The concept of creating a Minimum Viable Product (aka MVP) before investing in a full featured product has been frequently written about in the past few years. What is a MVP you ask? Everybody seems to have to have their own definition or analogy, but one of the best I’ve seen lately that helps explain this concept to anybody (even someone not experienced in technology or building products) was created by Anders Ramsay here. He writes:
The Hudson Bay Company, which sold provisions and gear to fur-trappers in northern Canada, encouraged their weather-beaten customers to conduct a “Hudson Bay Start.” This meant that, after they’d finished picking up their gear and provisions from the northern Canada store, they’d make a couple hours trek into the woods, set up camp, and then just stay there for a few days. Now, why would they do that? Hey, they ain’t gonna be doin’ no fur-trappin’ that close to town. No, what they were doing was conducting an MVP.
The gear and provisions they had brought with them represented their best prediction of what they’d need over a period of several weeks in the Northern Territories. Simply camping out in the woods for a few days quickly revealed any major flaws in this prediction. The cost of making this discovery at that point was low, just a couple hours trek into town. Making the same discovery out in the middle of nowhere might be costly indeed.
So which part of this is the MVP? The process of selecting gear at the supply shop? The camping out in the woods to see if they had the right gear? The discoveries they made by doing this?
The answer is…all of the above.
Making decisions on the best way to create an MVP is difficult. But thinking about it in terms of what am I testing (what gear do I need to worry about), how do I test it (deciding to hike only a few hours out of town), and what have I learned (did I have all the gear I needed) is a great analogy to keep in mind that can make framing discussions a little easier.
A great life skill: sometimes you just have to say “No”.
Boldly saying “No” in Tiananmen Square
Mark Suster wrote a great post today titled The One Word That Shouldn’t Exist in an Entrepreneur’s Vocabulary that is definitely worth reading. Regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur or not, this is a great life skill that can be learned (even if it is a little awkward at first). He describes how his Mom “was never afraid of the word ‘no’ even to the point of embarrassing me” and that “arguing is cultural – you grow up with it or you don’t”. I definitely grew up with this thanks to my Mom, I kind of wish I could keep track of all of the random rewards I’ve received over the years for just asking.
“You don’t ask, you don’t get.”
I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately about where I see myself in the next five years. In almost all aspects of my life (work, school, recreation) I seem to come back to the realization that I’m really good at many things, but not truly great at any one thing. Taking sports as an example, I’m better than average at tennis, baseball, soccer, running, skiing, biking, etc., but I’m far from being truly exceptional in any of those. Or in my career, I have experience in a number of specialized areas such as web development and UX design, but my best skill is probably connecting and leading those with the specialized skills to deliver successful projects. I’m now at a cross road where I’m trying to figure out if I want to pick a skill and specialize in it, or if I want to continue to generalize.
Nora Dunn, a writer at Wisebread.com created a great pros/cons list, especially the cons of each such as:
- You have less job security if your area of specialty becomes obsolete.
- If you are too specialized, the company can’t use you for other tasks or jobs, thus decreasing your overall flexibility as an employee.
- Less focused job searches are more difficult to endure.
- Employers might not know how best to place you in their organization if your skills are too spread out. They may not view you as reliable or tenacious enough with any one job or skill set to be worth hiring.
I think great companies realize the need for both. Without specialists, a company can never separate itself from the competition with truly amazing or unique products/services. If a company could only exist with one or another, there is no doubt that a company of specialists would become more successful. But, with too few generalists, a company risks a few things. First, their vision and focus might become too narrow if everyone is an expert in specific types of trees, but nobody knows how to navigate the forest. Second, the role of a successful generalist is in many ways that of a “Connector” (as outlined in The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell). They understand enough about the problem at hand, the skills of the specialists in the company, and they understand possible solutions for the problem enough to be able to connect the right people to bring about the best solution. The toughest problem with being a generalist is trying to measure your impact and convince others of the value you bring to the table. I know that I would be a tremendous asset to many teams. It warms my heart to hear former developers I led say things like “When you were there was some fun while developing apps…. Day by day that fun deteriorated… “. My struggle remains convincing someone that hasn’t worked beside me before have confidence that I would be the best decision they could make.
An iced over Charles River that thousands of Boston Marathon runners likely spent many hours training near
Over the past few years I’ve had many discussions and given lots of thought to specific reasons why I love Boston so much. It’s hard to quantify what makes me love a city so much despite the cold winters, bad drivers, and unfriendly people (compared to other regions of the US). Despite all of this, it is a city that so many people furiously defend as the only place they ever want to live. So what is it that makes Boston so special?
