The Vulnerability of Writing

“I saw your blog…” 

Those four simple words are sure to set my nerves on edge. My first thoughts usually are, what if they hated it? What if they judge me for what I wrote? Or even, what if they laugh at me? That’s the strange self-talk that goes through my head when the words I wrote sitting alone, get brought up in person.

Writing is an act of vulnerability. It requires me to open myself up to judgment, criticism, and others misinterpreting what I meant. In a conversation, I can gradually express myself while looking for positive affirmation from others, but in writing, I just have to put it out there!

So why continue to write? As a natural introvert, I would undoubtedly be more comfortable not sharing so publicly. But I believe discomfort provides the opportunity to gain a better understanding of myself and grow as an individual. 

That said, I have also found a few coping mechanisms to make it easier to take those first steps into discomfort.

Find a reason for sharing that doesn’t require external validation.
Most of us value external validation too highly. The lack of external recognition or one critical opinion can really knock our confidence. All my reasons for writing are for my own personal development, not for others, and that puts success or failure in my control.

Recognise positive, as well as negative feedback. 
I have a tendency to focus on negative feedback. I thought this was in a quest for improvement, but without recognising the positive equally, there’s a danger I will sabotage my own progress. I’ve received far more positive than negative feedback about this blog, and I’m sure you would experience the same. Ensure you recognise the positive equally, rather than getting too hung up on the negative.

Remember the value you are providing to those who may be silent.
The vast majority of those that read don’t comment, like, or respond. Most readers are passive, so it’s hard to know how valuable what we share is to them. The critics may be vocal, but there may be many more who silently find value in your work. 

Ultimately, everyone struggles with being vulnerable. We censor ourselves, talk around the point and keep people, experiences, and unsafe situations at arms’ length. We instinctively protect ourselves, and this act of protection can stunt our growth.

Choosing to be open and vulnerable is scary, but the value it can bring to yourself and others is immeasurable. Part of my journey is testing my ability to share my fear in this post. Part of your journey will be working through whatever issues come up for you. Just know that you are not alone. 

Be brave and share openly.

Embrace Constraints For Startup Success

Image from Salesforce

I’ve always felt founders should be wary of raising money. An investor writing a check can feel like validation that your company is on the road to success, but be careful. Are you just avoiding the challenge of market validation?

In the early stages, before you find product-market fit, I think you are better off without much money. This lack of financial resource is a considerable constraint, but when you don’t have money, you need to make money. And to make money, you need to build a successful business.

The constraints that limited financial resources put on your startup will make you focus; think creatively, and drive you to early market validation.

Invest in yourself, reinvest in your business and increase your upside when you succeed.

The Product Value Equation

In his book, Scaling Lean, Ash Maurya introduces the product value equation. I believe this simple but important equation holds the key to understanding any business model as it demonstrates how customer value, revenue and costs are linked together.

The first part of the equation shows how your business generates value. Your product must create more value for your customer than you try and capture back from it. Essentially this means your product or service must be worth more to your customer than they have to pay for it otherwise they won’t have the incentive to use the product in the first place.

The second half of the equation shows how you monetise the value you’ve created. Simply, the cost of creating value for your customers must be less than or equal to the value you can capture back from them.

When launching a new product we tend to focus on the first half of the equation, trying to provide value to our customers and demonstrating our ability to capture some of this value back. Being able to do this repeatedly, is the key to gaining traction with your product.

Once we demonstrate traction we begin to think more about the second half of the equation. We can either reduce our costs or increase our price but eventually, we need to ensure that the captured value is greater than our costs so we can turn a profit and run a sustainable business.

As product managers we are always trying to balance this equation, but we don’t have to successfully balance it from the outset. It is through iterative experimentation that we can gradually adjust the numbers within this equation until we have a sustainable model.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to model your product and run experiments to balance the product value equation my colleague Monira Rhaimi and I did a talk on this very subject! I hope you find it useful!

Seth Godin on the Value of Streaks

Today, I couldn’t find the motivation to write.

I’ve been expecting this day would come for a while, in many ways it’s overdue! I’ve written every weekday since I started this blog and I know how valuable it is, I even wrote about it after two weeks of blogging, but knowing something is good for us, doesn’t necessarily mean we are always motivated enough to do it. This is why I’m up late writing this post, because keeping up the streak is important.

Seth Godin wrote a great post on his blog about keeping up the streak. In it he says:

  • Streaks are their own reward.
  • Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going.
  • Streaks require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit.

I’m sure nobody would notice if I didn’t post today, but I would. Breaking the streak would undermine the value of my commitment to myself and reduce the internal pressure that keeps me going. Once broken it would be so much easier to say to myself, “maybe I won’t write today” and this isn’t how lasting habits are built.

