What I learned moving from building enterprise to consumer software

Last April I decided to take a big jump from building enterprise software to building consumer products. I am very grateful to have found a place that would allow me to learn the ropes of the consumer business without sacrificing any of the internal goals. This past year has been a great learning experience with big learnings and here are my key takeaways.

Enterprise vs Consumer? What’s the big deal? 

Building enterprise software is a different beast than building it for consumers. They share several core components such as requiring a secure, reliable infrastructure and following best software practices including sprint models. However, I see three key differences.

Difference 1: Knowing what your customers want 

In the enterprise world you go out and talk to your customers and it’s fairly clear what they need. Even building roadmaps is fairly easy. In the consumer world it’s not as easy. Because you are building software for millions of customers you can’t talk to all of them, so you have to find proxies to it.  Unfortunately, many times these proxies are not perfect hence you require to test a lot (and I do mean a lot). On the good side, because consumer software is used right away you get instant feedback and know if you have a success or a fail.

Difference 2: Speed 

My first products were at Microsoft where it would take 3 years to release a product. So there was a lot of focus on building the perfect product, then I moved to the enterprise cloud work where I thought we were moving really fast and delivered products so fast that HP Enterprise didn’t know how to handle our release cadence. However, even in the cloud enterprise products you have to be very careful about speed as you cannot break your customers. Their business depends on your reliability and they won’t don’t move fast for you.

Now, in consumer, holy crap the difference! In this past year we have delivered three new products, iterated hundreds of times on both product and merchandising, and every day we have several releases. This comes even when we are a small team of three PMs and about 20 devs. Moving this fast enables us to test a lot of things, some work, some do not, but being fast enables you to continuously improve. For me, moving from an enterprise world where you usually do not want to fail, to this fast moving pace of failing fast was a bit overwhelming at first. However, it is extremely satisfying to look back and see all the accomplishments and how much further the products advanced in just a short period of time.

Difference 3: Every day survival 

In enterprise you are locked in to long contracts. While I worked in enterprise I really didn’t care much about everyday revenue rather than winning the next big contract. However, in consumer, every day you are sweating your butt to ensure revenue goes up, and God forbid goes down. The pressure on consumer is big as if you mess up anything related to revenue you might screw the monthly goals. And believe me, there is nothing worse than going to your CEO and telling him, “well we just found a bug that led us to 40k revenue loss for this month”. So you need to move fast while not tripping on your feet.

Ok, great. Got the differences. So what are the learnings?

Learning #1: Move fast, but don’t rush 

As a product manager you need to have three mindsets. What’s the long term direction  (easier said than done), what’s the work for next two sprints and what are we doing today. It’s critical that the team moves fast delivering value to both our users as well as to the business. Being fast is critical because you have to try many things and because you need to get feedback to continuously improve. Don’t aim for perfection, rather market fit and improve by iterating. If you are slow, you will never make it. However, there is the danger of rushing things and being sloppy. Sloppiness can come in two forms, doing things that didn’t matter (because you didn’t have enough time to think them through) and bad quality (bugs, broken experiences). Both are bad and hit teams morale hence it’s important to remember you are in a marathon not a sprint. Constantly delivering quality work is better than rushed outbursts of work.

Learning #2: Always think what if and what else 

As a product manager in enterprise we usually got specific features in mind which would require a lot of thinking and polishing. It really doesn’t require that much creativity and imagination. In consumer world, it’s the opposite. You have to keep thinking creatively of options to attack problems. There are many ways you can achieve the same goal (e.g. increase click through, conversion or retention) but usually the first idea doesn’t work or even if it does, then there is the question of what else? Hence why it’s so critical to always keep thinking of options and doing research on what others are doing (even outside your industry).

Learning #3: Never lose sight on the goal that matters  

As per Learning #2 it’s important that you know the goal you are trying to achieve. Believe me, you can spend a lot of time doing cool stuff but everything you do should be because you want to move a metric or metrics. It’s also important to know how much you want to move your metric. This is definitely easier said than done, especially having so many data sources. We’ve had our fair share of challenges on this subject. Hence, it’s important to define your source of truth and automate this as much as possible.

Learning #4: What you think will work, probably won’t. Have options. 

One needs to get used to the idea that logical stuff not always works. Enterprise software is all about making the logical decision, in consumer it’s about doing the emotional decision. In consumer, more often than not, the thing you think is the worst is the one that works.  A great example of this is infomercials, I have never bought anything from them because I think they are cheap products and crappy ads but… they sell a ton otherwise they wouldn’t be paying big bucks for airtime.