Many great cities have a core competency or passion that is usually a source for jobs, government policies, and overall spirit. Boston’s is health care and education; it is the home to many of the world’s best hospitals and colleges. When you contrast that to what other cities revolve around (Technology/entrepreneurship in SF or Wall Street in NY), health care and eduction both center around helping others above all else. As a result, Boston attracts and retains people that want to share their knowledge with others and treat those who are unhealthy. It attracts the best of the best for education and medicine, along with thousands of people in supporting roles. It is this focus on two of the most humanistic industries that I believe is what makes Bostonians so special, even if they won’t say hello when you walk by them.
It is also this spirit of caring for others that is coming through in how Boston has so far responded to the horrific tragedy yesterday at the Marathon. The typical Bostonian might not come off as the most friendly person, but deep down Boston is a city that truly cares. I really wish I could be there with my friends and family now, but I know next time I step foot in Boston the spirit of the city will only be stronger than I left it.
My friend Sam Kornstein wrote a great blog post recently titled “A Few Thoughts to Add on Google Reader” about Google Reader getting shut down in July, which sparked a few realizations I’ve had recently about similar services or products. In today’s world, our personal lives are becoming more and more dependent on large tech companies focused more on the bottom line than anything else.
I was not a Google Reader user myself, but I am certainly dependent on many products from Google and other tech companies, most of which I don’t pay anything for (Gmail being the most notable). A product I use quite frequently is my my Motorola Motactv GPS running watch. Unlike my old Garmin, all of the software to view the data is on their website. The problem is that after I purchased the watch, Google bought Motorola and support for the product has stopped. It’s only a matter of time I’m sure before the website goes down and my physical (and paid for product) device suddenly stops working as intended.
A second product I’ve questions is a new version of the class Simcity, put out by Electronic Arts recently which amazingly sold $1 million copies almost immediately. Only problem is that the game requires one to be connected to their servers to play (and to make a huge mess, they didn’t have enough servers at the launch of the game). EA claims it is to enhance the game by allowing users to compete against others, critics claim it is to prevent copyright infringements. Either way, is it fair that a game like Simcity can’t be played “offline”? If I pay $60 to purchase the game, how long is EA responsible for keeping the servers up and running so that I can continue to play it? A year? 2 years? 10 years?
As more and more data and services become dependent on the cloud, it will be interesting to see how problems like this get resolved. I have no doubts that in the long run consumers will be better off, but I’m sure there will be lots of bumps on the way. In the Google Reader example, the great news is that just like I wrote in my post on Apple dropping Google Maps, I’m sure there are many startups that will jump in shortly and deliver a product far better than the rather stale Google Reader product was.
Boston’s Leonard P. Zakim Bridge from the Underbridge Plaza
A few months before I moved to San Francisco from Boston, I decided that I wanted to try to take wall-worthy photos of the iconic bridge in each city. My first attempt in Boston I stumbled across a new walkway that had just opened up near Boston’s Zakim Bridge and based on what I could find online at the time I was one of the first photographer’s to discover the bridge from that view. It looks pretty nice printed on canvas over my bed right now, but it’s a little lonely because I have not been so lucky trying to take a great photo of the Golden Gate Bridge.
I’ve been trying to take the picture of Golden Gate from a place called Baker’s Beach (see map here).
Golden Gate Bridge at sunset as seen from Baker’s Beach
My first attempt I got there, scoped out the scene and walked around a bigt, and then setup my camera and tripod only to realize my battery was just about dead. The few photos I got before my camera died were all before sun had fully gone down. Not what I was envisioning.
Golden Gate Bridge attempt #2
My next attempt was much better, the waves were big, it was a nice night, and I knew what I was looking to do. I took a bunch of shots and was pretty excited about how they were turning out based on the display on my camera. I got home and looked at them on a bigger screen and was immediately disappointed They were good, but not great. The water wasn’t as smooth as I was hoping for and the sky was kind of boring.
