Why Founders Fail: The Product CEO Paradox | TechCrunch

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This happens all the time. A founder develops a breakthrough idea and starts a company to build it.

StartUP Product‘s insight:

By Ben Horowitz

Co-founder and partner ofAndreessen Horowitz

Quoting Ben’s points:

3 Main Reasons Founders fail to run the companies they created:

  1. founder doesn’t really want to be CEO
  2. board sees CEO making mistakes, panics and replaces them prematurely
  3. Many founders run smack into the Product CEO Paradox
Product CEO Paradox
Problem: CEO was only world-class at the product, so they effectively transformed themself from an excellent, product-oriented CEO into a crappy, general-purpose CEO
Prevention: great product-oriented founder/CEOs stay involved in the product throughout their careers

Product-oriented CEO’s essential involvement consists of at least the following activities:

  • Keep and drive the product vision
  • Maintain the quality standard
  • Be the integrator
  • Make people consider the data they don’t have
How do you back off gracefully in general without backing off at all in some areas?
  • formally structure your product involvement, i.e. transition from your intimately involved motion to a process that enables you to make your contribution without disempowering your team
  • Write it; don’t say it.
  • Formalize and attend product reviews
  • Don’t communicate direction outside of your formal mechanisms

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#ProdMgmtTalk Live Broadcast: Terry Jones, Founder and Former CEO,

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Terry Jones, Founder & Former CEO, 06/10 by ProdMgmtTalk | Blog Talk Radio

Terry Jones, Founder & Former CEO, 06/10 by ProdMgmtTalk | Blog Talk Radio


For Innovation’s Sake, Reach Through the ‘Bozone’ Layer!

Terry Jones founded and then founded its new competitor What was the secret to his decades of leadership success?

“The leaders at the top need to hear from the people on the line – the clerks, the customer service reps, the people who are actually touching the customers,” says Jones, author of On Innovation (

“They’re almost always the employees with the best ideas for solving problems, streamlining processes, improving the customers’ experience. That’s where innovation begins.

The trouble is, in companies where the leadership has made failure too risky for middle managers, an impenetrable “bozone layer” forms between those at the top and those at the bottom.

“The short-term solution is for leaders to find ways to reach through the ‘bozone layer’ and talk to the workers. Solicit their ideas, implement them and give them a really big shout out for their great contribution,” Jones says.

“The long-term solution is to vaporize the bozone layer by changing the culture.

Encourage experimentation and new ideas. When something doesn’t work, kill the project — not the person! People need to know it’s safe to experiment and even to fail.”

Discussion Questions

  • If company leaders reward middle managers for their successes, doesn’t that encourage risk-taking?
  • In your own experience as a business leader, what was the best innovative idea you implemented that came from “the bottom”?
  • How can leaders win the trust of managers who’ve seen people demoted or fired for taking a risk that bombed?
  • What’s a good example of an innovative company that has successfully dealt with the bozone layer?

Terry Jones joined host, Cindy F. Solomon, on Monday, June 10, 2013 at the simultaneous times of 10:00 AM Pacific Time, 11:00 AM MST Denver, 12:00 Noon CST Chicago, and 1:00 PM EST Boston.

Participants are welcome to listen live to the weekly show at, call in to talk on the show (323) 927-2957 and to participate on Twitter by following @ProdMgmtTalk and tweeting using the hashtag #ProdMgmtTalk

About Terry Jones
Terry Jones founded in 1996 and led the company as president and CEO until May 2002. He is managing principal of Essential Ideas, a consultancy he cofounded to help companies in their transition to the digital economy, and serves as chairman of the board at, which he also founded. Previously, he served as chief information officer at Sabre Inc., where he held various executive positions for 24 years. Before Sabre, he joined American Airlines as director of product development and eventually became president of the division. Jones is a graduate of Denison University.

Terry’s New Book is “ON Innovation”

This book’s focus is turning on innovation in your culture, teams and organization.

On Innovation has 72 short ideas on how to build teams, create a culture, and select the best ideas. It includes a section on “Innovation in a large corporation”

It is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format and in the IBook store for Ipad.