Learning #5: Marketing is your friend 

One of the biggest skill gaps I had before joining the team was the ability to be a sales man. I took branding, advertising and other marketing related classes in my MBA but never really applied them. There are two components of marketing that is very important to nail down. In order to execute them well you need to make sure you become peas in a pod with your marketing counter parts.

The first is having the right product offerings. This includes right pricing, bundling and the ability to upsell to your users. We have all heard that supermarkets put candy at checkout or put beer next to diapers to make customers buy one more thing. We struggled  for months until we hired a marketing pro to help us get our act together. It’s critical to have a framework and be very disciplined as you can easily lose track of it.

The second is to sell a dream. Whatever you do, it’s important that you are clear about what you are selling. Sometimes as product managers we love to brag about the new features or even products we build. However, customers don’t care about any of that. Customers care about what they can accomplish or get with your product. Learn to tell a story that your customers want to hear.

 Learning #6: Enable actionable user feedback mechanisms 

You can spend a lot of time trying to get data from your users to know what to improve. However, if you do not structure that effort in a way that you can take action on then it’s useless. Be very clear on what and why you want to understand. Furthermore, build communication mechanisms with your users. For example, in our new app we implemented several mechanisms that allows us to control the conversation but also we have the commitment to respond to every piece of feedback. This allows us to be closer to our users and it really makes a difference.

To finish, building consumer products is similar but not the same as enterprise. Both are very exciting and each has its rewards. So far my reward has been to open my mind to endless possibilities and enabling curiosity that I used but was constrained. Can’t wait to see what the next year will bring on.


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Fixing Facebook’s privacy problem

Facebook has been receiving criticism once again for how they handled users’ personal data. Here is a quick summary: in 2013, a 3rd party developer acquired large amounts of data from about 50 million users through an old platform capability (which was removed by Facebook itself one year later to prevent abuse); this data was then used to target US voters during the 2016 Presidential Election. The issue is complex in depth and it highlights a bigger underlying problem: users’ privacy expectations are not aligned with the commitment from most tech companies.

Zuckerberg said in a recent interview with Wired, “early on […] we had this very idealistic vision around how data portability would allow all these different new experiences, and I think the feedback that we’ve gotten from our community and from the world is that privacy and having the data locked down is more important to people.”

Regardless, Facebook never committed to fully lock down users’ data, and their business model was in fact built around the value that data can have for advertisers through interest relevance and demographic targeting. Google and Facebook accounted for 73% of all US digital ad revenue in the second quarter of FY18, up from 63% two years before.

I can nonetheless relate to that idealistic vision between privacy and technology. The more information the Google Assistant knows about the music I like, the better it can personalize my listening experience. Richer actions become available too, like allowing me to control the Nest thermostat or the lights by voice. At the end of the day, I’m trusting Google with my music taste and the devices installed in my house, and I get the benefit of convenience in return.

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4 lessons I learned losing money on Bitcoin

I looked at the “Buy Bitcoin” button and paused, was I ready to do it? had I read enough articles explaining what is blockchain? 2017 had just closed after an all-time high for cryptocurrencies, and according to many enthusiasts, it was just the beginning. I felt like I was missing out, so I pushed the button and sat back. I felt confident, but in reality, I had no idea what I was doing.

I passively consumed news about Bitcoin for years, but I never went deep enough to properly understand the technology behind it and its potential. Even though I followed the ultimate rule of “investing only what you can afford losing”, the truth is that I only began to comprehend blockchain technology after I already got my feet wet. I started losing money shortly after my first order completed, these are the 4 lessons I learned since then.

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1. A big Bitcoin dive can drag the rest of the crypto market with it

There is so much speculation around cryptocurrencies and so many people investing in them without having a clue, that a moment of panic can snowball into a sudden market crash. A Bitcoin crash can affect many investors’ confidence in other cryptocurrencies (or altcoins), dragging their price down as well.

Many altcoins are variants of Bitcoin with small code differences, making their prices change practically in parallel to Bitcoin’s.

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Amazon Go: A.I.’s grim face?

I have been waiting since college on RFID’s failed promise to deliver a walk-away checkout experience, and Amazon finally made it possible. After reading my co-blog writer’s experience in the Amazon Go store I had to check it out for myself and was excited for it. All my friend’s pictures were of long lines, but thankfully I am a morning person and there was no line when I got there. My goal was to pretend I had no idea what it was or how it worked. My experience overall was good, with the exception of the on-boarding process. I was greeted with a condescending “oh, you don’t have the app?” and was asked to stay aside. My T-Mobile reception was very poor so it took me a bit to get started. Once I downloaded the app and signed into my Amazon account everything was smooth. Mission accomplished! In this post, I’m not going to talk about the actual store (Ivan did a great job already) but about the implications of the first tangible and successful AI automated store.

