Sunday, June 1, 2014

The tale of the two shaving oils

I have used two shaving oils over the past few months. The differences between two similar products just outlines how much difference positioning can make to a product.

Let's be clear on terms

For the purpose of this post, Product = Physical product your produce, Brand = what your customers perceive of you product as, Positioning = what you do to make sure that the customers have the perception you intended

The two products

The first company  is called the Art of Shaving. I came across advertisements for Art of Shaving on the Boston T. The Art of Shaving store and website exudes a sense of  luxury and expert skincare for men. When you walk into the store, you see a barber shop on the right, and a store on the left. Well groomed, well dressed salesmen walk you through the store and help you smell and try various products.

To really elevate your shaving experience, you need to purchase a full kit (picture below) starting at $115.

The product I bought from the Art of Shaving was a sandalwood shaving oil, designed to be used with shaving cream/foam. It is essentially a pre-shave oil, and retails for $25/60mL or about 40 cents a mL. The smell was sandalwood, smelling all 'Natural'

Now let's compare that with the new shaving oil that I bought from called Shave Secret. It costs 7 dollars for 18.75 mL, though you can get it for ~4 dollars at Walmart. Given this price, it was approx 25 dollars for 60 mL too, which I just realized now when I did the calculation! In my mind, it was significantly cheaper - I guess it would be had I got it at Walmart.

This product is not a pre-shave oil. It replaces all shaving creams and oils - so you use just the oil and shave. I tried it, and had a pretty nice shave with it!

So the product shave secret is significantly better than the Art of Shaving oil in terms of utility. What then explains the difference in price?

Customer utility = total experience

We have to think of customer utility in terms of total experience. Here is where the products completely differ. Here is how they might want the customer to experience the product

The Art of Shaving: Shaving is not just a daily chore you need to do. As a man, this is the one opportunity for you to take care of yourself. Would you not give yourself the best, most luxurious experience possible? Shouldn't your skin look and smell great after shaving? What message do you want to send to your partner/potential partners?  When you give a gift to a man, wouldn't you want it to be the best?

Shave Secret: Shaving is a pain - the nicks, the cuts, the application of oil, cream, the clean up. We simplify everything. With Shave Secret, you use only out product, and avoid any creams. Result: smoother shave, faster cleanup, no rinsing after shaving. Get in, get out, save $$, and have the most convenient shave possible.

It's all about positioning. And choices

The point is, both of these positions can work. And does work. For different people. It ultimately comes down to the customer - what does the customer want out of the shaving experience? Attitudinal segmentation might be a good answer here - what attitudes do customers have towards shaving?

What is important that the executives behind these products choose the position and align all resources and processes behind the position. You need very different skill sets to make these work.

Art of Shaving needs branding and retail skill sets. And a supply chain that handles lots of different product. And excellent customer service that ensures that the same upscale experience is present across stores, website and catalog.

Shave Secret needs efficiency. Efficiency in making sure that the product is manufactured at the lowest cost, and a supply chain that handles making sure inventories are correct across various retail outlets.

Ultimately, it comes down to choices. I admire both companies for choices they have made, and both will be successful. As long as they are authentic to the positioning they have chosen.

So what's the lesson?

Choose your positioning carefully. Don't try to be everything to everyone. Decide what you want to be when you grow up. Then stick to it, and make it work.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Startup ideas in plain sight

It is so amazing to me that startup ideas exist right under our noses, yet we ignore most of them. A good idea typically involves the following format.

is difficult/time consuming/expensive.

We think that by applying , we can enable to do

But the idea is just one percent of it. Execution is the other 99%.

Some recent ideas that seem so obvious in hindsight

Ovuline - app that helps couples get pregnant. Based on tracking signs such as temperature, weight and based on technology  developed by Harvard scientists.

Change Collective - tools for change based on behavioral change principles. Books provide inspiration, but Change Collective provides the courses and reminders that enable change in bite sized chunks

Drizly - alcohol delivered. That really doesn't need any more explanation.

To increase my old idea generation rate, I maintain a separate notebook of startup ideas, and just common problems I see around me. I don't intent to work on them - I am already working on something new. The key thing is building a habit of coming up with new ideas.

So look around you - there are several ideas just waiting to be discovered.

Friday, May 9, 2014

We just hire the best people

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. We were talking about someone who seemed really high potential, but did not do well at his job. He was ultimately let go.

My friend had a hard time - he said that he had regarded this person highly, and was surprised that this happened. And disappointed - how could a person he regarded so early not do well?

And that is where I think where a list of misconceptions lie. The myth about good people. It's that our potential is static, and determines our success completely. It's that we can make an organization succeed if we just bring in high potential people in.

But that is just half the story. The other half is what we often disregard - which is what the organization does to enable its employees to be successful. Does it provide autonomy? Does it provide clear goals? Does it care for the person's success?

And is the person the right fit in the organizational culture? There are places that I did well, and places where I didn't. It all came down to how motivated I was, which was in turn driven by how well I fit into the culture, and whether I was passionate about my work, and happy about working with my colleagues.

So just hiring good people is not enough. Culture and fit is what takes in good people, and turns them into a high performing organization

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A cable company as amazing?

We recently switched from Verizon FIOS to RCN. Our rep was very good, gave us a great deal, discounted the first month and installation fees etc. So great experience. But the reason why we switched? How much people who have RCN rave about it. This is a partial screenshot of friends who replied my Facebook query on whether to switch to RCN. How many times have you seen a cable company being rated as amazing?

Friday, April 25, 2014

On competition

I don't remember how many times I have come across a startup that was asked who its competitors were. And the answer was - 'Oh, we have no competitors.'

Perhaps we are understanding competition wrong.

