Archive of posts with tag 'product'

Process vs. Practice

May 2, 2023 • #

In product development, you can orient a team toward process or practice. Process is about repeatability, scalability, efficiency, execution. Practice is about creativity, inventiveness, searching for solutions.

Choosing between them isn’t purely zero-sum (like more practice = worse process), but there’s a natural tension between the two. And as with most ideas, the right approach varies depending on your product, your stage, your team, your timing. In general, you’re looking for a balance.

Divergence and convergence

I heard about this concept on a recent episode of the Circuit...

Simplicity on the Other Side of Complexity

April 21, 2023 • #

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

What a great line from Oliver Wendell Holmes.

When you think you’re coming up with “simple” responses to complex problems, make sure you’re not (as Bob Moesta says) creating “simplicity on the wrong side of the complexity.”

What we really want is to work through all the tangled complexity ourselves as we’re picking apart the problem and designing well-fit solutions.

A great...

37signals Live Design Review

March 22, 2023 • #

This is an interesting look into how an effective team works through the weeds of a product design review. I love how it shows the warts and complexities of even seemingly-simple flow of sending a batch email in an email client. So many little forking paths and specific details need direct thinking to shape a product that works well.

On Validating Product Ideas

January 19, 2023 • #

Building new things is an expensive, arduous, and long path, so product builders are always hunting for means to validate new ideas. Chasing ghosts is costly and deadly.

The “data-driven” culture we now live in discourages making bets from the gut. “I have a hunch” isn’t good enough. We need to hold focus groups, do market research, and validate our bets before we make them. You need to come bearing data, learnings, and business cases before allowing your dev team to get started on new features.

Validating ideas

And there’s nothing wrong with validation! If...

Chris Spiek and Ryan Singer on Shape Up

September 28, 2022 • #

Reading Ryan Singer’s Shape Up a few years ago was formative (or re-formative, or something) in my thinking on how product development can and should work. After that it was a rabbit hole on jobs-to-be-done, Bob Moesta’s Demand-Side Sales, demand thinking, and more.

Since he wrote the book in 2019, he talks about 2 new concepts that extend Shape Up a little further: the role of the “technical shaper”...

Notes on Operating Well

June 27, 2022 • #

Sam Gerstenzang wrote an excellent piece a couple weeks ago with operating lessons for growing companies, driven by his learnings from the product team at Stripe. Personally, I’ve got a decade or so of experience as an “operator” at a “startup” (two words I wouldn’t have used to describe my job during most of that time). Since 2011 I’ve led the product team at Fulcrum, a very small team until the last few years, and still only in the medium size range. So...

Hard Edges, Soft Middle

January 2, 2022 • #

Have you had that feeling of being several weeks into a project, and you find yourself wandering around, struggling to wrangle the scope back to what you thought it was when you started?

It’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s why I’m always thinking about ways to make targets smaller (or closer, if you’re thinking about real physical targets). The bigger and more ambitious you want to be with an objective, the more confidence you need to have that the objective is the right one. What happens often is we decide a project scope — a feature or product...

Product-led Growth Isn't Incompatible with Sales

September 1, 2021 • #

Product-led growth has been booming in the B2B software universe, becoming the fashionable way to approach go-to-market in SaaS. I’m a believer in the philosophy, as we’ve seen companies grow to immense scales and valuations off of the economic efficiencies of this approach powered by better and better technology. People point to companies like Atlassian, Slack, or Figma as examples that grew enormously through pure self-service, freemium models. You hear a lot of “they got to $NN million in revenue with no salespeople.”

This binary mental model of either product-led or sales-led leads to a false dichotomy,...

On Effectiveness vs. Efficiency

July 26, 2021 • #

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

— Peter Drucker

People throw around these two words pretty indiscriminately in business, usually not making a distinction between them. They’re treated as interchangeable synonyms for broadly being “good” at something.

We can think about effectiveness and efficiency as two dimensions on a grid, often (but not always) in competition with one another. More focus on one means less on the other.

That Drucker quote is a pretty solid one-line distinction. But like many quotes, it’s concerned with being pithy and memorable, but not that helpful.

The Low-Code IKEA Effect

March 22, 2021 • #

I linked a few days ago to Packy McCormick’s piece Excel Never Dies, which went deep on Microsoft Excel, the springboard for a thousand internet businesses over the last 30 years. “Low-code” techniques in software have become ubiquitous at this point, and Excel was the proto-low-code environment — one of the first that stepped toward empowering regular people to create their own software. In the mid-80s, if you wanted to make your own software tools, you were in C, BASIC, or Pascal. Excel and its...

Jobs Clubhouse Does

February 23, 2021 • #

If you’re on the internet and haven’t been living under a rock for the last few months, you’ve heard about the startup Clubhouse and its explosive growth. It launched around the time COVID lockdowns started last year, and has been booming in popularity even with (maybe in-part due to?) an invitation gate and waitlist to get access.

