Startup Culture

How Do We Cultivate A Culture of Innovation?

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From Kaylee Kolditz
Innovation Culture Consultant

I really appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with you on the NYC Women in Product Meet Up. I’m excited to see where we can take this. I wanted to encapsulate what I said during our chat about innovation —
We need to be careful not to attach the term “innovation” to everything because honestly, it is currently a trend. However, we cannot in any way discount its importance to the viability and longevity of an organization.
Innovation cannot be something we do or a phase or a goal, it has to be a part of the company culture. Innovation is not just about ideas…it is about a way of thinking and being; it is a language and a process; it requires flexibility and follow-through, creativity and structure; and it is more complex than we realize.
To be innovative is to be thinking of the future while taking action today. We learn and move on — already knowing what we are moving onto.
Only a company that has this ingrained in its culture can do this.
So, how do we ingrain innovation in our culture without turning it into the latest trend, box to be checked or the CEO’s vision of the month?

Kaylee KolditzAbout the Author, Kaylee Kolditz

With 18 years of marketing and business development experience, I have worked with companies large and small across a variety of industries, but I get the most energy and joy from working with product development organizations. In my current role, I help product organizations identify and access the resources (trainings, publications, groups, events) to cultivate a culture of innovation. I also help folks network online and in person, and manage an online community and conference for innovation in product development.

Goals: I’d like to connect with companies in the NYC area interested in looking at the gaps in their innovation culture and putting a plan in place to cultivate a culture of innovation throughout their organization.

Lean startups should “pivot” on product and strategy, but not on passion – Chris Hoogewerff

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Some entrepreneurs and builders are driven by the prosp […]

StartUP Product‘s insight:

We’ve learned a lot about creating great products from the Lean movement, not surprisingly in the ‘measure’ and ‘learn’ steps of the ‘Build, measure, learn’ cycle.  In this thoughtful article, Chris Hoogewerff proposes a 4th step.  He argues convincingly that it’s vital to maintain passion even after major pivots, and when we pivot to something that departs too much from that “thing” that compelled us to create our startup, we may be in trouble.  To paraphrase, the litmus test could come in the form of a ‘Visualize’ step where we ask ourselves, ‘Do I love this new product and will I be fanatical about serving the people that will use it?’

Join us October 11, 2013 for Startup Product Summit SF2 to connect with lots of others that are passionate about product.  Register:

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Startup Professionals Musings: 5 Rules of Relevance Every Startup Needs to Adopt

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by Marty Zwilling

StartUP Product‘s insight:

Great companies recognize that there are now multiple interdependent stakeholders, including customers, business partners, and social groups, who need to be part of your equation since they can drive or limit your success, in addition to management and stockholders.

…strengths of the management team or a sustainable competitive advantage…may not be sufficient to make your startup the great success embodied in your vision.

…renewed focus on other less tangible attributes which can set your startup apart.

…multiple other relevant priorities, and the other intangibles required for a great execution.
Great From The Start: How Conscious Corporations Attract Success ,” by John B. Montgomery, does a great job of laying out specifics.
Five rules of relevancy by Mark Zawacki
  1. be relevant and stay relevant
  2. find a voice relevant to the ecosystem
  3. gain balanced traction
  4. form partnerships and alliances within the ecosystem
  5. maintain a relevant laser focus
…your startup needs to be a “conscious” entity, constantly aware of the complex eco-system around it, and the factors driving change and evolution.
This requires conscious leaders who are passionately committed to personal and professional growth, as well as the greater good of society. These leaders then cultivate the consciousness of their team members.

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14 Revealing Signs You Love Your Startup Job

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14 revealing signs you might love your job by Dharmesh Shah

StartUP Product‘s insight:
  • You see your internal and external customers not as people to satisfy but simply as people.
  • You see your manager as a person you work with, not for.
  • You help without thinking.

Above results from the

So how does a great environment to work in with enthusiastic people passionate about delivering translate into product excellence?