First editorial reviews of ON Innovation

Terry Jones’s book “On Innovation” is a gem. You’ll come away from this book enriched, even if you just only dip into it in 10 minute snatches now and again.  TNOOZ Travel News

If you’re looking for inspiration to kick-start your business for 2013, get your hands on a copy of ON INNOVATION. Tahoe Bonanza

A quick and inspiring take on building innovation from the ground up.  KIRKUS Reviews

The book… speaks in layman’s terms, to the everyman and everywoman who wants to better himself or herself and their teams. MOONSHINE INK

This is a book that is ideal for front line staff, CEOs and definitely middle managers… “how to” book. How to do things, how to look at your business in a new way, how to be strategic, how to listen — overall, how to innovate. Lake Tahoe News

PIPELINE 2013 Mini Conference: June 19th

View special re-airings of presentations from Terry Jones and Dr. Robert Cooper and then join them for live Q&A. Already registered? You’ll just log in right here on June 19 with your email address. Not yet registered?Register today for the PIPELINE 2013 Mini Conference: June 19th.

The omission of “why?”

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A few years back, I worked at a company which made a very simple mistake in how they delivered product, which unduly limited the amount internal innovation: the omission of why.
The company was in the…

StartUP Product‘s insight:

By Joe Stump

As a business, you’re trying to hire the best and brightest folks across your organization

  • Allow lateral thinking among your employees by coloring in some of the context around why a feature is necessary
  • Educate everyone else in the business of customer needs by answering why
  • Share knowledge and the expression of intent to reinforce the notion of consistently delivering value.

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#ProdMgmtTalk Live Broadcast: Jason Chicola, Founder And CEO Of

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Jason Chicola

Listen to internet radio with ProdMgmtTalk on BlogTalkRadio


Businesses have a tough time interacting with people who are overseas and in different time zones. There is also the hassle involved with having to select the best workers from a large pool of possible freelancers, leaving business customers unsure of what the final results will be.

Jason says, “Happy to join the Global Product Management Talk community to talk about how technology has impacted the labor marketplaces and freelance workers, as well as how product management has changed over the past decade.”

StartUP Product‘s insight:

Jason Chicola, Founder And CEO Of Will Discuss Megatrends Of Remote Work, Labor Marketplaces Vs Crowdsourcing, And The Role Of Technology In Freelance Work



Background resources:


Participants are welcome to listen live at, call in to talk on the show (323) 927-2957 and to participate on Twitter by following @ProdMgmtTalk and tweeting using the hashtag #ProdMgmttalk

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Background reading:

Cognitive Overhead, Or Why Your Product Isn’t As Simple As You Think | TechCrunch

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Editor’s Note: David Lieb is co-founder and CEO of Bump, creators of the popular app that lets people share contact information, photos, and other content by bumping their phones together. Bump has been downloaded more than 130 million times.

StartUP Product‘s insight:

  • mass market is comprised mostly of people who sit in the middle of the tech-adopter bell curve, and since they aren’t product designers, computer programmers, and tech bloggers, they require an even higher degree of simplicity.
  • product builders should first and foremost minimize the Cognitive Overhead of their products, even though it often comes at the cost of simplicity in other areas.

How To make Cognitively Simple Products

  1. Put your user in the middle of your flow. If they are part of the flow, they have a better vantage point to see what’s going on.
  2. Give people real-time feedback.
  3. let your user understand and appreciate what your service is doing for them.
  4. Test on the young, old … and drunk.
  5. Let people use your product, and then ask them to tell you what it does.

