Thursday, December 04, 2008

Product development doesn't sound well with Democracy

Today I wanted to take few minutes to write about something obvious (kind of...) but very difficult to apply in companies, especially big ones. Product development needs to be based on users' insights to meet a demand and reach a good level of satisfaction, but it should be excluding democracy!

First for the ones that don't know what Product development is, let's define it quickly:

"Creation of products with new or different characteristics that offer new or additional benefits to the customer. It may involve modification of an existing product or
its presentation, or formulation of an entirely new product that satisfies a newly defined customer want or market niche."
Business dictionary

"The overall process of strategy, organization, concept generation, product and marketing plan creation and evaluation, and commercialization of a new product"

I'm not very satisfied by those definitions actually, so let's try to do mine.
Product Development is a
sub part of Product Management,
Product Development is taking concepts and ideas to real experience (I mean real product or feature). In terms of task, a product development manager takes a value proposition and design the experience that deliver the expected value to the users. He has to write a Product Requirements Document and to evangelise it. Then he follows the production to make sure that what is released is 100% inline with the value proposition. 

Then a good product could be define as a product that delivers a good level of satisfaction in line with his specific value proposition. Just that! Nothing more! And that's what is difficult to do!

Because value proposition is formalised by a sentence that should remain the same  forever or at least be evolving very slowly with years. In opposition to this, users and colleagues formalise their demand differently with a slightly different balance of concerns about things that are not initially core to deliver your value proposition.

The execution of an idea has to be done rigorously with the minimum of distraction. Once you have insights of users, a product development manager should almost act as a dictator. He is the guard ensuring that the execution reflects perfectly the value proposition in every details.

Here is a good quote about this problem from Jeff Lash:
"However, product development is not a democracy. There is no voting, and if there was, not everyone would get a vote, and not all votes would be equal. While it may be tempting to structure an open process by which stakeholders have the opportunity to provide input and are given a level playing field, this is really an illusion and a disservice to the product manager. If everyone gets an equal vote, then why have a product manager at all? All you would need is someone to tally the votes."

Should a Product Manager act as a dictator in a company?
WoW that's probably hard for lot of people, but some of them succeed to do it right:
Steve Jobs as a great example is leading is product strategy and product development very closely. By this fact, it's probably very frustrating for his employees to work at Apple cause they must have a limited impact on product strategy. But at the end of the day, a product needs a clear long term direction that is reflected in every details, the more people are involved in product strategy decision, the less clear and durable strategy is likely to be.
I don't really know any exception to this. Maybe you do? 

Jeff is also saying:
"Product managers are responsible for what the product should do; do not attempt to absolve yourself from that responsibility by pushing decision-making back on to the product development team or a wider group. Good product managers are able to get input from all of the relevant players and use that information as basis for decisions. Not everyone will agree with your decisions all of the time, but if you do your job well, your decisions should be understood and respected."

And I would probably agree on everything except this :
"Product managers are responsible for what the product should do"
I think Product managers are responsible for what the product was, is and will be actually doing

The bigger the company is, the more charismatic the product manager needs to be!
Don't get me wrong, there is really cool product managers in start-ups but doing a good product in a start-up is an easy task compare to do it at Yahoo!, Google or
Ebay. (Please scope this sentence to Product Management, and forget about Finance issues). I would like to be in a start-up to stop having to argue all the times and take a clear lead. It would be so much easier!

Dave McDowell, one of my boss at Yahoo! told me one year ago: " there are many "true" ", he's right, each decision has its reasons that somehow may be logic, but I think there is only one relevant decision. And it's difficult to demonstrate it to everybody before actually be looking at results. When I'm not charismatic enough to do my job that well, I start to act as an hidden dictator, I enforce things without approval and to be able to show facts. You might think it's dangerous... Yes maybe, but if you can't take any risk, why being in business?

If there are too many deciders in your company, what about externalising Product Development?
Hum... If you need Product Strategy Consulting, you probably don't have the right product manager in your team. But there are more companies than good product managers, so consulting firms will probably have their place forever. Externalising the product development to one consultant (a product strategist) could be actually good to work on a totally new concept, but ask him to lead your Engineering and User Interface Design teams, to work in your office and talk to your users. If he's not directly involve in your actual production, the result is likely to be very disappointing even if the initial concept was the most relevant one.
Concepts, ideas are what you dream of, the product is what you are.
(This sentence is debatable depending of the industry so consider the branding as part of the product) 
Users don't dream forever! Someone has to be responsible of closing the gap and keep closing it during years.
Ideas are cool, but they are not real. If they don't get real, they are worth nothing.

