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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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.


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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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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On Leadership

What is a leader? What traits do I want to make sure I have as a leader? What has my experience taught me so far? I’ve been trying to answer these questions and have been thinking about what leadership means to me. 

Even though the dictionary defines a leader as “the person who leads or commands a group”, I do not believe that this simple definition is the same thing as being a true leader. A person that merely uses their “power” to intimidate others into getting things done is not a leader. Likewise, a person who uses fear to motivate people into getting things done, or walks over people in a selfish attempt to achieve a goal, is also not a leader.

So, what qualifies someone as a great leader? Let’s start with a fact, and one that many leaders refuse to acknowledge; there are no perfect leaders. We are human and we have weaknesses. We are human and we have strengths. The key is to spot the differences between the two, understand the pros and cons of both, and be a leader that is balanced.

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On Risk Taking

“I wish they would lay me off so I can take time off”, “I would love to live abroad but it’s just too much of a change”,  “I thought of that idea first, I wish I had done it myself” and “That seems too hard” are some of the things I’ve heard friends and myself say so many times. Changing is hard, I know it, but why do we live “hoping” and “going with the flow” rather than doing? What are we afraid of? I don’t claim to know the answer but this blog post has some of my thoughts on how I try to approach taking risks.

The first thing is that each of us live in a comfort zone. It’s easier to deal with the known than with the unknown. It is easier to just go with the flow and let chance and others take decisions for us. This begs the question, why do we let this happen though?

We are afraid of failure. Failing is hard, and when you fail, you KNOW you fail. In Silicon Valley, failure is part of life and it’s encouraged. Only by failing we get better. People always talk about trying things and failing. However, there is still a big stigma in failing. In particular this is very strong in cultures like mine (I’m Mexican) where failure is synonym for loser.

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On Learning

Before I start, I apologize for not writing in the past almost two years. I’ve been on a pretty busy adventure and I promise to make up for it. This post will be one of the first of a series of posts not on technology itself but more on my thoughts about how to live in the world of technology.

The technology world only has one constant: change. In the past ten years though, change has accelerated at an incredible pace thanks to the Internet, crowd sourcing collaboration (aka open source) and an economic system that has allowed engineers to take risks. Even though this rapid change is amazing, it’s really hard to keep up with the rate of change but change we must.

Ever since I was a child I’ve been curious about things. I like to explore new things and learn about them. Either learning how to make computers do things, how to make a mercury thermometer or how wine is made. Reflecting about this topic I even found it interesting how I am more interested on the making-of movie add-ons than the movie. My curiosity is broad and has led me to continuously challenge myself to understand the world as a whole rather than its parts. We usually live in a bubble and learning things outside our bubble helps us be better every day.

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Have Facebook and Twitter lost their innovative soul?

The MIT Technology Review named the top 50 smartest companies and Fast Company named the top 50 most innovative companies of the year. Not surprisingly Microsoft was not named on them as innovations stalled in part due to its soul searching. Surprisingly though, Facebook and Twitter were not on those lists either. Last year they were the poster child of innovation, where are they now?

Fast Company had an explanation as to why they were not on the list: they talked about how they didn’t do innovations, which is true, but the real question is why. One word: IPO.

Doing an IPO changes everything. Whether you like it or not, your number one priority is not your users anymore but your investors, at least for the time being. Investors want only one thing: growth. Once you show growth then you have earned your investors’ trust. Facebook’s biggest achievement last year was not coming from innovation but from revenue. Not a small task by any means, they accomplished mobile monetization. Twitter is struggling to get there too, but they are already focused on that issue.

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The next battle is not just about wearables but smart sensors

This year’s CES was filled with tons of interesting technologies such as bendable super-high-resolution TVs, new computers that have multiple OSs, wearables, and other cool stuff. What really caught my attention was the hype around smart sensors: every year there is a lot of hype about certain technologies that do not stick (remember 3D?), but I think this one is going to, although not how we think it will.

There is a lot of chatter around wearables, but I think it is a limiting term if we think about the core technology: the smart sensor. A wearable is just a series of sensors that can process data in the environment and communicate with the user and a network fitted to be on a human. The Fitbit is a great example of this, it hangs in your wrist and senses step movements and altitude changes, which it then processes and gives the user clear actionable data through the LED screen and through their apps (web and mobile). Another example of a wearable is the Mimo baby monitor which is embedded in a pajama and keeps track of your baby’s vitals and lets you know if anything goes wrong through your mobile device.

Another buzz word going on around right now is the Internet of Things. Whenever there is a new buzz word, everybody tries to define it. For me, it’s comprised of two categories: the first is the miniaturization of a PC/Mobile Device (think of an ATM or Auto dashboard) and the second is the application of smart sensors. This second one has a huge potential and wearables are part of this category even though the industry thinks they are not.

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Would you sell your driving privacy for a potential discount?

I attended a presentation by Kevin Mitnick several years ago where he claimed that he could get a person’s account password by offering them a pen, by the end of the presentation he was able to get several. In reality people do give up their information for a benefit, Google gives you free search results, Facebook keeps you connected with friends for free, Nielsen pays you to know your TV habits and even the government with their NSA programs provides security (although this has been controversial to say the least).

I first heard about Progressive from my marketing professor, who raved about them. He really loved this company due to their offerings and their great marketing. He also talked about their Snapshot program where Progressive sends a customer a device that tracks their driving habits and provides a discount to do so. At the time, I was very happy with my car insurance but started noticing the advertisement around this program. I found it very intriguing and was curious about it. Last August when I bought a new car my insurance company dropped the ball and I decided to give Progressive a try.

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