Product & Startup Builder

Tips for prioritizing your backlog

Added on by Chris Saad.

Tips for prioritizing a backlog

  1. Annotate each item with what problem it solves (e.g. usability problem, new user acquisition, performance issues, content/Inventory issue etc)

  2. Group them by theme

  3. Ask yourself "What is the number 1 reason more people are not being more successful with my product this week"

  4. Do the items that address that reason first, second, third

Don’t over-communicate in your presentation

Added on by Chris Saad.

When presenting your product/business to customers or investors for the first time, It’s not necessary to explain every technical detail. Listing three strong bullets is better than 10 technically accurate but extremely dense bits of information.

The rest can go in the appendix in case somebody asks.

The all-important details can be part of a second, “deep dive” meeting.

Sovereignty by interest and intent

Added on by Chris Saad.

For all of history, we have been grouped and defined our sovereignty by where we are physically located in the world. In the last decade, in the online world, we are increasingly grouped and define our sovereignty by interest and intent. 

Be careful about your team’s definition of “Done”

Added on by Chris Saad.

It’s a common mistake to get 80% done and never fully deliver value to the market. 

“Done” means tested, stable, shipped into production, listed on the website, documented, promoted on the blog, shared via mailing lists etc

[Side note: The only thing better than “Done” is “Successful”. The only definition of success that matters is: adopted by a large and growing number of active customers. Media, pilots, academic studies, government grants etc don’t count]

This doesn’t just apply to software. This also applies to partnerships, operations etc etc.

To achieve this you need to align expectations across teams and partners about the definition of “done” and make sure you finish the things you start before chasing the next shiny object. Said another way - FOCUS.

To do otherwise is one of the biggest possible mistakes in business - spending resources and not achieving any return on that investment.

My definition of luck

Added on by Chris Saad.

My standard answer to "How did you achieve that?" is "Luck".

Luck = Preparation + Opportunity + Execution.

Startups help us adapt to a changing world

Added on by Chris Saad.

Startups are simply the best vehicles we’ve come up with to deal with a rapidly changing world by applying first principles thinking, creativity and the scientific method to adapt to, and fix what’s broken.

Data needs UX

Added on by Chris Saad.

Data without value added UX is simply stored potential energy. It’s not enough. L

Vision requires kindred spirits

Added on by Chris Saad.

Vision is having a prescient, almost fully formed sense of something you want to see in the world and then pulling the future into the present. Manifesting thoughts and hopes about a better way of doing things into reality.

Success requires almost every kind of skill imaginable. People skills, creativity, engineering, project management, invention, business acumen and so much more. Most of all it requires optimism and abundance thinking.

This kind of force of will can scare those who don't understand how or why this is possible.

In pursuing this journey, finding kindred spirits who's skills and insights can compliment your own is not only delightful, it's essential.

Pay for good help

Added on by Chris Saad.

There are a lot of hidden fees and charges in life. Little taxes and tips that often go unaccounted for. By far, the largest one of these is wasted time.

Ironically, time is the most expensive and precious resource we have. Both as individuals and as leaders of companies.

Do the things you love, do things that are high leverage and productive, spend endless time with loved ones, watch and read things that inspire you - but try to avoid choosing the cheapest option or the menial chores over getting the best service and professionals to help.

What you’ll spend in cash you’ll make up for in quality of life, momentum, and leverage.

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Don’t over-index on feelings

Added on by Chris Saad.

Most people live very practical and pragmatic lives. They go to work and do the job they’re assigned.

There are two other kinds of people, though.

1) There are aspirational people who demand that they work on specific types of projects and problems. Big and impactful things that make them feel excited, important and inspired! This is typically a positive thing - but it can sometimes become unbalanced and lead to a situation where they are unable to execute on pragmatic, commercial things. It leads to a kind of execution paralysis.

2) There are other people who fail to act (or act well) because they feel afraid. They procrastinate or self-sabotage. This is due to a wide range of reasons that they rarely even understand themselves - but irrespective of the reason, it ultimately also leads to execution paralysis.

I suspect, in both cases, these people could benefit from recalibrating the role of “feelings” in their lives.

Part of crafting a successful life requires that you don’t over-index on feelings.

It might sound harsh, but In some cases, they need to harden up and be an adult. They need to look at the world with sobriety and meet the market (and it’s challenges) where it is, not where they wish it to be.

This is not to say that the aspirational people have to give up on optimism and ambition, only that the most effective way to achieve their optimistic goals is typically through very pragmatic and incremental means. Of course, the trick here is to understand where the line is, and have the right balance of impatience, stubbornness, and pragmatism. A difficult but critical balance to strike!

This is also not to say that afraid people can simply have their fear absolved - but rather that they need to act bravely to break out of their shell to provide for themselves and their families.

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Product is all about good choices

Added on by Chris Saad.

What Is the the actual problem? This should be very specific and hopefully involve specific pain that can be quantified in dollars and cents of waste and inefficiency.

Who is your user and who is your partner? I’m seeing a lot of startups conflate these two things lately.

What is the exacted behavior (particularly for mvp)? Ive always seem companies trying to boil the ocean here. I’ve been guilty of it myself many times.

What is the point of differentiation? What is the marketing message? Be specific. Better, cheaper, faster. Pick 2. It typically can’t be all three.

At the beginning, you can’t be everything to everyone or no one will get it or care.