Hope you enjoyed this one.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

If I was a VC I won't give any penny to...

Today I wanted to post about a though I had about Search and Online Communication BtoC markets. After 2 years of work on Yahoo! Mail and a previous experience in Search Area at Convera, something suddenly became very obvious to me:

If I was a VC today, I won't be likely to give any penny to a startup creating a BtoC Search engine or an advanced Webmail, especially if they tell me that their objective is to switch users from big providers... No matter how cool the product is in terms of features. Sorry for Ciul or others really cool and talented start-ups but I think that's actually right to say.

Some of you might think: "this guy is telling me S###" so let me explain.
Google search as Yahoo! Mail (or Gmail) are currently delivering a good level of satisfaction to more than 50% of online users worldwide.

What are the main expectations that Search and Webmail users share?
The service needs to be fast and reliable at anytime.

Just think about 2 situations:

- You're in a store, and you need to quickly check a product price online with your mobile before buying your next digital camera, you do a search and find out that your search engine site is currently down...

- You're late to take your eurostar, your booking reference is in your booking confirmation email, right in your inbox... You need it to get your ticket and take your train. You try to access your email with your Laptop at Saint Pancras station, your webmail is not accessible...

In both case, I'm pretty sure you'll be pissed off with your provider, and will probably churn at some point. Communication and search are two area where productivity and reliability becomes more and more essential. The day Ciul went on, ... their delivery was really poor... How many times did you see Google search having downtime?

As far as I remember, I've seen Google having a downtime one time only in close to 10 years, (maybe i missed some... or not). Note that even Google is not doing that great with Gmail reliability, they have large scale outages frequently.

Those markets will remain dominated by big players, cause you need the scale, a huge network and a terrific architecture to deliver the basics right. When a startup is innovating in that area in terms of features, bigs players just have to deploy the same idea to a far bigger scale.

If I don't see any opportunities for those kind of startups today, you could maybe get acquired if you do a very good user interface. That's probably your only chance to scale... You won't success without a big player infrastructure here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Few weeks on the Yahoo! US campus

Since few months, I'm working on a key feature of Yahoo! Mail planned to be launched in 2009,
from Product Management to Product design, passing by Product Development. This project is probably the most complex I had to work on since I'm at Yahoo! So at some point, to be able to write the PRD (Product requirement document), I had to travel and meet the Yahoo! product and engineering teams in Sunnyvale. Looks good to me!

This is for sure one of the advantages of working for a big company like Yahoo!. The downside is to have your face picture on Valley Wag the day of your layoff, fortunately I'm not there yet. I spent two weeks in San Francisco, taking the Yahoo! Shuttle to commute to Sunnyvale campus everyday (1:30 each way).

I've been amazed by the campus ambiance, there is definitely an emulation there that we don't have in Europe. I would say, the valley seems to be a geeks' microcosm. Let me explain, the vision of people in the valley when it comes to users' education and demand is very different. Let's say you've been using Photoshop exclusively to do illustration design for about 10 years. One day Adobe force you to migrate to Illustrator, would you understand this new interface in 10s and never think about asking to be switched back? If not, you're probably not smart enough or potentially from India or something.

Don't get me wrong, even if it drives bad product management decisions sometimes, it also drives a big amount of innovation, contributing to a massive flow of new online business every single month. I think that in Europe we are less optimistic (naive?) about online business in general, so we try less which means less success at the end of the day... That's also probably why it's more difficult to lever money in Europe, we are more sceptic, less enthusiastic, more conservative!

I was in the valley when Sequoia capital send out their "RIP Good times" deck to their portfolio. It was a bit hard for me to feel the panic from Yahoo! Cause I think we actually don't. Or at least people in the Yahoo! Mail team don't.

2009 is gonna be a pretty interesting year with increasing users' expectations.
I guess it will be harder than ever to satisfy in 2009 for big actors like Yahoo!, Ebay or Google. You'll see I bet Google search ACSI score will decrease this year.
A new era for start-ups will come soon.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Thèse professionnelle sur les réseaux sociaux (en Francais)

Ma thèse sur les réseaux sociaux est a présent distribuée.
Elle traite de l'avenir des réseaux sociaux et répond clairement a la question suivante:
"Vers un monopole ou l'émergence de réseaux sociaux verticaux?"

