read as your Action. My guess is that they changed this between the time I originally created the application and the now. You can also create custom object types, but for now we'll stick to the predefined object type of Article.

Now let's dig a little bit deeper into the Article Object Type by clicking on the Article link.
Once you do that you'll notice some object properties. It should look something like the picture to the right. These are the properties of the object that you can/should specify so that when the user reads the article they and others will have information about what they read.  You can see a preview of this on the same page.

Step #3 - Define your Aggregation
At this step your are defining how you want the information to be displayed on the FB timeline. For example do you want to show the title and description, or the title and time it was read, etc. You are essentially determining the UI for how it will be shown on the timeline. The Object Properties you defined earlier can be used to help provide additional details about what was read. You can see the screenshot below which is a default aggregation.

The sample data is there so that when Facebook prompts the potential app user the first time for permissions they have an idea of what will appear on their timeline. For now I just left mine blank. If you click the Read Aggregation you'll see what I did as noted below:

As you can see the aggregation will appear as a list sorted by the most recent article first. The title I specified isn't too descriptive, but good enough for now (you can always change it later). The Caption Lines are the most important part. In this case I'm saying that I want the title and author to appear in the aggregation.

Now the fun really begins...creating your object page and publishing your actions. This is when integrating with Blogger got challenging. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post (Part 2) on that step!

Let me know if you have any tips, the more folks that comment and respond, the more likely I'll finish part 2 sooner :)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The lost art of story telling

How many times have we seen presentations that are just boring. We struggle to not open our laptops or avoid doodling on our notes. Too many words, too repetitive, too boring. This blog post is not designed to be another "5 key tips to make your presentations better" type of post, but rather to talk about how product managers (who create their fair share of presentations) can make them better. The key to me is to tell a story, folks like stories they don't like boring presentations :)

 By telling a story you accomplish the following:
  1.  WIIFM - If you haven't heard of this, it stands for "What's in it for me?" The audience has to feel an emotion, a desire. You are taking up there time, what value are you providing in return. Are you asking them for something? If so, what are you providing them? Think about your audience, not about you or your slides. 
  2. Connect the dots - Often times the audience may already have the story made up in their minds and are probably not receptive to your view. We have all had this happen. You are trying to convince a VC with your pitch, but they have already determined that there is no future for your product, business, market, etc. Our brains are wired to automatically fill in the gaps when presented with bits and pieces of a vision or story. Fr xmpl cn y rd ths sntnc? You see how your experience/knowledge allowed you to fill in the gaps? I can assure you my 5 year old, can not fill in those gaps! As you present your story, you have to connect disparate pieces of information together with data and emotion to fill in the gaps/assumptions that your audience may have.
  3. Ability to Influence - So you have thought about your audience and helped connect the dots in order to fill in the gaps, what's next. The key to telling a great story isn't just the words...its the audio and visuals. As a product manager who loves data and wants to share it as quickly as possible, it takes time (and restraint) to sit down before you create the slides and think about how do you want to communicate your story. How do you present the conclusion in a way that will resonate with the audience? One thing that I always ask myself when I'm presenting to management is "If I wasn't there could the audience understand the story?" If we can provide them content that your management can understand and present themselves or share with their management, that will only serve to increase your sphere of influence. Data for the sake of data is not your goal, ability to influence is...
 I hope you found these ideas interesting and I'd love to hear your thoughts! Please share or retweet.