I’m a big tv and movie nerd so I watch a lot of behind the scenes content about them. Movies and directors also talk a lot about choices. A good movie is usually the result of a series of very good, and very consistent choices.

Just like product. They’re both art.

Your product experience should be obvious and easy to use

Added on by Chris Saad.

A good product shouldn't require a training manual or even that much text to be initially useful to a user.

The trick is to have clean and clear UI/UX metaphors that seem obvious, great "clean slate" experiences that nudge the user to do key things when they first log in and in-line tips for what to do next (just 1 or 2 sentences at most). In this way, users learn how to use the software organically.

Tips, tricks, help and knowledge base should only be available for some advanced functions or to handle edge cases.

What are some of the best examples of this you've seen in the wild?

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Business People are from Mars, Academics are from Venus.

Added on by Chris Saad.

They are worlds apart. 

Neither is better or worse (and both are desperately needed in our society) but it’s an interesting challenge when they try to cross into each other’s field.

Where academics seem to be much more concerned in differences and intangibles, business/product are much more concerned with generalities and tactics. 

Where academics are interested in describing the world, business people are more interested in affecting it.

Where academics are interested in consensus building, business people are much more interested in finding hard facts and acting decisively to affect change.

Where academics work on the timescale of years, business people tend to work at the scale of quarters.

How do you know when you're ready for channel partnerships?

Added on by Chris Saad.

I come across a lot of startups who have a go-to-market strategy predicated on sales and marketing partnerships with partners.

The reality is, however, that in an early b2c business, If you can’t sell your own sh*t then it’s unlikely a partner can do it for you. 

Partners are usually a great way to spend endless hours in negotiation and ongoing alignment struggles only to see a meddling success when the partnership is executed.

Even then, all they usually do is magnify your own process. So if your process produces poor results then a partnership will just multiply that out. 0 x 10 is still Zero.

Instead, figure out how to tell your own story with a gorgeous website, explainer video, self-serve onboarding and training flow and more. Then figure out how to scale it with low hanging fruit like ads, content marketing, mailing lists, etc.

Then, and only then, lightweight co-marketing partnerships might be useful to supercharge these activities. Deep integrations should typically be left until later.

Join the conversation on Facebook

Consistency Is The Bedrock of Effective Execution

Added on by Chris Saad.

Consistency is the bedrock of effective execution. Be wary of people who are sometimes amazing, but often not dependable or consistent in their behavior.

They are analogous to an abusive relationship. They give you just enough hope that things will improve and then they let you down.

The amount of time and energy you spend trying to manage their feelings and their behavior can be better spent replacing them with someone more consistent (and therefore more effective).

At best these people are unreliable and distracting, at worst they are toxic and dangerous.

Further, getting rid of them can actually boost team morale because colleagues see that bad behavior is not tolerated and their own consistent efforts are recognized and valued.

Make the hard decision and move on quickly.

Originally Posted on Facebook

Lean into meetings

Added on by Chris Saad.

"You're always very engaged in meetings"

A startup exec I've been working with said this to me recently. 

She then went on to ask "Is it because, as an external advisor, you feel like you have very short windows to add/prove value?"

My answer:

The truth is I've always felt the need to be super leaned in to meetings. I've never felt like I could coast/relax at any stage in my career.

Why?

  • When I was very young (15-22) I was the youngest person in the room - trying to convince 50+ year olds to do this "technology thing" my way.

  • When I was slightly older (20-30) running my own startups, I felt like every day and every decision was life or death. I was deeply invested and felt the weight of the world on my shoulders to come through for my team and my investors.

  • When I was at Uber, I was surrounded by some of the smartest and most experienced people in the world at their job. Combined with the fact that I felt like I had a real opportunity to make a difference at scale, meant that I had no choice but to be wide awake!

  • And now with my Advisory work, as she suggested, I feel like I have very small windows to really contribute/come through for the founder and the startup.

It's interesting because I'm also increasingly realizing I've been at a disadvantage my whole career due to my lack of caffeine intake!

In any case, I had always assumed everyone felt fully engaged for pretty much every meeting. 

Originally Posted On Facebook

Engineers Make Terrible Product Managers

Added on by Chris Saad.

Now that I've made you angry. Here's what I actually mean.

Even the best product thinking engineer should not be placed in the position to be both a product manager AND an engineer on the same product/project.

Product management is often about saying NO. It's about long term, big picture thinking. It's about the what, when and IF something should be done. It's about stakeholder discussions, consensus building, visual design, marketing, customers, business considerations and more. It's about picking which hill to take, bringing the right team together and motivating them to get it done (to use a military metaphor).

Engineering, on the other hand, is mostly about saying YES. It's about getting the job done. Solving problems. Figuring out HOW something WILL be done. It's about being deep in the details of the code and trying to find your 'zone' to make magic (a zone that is easily interrupted by meetings!). It's about being the person the product manager can depend on to actually run up the hill and plant the flag while they're off picking the next battle field (to continue the military metaphor).

These are totally different head-spaces and roles. Often they work well together. Sometimes there's a healthy tension with one side pushing the other to "do more" or "get more focused" or "be more specific" etc (in both directions).

Someone with an engineering background might actually be an excellent product manager when placed in that role (and they often are!) but asking ANYONE to do both roles is often asking too much.

Originally Posted On Facebook