One thing that I didn’t fully grasp before we moved to New York was how accurate this viral-y picture truly is:
One thing that I didn’t fully grasp before we moved to New York was how accurate this viral-y picture truly is:
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:
With honorable mentions going to:
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.
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.)
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)|
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.
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.
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!
So it’s been a little over a month since I published The Second Transit. I had little or no expectations for how the book would do, so the fact that anyone has read it at all is really amazing for me. My first foray into book self-publishing has given me an up-close look at the tradeoffs of this amazing democratizing platform, so I thought I’d share them.
In “Tech Has Grown Up,” I wrote about how we’re moving into a new stage of the tech industry’s development. A lot of the bigwig tech people around today made their careers (and/or fortunes) in the 2000-2008 GAFA mega-growth cycle, and as a result, over-learned lessons from that period. Since 2008, GAFA has only increased its dominance over the consumer web. As they say, it’s easier than ever to start a consumer-facing company, and perhaps even to advertise for it; but harder than ever to profitably grow.
I mentioned in that post that I’ve been re-reading this talk by Jerry Neumann called The Deployment Age. It’s really excellent. The gist is that cycles of technological progress tend to look like surges of innovation followed by longer periods of adaptation and – you guessed it – deployment. Multiple strands of technological innovation combine to form productive “systems:” think of how steam engines, metallurgy, industrial production and precision machining all had to come together to make railroads possible. It’s pretty clear that similar productive systems using new tech are forming today – indeed, many are already here.
When we moved to NYC last year, I had a hard time adjusting to life in the big city. Soon after we got here, I discovered a homeless shelter that was reasonably easy to get to (right down the 6 off Canal Street), and began volunteering there for a few hours every week. It’s now been a little over a year since I started, and the New York Rescue Mission has become one of the two or three things besides our little apartment and work that I most associate with NYC. It’s a part of my life here now. I want to say a few things about it.
I see this tweet and many variations on it from time to time:
Born after iPhone (June 29, 2007):
— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) June 30, 2017
The point the author is trying to make here is something like, “look at how rapid and innovative the tech industry is!” But I take away something quite different from this list.
Frankly, I’m pretty unimpressed. There are some sustaining innovations (Square, WhatsApp) on this list, digital toys, two stubbornly private companies whose real value is still highly controversial, and one – Bitcoin – whose reputedly revolutionary potential has begun to sound a little like cold fusion – forever just around the corner. (Shout out to Josh Cincinnati, a deeply knowledgeable buddy of mine who has helped me understand crypto just a little a bit. You should follow him.)
The transition to an industrial, oil-based economy led to the formation and then consolidation of the oil giants, particularly Standard Oil, whose descendants (post-breakup) include ExxonMobil (both of them), Chevron and a big part of BP. Likewise, the rise of the automobile economy led to the big car companies like Ford, GM and Chrysler. These firms all still dominate their sectors, and continue to rank among the biggest companies by revenue in America. Since 2000, a few big pharma firms and health insurers have joined that list, as well as Walmart, CVS and Apple.
Those of us who grew up experiencing tech’s ascendant rise from the 90s into the late aughts (learning to code QBASIC on a Gateway 2000 – anyone else?) got to witness something quite rare: the formation of a wholly new type of industry. A lot of people, including new types of investors and lots of early (mostly very lucky) employees got extremely rich. Indeed, a large crop of today’s tech VC wealth stems from the IPOs of this ’00s tech cycle. A lot of careers were made, and perhaps accordingly, many lessons were over-learned from this era.
By contrast, in the cycle since the ’08 crash, the leaders of the last one – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – have only strengthened their dominance. Through both acquisition and internal development, they have broadened their grip over the digital landscape: search, advertising, social, commerce, media, more. Everyone points to IBM and Microsoft’s dominance in their heydays as proof that this kind of success is fleeting, but I think that’s wrong; instead, I look at ExxonMobil, Ford and JP Morgan. Success can be sustained over time. Tech is not special that way.
Most investors are smart, and I think they realize that GAFA are here to stay and pre-2008 cycles of mega-growth are unlikely to be replicated. Instead, the path to liquid 100x returns (on which the VC model is based) is to push for an acquisition or, barring that, an IPO. In either case, as I alluded to in “Mercenaries,” tech investors have gotten smarter about ensuring that investors capture more of the upside, regardless of what happens to the share price or, in most cases, employees. This leads to companies prioritizing sheer growth over all other concerns, including profitability. Growth in an attractive market segment makes you an acquisition target by a GAFA, or better yet, a fat-cat non-tech firm looking for a shot in the arm. Ergo, the tediously earnest discussions we see in tech circles of “growth strategies” (growth hacking, hypergrowth, etc) and manipulating CAC vs LTV instead of basic P&L. As a friend put it the other day, there are a lot fewer people working in tech today than you’d think, especially on the consumer side, who have ever had to worry about managing a business to profitability.
My hunch is that most tech-sector venture funds in the post-2008 cycle will not make great returns, relative to the overall market. The VCs will still get paid, of course, and there will be a lucky few outperformers; but in a tech cycle characterized less by innovation than baubles and distractions, returns will be modest.
Someone is going to tweet me to offer Tesla as a counterexample to my generalizations here. This is partially fair, though I await to see how the Model 3 rollout actually goes. Nevertheless, the truly revolutionary stuff Musk spouts off about – massive home-based solar, the PowerWall, tunneling under cities – are still mostly theoretical. I’m not yet a believer, but hope to be proven wrong.
The other area of revolutionary technology that still seems genuinely early-days to me are drones, and drone software. I am honestly fascinated by the potential in this area. (Battery tech, too, but I think that will be mostly dominated by major industrial firms.)
Yet today, what I hear tech VCs chatting about is a new high-end frozen yogurt gadget. One can’t help but think of the $120 million that Juicero raised. World changing innovation, right?
The frothy tech startup scene has mostly had its day. I expect that Silicon Valley has built its last 5,000+ person company (where would you even house that many today?), and that increasingly in the future, the really important stuff happening in tech will come from the majors, not startups. It may be easier than ever to start a company today, but it is harder than ever to scale one. I am re-reading this classic piece, The Deployment Age by Jerry Neumann, with increasing interest. Maybe I’ll write about that later.
Here’s something I believe that most people don’t: North Carolina is one of the most important, and certainly interesting, places in America right now.
There are certain stories and trends that the national media routinely misses because it’s so hyperfocused on what’s happening in the big coastal metros. This isn’t an “elite mainstream media” criticism – it’s just a function of where their readership is concentrated and where most of their reporters and correspondents are based. North Carolina’s evolution is one of these stories.
North Carolina has now sustained for many years one of the country’s fastest economic and population growth rates. Job growth is high, and like a lot of places, unemployment is today at a 16-year low. North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida are growing faster than anywhere East of Texas right now. In fact, throughout the East, the arc from Raleigh to Atlanta is the biggest major growth story happening. The northeast is stagnant or emptying out, the Rust Belt is hollowing, and those big western states seeing lots of growth, like Utah, Nevada and Idaho, are starting from a much smaller base. If NC, SC and GA were one state, it’d be the California of the East, and it would be growing faster than the real one.
You may have heard about how the Old North State is sort of a mess, politically speaking, right now. I’ll get to that here in a second, but for now, the important thing to remember is this: the North Carolina General Assembly as seated today does not reflect the will of the electorate. The General Assembly is currently deeply skewed by a partisan and racial gerrymander compounded by deliberate legislative action designed explicitly to disenfranchise poor and minority voters and over-represent rural whites. What’s more, these are all fairly recent developments, not legacy stuff. Here’s how it went down: