A new adventure and many thanks

May 18th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Tomorrow I start a new adventure. As as always, I am a ball of nervous energy, oscillating between sheer terror and exuberance, and there’s a high chance this post will reflect my crazed brain. </fair warning>

It’s my first day tomorrow! I start as Product Owner at the Co-op Bookstore! Whhaaaat?!!
I’m crazy excited about this. 😀 It’s outside my comfort zone but man, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the product and work with the team. It’s gonna be fun!
AND I get to keep my career record of getting jobs through my network. This was important to me, and I thought it was the end of that streak. <fist pump> Yeah!!

Some of you know how hard the past 8-9 months have been for me. I was doing every thing I could to keep my freelance business going, but it was a tough slog getting jobs and I plain ran out of runway.

So, to my support circle – Bree Clare, Loic Golliard, Albert Issa, Bruno Mattarollo, Danielle Hickie, Oliver Maruda, Radhika R, Alan Jones, Jim May, Tony Burrett, Zoe Ghani, Phil Morle, Clare Hallam, Josie Kidd – thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for all your help,  all your introductions, all your suggestions, your friendship, your generosity and your company, thank you for keeping me sane.

To @kcarruthers, @jodieM, @neil_killick, @Meta_Mike_Biggs, @brento, @damoxy, @Nathan_Reese, @maheshmurali, @fostersimonj, @kimheras, @ayumi, @bronwen – thank you for your RTs, passing my CV on, intros, taking an interest, helping just because you could. My thanks also to everyone, my followers or not, for retweeting my ‘looking for work’ tweets. I appreciate every single one.

I won’t be as immersed in the startup scene as I have been in the past seven years, and truth be told, I’m in two minds about that.
I will leave saying this – Aussie startups, you’ve *got* to start taking product more seriously.

Thank you and WOO HOOOO!! 😀

Want to build a sustainable Aussie startup ecosystem? Fix the local talent and knowledge haemorrhage.

April 23rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Last month I wrote an article for the From Little Things blog called – Startups are sacrifice… for ALL involved.

Now I’ve been thinking long and hard about this. Why should entrepreneurs and the wider startup ecosystem care about startuppers and the points I raise in that piece? And how do we make them care?

There’s been a lot of talk about what the Australian startup ecosystem needs in order to grow and establish itself as a key player alongside other startup hubs like Silicon Valley and Israel. These discussions tend to focus on venture capital, government support and the ‘brain drain’ which happens with local startups having to leave our shores to secure vc funding.
biodiversity Jenga

What is missing from this debate is the local brain drain happening right under our noses. Aussie-based startuppers work in a startup or two and leave the ecosystem for corporate jobs, taking a wealth of learnings and experience with them. Anecdotally, just by looking at my LinkedIn contacts, I estimate that up to 90% of all startuppers I have worked with on about 10 startups have left the Aussie startup ecosystem. Of that 90%, about 10% are in startups overseas, 5% are now freelancers, and the rest are now in local corporate jobs. Very rough numbers and a tiny sample, but those numbers should worry anyone currently contributing to building our startup ecosystem.

There are serious implications of this local talent drain. A high churn rate is an obvious talent loss. There is also a time and monetary loss when we take into account what is then spent on bringing in new talent and training them up. It means that we have a really small pool of mature startuppers who could support an entrepreneur new to the industry. With a knowledge haemorrhage as severe as this, we will never get to a sustainable startup ecosystem. Not when every new startup is literally starting from scratch on all fronts. We absolutely need to keep knowledge transfer going, from entrepreneur to entrepreneur, entrepreneur to startupper, startupper to startupper and startupper to entrepreneur. We’ve done well with the first two flows with things like the Silicon Beach mailing list and the explosion of networking events over the last 4 to 5 years. The latter two flows however need a lot of work.

I admit it was heartening to see the Crossroads Report list increasing the numbers of people with ICT skills and improve access to startup expertise as two of their 7 key actions, but I think it would be akin to bailing water from a leaky boat using a colander if talent retention isn’t addressed. If we want to build a sustainable Aussie startup ecosystem, we HAVE to build a startup talent ecosystem inside it. And when someone like me, who used to proudly declare ‘I’m a startupper for life!’ has been interviewing for corporate jobs 7 years into a startup career, Australia, we have a problem.


What is a product manager?

October 15th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve been a product manager for a number of years now, and I still have trouble describing what I do. I tend to say “I’m the bridge between the different parts of a business – the executive branch, marketing, development, customers – and it’s my job to make sure the product speaks to and for all these segments.”
I usually get a puzzled look and then go into detail about various aspects of the role. Usually though, when the conversation is over, I walk away feeling like I didn’t do a good job of describing what I do.

It’s been a challenge. How does one succinctly describe a role that has so many different parts to it? Not just that, talk to two product managers and you’ll find that their responsibilities in their respective roles can vary widely.

Which is why this article grabbed my attention – Product Managers: Who are these ‘mini-CEOs’ and what do they do?

Specifically these bits:

Both Norton and Elman agree that the PM’s job is to help execute the company’s vision. In a way, it’s almost like they’re the mini-CEO, complete with the influence, but no authority — they aren’t the direct supervisors of the engineer or designer and can’t fire anyone for not following through, and focused on the success of the product’s mission.


What’s more, while a PM can be a mini-CEO, their responsibility is to make sure that the product not only matches up to customer expectations, but are also in line with the overall strategy set forth by the company’s founders and CEO.

I’m gonna adopt the definition put forth by Norton and Elman in my future conversations, and see if I find more understanding.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering what a PM is, what they do and how one might contribute to your business, I highly recommend reading that article and the additional references in it.

So now you know what a product manager is and think you need one? I can help 😉

Beta testing – an obsolete concept?

September 24th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

I was invited to be a beta tester recently, and it struck me that I haven’t been seeing calls for beta testers being put out any more.

We want you to test WordPress

It might be that the beta testing period has been subsumed by Lean methodologies. After all, beta testing is about the feedback loop which is implicit in the lean process.

It might be that beta testing is just that much harder on mobile than web, and it was just left behind because it didn’t fit with the ecosystem any more.

But then the feedback loop isn’t visible to me these days. At least in the young startups I’ve been following. From the outside the process most startups seem to follow is: announce idea on Launchrock -> launch MVP -> growth hacking (simplified obviously). As a user of these services I am not asked for feedback, and I don’t usually see any obvious feedback collection mechanisms on the app. Is everyone relying on metrics these days?

Did beta testing lose its value because early beta testers are a very niche segment of the market, or not even a customer segment at all?
When I worked at Tangler.com, we had a dedicated beta testing forum where startups would put out the call and beta testers would jump in, test the products and let loose with their feedback. It wasn’t always easy for the startups to handle it – we had a bunch of very early adopters who had technical backgrounds so they tended to have really high expectations and …. let’s call it brutally honest feedback.
In addition, there’d always be the inevitable drop off in usage. Beta testers would flock to the new shiny, test it and move on. From a startup’s perspective this was a roller coaster ride. They’d get a spike in sign ups and activity, and then have to deal with the lull. Well that was a bummer….

There was one shining example of a success story however. A bunch of us were invited to test out Weewar.com, an asynchronous, multi-player strategy game, and in the process of testing the game, we were all hooked. A bunch of us brought our non-tester friends in – just so we could keep playing while waiting turns on other games! The founders of Weewar were very active in responding to feedback and this was also evident in the product’s evolution. Weewar was eventually acquired by EA Games.

What I think is a big loss with not actively running in a beta testing phase is the feedback loop between startups and users. (I’m not using the term ‘customers’ on purpose.)
There is an implicit social contract at play – as users we will use your product and provide feedback, as startups we will listen and consider the feedback. There is a lot more to this than obvious at first glance. As a user I am more inclined to provide feedback if I know there is a purpose for it. That it will be considered by someone. As a startup it affects how I run my communications strategy, whether or not I include a feedback mechanism into my product, how I manage my backlog.
Beta testing is a state of mind for all involved.

So startups, look at yourselves, evaluate whether running a beta testing phase is a fit, and then do it. You will get invaluable insights into your product’s UX, features and potentially even its future.
And beta testers, instead of throwing out a whinge on Twitter (GUILTY!) hit up the startup’s contact page and make a valuable contribution.

Oh, and the startup that kicked this post off – Formula Legend. Make sure to check em out and sign up if it’s your thing.


Photosharing is stopping to smell the flowers

January 6th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

STOP Hammer time!

It occurred to me today why I like flickr and Instagram and Retrocamera and all those other photosharing apps.
It’s a stop-and-smell-the-flowers moment captured and best of all, paid forward. That moment the photographer stopped to experience, capture and share – it rubs off on everyone else who stops to look at the image down the line.

Like that Stop sign I snapped. I could’ve gone merrily on my way, but I didn’t. After giggling at it myself, foremost on my mind were all those I knew would get a chuckle out of it, and so there it is, sitting in my Flickr stream having been shared on Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve read opposition opinions to filters, mobile photography and photographers (narcissistic, fiddling with a device instead of being in the moment etc) but I think the real value of these apps is that they’ve heightened people’s awareness to the little things around them. I would actually counter that we are all taking micro-moments out of the journeys we’re on and observing and appreciating the beauty and humour around us more than before as a collective.

If this were a side effect of a business I was working on, I’d be mighty proud.

Context is key

September 22nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

So as y’all probably already know, I started at Pollenizer some weeks ago. This meant transitioning to a Mac as my work computer.
I get the machine, take a deep breath, and scroll down. I mean up. I mean… I don’t even know anymore.

I ranted about it on Twitter, and my helpful Twitter peeps helped me find the settings for it and turn it off. *phew*

But I couldn’t get it out of my head. Why? Why would Apple add that as a feature?
I get that it’s the same action we’re all used to performing on our smart phones. You move your digits in the direction you want stuff on the screen to move in. And it’s intuitive, and perhaps understandable to take that and say, well, why do we use the opposite behaviour on our laptops? All interfaces should be the same! Eureka!

I’ll tell you why not. Context baybeh.
The smart phone is analogous to reading a newspaper lying flat on your breakfast table. As you scan down the paper, you move it up with your hands. So you’re scrolling up to move the media up.

Now, visualise this – Child dek scanning down a list of names engraved on a wall so she can find her grandfather’s name (which the temple put there cos he donated some dough to its building fund). I was a kid and there were many many names cramped in, so I used to put my finger on the wall and move down the list of names.

Something like this image below:

Tanjore temple_inscriptions in Tamil

On this media, you scroll down to ‘move the media up’. And I think that is the context of scrolling on a laptop. Your laptop screen is a wall in this context.

And I think that is why I struggled so badly with trying to work with the new scroll system on the Mac. It was hard to change a learnt behaviour not just because I’m an old dog, but because the context didn’t suit it.

First rule of community building

July 26th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

First rule – Community building is about the community, not you, not your product, not your business.

This means community builders must leave their egos back at the log in page, and stake-holders need to empower them to do so.

Sydstart – passion is infectious

April 1st, 2011 § 5 comments § permalink

I attended SydStart yesterday. In many ways it was just what the doctor ordered. It was a really good event with great speakers and a friendly community of startuppers. (I don’t like the term entrepreneurs for a crowd like this one. Startuppers is more descriptive and inclusive, don’t you think?)

Hours after I’d left the event, my brain was still buzzing. (I could go as far as saying the sleepless night I had was all SydStart’s fault….. ok, so I will. Dammit SydStart!!)  The biggest observation I have about the startup community is how much it’s grown. Not just in terms of numbers but also in terms of thinking and ideas. I remember there was a time when it was rare if I’d not heard of the products being pitched in a session before it was pitched. Maybe I’ve been out of the local scene too long, but last night was remarkable. So many new faces and so many new companies. And everyone seemingly open and willing to share. That’s truly awesome. Let’s keep this up Sydney.

The other thing that hit me only later was how good an event like this one is for the startupper’s soul. Sitting in front of the screen, obsessing about product and strategy and design and marketing and competitors and roadmaps and wireframes…. It can get uber stressful and feel like the  designer of the startup rollercoaster forgot to add enough peak bits. (Really, who does that?! *tsk*)

Going to an event like this one is how you get your highs fellow startuppers. The passion and enthusiasm you’ll encounter is so energising, you’ll feel like you just got back from a two-week vacation at the end of the day. (And then you’ll lose some sleep, but take it as jet-lag….)
I’d made a decision to get out there and get more involved in the community this year, do what I can for whomever I can, and I’m glad I did so. It’s gonna be so damn easy to stick to it with events and people like SydStart.

Oh, and I tend to take it for granted that everyone knows that I’m always open to a chat, coffee, brainstorm session…. ummm so now you know. I’m happy to help, so drop me a line, let’s talk startups!

Don’t ask me what my New Year’s resolutions are. I don’t make em.

January 5th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

No really, I don’t. Actually, I vehemently oppose the practice.

To understand why, we need to go back a bit. When I was a kid, every New Year’s Eve I’d be asked about my resolutions, and I’d loudly proclaim them, having thought about them in preparation.

By the time I was 10 or 12, I was completely disillusioned with the whole thing. Each year started with such promise, such optimism, yet a few months in, I’d feel like I was letting myself and people around me down.

So I stopped.

And here’s the thing – many years later, after being suspended from university and having to essentially start building from scratch, I came to two conclusions.

  1. We are made up of habits.
  2. I suck at lofty but well-intended, noble goals.

This wasn’t a sudden realisation. Oh no, not at all. It came from a dark time, the biggest failure I had faced, a shattered ego and sense of self, unforgiving intense inquiry into my self, my actions, the causes and reasons for getting where I was.

But that first point – that was a major lightbulb moment when I put it together. We get used to acting the way we act, reacting the way we do, living the way we live. We don’t even think about these things on a daily basis. Setting one huge goal for the sake of it blinds us from all the little tiny changes we need to make in order to get there. We set a result without mapping the route. In startup terms – we talk about exit strategies without having done the gruelling product and customer grind.

What works for me is having a vague goal coupled with piecemeal chipping away and constant vigilance. And experimentation. Oh, the glorious data collection! Touching up and tweaking as we go along. Knowing that the 31st of Dec isn’t a deadline. The fun ends when I die dammit!

I’ve been reflecting on and investigating the past year a lot (more on that soon…ish) and have been making use of these ‘processes’ a lot. Processes are consistent slow-release happy pills. That’s much much more than resolutions have ever been for me.

Dear Santa, for Christmas this web worker would like….

December 24th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

1. For Facebook to not force the new profile on me. Which I know they will do eventually…. It’s just the messy layout scrambles my brain. arrrrgggghhhh can’t …. think

2. For flickr and others to start charging me in Aussie dollars. Hey, if GoDaddy can do it…

3. On the subject of flickr – For Yahoo! to love it and let it go. Surely flickr could continue as an entity on its own? It’s the only way I see for them to start innovating again.

4. On the subject of photosharing… for a hot new startup to come along and really solve the problem. Flickr stopped trying years ago, Facebook is just a glorified family/friends album, and there hasn’t been anyone really focused on this issue. Get it right, and I’d be happy to redirect my flickr $$ to ya.

5. A global location setter. And by this I mean one service that’ll let me set my profile locations in one go. Ideally, Foursquare or Gowalla or the like will just ad this as a feature.

6. Speaking of Gowalla – an answer to my question – Is the ‘walla’ in Gowalla the Hindi ‘wallah‘?? I can’t rest till I know this

7. International Pandora PLEASE!! I’m beggin now

8. For Posterous to allow me to add a service to share to, but disable autoposting WITHOUT having to deselect it EVERYTIME I post. Everything else is so seamless, surely this is a no brainer?

9. For phone manufacturers to stop adding bloatware on the Android. I mean seriously HTC, did you really think I would find Peep, Plurk and Stocks irreplaceable? Ok, I’m willing to compromise on this one – add your bloatware, but allow me to remove the damn apps without having to root the phone.

10. For Google to accept that they suck at social, and start hiring people who actually have social skillz. I mean really dudes, you fail on the social aspect of EVERY cool new thing you come up with. Hot tip – most of these people don’t come with a PhD or Masters in CompSci. Don’t hold it against them.

11. For app developers to not make me wait aeons for an Android app. *looks at Instagr.am*

12. For tech news blogs to focus on, ya know, TECH NEWS.

13. For Google Reader to add a ‘Remove items like this’ feature. There’s only so many times I can handle seeing an article about the latest cool gadget – ONCE.

14. For more webworker-friendly cafes in Sydney. (Damn I miss Red Rock 🙁 )

15. For startup founders to look beyond the fads and focus on problem solving. We’ve barely scratched the surface and we’re already distracted.

16. For YouTube to put a ‘Repeat’ button next to the ‘Play’ one. There *is* a use case for this, I promise 😉

16. And since I’m asking for all the impossibles from a non-existent entity – a couple of hundred thousand $$ and some 1337 skillz for me to start my startup? Oh, and a US work visa would be great too, if you could get that organised.

Thanks! *grin*

Merry Happy Christmas everyone!!