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#ProdMgmtTalk on Human Centered Design with Chris Pacione, CEO, LUMA Insititute

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Chris Pacione, CEO, LUMA Institute, Will Discuss The Practice Of Human-Centered Design For Preparing People, Teams, And Entire Organizations To Increase Innovation

Human Centered Design: Chris Pacione, CEO, LUMA Insititute 04/08 by ProdMgmtTalk | Blog Talk Radio

Human Centered Design: Chris Pacione, CEO, LUMA Insititute 04/08 by ProdMgmtTalk | Blog Talk Radio


Monday, April 8, 2013 at the simultaneous times of 10:00 AM Pacific Time, 11:00 AM MST Denver, 12:00 Noon CST Chicago, and 1:00 PM EST Boston.
Background resources:
Mark your calendar with the correct time:
Follow for reminders:
Curated Content:

The Global Product Management Talk features an expert guest discussing pre-posted questions with Cindy F. Solomon, co-hosts, and Twitter participants broadcast live over BlogTalkRadio. The transcript of Tweets and podcast are available following the event for on-demand consumption on the web, iTunes, Google Play and mobile devices. More information available at Get reminders and listen live by following

What is #ProdMgmtTalk?
Join Global Product Management Talk!
Never participated in a twitter chat? FAQs
Learn How to participate in Socratic Twitter Talk via Global Prod Mgmt Talk

Learn about Tweeting Best Practices and Twitter Talk FAQs
Want to reach target audience of Product Professionals? Sponsor Global Product Management Talk!

Join us at automatically appends hashtag
Our format: we post questions Q1, Q2, Q3 Please answer using A1, A2, A3

Questions for Discussion:
PreQ: Please introduce yourself, where you are tweeting from & your involvement with #prodmgmt #prodmgmttalk

Q1 Are you someone who strives to maintain the status quo? Or are you someone who wants to make things better?

Q2 Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why? Why now?

Q3 If so, do you consider yourself innovative? You know, fluent in it. Do you consider yourself good at it, something you have enough expertise in, in order to apply this expertise consistently and successfully most of the time?

Q4 How many people would say they know what it even means to be competent in innovation? If someone, or some organization on the whole is good at innovation, what *exactly* are they good at?

Q5 Do you consider yourself a designer? Why? Why not?

About Chris Pacione

As a Co-Founder and CEO of LUMA Institute, Chris leads a highly skilled, multidisciplinary team of practitioners located around the world who are passionate about preparing organizations to be more innovative. He is a frequent speaker on the topic of design and innovation in the US, Europe and Asia and is co-author of the book, “Innovating for People”.

Prior to LUMA Institute, Chris co-founded BodyMedia, Inc., one of the early pioneers in wearable health monitoring, and headed up experience design and customer marketing.

Chris’s work has been cited in numerous national and international publications including Business Week, the NY times, Wired Magazine and Fast Company as well as several popular books about design and innovation including “In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World” and “The Design of Things to Come: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products.”

He holds several IDEA Gold Medal Awards sponsored by Business Week and the Industrial Designers Society of America and has been awarded numerous US and EU patents for his work.
Pittsburgh, PA
Email: chris at

Key Takeaways from the Roadmapping and Execution Panel at Startup Product Summit SF

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By Michelle Sun

Here are the notes for the Roadmapping and Execution Lightning Talks and Panel at Startup Product Summit SF.  Omissions and errors are mine (please let me know if you find any, thank you!), credit for the wisdom is entirely the speakers’.

“Building a Great Product Through Communication” – Joe Stump, Co-Founder,

  • Product manager’s role is to capture, communicate and distill product ideas, and mediate between business stakeholders and makers.
  • When building a product, pick two out of the three: quickly, correctly, cheaply.  Joe later mentioned on Twitter that he would pick quickly and correctly, as paying for quality is no brainer.
  • “Want to increase innovation? Lower the cost of failure” – Joi Ito
  • Empower every developer to commit things to the product through non-blocking development (NBD).
  • Advocate the move to 100% asynchronous communication because current approach is broken (needs human input to track reality) and remote teams are becoming more common.

“Raw Agile: Eating Your Own Dog Food” – Nick Muldoon, Agile Program Manager, Twitter

  • Twitter does dog-fooding by allowing developers deploy to internal server. Dog-fooding allows:
    • gathering real data from real (though internal) users.
    • increases incentive to produce quality shipped code.
    • better feedback.  He found that feedback in dog-fooding environment is generally more constructive.
    • keeps momentum through a positive reinforcing loop of continuous deployment and feedback. The team gets 50-100 feedback from internal users each day.
  • How to decipher and sift through the volume of feedback.  Look at only the “love” feedback, then all the “hate”, then discard the middle, categorize and show to the whole team.
  • Other important aspects in dog-fooding:
    1. Automation. Allow deploy more frequently especially internally.  ”On any commit, deploy internally.” Avoid accumulating technical debt.
    2. Visibility. Record progress and share on a wiki.
    3. SpeedMinimize cycle time (from to do to in progress, to done).