Whenever I think of competition, I think of alternatives i.e., how else could the person/company do the job they are hiring your product to do.

Let's say you are producing a comedy TV Show. The job your 'users' are hiring you to do is to help them spend some time being entertained, away from their daily grind.  What are your alternatives? Other TV Shows at the same time. Or any other TV Show that can be 'DVR-ed.' Or YouTube. Or board games. Or restaurants. Or computers. Basically, anywhere your users can spend time and be entertained.

Noticed I said users, and not customers. This is TV Shows are a two-sided market. They get attention from viewers, an sell the attention to advertisers.

Back to why I thought this. It is because of news about wearables. This article clearly lays out that wearables - while competing with each other - are now competing with Smart Phones. The latest iOS and Android devices have better tracking capabilities, and so App makers can build apps that exceed the native functionality that Fitbit and others offer right now.

With this increased competition, the first generation of devices is now in danger. New devices offer a lot more capabilities. The question is - how easy will Apple or Google find to build the functionality in the Phone? Does building the same functionality actually degrades phone performance in some way (e.g., draining battery too fast)? Is there a patent or unique technology you have?

The new generation of wearables has to do a lot more to tackle this new competition. I look forward to seeing what works.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The sinking feeling

This tuesday, I was on the train back from NY to Boston. I had been working quite a bit the two days, yet did not feel that everything was right. It seemed that something was....wrong. Or missing. I found it hard to really put my finger on what was wrong; but after quite a bit of reflection I figured out why something seemed wrong.

I had a feeling that I had done zero work in two days. That was despite the fact that I probably got more accomplished in the two days, than I often do in weeks.

I figured two root causes for this.

  1. I (along with several other people) have a mindset that work must feel like work. It has to be something I have to get paid to do. While in reality, I would do most parts of a Product Manager's job for free. Let's say tomorrow, I get $50M and never have to work again. I might still do a product manager's/Entrepreneur's work! I cannot think of a scenario where I sit free, and not do the exciting piece of bringing new products to market
  2. There is also an embedded mindset of work must be done in office. This is no longer true - some of my most productive hours are spent on trains, planes, coffee shops where distractions are actually minimized further.
Over time, I am trying to free myself from both these embedded beliefs. They will hold me back.

What beliefs do you have, that might be holding you back?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sage advice for a product manager

As a Product Manager, you need to be the wise, old man (i.e., sage).


The services team will come up with 'Need to implement this feature' now to solve implementation problems.

The CEO will have wild, crazy ideas that suddenly seem like top priorities.

The sales team will need that one-off feature that wins you the deal of the century.

At this time, remind them of the priorities. Remind them why you decided to go in the original direction. Ask them how things have changed since them. Ask them if their latest, urgent request really matters a month from now. Or 10 months from now.

The the sage - the wise old man that remains centered, calm while everyone around runs in Chaos. Take the product to its intended, long term direction.

With an open mind

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How to lose users

Upgrade without any notification. Tell your users - hey we will be back on Monday. It does not matter if you use our software to plan work for the week. We will not be around; and no, we did not tell you, and did not give you an option to download data in any format.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Applying Agile development techniques to managing my own work

Product Management is a multi-facted role. Building roadmaps, thinking of new products, interviewing customers, working with developers, sales, marketing, support, training - the list is endless (I wrote previously about it here).

I recently started using an Agile-like approach to managing my day to day activities. This is what I mean:

1. I have a list of projects I am working on. That could include everything - tactical activities such as 'Sales needs this document for this sales cycle - by this evening' to 'Make progress on customer development on a product that will not be launched for six quarters'

2. Every three weeks I start a new sprint. I reassess and prioritize everything on my plate and have a strict prioritization. Similar to agile sprints, things do pop up. Just like developers might get pulled into emergency issues, requirements etc.

3. I then draw a line - projects that I plan to address in this sprint, and those that I plan to postpone for another day.

4. If I am pressed for time, I postpone projects and tasks from the bottom of the list

5. I track progress each week against each project. If one is getting left behind, and I do need to focus on it, I figure out what else needs to move down to make way for it

6. I refer to this list in my nightly planning, moving around tasks on my kanbanflow board

So far, so good! Things are working out well, and this has really helped me do the difficult task of prioritizing according to goals vs. prioritizing according to what seems most urgent. I will report back on progress in a few weeks.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Product Marketing to Product Management

Recently I had a conversation with a student graduating from Kellogg. The tale was pretty familiar - ex-consultant with engineering degree and MBA wants to transition to a Product Management role. Larger companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft might give him/her opportunities, but smaller companies are very wary. How does one make the transition then?

Why are smaller companies wary?
Very simply put, they need someone to be productive as soon as possible, and be proficient in many aspects to be effective as a Product Manager (design, engineering etc.). And no experience prepares you for Product Management as does Product Management itself. So anyone with even some Product Management experience has a huge advantage. Experiences that help are - Engineering, Design, Marketing, Strategy. You will likely get just a subset of this in Consulting and through an MBA.

So what can one do?

Two routes come to mind
1. If possible, leverage your domain expertise along with other experiences. When I was recruiting for Lattice, I lucked out that I had taken a class in Predictive Modeling in Marketing, and done an independent study on applying the techniques I had learned to solve a similar problem to what Lattice does. I did this out of pure interest - helping @ Lattice was a lucky co-incidence.
2. Move into in adjacent role in the company in which you would like to become a Product Manager. Professional Services, Pre-Sales and Product Marketing are good roles. I especially recommend Product Marketing as you get to know the product, the customers and the market pretty well - if you are doing your job well, that is. You also build political capital and a good reputation through this route, which should help you make the transition.

So what route worked for you? Comment and let me know