Generational perspective

The impending arrival of our daughter has me pondering a lot of big things that anxious fathers-to-be have for ages on end. Chief among them is that I – we – have no idea what the future will hold. This has gotten me thinking about how my parents probably felt the same when they sat where we do today, and likewise, their parents before them.

I was born in 1981 when my parents, both Boomers, were in their mid-30s. I did a little digging to get a glimpse of what the world, as viewed through a consumerist lens, looked like when each of our generations of the Reeves clan came into the world.

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Build versus buy

One very common question that you run into when building enterprise software is customers who ask: why should we buy this stuff at all? Can’t we just build it ourselves?

The build-versus-buy debate is remarkably common. Companies of all sizes wrestle with it, albeit in different ways, in almost every industry when they start adopting new software tools into their operations. Obviously, there is no blanket rule that can apply to everyone’s situation. But after being directly involved in a bunch of these discussions, across a couple of different software markets, I thought I would write down some things that I wish decisionmakers looking at this issue understood better.

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Postal Banking

In most of the developed world today, as well as a fair swath of middle-income and developing countries, you can walk into any government post office and after posting a letter or buying stamps, also deposit money into a savings account that is safe, secure, fully insured, and most of all, free.

“Postal banking” is a phenomenon that most Americans today don’t recognize, but in much of the world, it’s almost the definition of mundane. In the UK, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Korea, India, the Netherlands, China and France, just to name a few, the national postal system also offers basic financial services. Depending on the country, these range from no-frills savings accounts to checking and bill-paying services, to more sophisticated stuff like small loans, money transfer and forms of insurance.

Postal banking is an old idea whose utility for America has returned. We should bring it back, updated for the 21st century. It represents a big solution to two major problems Americans face today: first, and most importantly, low-income communities are seriously “underbanked.” The FDIC finds that over a quarter of Americans either have no access to the banking system or must obtain financial products outside of it (ex. payday loans). Second, the U.S. Postal Service has been teetering on the edge of crisis for years, as legal strictures imposed by Congress starve it of funds and the overall volume of mail decreases. Postal banking would go a long way to restoring its stability.

With large swaths of low-income Americans feeling shut out of the economic growth story happening in much of the country, reviving postal banking should be one part of any progressive agenda to build greater economic resilience and strengthen the social safety net.

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Social platforms and responsibility

I’ve been mulling some words on free speech on the internet for a while, but a couple of pieces on Tyler Cowen’s blog finally moved me to write them down.

Recently there have been many, many white men on the internet extremely concerned about “censorship,” and a lot of credulous observers giving these absurd complaints the time of day. Most of them have the issue precisely backwards. The internet, and democratic society itself, would benefit from a much stronger sense of responsibility by those who own and control the platforms that matter, and by more aggressively nixing toxic and abusive behavior.

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An aside on television

I gave some long thought to this earlier in the gym. Presented here in no particular order is my list of the best-written, best-presented television characters of all time:

  • Jack Donaghy (30 Rock)
  • Omar & Stringer Bell (The Wire)
  • Benjamin Linus (LOST)
  • Ron Swanson (Parks & Rec)
  • Poussey & Suzanne (Orange Is the New Black)

With honorable mentions going to:

  • Tyrion (Game of Thrones)
  • Al Swearengen (Deadwood)
  • Phillip & Elizabeth (The Americans)
  • Josiah Bartlett (West Wing)

These are all amazing works of theater – “television” is a bad label for it. I would have to say that The Wire is probably the single best series of them all. If, somehow, you have not seen it, stop what you’re doing right now and go cue it up on Netflix. For sheer acting talent, Orange Is the New Black definitely leads this list. It’s so ridiculously stacked that there’s no real comparison – I had to drop Taystee (Danielle Brooks) from this list just to not make it ridiculous. LOST’s acting, by comparison, was actually pretty bad – besides Linus (and Hurley), I wasn’t super impressed, but the story was just super compelling. The Americans is probably the least-watched of all of these shows, but I think that’s going to change. It’s an incredible show – great writing, solid acting, compelling drama and all the 1980s kitsch you can ask for. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Westworld, which we’ve really been into, but so far I haven’t been blown away like with these other shows.