Best Practices for Architecting Your App to Ship Fast and Scale Rapidly” – Solomon Hykes, Founder & CEO, dotCloud

  • 3 things to aim for in architecting your app: speed (continuous deployment), scale, future-proofing (be prepared for things moving very fast, avoid bottleneck and need to refactor when adding every new feature).
  • What are the patterns/strategies in getting to these three goals?
    1. Be aware of trade-offs. There is no silver bullet; always trade-offs and prioritization.
    2. Trade-offs evolve over time.  Priorities change. Be aware of assumptions and revisit them from time to time.
    3. Trade-offs differ from team to team.  Be aware of bias in different teams. Always keep ownership of key decisions.
  • Put yourself in a position where you are embarrassed, and things are going to happen faster.

“Rocket Powered Bicycles: Avoiding Over and Under Engineering your Product” – Chris Burnor, Co-Founder & CTO, GroupTie & Curator, StartupDigest

  • A product connects business priorities with user experience.
  • Proposes that instead of Minimum Viable Product (MVP), think about Product: Viable Minimum (PVM).  Focus on viability.
  • A scientific method to approaching product roadmapping.
    • Idea: think about business priorities, user experience.  Do not let technical decisions drive your product.  Let product drive your technical decisions.
    • Test: Viability of the solution is whether it solves the problem it’s setting out to solve.  Determine what level of viability is suitable in different stages: GroupTie’s first viable minimum was a keynote presentation that was sent to potential customers.
      Scale of tests will vary.  Lack of big tests means the lack of breakout growth/ideas, lack of small tests means the team is doing too much.
    • Conclusion:  Debriefing phase is vital, share test results with the team and learn what it means to the idea. Testing without debriefing is like “talking without listening” in a conversation.
  • An unusual example of a PVM is Apple.  Product first: cares about user experience and business priorities.  Viability second: it just works.  Minimalism third: wait till a technology is ripe before adding to the product (no LTE for a long time, no RFID).

Notes on other panels:

About The Author

Michelle Sun is a product enthusiast and python developer.  She worked at Bump Technologies as a Product Data Analyst and graduated from the inaugural class of Hackbright Academy. Prior to Hackbright, she founded a mobile loyalty startup. She began her career as an investment research analyst. When she is not busy coding away these days, she enjoys blogging, practicing vinyasa yoga and reading about behavioral psychology. Follow her on Twitter at @michellelsun and her blog.

Key Takeaways from the Design Thinking and Rapid Prototyping Panel at Startup Product Summit SF

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By Michelle Sun

I had the privilege to attend the first Startup Product Summit in SF on Feb 7, 2013. It was a great lineup of speakers and a full room of buzzing energy and great conversation.  Without further adieu, I’d like to share some key learnings of each panel.

Please let me know if I omitted or made any errors in the references. Credit for the good stuff is entirely the speakers’ (link to twitter handles are included on each name).

Turning Mediocre Products into Awesome Products” – Jonathan Smiley, Partner & Design Lead, ZURB

  • Ideation and iteration can ”turn mediocre products into awesome products”.
  • Discussed a full spectrum of research from market-driven (focus group, survey) to user-driven (remote teaching, usability teaching)
  • Importance of sketching, a lot, aim for speed and volume, then critique
  • Advice to the audience: ”do 10 more sketches ( more ideation is always better ), build 1 more prototype, get 1 more round of feedback, ask 5 more customers”

“Being a UX Team of One” – Vince Baskerville, Product, Lithium & Co-Founder, TripLingo

1. Internal politics is a common challenge as a UX team/professional.  Learn to manage expectation of different internal stakeholders and keep everyone in the loop.

2. Don’t listen to what customers are saying.  Users’ claims are often unreliable.  See what they are doing.  Understand the underlying issue.