This weekend I went out for shoot #3. Before I went I bought a Tiffen Color Graduated Neutral Density 0.6 Filter, which one puts on the lens to make one half of the photo darker than the other. In this photo, I used it to darken the bridge so I could get let more light in on the water (and slightly increase the “blur motion” of the water). I would say this is by far my favorite, and while it isn’t all I had envisioned or hoped for it’s a pretty nice photograph and will likely look quite nice on the wall next to the Zakim. I had been hoping for some bigger waves, but in exchange I got a really cool looking sky. Next time I go back I’m going to try the angle/position of attempt #2, but with the filter applied from #3. Here’s the final photo:
My best photo yet of Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
I’m constantly on the lookout for new songs I enjoy and figured I’d share some of my favorites that I discovered in 2012 (all were released in either 2011 or 2012). Each of these songs either never got many plays on the radio or I had started listening to them before they exploded (I’m looking at you Of Monsters and Men). A few are even rather weird, such as the song from the Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack. I’d love to know what you would have put on this list.
Spotify playlist so you can listen in is here.
Here’s my list :
- Lucky Now – Ryan Adams
- You Will Become – Glen Hansard
- Once There Was a Hushpuppy – Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin (instrumental from Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack)
- Home – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (this is an older song)
- Blank Maps – Cold Specks
- Somebody that I used to Know – Gotye
- Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men
- Black Water – Apparat
- Flaws – Bastille
- Promise – Ben Howard
- America – Imagine Dragons
- Amsterdam – Imagine Dragons
- Stubborn Love – The Lumineers
- San Francisco – The Mowgli’s
- Shuffle – Bombay Bicycle Club
A few last minute editions heard last night on KFOG in San Francisco:
- Battles – Hudson Taylor
- Let Her Go – Passenger (I can’t decide if I like his voice or if it’s annoying)
I love when my friends do cool things, like raise money on Kickstarter and put out an EP. My friend Sam Kornstein, a member of the “Sunday Spins”, just put out an album called “Bend when the sun moves” by Vanessa Kafka and the Sunday Spins. It’s available on iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, etc., go check it out!
This was my first experience with Kickstarter and it was a pretty good one. It was easy to use and made it financially feasible for this band to put out an EP, which previously would have been much more difficult to do on a shoe string budget.
Google released the much anticipated Google Maps iPhone app yesterday and the reviews so far are pretty good. I personally didn’t think that the Apple Maps were as bad as they were made out to be, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. What this whole saga shows is the importance of competition and why so much focus on monopolies is paid by governments around the world.
First, a little background: the original maps application on the iphone was developed at the very last minute before the original iPhone launch by an Apple/Google team back in 2008. That just goes to show you how important maps have become, in 2008 it was an afterthought . Four years later and nothing had changed, Google actually refused to license their maps data to Apple so that it could be enhanced with new features such as spoken driving directions. For many reasons, this being one of them, Apple decided to venture out on their own. We all know what happened next: huge uproar, people almost dying in deserts in Australia, apple execs were fired, and a written apology was given from the Apple CEO.
Fast forward to today. Customers now have the choice between Apple Maps (and their advantages) and the new Google maps application. There is no doubt that what Google just deployed is significantly better than what was available in iOS 5, it includes a slicker UI, better transit map integration, and voice driving directions. I’m willing to bet Google would not have created this app in such a quick timeline if Apple hadn’t upped the anti by putting out their own app.
One of the things that doesn’t seem to get any press is the neat stuff now supported by iOS 6 for transit directions. Sure, Apple doesn’t have them integrated, but they do provide a means for 3rd party app developers to tie into the iPhone maps. When I use the Rover app (link), it not only gives me transit directions but also pulls in real-time transit data telling me when buses and subway cars are going to arrive in San Francisco (and I assume other cities as well, like Boston). This is better than what I had in the iOS 5 Google maps and as far as I can tell it’s better than what Google released yesterday in their new app. Publishing a schedule of when buses are supposed to arrive is signficantly less useful than knowing when exactly they will actually arrive.
Bottom line: yes, Apple has looked awful through this whole mess, but because they took a gamble and pushed for innovation, iPhone owners are no doubt in a better spot than they were previously. There is now an all out war between these two companies to keep innovating. For me, companies going at each other’s throats is a good thing and is why capitalism has become THE economic system in the world today.
2012 has been quite the year for my career: I’ve quit two jobs, worked as a part time consultant/contractor, and started a company (we have yet to launch our first product yet). In the past 8 months I’ve probably learned more than I did in the previous 3 years, it is exhilarating but also incredibly exciting to be learning once again. I hope to write more at a later time about what I’ve learned, but this blog post called “Corporateshit” by the founder of Speekapp (Danny Boice) is incredibly amusing and generally spot on with many of my own experiences.