Its obvious at a restaurant if the chefs infused love into the food, and the servers enjoy being there – you taste it and you feel it when you walk in to the environment.

But, is it obvious in other products – can you tell if the environment that the product was designed, developed and distributed in was one of “love and satisfaction” for all involved at every step of the way in the product lifecycle value chain?

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Startups Are People: Michael Witham on Startups

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Michael Witham on Startups

StartUP Product‘s insight:

Lessons learned:

  • Business is hard. Startups are harder.
  • Startups are not a recipe….Startups are dynamic, fluid, agile, in a state of constant change.
  • Startups are not products, they are people.

Teams of people make the product, decide on the pricing, create marketing strategy, operate the business.

The most successful startups are not driven by products, they are driven by people making products.

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The Silent Partner

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Jason Goldman helped build Google and Twitter into what they are today — but few outside of tech’s inner circle know his name . On shunning the spotlight in a star-obsessed industry.

StartUP Product‘s insight:

Jason Goldman Regarding “Product Managers”

He was explaining the product manager’s role, and not exactly overselling it.

  • You’re the one that types the meeting notes,
  • the one that is over-communicating the schedule,
  • the one that goes and takes the meeting with the person no one else wants to meet with,” he said of his early work in the field.
  • You’re just doing a lot of grunt work to make things run smoother.”

His first jobs were in user support, “in understanding how people use software,” he remembered. “It’s a great path into project management. You don’t have to be a designer, you don’t have to be an engineer.”

Product managers are sometimes said to oversee discrete components of a company, like feudal lords in a kingdom. But for many P.M.s, Goldman’s assessment is closer to reality.

“Everybody says the project manager is the C.E.O. of their project, and I think that’s total bullshit,” says Josh Elman, a former manager at Facebook and Twitter, the latter under Goldman.  “The real heart of a product manager is the guy who sits in the back of the raft with the oar.”

 “Goldman was much more interested in talking to people and finding the thing that would help them do whatever it was they were having trouble with.”
  • Troubleshooting behind the counter is perfect training for a product guy, overworked and unsung. If it sounds less plush than the chief executive’s chair, that’s because it is.
At strategy sessions, he said, the C.E.O. would articulate a broad but pithy vision, and sit down to applause.
  • “I’m the guy who stands up next, and says what does that mean in terms of what we’re building over the next six months,” he said.
  • That’s the gritty work of fielding questions, farming out assignments and reconciling disagreements.
  • “Your presentation doesn’t sound as good. Your presentation doesn’t have grand, inspiring goals,” Goldman went on.
  • “You’re the guy who stands up and says, next week we’re going to fix a bunch of bugs.
  • You’re the person that’s managing the fallout from the grand vision.”
Product managers, in this view, are agnostic to the idea, so long as they’re assiduous in its completion. They’re almost the inverse of how we conceptualize the ideal C.E.O.
  • “He wasn’t the idea guy, as maybe some product people are,” Williams told me of Goldman.
  • “He’s not necessarily defining what we need to do, he’s just making sure it got done. I don’t know that it’s a typical relationship, but it’s probably not super uncommon,” Williams added.
In a boardroom crowded with idea guys, where “the very notion of what the product was would evolve,” said Goldman, “owning the whatness of the product” might sound humdrum, but it was by most accounts critical.
…humility: a rare quality in chief executives, but vital in product management
 Shepherding products to fruition is like working your way up to Bowser, protracted, hard-fought and without many hosannas.
“The industry’s very focused on telling hero narratives,” he told me.
It’s not that I think that it’s bad for people to have a public persona.
The part that I think is damaging, or unhelpful, is when it seems like there are these visionary C.E.O.s who come up with genius ideas, and then it’s just building a team that allows for those ideas to come forth into the world.”
Williams tends to agree. “I don’t want to say founders are overrated, but there are certainly a lot of people who are underrated. And Jason was definitely in that camp,” he said.
 “Startups are run by people who do what’s necessary at the time it’s needed. A lot of time that’s unglamorous work. A lot of times that’s not heroic work. Is that heroic? Is that standing on a stage in a black turtleneck, in front of 20,000 people talking about the future of phones?
But that’s how companies are built. That person who did that for the iPhone launch at Apple, we don’t know who he is. All we know is that Steve Jobs came up with the iPhone. But he didn’t ship it. The person who bought the donuts did.”