The core product idea centers around “drop-in” audio conversations. Anyone can spin up a room accessible to the public, others can drop in and out, and, importantly, there’s a sort of peer-to-peer model on contributing that differentiates it from podcasting, its closest analog.


Enterprises Don't Self Serve

December 11, 2020 • #

In the wake of Salesforce’s acquisition of Slack, there’s been a flood of analysis on whether it was a sign of Slack’s success or failure to grow as a company. It’s funny that we live in a time when a $27bn acquisition of a 7-year-old company gets interpreted as a failure. I’d consider it validation for their business that a $200bn company like Salesforce makes their largest acquisition ever on you. Broadly, it’s a move to make Salesforce more competitive with Microsoft as an operating system for business productivity writ-large.

One likely driver of selling now...

Fulcrum Field Day

November 9, 2020 • #

A fun aspect of working on a business product with a product-led growth strategy that you get to use the your product for in your personal life. I’ve used Fulcrum for creating personal tracking databases, collecting video for OpenStreetMap, and even documenting my map collection.

There’s no better way to build an empathetic perspective of your customer’s life than to go and be one as often as you can.

Last week our team did an afternoon...

Weekend Reading: Options Over Roadmaps, Ghost, and Spaced Repetition

September 12, 2020 • #

🛣 Options, Not Roadmaps

An option is something you can do but don’t have to do. All our product ideas are exactly that: options we may exercise in some future cycle—or never.

Without a roadmap, without a stated plan, we can completely change course without paying a penalty. We don’t set any expectations internally or externally that these things are actually going to happen.

I know Basecamp is always the industry outlier with these things, but the thoughts on roadmaps are probably more true for many companies in reality than we’d all like...

Go-to-Market Fit

August 10, 2020 • #

I recently watched this Mark Roberge session where he had an interesting way of describing the challenge that follows product-market fit. Tons of startup literature is out there talking about p-m fit. And likewise there’s plenty out there about scaling, leadership, and company-building.

Go-to-market fit

One of the most fascinating stages is in between, what he calls “go-to-market fit.” This is where you’ve found some traction and solved a problem, but haven’t figured out how to do it efficiently. Here’s how you think about the...

Weekend Reading: Quarantine Talks

July 11, 2020 • #

🛠 Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Progress

Joel Mokyr’s talk on the most recent session of The Torch of Progress series.

🧠 How to Be a Neo-Cartesian Cyborg

A recent talk from Maggie Appleton on the “building a second brain” concept.

👋🏼 Take a Tour of HEY

Great example of how to do a product demo. Informal style, clearly prepared but not “scripted,” and deep care and attention to the product.

A Nomenclature for Low-Code Users

July 7, 2020 • #

The low-code “market” isn’t really a market. Rather, I see it as an attribute of a software product, an implementation factor in how a product works. A product providing low-code capability says nothing about its intended value — it could be a product for sending emails, building automation rules, connecting APIs, or designing mobile forms.

What are termed “LCAP” (low-code application platform) software are often better described as “tools to build your own apps, without having to write all the code yourself.”

This post isn’t really about low-code as a marketplace descriptor, but about refining the nomenclature for...

Fulcrum's Report Builder

July 5, 2020 • #

After about 6-8 months of forging, shaping, research, design, and engineering, we’ve launched the Fulcrum Report Builder. One of the key use cases with Fulcrum has always been using the platform to design your own data collection processes with our App Builder, perform inspections with our mobile app, then generate results through our Editor, raw data integrations, and, commonly, generating PDF reports from inspections.

Fulcrum Report Builder

For years we’ve offered a basic report template along with an ability to customize the reports through our Professional Services team. What was missing...

Roam I and Roam E

April 24, 2020 • #

A neat concept demo from Dhrumil Shah showing possible enhancements for Roam Research. He calls them “Roam-I” and “Roam-E”:

  • Roam-I — for reusing old knowledge
  • Roam-E — collaboration

Most of this is user interface on top of the core technology that underpins how Roam works, but it’s great to see people so passionate about this that they’ll spend this much time prototyping ideas on products they use.

The Idea Maze

March 8, 2020 • #

I ran across this set of lecture notes from Balaji Srinivasan’s “startup engineering” course.

He proposes this format for thinking about the phases a company moves through — from idea to profits:

  • An idea is not a mockup
  • A mockup is not a prototype
  • A prototype is not a program
  • A program is not a product
  • A product is not a business
  • And a business is not profits

Idea maze

You can map this onto the debate between “idea vs. execution” by calling everything below the idea...

Balancing Power and Usability

November 18, 2019 • #

This is another one from the archives, written for the Fulcrum blog back in 2016.

