The omission of “why?”

Posted on Updated on

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.

See on

The Silent Partner

Posted on Updated on

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.”

See on

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

Posted on Updated on

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.

Objectively Making Product Decisions

Posted on Updated on

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.