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Jon Miller, VP Marketing Founder, Marketo on buying process stats

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See on Scoop.itProdmgmt

Global Product Management Talk‘s insight:

Some stats on revenue cycle generation according to Jon Miller, Marketo founder and VP of Marketing


* 75-90% of the buying process is complete before a prospect even engages with a sales rep.


* Short forms outperform long ones


* Short content is most effective


* Visual content stands out, i.e. infographic generates 8x more views

* 7 touches are needed to convert a cold lead to a sale 


* takes 123 days on average to convert a target to an opportunity 


* Handoffs between functions have best potential to impact business performance   

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“Startups don’t really know what they are at the beginning” – Strata

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Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz wrote the upcoming book Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster. In the following interview, they discuss the inspiration behind their book,…
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#ProdMgmtTalk on Lean Startup with Dan Olsen, Entrepreneur, Interim VP

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Dan Olsen, Entrepreneur, Interim VP, On Lean Startup 03/11 by ProdMgmtTalk | Blog Talk Radio

Dan Olsen
Dan Olsen, Entrepreneur, Interim VP of Product And Early Stage StartUp Product Management Expert

Dan Olsen, Entrepreneur, Interim VP of Product And Early Stage StartUp Product Management Expert, Discusses How to Apply Lean Startup Principles as a Product Manager

Please retweet: #Prodmgmtalk w/ @DanOlsen storify slidevu #lean #prodmgmt

Listen to internet radio with ProdMgmtTalk on Blog Talk Radio

Key Takeaways from the Marketing and Getting Traction Panel at Startup Product Summit SF

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By Michelle Sun

Here are the notes for the Marketing and Getting Traction Section 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’.

Eric Kim
Eric Kim

“Your Product is your Marketing, and You are Your Product” – Eric Kim, Co-Founder & CEO, Twylah

Essential foundations of a personal brand:

    • Thought leadership by expressing yourself around themes you want to be recognized for.
    • Story-telling: Personal brand comes from not just conveying facts but weaving a story.
    • Content-marketing: Convey something of value to your audience. Your content should be educating, inspiring or calling to action.  Identify a segment of audience and project content that’s valuable to that segment.
  • How to cultivate personal brand:
    • Engagement.  Have a conversation around the topics you are interested in.
    • Community.  Allow and encourage interaction and discussion amongst your audience.
    • Custserv: Show the love by being responsive to customer / audience feedback.  Quoted Buffer as a good example of incorporating customer happiness as a core of the product.
  • How to leverage the brand to help or make a business
    • Ask: call to action.
    • Upsell: selling premium content or related services.
    • Downsell: lower barrier by decreasing the length of commitment.
  • Building a brand is about developing relationship. By consistently laying the foundations, it enables the individual to deliver authority, credibility and familiarity
  • How to get content to right people when first starting out.
    • Content/audience fit.  Publish content and people have something to respond to
    • #hashtag on Twitter is a great way to reach out to audience, outside of the followers count
    • Brainstorm by asking questions. What are the three things that define you, that you’re passionate about, that you can create or curate
  • Trustworthiness springs from familiarity and human touch.  An individual’s brand identity is something that builds up and follows him over the course of his life and career.