Huge news about “Make It So”

O’Reilly has decided to publish Make It So as a full print version! Tentative publication is slated for February 2018.

For anyone unaware, Make It So has been the working title for the book on product management in enterprise software that Ben Gaines and I have worked on for much of 2017. We had originally planned to self-publish it as an ebook, but when O’Reilly heard about the project, they asked if we’d be interested in working with them. Ben and I have always wanted our names on a book with a cute animal in front, so we said sure. And there you go.

Go to the book website to read more about it. At a high level, Ben and I have both long found the prevailing Product Management literature to be poorly applicable to our lives in enterprise software. Most of what you read about “PM” is strongly oriented towards consumer-facing startups, and we thought that maybe there would be an audience for a closer look at how this function is done for the enterprise market. As a part of the book, we’ve collected input from some outstanding enterprise PMs at Salesforce, Adobe, IBM, Asana, Basecamp, Parsely and DynamicAction, among others.

More to say later, but for now… 🙌🏻 🔥 😎 ! You can check out the site for more info and sign up there to get an update when the book is released. (If I can finagle you a discount, I will.)

Adobe and Transformation

I’ve written a bunch lately about enterprise software and why its future looks bright. (Check out Tech Has Grown Up and Enterprise Software and the Deployment Age if you’re interested.) I’m gonna continue with that theme in this post, in which I’m going to hit a pet interest of mine: Adobe.

I think Adobe is one of the best-executing tech companies out there today. Its transformation over ten years from a license-based professional packaged software company for creatives into a first-in-class, multi-segment enterprise SaaS solutions vendor is singularly impressive. The pace of their innovation, to say nothing of their rocketship business results, are almost unparalleled. I’m not just talking about the stock price – when you actually understand what they had to do as a company to get where they are today, you have to be astonished. Neither the tech nor HBR-reading chattering classes seem to give Adobe the recognition it deserves for this turnaround. The latter group of graybeards mostly doesn’t understand the magnitude of what this transformation entailed, and the former is too in thrall to the GAFA glitz to care.

Here’s a look at what this transformation into a cloud vendor looks like:

Adobe full-year segment revenue (all figures in $MM)
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Creative Cloud $117 $472 $1,268 $2,265 $3,370
Marketing Cloud $556 $663 $798 $937 $1,180

I’m going to give my own high-level view here of how this transformation took place, why it’s so remarkable, and why anyone in enterprise software has a lot to learn from it. This post wound up being longer than I intended, and there’s still so much to say. But here goes.

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Resources I’d recommend to new Product Managers

I get asked from time to time what resources I’d recommend a new-ish product manager consult to prepare for the job and level up quickly. I thought about it. Ben, my co-author on Make It So, and I have discussed this a few times. Here’s what I came up with.

Part of the reason why we wrote Make It So was, honestly, because there was really nothing out there we thought fit very well for the challenges enterprise product managers face. So check out the book when it comes out! But in the meantime, here’s some other stuff that will probably help too.

  • Product Management in Practice by Matt LeMay. I was a reviewer for Matt’s book, and can attest that this is an outstanding practical guide to what product management is and day-to-day skills that PMs need to master.
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. An obvious classic. This is not really PM specific, but key background and foundational stuff to understand.
  • Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. Ditto the above, plus this offers a really valuable framework for thinking about types of users and customers to target.
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. This gets into the business management/leadership stuff, but I found it extremely readable and informative.
  • Product Management for the Enterprise – this is a video course that I recorded for O’Reilly. (Disclosure: I get paid a little when you watch this whole course.) It’s aimed at people working in product management for enterprise software. I hit on some of the themes from the book in a more encapsulated format, though not all. I think I sound funny.

There is no shortage of leadership/management-y books out there in our space, including many better known than some of these. I’ve read a bunch of them, but personally have found many to be lacking in applicability to what we do, either in terms of not being terribly enterprise-relevant or being hyperfocused on the startup life, which I’m not in. But your mileage may vary.

If I think of more, I’ll add them!