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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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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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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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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About the iPhone X notch controversy

The iPhone X was already controversial even before it was officially introduced last Tuesday, mostly due to the rumored removal of Touch ID in favor of Face ID.

However, Apple’s presentation caused a new controversy: the infamous notch. Even though the array of cameras and sensors got leaked long before the event, nobody knew how Apple was planning to do in order to integrate it with iOS 11. We have the answer now: Apple is so proud of that black bar that they decided to render the user interface around it.

Since Apple controls the operating system, they made sure it looks good with most 1st party apps. But what happens with 3rd party content like a website? The notch gets in the way. Continue reading

Tech interviews and how to cope with them

‘The recruiter will call you back soon’ told me the fourth (and last) interviewer I spoke with after a long day interviewing at the Microsoft campus.

I was pretty psyched about getting an offer and moving to Redmond. I wasn’t desperate (I think) but I definitely was a Microsoft fanboy willing to change his entire world to work there. I had decided to tell the recruiter that although I preferred a position related to developing Word’s ultimate new feature, I was willing to take pretty much any job there.

‘Let’s go straight to the point –  I accept your offer’, I practiced many times with a mirror. You can imagine my disappointment when the recruiter didn’t call me back, didn’t pick up my calls and didn’t reply to my emails.

Though I am not a black belt at interviewing in big tech companies, I have had my share of reality checks:

You had me at ‘hello’. I found that getting an interview with the Tech titans requires a lot more than building a nice resume and submitting it through their careers web page. I don’t think I am overstating when I say that this worked for me once in a hundred times. On the other hand, having someone internally refer me worked more often than not and reaching out to recruiters through LinkedIn also turned out to be a pretty good option. But by far the best way to get these companies’ attention is to be already in the club – once I joined Microsoft, other companies started poaching me.

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Why did you stop posting on Facebook?

Many of my friends have stopped posting on Facebook. Some have uninstalled the app and others even deleted their accounts.

They are not posting on Twitter either, and the more ephemeral Snapchat hasn’t reached critical mass among my closest friends.

Instagram is the only place where I still get a glimpse of the most intimate side of the people I love the most, but I’d say only 20% of my online friends actively use it.

What causes someone to stop sharing on social media? Is it a natural part of being over 30? Or is there an actual problem with the platform? Talking to 12 of these friends, I learned that there are several groups.

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I broke Facebook

I’m sitting on a train, on my way to Whistler, and I decide to check Facebook. I’m hoping to see what my friends did last night, or what their plans are for Thanksgiving, but this is what I see:

I don’t see almost any personal posts, or pictures that help me connect with my friends, with the people I love. Isn’t that Facebook’s mission? Instead, I get irrelevant stories.

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This is your tech bubble in Seattle

You wake up with fake sunlight from your Wi-Fi-enabled lamp and you reach for your smartphone before you even open one eye. After checking that you finally reached 90% of sleep efficiency, you start your morning ritual through your social media apps.

A few more ‘Clinton has already won the Elections’ news from your Facebook feed remind you that November 8th is finally tomorrow. You walk to the bathroom with a sense of accomplishment: you retweeted a couple of anti-Trump news articles that a friend shared.

The smart toothbrush congratulates you for not missing any teeth 3 days in a row and you jump in the shower while listening to OneRepublic’s ‘Future Looks Good’, how appropriate!

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