Mariya Yao
Mariya Yao

“Make Your Numbers Go Up: How to Optimize for Conversion & Retention on Mobile” – Mariya Yao, Founder & Product Strategist, Xanadu Mobile

  • When thinking about optimizing metrics in a product, there is a dichotomy of:
    • Local maxima: am I building the product right?  What should we A/B test?  What platform? How to improve retention?
    • Global maxima: am I building the right product?  Am I in right market?
  • Two strategies in evaluating a global maxima:
    • Benchmarking.  Top down approach that starts with the overall industry landscape.
      • How do mobile users spend their time? What are the fastest growing app categories? What apps have most loyal users? Why do certain apps retain well and how do I use that into my app? What are the most profitable apps segment? Where in the world are smartphones adopted the fastest?
      • What are the trends/opportunities?
      • Where are the danger zones? Why have companies failed there?
      • What can people do on mobile they weren’t able to do before?
      • Why are people loyal to these apps?
    • Behavior. Bottom up approach.
      • Apps are either creating or replacing behavior: A case study on Foursquare and Instagram.
      • Foursquare was creating a new behavior (check-in) that has no prior parallel, which explains the pivot from check-in in 2009 to explore in 2012. When creating a behavior, focus on delivering value or providing strong incentives such as saved money, time or exclusive/perks.
      • In pre-Instagram era, 76% of people were using their phones to take photos. Mariya examined a detailed flow of taking a photo and sharing on facebook, and contrasted it with how Instagram made the process significantly shorter and easier.
  • Are you solving a problem or a nuisance?  A common pitfall in startups is that they are building a company that is solving a nuisance instead of a problem.  When solving a nuisance, in order for such product to succeed, the product needs to be better than the existing solution by magnitudes (eg, everyone complains about Craigslist but in the end tolerates it). A good way to distinguish between problem and nuisance is: Have they [the users] paid for a solution before, or spent a lot of time finding a solution or making a solution themselves]?


Guillaume Decugis
Guillaume Decugis

“Reach Escape Velocity through Lean Content Marketing” – Guillaume Decugis, Co-Founder & CEO,

  • ”Content marketing is practice of creating content relevant to your brand to gain greater visibility in search results and in social channels” – JD Lasica, Social Meida Biz
  • 4 strategies that lean content has worked for
    • Leverage SlideShare’s natural distribution to share your vision: Despite having a relatively small followers count,’s content on SlideShare has gathered significant views.
    • Guest post to get distribution for your idea. Identify blogs in your niche and segment which are interesting.
    • Answer Quora questions that related to your field.  Answering on Quora is like blogging for a known, existing and savvy audience, who already have questions.
    • Content curation.  Starting point, leverage what you already do (read), express your expertise & develop it, helps you identify original topics for content creation.  If you don’t know what content to create, start with curation.


Leo Wilder
Leo Wilder

“Monetization: How Buffer went from Idea to Revenue in 7 weeks & 50K users in 8 months” 

  • Leo shared three key stories/lessons from building Buffer so far.
    • Validate first, code later.  The story of Joel, cofounder of Buffer, validated his idea of Buffer before writing a line of backend code, by putting up a landing page and testing clicks on sign up and pricing.
    • Working with percentages.  When doing business development and getting press, Leo suggests anchoring expectations with percentages (out of 10 emails, expect ~20-40% response rate), to avoid frustration and improve resilience in mindset.  He talked about the mindset helped him write 350 guest posts in the first 9 months of running Buffer, and getting press every 3 weeks.
    • Experiment with pricing.  He encourages the audience to test frequently pricing plans and points what works for the product, while always be great to existing users.



Jameson Detweiler

Jameson Detweiler

“Launching and Getting Users” – Jameson Detweiler, Co-Founder & CEO, LaunchRock

  • Jameson told his journey of first 42 days of running LaunchRock, from StartupWeekend to launching on Day 5, getting on TechCrunch on Day 7 and campaign at SXSW on Day 42.
  • How to effectively launch and get users:
    • Be sexy [ beautifully designed product ], flirtatious [ LaunchRock’s traction is in part thanks to the wait between users’ signing up and the product is ready ], exotic [ build something new and unique ].
    • Be targeted and specific in the value proposition; that makes it easy for people to talk about your brand.
    • Be nice to press: do the related research, and make it easy for the press to write about you.
    • Launch and listen to customer feedback.
    • Be authentic when telling your story.


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.