“Validate Your MVP on Paper” – Poornima Vijayashanker, Founder & CEO, BizeeBee & Femgineer

– 2 Reasons MVP Fail
1. Fail to figure out how to provide a simple value proposition that differentiates your product from your competition
2. Fail to figure out who their early adopter are.

– Early adopters are people who aren’t using the competitor’s product. Don’t want to take time to switch over.

– Steps on usability testing

  1. Explain the problem. What you are testing. How they are helping. Get them excited about the idea.
  2. Set expectations. Make them comfortable.
  3. Communicate intention (what exactly are you testing and specific feedback you are looking for).
  4. Thank them for their time. Follow up regularly.

Poornima’s slides are available here.

“Everyone’s Customers Are Wrong” – Evan Hamilton, Head of Community, UserVoice

  • Data doesn’t tell the whole story.  Analytics are bandaids because we can’t watch our customers.
  • People don’t tell the whole story.  Identify who the users are, where the feedback are from.  Are they: paying/freeloaders? Using product in the intended way? Using main features? Early adopters / ‘tech fanatics’ (who are not likely to stay on a product for the long haul)?
  • Combine data and customer stories.  Customer feedback / feature suggestion usually leads from a deeper issue.  Find out what the actual problem is by understanding the underlying need.
  • Don’t lose track of your creative mind by getting lost in data rat-hole.  Don’t chase 1% when you can get 15%.  Not just A/B, but try something crazy.  Try big bold things along with incremental fine-tunes.

“Designing for Everyone: The Craft of Picking or Killing a Concept” –Miki Setlur, Product Designer, Evernote

  • Everyone use product in many different ways.  A useful strategy is to segment users into business, partners (e.g., app stores for Evernote’s case) and users.
  • Figure out what each segment cares the most about: Business / Partners – acquisition, retention, engagement, revenue.  Users – being faster, better, happier.
  • Case study on how Evenote’s design process stroke balance between business goals (monetizing) while being sensitive to user experience and goals (finding things faster).

Other relevant points 

How to access willingness to pay during pre-product interviews.  Get the first dollar within the trial period.  Provide clear value proposition from the get-go.

How to get good feedback.  Be specific in what feedback are you looking for.  Instead of asking in general ‘what do you think of the prototype’, ask whether they are confused on what stage, what was confusing.

Tips on prototyping. Put more emphasis on story telling than illustrating.
For remote testing, use keynote as prototyping tool, screencast the keynote.

On the tension between product vs. business goals in roadmapping a product.  Early stage products make sense to focus on product.  Once reached product market fit, it makes sense to lead with business goals such as, acquiring, converting, retention customers.
Also mentioned was a tool called Impact Mapping.

Read on:

About The Author

Michelle Sun is a product enthusiast and python developer.  She worked at Bump Technologies as a Product Data Analyst and graduated from the inaugural class of Hackbright Academy. Prior to Hackbright, she founded a mobile loyalty startup. She began her career as an investment research analyst. When she is not busy coding away these days, she enjoys blogging, practicing vinyasa yoga and reading about behavioral psychology. Follow her on Twitter at @michellelsun and her blog.

Objectively Making Product Decisions

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by Joe Stump

Deciding which mixture of features to release, and in what order, to drive growth in your product is difficult as it stands. Figuring out a way to objectively make those decisions with confidence can sometimes feel downright impossible.

On November 12th, we released 1.0 to our customers. It was a fairly massive release with core elements being redesigned, major workflows being updated, and two major new features. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Here’s an excerpt from an actual customer email:

“Well, I’ve just spent some time with your 1.0 release, and I think it’s wonderful. It’s got a bunch of features I’ve been sorely missing. To wit:

  • Triage view – a Godsend or, no he didn’t?!
  • Single-line item view – where have you been all my life?
  • Convenient item sorting icons – OMG, how did you know?
  • Item sizing, assigning, following icons everywhere – spin us faster, dad!

I’m sure there are a ton more, but these are great improvements.”

