Insightful piece by @FastCompany about @Square. Lots of details on the boom-bust hype cycle and the risks of disrupting a commoditized business. I especially like the details around Square Wallet’s demise. I tried to use the service when it first rolled out but I stopped because it was buggy as hell and I still needed to take my phone out of my pocket. It’s just hard to beat the simplicity and reliability of a credit card: no cell network required, no drain on battery, no app to launch.
Interesting approach by Product lead Gokul Rajaram:
Rajaram says self-empowerment is how the ailing Wallet project got killed: Most of the engineers migrated to more exciting products like Order, a new service that lets customers order ahead at restaurants, and nobody wanted to work on it anymore. “The teams made the call,” he says.
Engineers have a great sense of what works in certain dimensions, especially when it comes to workflow processes, efficiency, and scalability. That’s why I think @ToastTab has done a great job moving into the business of managing restaurant operations: I’m guessing their technically-minded founders look at the restaurant floor like a factory floor and want to make it hum.
The downside to letting any one constituent drive a product investment decision, whether it’s engineers, designers, support, business dev, is that they’ll frequently solely optimize according to their interests. Engineers are often drawn to working with the latest tech/APIS, designers can get distracted by pixel-perfect assets, and product managers can flip between trying to articulate a 5 year vision and a 5 minute one.
If I may offer one piece of advice to Gokul—who I have a lot of respect for— understand why products fail. Is it market timing, poor market fit, or poor product/service quality? Or some combination? It’s difficult to chart a course forward until you understand your product’s past. Maybe that’s not part of the public narrative of Square but it should be.
I was sent a presentation titled Values-Based Leadership written by Bob McDonald during his time at the helm of Proctor and Gamble. Bob is likely the next Secretary of the Veterans Administration and there has never been a time where we needed change more than now. The VA is a huge organization built in a different time for much different problems. Bob covers a lot of ground in his presentation and I found myself nodding my head at just about all of the principles. I pulled the big ones out and added some thoughts based on my experience and role as Regional Administrator for Team Rubicon Region 1 (New England).
1. Living a life driven by purpose is more meaningful and rewarding than meandering through life without direction
=> If Team Rubicon doesn’t help us and others feel a sense of purpose, we are doing it wrong.
2. Companies must do well to do good and must do good to do well
=> Team Rubicon is at its best when we make deep connections with the people in our community. In essence, that’s the only metric that matters, everything else is a proxy.
3. Everyone wants to succeed, and success is contagious
=> We are a self-critical bunch that is constantly striving to improve. We need to frequently reflect on how far we’ve come as a team over the last year, reflect on our losses and celebrate our successes.
4. Putting people in the right jobs is one of the most important jobs of the leader
=> Whether it’s a regional manager position or a Team Leader on a deployment, we need to set ourselves and our people up for success.
5. Character is the most important trait of a leader
=> True character is exposed when it’s 120 degrees out and the people on your team need water, or it’s 3am and you need to get an email out for an event. Do you look out for yourself or dig a little deeper?
6. Diverse groups of people are more innovative than homogeneous groups
=> Each of us brings different skills to the table and we are stronger because of it. While this often leads to friction as we think differently and approach problems from different perspectives, we’ll achieve even more because of it. Organizations get in trouble when they push out those with differing opinions.
7. Ineffective strategies, systems, and culture are bigger barriers to achievement than the talents of people
=> Team Rubicon is a startup and we get to shape the culture and how we do business. We are empowered to drive change at all levels. This is no place for followers; we need leaders with vision, conviction, and passion to drive change.
8. There will be some people in the organization who will not make it on the journey
=> Not everyone can stomach a non-profit startup that is taking on the world. There is no script or genius bar where we ask for help: it’s on us. We need leaders who can step into the void and show others the way.
9. Organizations must renew themselves. Recruiting and training are top priorities.
=> Each year brings a whole new wave of people and their personal stories to Team Rubicon. As leaders we have to position ourselves so that we see the future leaders of the organization in action and bring them into the fold.
10. The true test of a leader is the performance of the organization when he or she is absent or after he or she departs
=> Building a focused, independent, self-reliant team is one of the most important tasks of every leader. This doesn’t happen by merely shoving it in a presentation or email; it has to be woven into every activity, communication, and expectation.
Nice post on the Team Rubicon blog about the Korengal screening last Friday in Cambridge. Sebastian has done amazing work capturing the reality of modern deployments.
On Children, by Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Some great nuggets in this Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series discussion with Tristan Walker. He references 3 post-it notes he keeps on his monitor:
1. Nike doesn’t make products, it celebrates athletes
2. Take a simple idea, take it seriously
3. a) Don’t let lack of context cloud judgement. Talk to customers.
b) The future can be found in the present. Find what’s underserved and win.
c) It’s all about the product.
The Nike statement and the very last “it’s all about the product” appear to contradict each other at first but they support each other: Nike’s product isn’t just the shoe, it’s how they make people feel when they wear them.
Tristan’s discussion centered on a theme of authenticity. In a time when you can launch a web presence and e-commerce site in 15 minutes, what separates your product for others? We are past the point where the value comes primarily from innovation in the delivery channel and presentation media (i.e. internet). Since I move around so much, I keep a virtual post-it on my mac desktop screen:
People don’t want a quarter-inch drill—they want a quarter-inch hole — Theodore Levitt
Paul Wicks, a colleague at PatientsLikeMe, referenced the same quote during a journal club this past Friday. It ties in nicely with Tristan’s talk as it’s all too easy to get caught up in the execution. Doing the work while not becoming the work is a struggle for many, myself included. What’s helps along the way is taking a step back to appreciate that you need to do what you love; anything else will wear you out and won’t feel authenticate to those around you, especially your customers.
Two footnotes: 1) authenticity can be hard to measure due to the Creation Myth as lots of ugly details get stripped away during the evolution of ideas into products; 2) I don’t like to talk about product without talking about product/market fit.