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Exterior of the Amazon Go store

Automation has always been part of our history. Automation has helped us evolve into the society we have now. Such as, automating how we grow and crop food so we can have a good food supply, the industrial revolution to make things faster and cheaper, the assembly line to make them even faster and cheaper, and finally computers to automate processes and tasks. Now, AI is here and it will automate all of our productivity.

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I experienced the future of retail: Amazon Go

The craziest thing I’ve seen is someone who came in dressed in a Pikachu costume“, said an Amazon employee while she handed me a promotional bag with the Amazon Go logo on one side and the text ‘good food fast’ on the other.

I arrived at the new store in downtown Seattle around 7:20 pm and was surprised to see the line of people still reached the end of the block. It had been a cold day in Seattle but that didn’t discourage the hundreds of people who came to see the ‘magical’ store on day 0. I didn’t use the term ‘magical’ lightly here: the experience was truly unique and it felt too good to be true. Amazon Go is probably the store with more sensors on the planet right now, and it is intimidating:

The ceiling of the Amazon Go store

Each of those boxes on the ceiling are cameras connected to deep learning algorithms that analyze every move you make: which aisle you walk through, what items you grab to read and then return to the shelf, what items you put in your pockets or bag… everything to ensure you only get charged for what you take home. But also, everything to ensure your shopping pattern is studied and well understood. Maybe not today, but it’s the inevitable next step and the ultimate dream for any retail store: to know what their customers like and the type of advertisements that will work best on them.

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Nintendo Labo: Thinking outside the box (or with the box?)

When Nintendo released the Switch last year I was very surprised by what they had been able to achieve, take the gaming industry on a spin (again). Once again they proved that they can innovate in a crowded space with deep pocket rivals. They were able to achieve something fun, flexible and that meets our new lifestyle not by thinking of specs but thinking of use cases. They understand people still want to play but they don’t do it just in a living room, so they would meet them where they are by providing play flexibility (great article about that here). Now, with Labo they have done something I consider priceless: enable kids to imagine, play and dream by connecting both the physical world and the digital one.

I have to be honest, I did not buy the Switch right away and when I did I played it and then returned it. Sometimes there is a price for innovation. To me, the Switch has two big drawbacks. First it is the lack of games. I could care less for Zelda (yeah yeah hate me) and some of the other games are just “meh”. However, it was the release of Mario Odyssey that finally made me get it. I loved it, it was fun, I could play at home and take it with me. I bought my Switch just before my holiday trip and took it on the road with me. This meant playing with the Joy-Cons inserted to make a huge Gameboy. I’m a big guy and I am very jumpy and move around when playing. Towards the end of the trip my Switch started to break. My gameplay would stop every minute because they would get disconnected (guess I can’t be that excited while playing). Turned out that the price to pay for the hardware flexibility was ruggedness. So when it was time to return, I could exchange or return and decided for the former due to lack of games.

I thought that would be the end of my Switch journey but this week Nintendo announced Labo. Nintendo has always been great at thinking outside the box. Some of these product work (Wii, Amiibos) and some don’t (VirtualBoy, Wii U) and that is the price to pay to try new things. What amazes me is Nintendo’s relentless pursuit of not thinking about what is the next big technology push they can do, but how to enable new ways to bring playfulness into our lives.

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Are you rude to your virtual assistant?

2017 has been the year of the smart speaker. Amazon’s Echo Dot and Google’s Home Mini are currently selling for around $30, which makes them a popular Christmas gift. Using an Artificial Intelligence (AI) has never been cheaper and it’s finally reaching critical mass.

Companies are investing on AI more than ever: natural language recognition still has to improve a lot, but the current algorithms are already impressive. My favorite example: it’s now possible to ask “how long would it take me to get to Starbucks on 15th Ave?” and get an accurate response with the right assumptions. What a time to be alive!

All of this progress comes with side effects: having to learn how to talk to a machine. Often, people start talking without the wake-up keyword, and sometimes they forget to check if the device is actually listening, getting confused when there is no response to their inquiry. Talking to a machine is not easy and usually, very unsatisfactory.

