Product people:
Here are my notes from an awesome conference that I had the good fortune to attend. Thanks to Ty Ahmad-Taylor of Samsung and Josh Elman of Greylock for getting so many smart product people together under one roof. It was an inspiring day.

Here are my top ten learnings, with my full notes below:

  1. Write your press release and FAQ before you build your product, a la Amazon
  2. Employ a user-centered vision, a la LinkedIn
  3. A short-term roadmap may be all you really want, a la Pandora
  4. Here’s how NOT to work with software developers, at Google or anywhere else
  5. Work to “reduce dissatisfaction” before you “increase satisfaction” for your users, as was attempted at Friendster
  6. Go wherever your users are spending time (and bring your business model with you), a la YouTube
  7. “Speed is a feature,” especially at Google
  8. Optimize your hiring process and hire top 1% product managers, a la AirBnB
  9. Stories are 10% what you say and 90% HOW YOU SAY IT!!! Focus on discourse, a la Twitter Stories
  10. Only focus on growth if your product requires it to improve.


How to Be a Top 1% Product Manager

Ian McAllister, Amazon
A follow up to this very popular Quora answer:

Write a “press release” for your project at its inception

And make it customer focused!

  1. Intro
  2. Problem
  3. Solution
  4. How it works
  5. Quotes from the company and a “customer”
  6. How to get started

Ian explains more about Amazon’s process here.

Write the FAQ before you begin

  • customer FAQ: how will this product help me? how will I use it?
  • internal FAQ: how will this product help us achieve our key objectives?The customer wins all ties!!!


477 Days to One Million – The story of LinkedIn’s birth

Allen Blue – Co-founder of LinkedIn and head of product

Trust Your Strategy

  • Define your goal.
  • Product strategy gets you to that goal.
  • Growth >> Usage >> Revenue
    • LinkedIn’s motto in the early days (and still somewhat today):
  • LESSON: Stick with your strategy! (Unless you have a really good reason to change it.)
    • LinkedIn’s competitors were seduced by short term revenue opportunities. LinkedIn stayed focused on growth.

User-Centered Vision

  • You must have a user-centered vision.
  • The vision must be far out enough, but also attainable.
    • LinkedIn’s vision: Create economic opportunity for professionals.
    • Google’s vision: Organize the world’s information.

Test with the 5 How’s

  • Take a vision statement, then ask “how” 5 times until you get to the nut of it.

Product Managers are entrepreneurs

  • the role of the PM is to do whatever it takes
    • get resources / get rid of resources / whatever!

LinkedIn’s Content Strategy

  • LinkedIn just acquired news reader / aggregator Pulse for $90M
  • LinkedIn + Pulse vision: “Every professional decision will be an informed decision.”


Rapid Growth at Pandora

Tom Conrad – CTO of Pandora

“Remind yourself everyday what you are the best in the world at.”

  • Don’t get distracted by other ideas.
  • Pandora = streaming, personal, 1-click music
    • Pandora is not: downloads, comments, etc…

During hyper-growth, Pandora had NO medium or long term roadmaps

“If I wrote a book about Pandora, it would be one chapter long and it would be about this…”
The planning process:

  • Every 90 days, sit down and ask “what are the things we’d be dumb not to do in the next 90 days?”
    • 100 or so ideas will come out of it –> ID 20 ideas and scope them out (roughly). Assign a Monopoly money amount to the ideas (e.g. that’s $5 level of effort).
    • Make slides with those 20 ideas and LOE’s to show to management
    • distribute post-its with dummy money
    • let stakeholders spend their money to the ideas they like the best
    • reach a consensus (and marvel at how many “must do” ideas get zero $’s)


How to work with software developers – Ken Norton, Google

Ken stole the show with his 5-minute presentation on how not to work with developers. You’re best off reading it in full here.

I can’t do it justice. But, if you want the summary, here it is (he presented the exact opposite of this):

    1. Deflect praise
    2. Absorb blame
    3. Sweat the details
    4. Involve them early
    5. Streamline process
    6. Always tell the reasons
    7. Never commit without them
    8. Respect their time
    9. Be specific
    10. Trust them

And finally…

  1. Always bring the donuts


Lessons from Friendster’s Fall from Grace

Dan Olsen, former product lead at Friendster

Dan described the early days of the social network wars. He also spoke way too fast for me to capture it all. Fortunately, his slides are

Decrease dissatisfaction before you increase satisfaction

  • My number one takeaway from Dan’s presentation was his adaptation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into Olsen’s Hierarchy of Web User’s Needs.
  • As product people, it’s very easy to focus on usability and adding new features, but you have not earned the right to focus on these nice to haves unless you’ve built a stable (non-crashing) base to your pyramid.

UX maslow

Hunter Walk

Hunter ran product at YouTube. He joined YouTube from Google after the acquisition and was wary of being seen as a suit who would change everything.

  • Lesson: Respect the team!