Engineering is the art of building things within constraints. If you have no constraints, you aren’t really doing engineering. Whether it’s cost, time, attention, tools, or materials, you’ve always got constraints to work within when building things. Here’s an excerpt describing the challenge facing the engineer:

The crucial and unique task of the engineer is to identify, understand, and interpret the constraints on a design in order to produce a successful result. It is usually not enough...

Weekend Reading: Intellectual Humility, Scoping, and Gboard

August 31, 2019 • #

🛤 Missing the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Honest postmortems are insightful to get the inside backstory on what happened behind the scenes with a company. In this one, Jason Crawford goes into what went wrong with Fieldbook before they shut it down and were acquired by Flexport a couple years ago:

Now, with a year to digest, I think this is true and was a core mistake. I vastly underestimated the resources it was going to take—in time, effort and money—to build a launchable product...

Weekend Reading: Terrain Mesh, Designing on a Deadline, and Bookshelves

August 17, 2019 • #

🏔 MARTINI: Real-Time RTIN Terrain Mesh

Some cool work from Vladimir Agafonkin on a library for RTIN mesh generation, with an interactive notebook to experiment with it on Observable:

An RTIN mesh consists of only right-angle triangles, which makes it less precise than Delaunay-based TIN meshes, requiring more triangles to approximate the same surface. But RTIN has two significant advantages:

  1. The algorithm generates a hierarchy of all approximations of varying precisions — after running it once, you can quickly retrieve a mesh...

Shipping the Right Product

August 14, 2019 • #

This is one from the archives, originally written for the Fulcrum blog back in early 2017. I thought I’d resurface it here since I’ve been thinking more about continual evolution of our product process. I liked it back when I wrote it; still very relevant and true. It’s good to look back in time to get a sense for my thought process from a couple years ago.

In the software business, a lot of attention gets paid to “shipping” as a badge of honor if you want to be considered an innovator. Like any guiding...

On Retention

July 12, 2019 • #

Earlier this year at SaaStr Annual, we spent 3 days with 20,000 people in the SaaS market, hearing about best practices from the best in the business, from all over the world.

If I had to take away a single overarching theme this year (not by any means “new” this time around, but louder and present in more of the sessions), it’s the value of customer success and retention of core, high-value customers. It’s always been one of SaaStr founder Jason Lemkin’s core focus areas in his literature about how to “get to $10M,...

Image credits: Mark Roberge, Tomasz Tunguz

Wireframing with Moqups

May 16, 2019 • #

Wireframing is a critical technique in product development. Most everyone in software does a good bit of it for communicating requirements to development teams and making iterative changes. For me, the process of wireframing is about figuring out what needs to be built as much as how. When we’re discussing new features or enhancements, rather than write specs or BDD stories or something like that, I go straight to a pen and paper or the iPad to sketch out options. You get a sense for how a UI needs to come together, and also for us visual thinkers, the new...

Entering Product Development: Geodexy

March 27, 2019 • #

I started with the first post in this series back in January, describing my own entrance into product development and management.

When I joined the company we were in the very early stages of building a data collection tool, primarily for internal use to improve speed and efficiency on data project work. That product was called Geodexy, and the model was similar to Fulcrum in concept, but in execution and tech stack, everything was completely different. A few years back, Tony wrote up a retrospective post detailing out the...

Weekend Reading: Geocomputation, Customers, and Linear Growth

October 13, 2018 • #

🎛 Geocomputation with R

I’ve had R on my list for a long time to dig deeper with. A while back I set myself up with RStudio and went through some DataCamp stuff. This online book seems like excellent material in how to apply R to geostatistics.

☎️ Listening to Customers At Scale

Given where we are with Fulcrum in the product lifecycle, this rang very familiar on the struggles with how to listen to customers effectively, who to listen to, and how to absorb...

A Product Origin Story

September 11, 2018 • #

Fulcrum, our SaaS product for field data collection, is coming up on its 7th birthday this year. We’ve come a long way: from a bootstrapped, barely-functional system at launch in 2011 to a platform with over 1,800 customers, healthy revenue, and a growing team expanding it to ever larger clients around the world. I thought I’d step back and recall its origins from a product management perspective.

We created Fulcrum to address a need we had in our business, and quickly realized its application to dozens of other markets with a slightly different color of the...

The Power of the SaaS Business Model

February 1, 2018 • #

We’re about to head to SaaStr Annual again this year, an annual gathering of companies all focused on the same challenges of how to build and grow SaaS businesses. I’ve had some thoughts on SaaS business models that I wanted write down as they’ve matured over the years of building a SaaS product.

I wrote a post a while back on subscription models, but in the context of consumer applications. My favorite thing about the subscription structure is how well it aligns incentives for both buyers and sellers. While this alignment...