Cette thèse fut la concrétisation de 2 ans d'investigation sur le sujet des réseaux sociaux et de 2 business plans (So ME en Décembre 2005 et Warpzoner en 2007).

En voici le plan:

1. Executive Summary

2. L’auteur

3. Le phénomène des réseaux sociaux en ligne
3.1. Définition
3.2. Structuration sociale
3.3. La valeur délivrée par les réseaux sociaux
3.4. Friendster : 1er acteur positionné
3.5. Myspace : la thématisation des réseaux sociaux
3.6. Facebook : élitisme social
3.7. Impact les médias et la communication en ligne
3.8. Croissance des investissements publicitaires
3.9. Intérêt des groupes médias traditionnels
3.10. Impact sur le e-commerce
3.11. Intérêt des pionniers de l’Internet
3.12. De nombreux nouveaux entrants sur le marché
3.13. Deux hypothèses d’avenir pour les réseaux sociaux

4. Vers le monopole d’un réseau « multi-spécialiste »?
4.1. Une masse critique atteinte en occident
4.2. Effet réseau potentiellement irréversible?
4.3. Limites sociales
4.4. La division des classes : un frein sociologique
4.5. Myspace VS Facebook : concurrence indirecte
4.6. Coexistence de deux réseaux sociaux dominants
4.7 La multi-spécialisation : un besoin existant
4.8. Leviers de « multi-spécialisation » : outils génériques
4.9. L’ambition Facebook
4.10. Stratégie de Myspace et alliance avec Google
4.11. De sérieux atouts pour convaincre les annonceurs

5. Émergence de réseaux sociaux de niche?
5.1. Réseaux sociaux de niche ou réseaux sociaux verticaux
5.2. Les limites des réseaux sociaux non verticaux
5.3. Spécialisation et légitimité
5.4. Accroître sa différenciation sociale
5.5. Masse critique et viabilité
5.6. Le vrai potentiel des réseaux sociaux de niche
5.7. Diversification verticale
5.8. Une initiative européenne?

5. Conclusion
6. Bibliographie


Cette thèse réalisée pour HEC Paris & Telecom Paris fut rédigée en Février 2008.
Ce document s’adresse à tous les acteurs qui voient dans les réseaux sociaux une
opportunité de création d’activité, de développement produit ou d’investissement
financier qu’il s’agisse d’un réseau social généraliste ou de niche.
Il permettra également å tout marketer de bien comprendre le phénomène des réseaux sociaux et comprendre le contexte de leur investissements publicitaires sur ces derniers.

Vous pourrez l'obtenir en l'achetant 129 euros via Paypal.
La these vous sera envoyée par email dés bonne réception de votre paiement.
C'est avec plaisir que je discuterai avec vous et répondrais a vos questions sur le sujet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

3 years at Yahoo! (Almost)

Back in January 2006, I was searching for an internship in an Internet company, a pioneer. I applied to Google, MSN and ... Yahoo!

If I had to provide estimations on hotels count in France or to do other HR tests at Google, I actually had the opportunity to share with my futur tutor about the industry at Yahoo!

My role was a bit undefined when I entered Yahoo! France Marketing team and that's what decided me to go for Yahoo! I saw an opportunity to have more responsibilities. My prediction was quite accurate, I was not even sitting with the rest of the Marketing team, but with the media producers of Rue Torricelli in Paris office. I took over the role of promoting all Yahoo! FR products on the Yahoo! Network. We call this On-network marketing. My closer colleagues were in United Kingdom and Germany. I've been quite dedicated to deliver some thousands of media plan's lines, bidding to get inventory against sales team in a healthy competition.

At the end of the day this model was wrong! Showing a Yahoo! shopping ad to a user checking his email is close to pointless, even if it's actually making money. That's a great way to generate dissatisfaction, reducing the clarity of the value proposition and decreasing performance.

I had the opportunity to extend my internship as employee, but I preferred entering my master degree at HEC Paris where I've learn more about Digital Business Strategy. I was financing it by operating a 50% margin on line "gaming" service, delivering websites for companies, and improving my SEO skills :)

After 4 months out of Yahoo!, I was back after a direct marketing campaign sent to Brad Garlinghouse (VP Communication and Communities). My new mission was to recommend how to maximise Yahoo! user value. Yes! I was part of the "Make Yahoo! more social" recommenders in 2007, we'll find out soon if we executed well on this one...