YouTube’s product goal: Be everywhere on the internet

  • Ask: Where are our (potential) users spending time?
  • Go there!
  • but… “Make sure the business model follows the content.”
  • “All partnerships are co-opetition”

Did you know?: Some YouTube users never see ads

  • YouTube has a control group of users who never see any advertisements
  • The product team learns how much ads affect user behavior of the main site.

Hunter’s Career Advice

Always ask these questions:

  • Is this right for me?
  • Am I right for them?
  • Beware the middling startup! You won’t learn enough.
  • It’s better to spend a few years at a large company, working on an important project.


Lessons from Google Chrome

Srikanth Rajagopalan, Dir. of Product Management

Chrome Goal: A product that does not get in the way

  • “You should not feel like you are in Chrome.”
  • “Simplicity is precious.”
    • Chrome is built for the average user, but allows for the power user.
      • e.g. Chrome keyboard shortcuts are used by very few users, but they are very valuable to those few
  • However, do NOT just build extra stuff, stick it in settings, and let users decide >> MAKE A CHOICE!

Speed IS a feature

  • Googlers constantly ask whether they have too many features. Are any of them slowing the app down?

A global audience is an opportunity – use it well

  • Recognize that users are in different regions
    • e.g. “Translate this page” option for foreign language pages.

Empathize with users

  • They don’t all have wifi & 4G! Build for their experience.

Insights = Data + Intuition

  • “No assumption is sacred,” especially with changing usage patterns
  • data will inevitable drown you >> develop an intuition before looking for trends

Users care if they are heard… a lot!

  • Users are not abstract
  • Early adopters are vocal, show them you care about their feedback and why it matters

Recover from mistakes gracefully

  • mistakes WILL happen. Be prepared.
    • move expeditiously
    • accept responsibility
    • be compassionate

“We [Google] don’t manage product managers”

  • PM’s are beasts… just let them be
    • just make sure they are not swelled by the engineering team
    • (Google PM’s are alums of the engineering teams)


How AirBnB Hires Product Managers

presented by Joe “JoeBot” Zadeh, Head of Product at AirBnb

AirBnB does not post PM roles. It’s too noisy. They rely solely on referrals.

  • 100 applications does not yield one 1% PM

Qualities they seek:

  • Hyper-learner
  • low ego
  • same values, but different perspective

Work with a recruiter, but be hands on

  • Contact the prospect yourself.
    • No one wants to hear from a recruiter, they want to hear from the person they’ll be working with

Interview Process

On first visit the prospect meets with 1 engineer, 1 designer and 1 product manager. S/he gives a 1hr presentation:

  • What have you shipped?
  • How would you solve _ strategic problem? (problem given in advance)
  • How would you solve _ tactical problem? (problem given in advance)

On second visit:

  • specialist interview
  • director interview
  • founder interview

“A good hiring process surfaces outliers (the 1%)”

  • Goal: raise the bar with each hire

Onboarding is also very important

  • first two weeks on the job: the PM’s only job is to talk to everyone
  • 2-4 weeks later, interview them to ask “what are we doing wrong?” they still have fresh eyes, take advantage of them!


“Your job is the story”

James Buckhouse runs marketing at Twitter. He’s got lots of autonomy. Previously, he worked as a writer at Dreamworks, where he helped bring Shrek to life.

Sketch first!

  • Do not go straight to Photoshop!
  • iterate while you still can (while it’s still cheap)
  • tell stories

A good story arc includes “transformation”

  • In a typical Shrek scene:
    • Shrek enters in one mood; something happens; Shrek exits in a different mood.
    • If there is no transformation, then why are we there?

A story is 10% what you say + 90% how you say it

  • Focus most of your efforts on the discourse (how you say it)
    • Typography, UX, etc…
    • and make it mobile-friendly!

A good story = one you will tell to a friend

  • Optimize stories for repeatability
    • e.g. Twitter recorded a Sacha Baron Cohen video about raising your children. In tests, parents laughed their asses off. BUT… none of them would share it with someone else, because it was so inappropriate. –> Twitter did not release the video.

“People don’t experience ‘your feature'”

  • People experience the whole experience.
  • Don’t build features in a vacuum.
  • Your feature must blend in with the others.

Optimize to solve a fundamental human need

  • e.g. I need to keep my family safe.
  • get beyond the feature, focus on why it’s important

See more at Here’s one example that Buckhouse shared. Note that the story ends with “transformation.”


Growth Strategies Panel

When do you focus on growth?

  • if growth is required for your product (e.g. a social product) >> focus on growth
  • if growth is not required (e.g. Evernote) >> focus on the product

What organizational structure do you use to grow?

  • growth = #’s
    • share the #’s with the team >> make them internalize them
  • hire people who love numbers / are data-curious
    • where? dating sites, e-commerce, financial firms all have quants
    • want someone who understands psychology
  • don’t be afraid to fail
    • growth usually fails >> until it doesn’t



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