Yes, how did we know? I’m going to lay out the methodologies that we used at to craft the perfect 1.0 for our users. It all begins with a lesson in survivorship bias. In short, survivor bias, as it applies to product development, posits that you’re going to get dramatically different responses to the question “What feature would you like?” when asking current customers versus former or potential customers.


You do have an exit survey, yes? If not, stop reading this now, go to Wufoo, and set up a simple form asking customers who cancel their accounts or leave your product for input on why they left. You can take a look at ours for reference.

The problem with exit surveys and customer feedback in general is that everyone asks for things in slightly different ways. Customer A says “Android”, Customer B says “iOS”, and Customer C says “reactive design”. What they’re all really saying is “mobile”. Luckily, human brains are pretty good pattern recognition engines.

So here’s what I did:

  1. Created a spreadsheet and put groups along the top for each major theme I noticed in our exit surveys. I only put a theme up top if it was mentioned by more than one customer.
  2. I then went through every single exit survey and put a one (1) underneath each theme whenever an exit survey entry mentioned it. I’d put a one under each theme mentioned in each exit survey entry.
  3. I then calculated basic percentages of each theme so that I could rank each theme by what percentage of our former customers had requested that the theme be addressed.

Here’s the results:
Now I know you don’t know our product as well as yours so the themes might not make much sense, but allow me to elaborate on the points that I found most interesting about this data:

  • Our support queues are filled with people asking for customized workflows, but in reality it doesn’t appear to be a major force driving people away from
  • 17% of our customers churn either because we have no estimates or they can’t track sprints. Guess what? Both of those are core existing features in Looks like we have an education and on-boarding problem there.
  • The highest non-pricing reason people were leaving was a big bucket that we referred to internally as “data density” issues.

After doing this research I was confident that we should be doubling down on fixing these UI/UX issues and immediately started working on major updates to a few portions of the website that we believed would largely mitigate our dreaded “data density” issues.

But how could we know these changes would keep the next customer from leaving?


We store timestamps for when a customer creates their account and a separate for when they cancel their account. This is useful data to have for a number of reasons, but what I found most telling was the following:

  1. Calculate the difference between when accounts are created and cancelled in number of days as an integer.
  2. Sum them up and group them by month. e.g. 100 churned in the first month, 50 in the second, etc.

You should end up with a chart that looks something like this:

It shouldn’t be surprising that the vast majority of people churn in the first two months. These are your trial users for the most part. The reason our first month is so high is another post for another day. What we’re really wanting to figure out is why an engaged paying customer is leaving so let’s remove trial users and the first month to increase the signal.

We get a very different picture:
In general you want this chart to curve down over time, but you can see had a few troubling anomalies to deal with. Namely, there are clear bumps in churn numbers for months 5, 7, and 8.

We had a theory for why this was based on the above survey data. A large part of the “data density” issues had to do with a number of problems managing backlogs with a lot of items in them. Was the large amount of churn in months 5-8 due to people hitting the “data density” wall?


So far we’ve objectively identified the top reasons that people were leaving as well as identifying a few anomalies that might identify customers who are churning for those reasons. Now we needed to verify our thesis and, more importantly, show those customers what we were cooking up and see if our update would be more (or less) likely to have prevented them from churning.

To do that we turned to and set up an email to be sent out to customers that fit the following criteria:

  • Had created their account more than 4 months ago.
  • Had not been seen on the site in the last 2 weeks.
  • Was the person who owned the account.

I also sent this email out manually to a number of customers who fit this profile that I was able to glean from our internal database as well. I got a number of responses from customers and was able to schedule phone calls with a handful of them.

From there it was a matter of showing our cards. I would hop on Skype and walk through the new design ideas, what problems we were trying to address, and asked whether or not these features would have kept them from leaving in the first place. Luckily, we had been closely measuring feedback and were pleased to find out that our efforts were not lost and that they did indeed address a lot of their issues.


Making product decisions based on customer feedback can be difficult. The more you can do to increase signal over noise, gather objective metrics, and distill customer feedback the better. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

About The Author, Joe Stump

Joe is a seasoned technical leader and serial entrepreneur who has co-founded three venture-backed startups (, and, was Lead Architect of Digg, and has invested in and advised dozens of companies.