Perhaps that dissatisfaction is what makes us be less aware about our manners when addressing an AI. What would you think if someone interrupted you mid-sentence with a sudden “STOP”? What if someone kept giving you orders relentlessly, never pausing to thank you? That’s how most of us talk to AI’s like Alexa or Siri, never saying “please” or “thank you”.

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Why is Net Neutrality important?

In a few days, on December 14th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to change how the internet is regulated in the United States. The impact on how regular users like you and me access information online could be massive, and here’s why.

Currently, there is policy around open communications, mandating that the treatment of traffic should be non-discriminatory: broadband providers cannot get in the way, they cannot censor or make deals that benefit certain types of content over others. For example, Comcast is not allowed today to treat Netflix differently than any other new video streaming startup.

The FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai (who worked as Associate General Counsel at Verizon), is proposing to vote to remove these rules in favor of a less regulated internet. Fewer regulations means, according to their main argument, that the amount of investments made by telecommunication companies will stop decreasing. However, the same data that the FCC used shows that investments have been flat at worse (or actually increased at best) since 2013.

The FCC also argues that if any corporation starts misbehaving, consumers can take their business elsewhere. Nonetheless, more than 50% of the US population only has access to one single internet provider, so they cannot even vote with their wallets. The only way to defend consumers rights will be through litigation and class action lawsuits.

Is everything bad in the new proposed plan? No, there is one important point that will be critical to detect future abuses: broadband providers are obligated to be transparent about their traffic practices; in other words, if Comcast made a deal to promote Netflix over any other streaming service, or if they started blocking or throttling certain sites, it would have to be public knowledge (even if that just means one more line in the fine print at the end of a contract).

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What’s in my phone’s home screen?

2017 is almost over, so I wanted talk about the apps that have taken the most important space on my phone during this year, and whether or not I think they’ll still be there next year.

Let’s start with a screenshot of my home screen:

I place apps in my home screen based on the frequency in which I use them. I try to minimize the amount of times I have to go to other pages of the home screen, so these are truly the apps that keep me going. But are all of these apps equally important for my daily tech routine? Will they stay in such a prominent position next year? Let’s break them into categories.

Connecting with friends & family

Messages, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Mail are absolutely critical to stay connected with family and friends, especially those in other countries. I’m convinced that I’ll keep these around since they are literally the first thing I check every morning.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have been part of an interesting migration during 2017: most of my friends stopped posting on Facebook and became more active on apps where their posts have a 24 hour expiration date. So far, most of my friends are choosing Instagram, probably due to the fact that it has a classic profile of everlasting posts; Snapchat will have a hard time recovering after the aggressive takeover from Instagram, so I would not be surprised if Snapchat didn’t make it on my phone through the next year.

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Would you give up your privacy for unlimited movies? interview with René Sánchez from CineSinFronteras.com

MoviePass is a subscription-based service that allows users to watch almost any movie in theaters for a flat monthly rate. In August, the company announced a surprisingly low price of $9.95, leaving many scratching their heads. I interviewed René Sánchez, cinema expert and movie critic at CineSinFronteras.com, and we discussed the privacy implications and the potential impact to the online streaming industry.

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Even though I’ve been using it for a month already, it still feels too good to be true. Were you surprised by the MoviePass announcement?

Yes, I was surprised by their announcement to reduce the monthly subscription price to just $9.95. It is such an amazing deal, especially when you consider that a regular, 2D movie here in the Seattle metro area costs between $12-15. So even if you only watch one movie every month, you will be saving some dollars with MoviePass! What shocked me the most was to know that the major exhibitors and theater chains were onboard with this change. I expected a lot of pushback from them, considering their old-school ways to operate. So far, only AMC has tried (and failed) to restrict the use of MoviePass in their theaters.

What’s the problem that MoviePass is trying to solve?

People don’t go to the movie theaters anymore. Studios and exhibitors keep blaming Netflix and other rival streaming platforms for their audience loss, instead of recognizing the real root cause: the movie-going experience has become very expensive and obsolete. Ticket prices rise every year (the same goes for concessions), studios keep releasing sequels and remakes no one asked for, and most multiplexes scream for renovations (uncomfortable seats, run-down interiors, and poor image and sound quality). To top it off, patrons can sometimes be rude and annoying.

Again, it’s really not Netflix’s fault that people want to stay at home, rather than going out to watch a movie. Who wants to pay more than $60 (including tickets, food and parking/Uber) to enjoy a mediocre movie in a rickety auditorium, while everyone else is either talking or staring at their phones?

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