At this time I met George Hadjigeorgiou, General Manager Yahoo! Communication & Communities in Europe, a very dedicated and focus Manager. He hired me (bad choice!) as Product Marketing Manager of Yahoo! Mail to integrate his team in London. My role quickly took a European scale, making the experience more relevant to each segment of Yahoo! mail users (from newbies to brand advocates) and positioning the product in United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

After 7-8 months I evolved to a Product Management role. Learning a lot about operating a product, how to measure and increase 20 millions users' satisfaction score. Yahoo! Mail is really the most interesting product to work on at Yahoo!, at least in Europe. Users are very exigent when it comes to their emails.

Part of my team was relocated to Switzerland as we are moving our European headquarter to Rolle. I've also seen the first mass layoff at Yahoo! last January. Business rules the world... The company started to focus more on priority assets to ensure we make our starting point job much better than anyone else. The company didn't focus enough for sure.

Oh I almost forget, the Microsoft story!
I guess people like to work for Yahoo! and think it's already too big (?) Maybe we'll go through this again soon, probably, looking at our YHOO share price... I've nothing to say about that, I personally don't see the value for our company.

The last quarter, I've been doing more Product Development, also contributing to more global projects with partners. I spent some times in Sunnyvale to meet US product management, UED and engineering teams. It was kind of amazing to be on this big Yahoo! campus where most of the things happen...

It was two weeks ago, companies just received the "RIP Good times" deck from Sequoia Capital, so the valley started to layoff massively. "Go Real or Go Home". La messe est dite as we say in french... Yahoo!, just like the others companies has to execute lighter and to focus more.

We are entering a new exciting period, now entrepreneurs don't have that much choice anymore, they need to go real, cash is king but never forget about user satisfaction. Everybody will need both to stay alive during the next 18th months.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

HEC Graduation ceremony

We did it! I'm now graduated from the 1st ranked european business school (HEC Paris) and french top engineer school (ex-ENST, Telecom Paris now ParisTech). We had the opportunity to do a Digital Business Strategy master degree program directed by Julien Levy (The Mercator) & Marc Bourrot.

Note that I've sleep two hours the previous night, fixing potential legal problems at Yahoo! with the US until 4 am...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Stay focus on what I want to be

I've spent the last years fighting for having the opportunity to do what I love in life, the system was not helping me to, I had to do it by my own... Because I did quite well, I've been honoured to finalise my studies at HEC. I was finally tasting kind of a safe path.

This year in London has been intense.

My intuitions drove me off this new safe road.

I had strong believes:
. Being able to manage things serving my aspirations and things meeting my obligations simultaneously, equally and perfectly in my work life.
. Having found the right woman since 4 years, a no contextual love.

Lot of things have changed, lifestyle, country, language, entourage, pretty much everything actually...

And sometimes life hurts you in the head with a bludgeon...
I spent some times asking myself, what I was going to do.
What is sure is that I value and love what I'm doing and what I try to become on both personal and professional side.

At the dawn of new big choices, I know what I want to become. I'm lucky.
It's the time to rationalise influences, prides, dogma, fears, side expectations... to focus on important things that could face imminent death risk. By this I mean, remembering that I'm going to die, as everyone will, helps me to avoid considering contextual and less important things when I have to make important choices.

Even if I don't have all the answers yet...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

My master thesis on social networks

Last Friday, I've done the presentation of my thesis to HEC Paris and Telecom Paris.
It actually received very good feedbacks.

More than 2 years after my first business plan on social network (Called So ME), I've dedicated some time to a thesis dealing with the future of social networks. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to translate it in English yet. Anyway, this is called :

"L'avenir des réseaux sociaux :
vers le monopole d'un multi-spécialiste ou l'émergence de réseaux sociaux de niche"

First i came through all the past big steps of social networking sites and impacts on the Internet actors, introducing the next challenges. In a second part, I analysed the hypothesis of a monopoly driven by network effects and multi-specialisation. In a third part I focused on the potential rise of some niche social networks.

This thesis could address consulting needs of any actors seeing social networks as a potential activity creation, product development or financial investment opportunity.

I'm currently thinking about how to distribute it. Any advices?