Category Archives: Unpopular Opinions

Developer, Designer, Driver

The ideal founding team for a technology startup in 2014 is one designer, one developer, and one driver (product manager).

Most people in Silicon Valley put a marketer in that third role, but I would argue that marketing should not be a key focus prior to product/market fit. A much more valuable role is a customer-centric product manager who sets the vision and product roadmap, and then drives the team towards the finish line.

The secondary role of this product manager is to serve as a barrier between the product development team and all unproductive distractions. Is the team worried about bouncing rent checks? Then the job of the product manager is to find initial funding. If the biggest problem is finding talented employees, the product manager becomes the HR director. And when customer feedback is needed, it’s the product manager’s job to recruit your early adopters.

If you have identified a real problem and have the right product builders, then finding the first 10,000 people to try your product should be the least of your concerns. Add this early “growth hacking” onto the product manager’s job description.

I often advocate hiring and partnering with people who fit the “jack of all trades, master of one” mold. The perfect product manager is obsessed with the customer experience and does whatever it takes to drive the product towards a solution that solves a key problem for your users.

Inbox zero is a vanity metric

My email inbox is currently at zero, so I have approximately 45 seconds to get my point across until that is no longer the case:

Answering emails feels productive, but it can be one of the biggest wastes of time in your day.

Have you ever had a huge project deadline looming over you, and all of a sudden found yourself performing every little chore to procrastinate? Four hours later, your apartment has never been cleaner, but you’re even further behind in reaching your big goal.

Email is supposed to be the most efficient way to communicate over the internet. Don’t let it be your #1 daily distraction.

I usually triage emails with Mailbox each morning on my way to work. I’ll answer the most important ones immediately, then snooze the rest until my afternoon email break. That way, I get to work and immediately spend my first 4-6 hours deeply focused on my most important tasks of the day. During this time, my phone actually comes out of my pocket and under the desk to avoid distractions.

Once a week, usually on Sunday afternoons, I’ll sit down for a concentrated email session. This is when I draft key emails for the week, answer my email backlog, and unsubscribe from any spam that made its way into my inbox. Each Sunday night, I take a moment to savor the pretty picture that Mailbox provides me when I hit inbox zero. And then I get another email.


CEOs vs. Journalists

I’m not the only person who has noticed a jocks v. geeks dynamic in sports journalism.

Sure, writers love to tell that story of the national hero that once bagged groceries. But even the biggest fan boys and girls can’t help but snicker when they find the star quarterback going through rehab.

If journalists can’t be cool, at least they can be honest and unmerciful.

But in the tech world, journalism turns into geek on geek warfare. The school newspaper vs. the computer club. This dynamic tends to be even more hostile.

We can both be better.

CEOs: Learn from the mistakes of professional athletes in this space. Don’t be Barry Bonds. No one ever wins a fight with a reporter, even everyone’s hero Elon Musk.

But don’t be Derek Jeter either. Ditch the clichés. Every entrepreneur ‘hustles’. We all ‘play to win the game’. Every startup wants to ‘change the world’. But very few entrepreneurs truly break down the reasons why their startup failed. It’s all about honesty and transparency. Nothing beats learning the inside story behind a team or product that you love.

Writers: Aspire to live up to the title ‘journalist’. Whether you write for the Wall Street Journal or a personal blog, find the story behind the headline. Startups launch products, raise money, and go out of business every day. What lessons can we learn? What trends are you seeing in the market? Who are the unsung stars of these companies?

There’s a big difference between analysis and antagonism. There’s a word for members of the media who constantly seek to ridicule the missteps of famous people – paparazzi.