So, here’s to keeping up the streak. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I face this challenge but as the commitment to writing, turns into a regular practice and eventually a habit I believe it will become easier and easier to maintain. Thank you for reading and helping me stay true to my commitment.

How Charity:Water is Changing The Model For Giving

Image from Charity:Water

Over the weekend I listened to a great interview on the TWIST Podcast with Scott Harrison, the founder of Charity: Water. I’ve admired the work Charity: Water has been doing for a long time, but after listening to Scott’s interview I was inspired by how they have evolved a new model for non-profits.

In today’s blog, I want to share what I think are the key components of the Charity: Water approach. I hope it will inspire you, as it did me.

100% Model
When starting Charity: Water Scott realised that people had lost trust with charity. It wasn’t clear where the money they donated went and a lot of charities had suspiciously high overheads.

To try and rebuild trust with donors Charity: Water decided to operate a 100% model. They pledged 100% of the money donated would go directly to providing clean drinking water to those that needed it, they even donated the credit card transaction fee!

The Well
The 100% model has become central to how Charity: Water operates, but it leaves them with a problem. How do you fund the organisation?

This is where ‘The Well’ comes in. Charity: Water has a number of investors who commit to donating $100,000 a year to fund the organisation, which, enables others to donate directly to the cause. They treat these investors just like a startup would, regularly meeting with them, sending investor updates on key metrics and publishing all their accounts so they can see exactly how their money is being spent.

The Spring
As Charity: Water operates more like a startup, they have aggressive growth goals to help achieve their mission faster. They quickly found that the traditional model for charity giving made reaching these goals difficult.

Every year a charity starts with zero money raised and a target to try to raise more money than the previous year. This is draining and not sustainable so Charity: Water created The Spring a monthly subscription service that enables people to give regularly. Building a charity using a subscription model increases donation retention and enables sustainable work to happen in the field because you have a predictable revenue stream.

The Pool
But not everybody wants to donate through a subscription. As it turned out there are a lot of entrepreneurs that wanted to give to Charity: Water but don’t have the liquidity to donate large sums as some investors do.

To provide a different way to give Charity: Water set up The Pool, a VC fund that enables founders to gift a percentage of equity in their company to Charity: Water. The idea is that Charity: Water can hold the shares in these companies and then if the companies become successful they will raise much more money than those entrepreneurs could have given as a cash donation.

What is particularly interesting about The Pool is that Charity: Water intends to give 20% of the shares to its employees. The idea is this equity will act as a benefit to retain and attract talent from private sector companies. Most employees at Charity: Water take a 50% pay cut compared to the market rate, so The Pool gives them a chance to make some of that money back and is a potential way to avoid paying the huge salaries some charities offer to attract talent away from the private sector.

What I admire about Charity: Water is how they have looked outside the non-profit space to find unique solutions to challenges in the charitable sector. Scott built a lot of his ideas on how to run a charity from startups and says he doesn’t spend much time looking at how other charities operate.

I believe it is this cross-pollination of ideas and approaches from different sectors that has led to much of Charity: Water’s success. In 2019 Fast Company named them as one of the 50 most innovative companies in the world, the only non-profit on the list, and since 2006 they have given almost 10 million people access to clean drinking water.

I think we could all learn from the Charity: Water story and I for one am inspired by a different approach to help make a necessary change in the world for those who need it most!

If you’re interested in finding out more about Charity: Water or donating to their cause, check out charitywater.org.

The Three Types of Product Management

A few months ago I was asked to speak at a ThoughtWorks event about what a Product Manager does. This turned out to be very difficult to explain and speaking to other Product Managers didn’t help gain much clarity either!

People are rightfully confused as to what a Product Manager does and to be honest I think they always will be as the vague nature of the role is in essence why product managers are valuable in the first place.

I’m not going to try to end this confusion, or claim I have a solution. I’m just going to propose that you start first by looking at the problem your product is trying to solve and then consider what kind of product management you need for that problem.

I believe that most products fit into three problem archetypes: Experience, Business Model or Tech.

Adapted from original diagram by Martin Eriksson

The ‘Experience’ Problem
In domains that are technologically “solved problems” and leave little room for business model innovation the problem your product might be solving is around user experience. 

Products such as Trello or Slack fall into this category because it is their customer experiences that provide their biggest differentiator. In this case PM’s that come from a design background are most suited.

The ‘Business Model’ Problem
In domains with a familiar customer experience that utilise commodity technologies, your product may be trying to disrupt and differentiate with an alternative business model.

Products like Deliveroo or Uber fall into this category because they have provided a different business way for customers to transact with existing services. In this case PM’s that with previous commercial experience are best suited, for example, startup founders or those with sales and marketing experience.

The ‘Tech’ Problem
In domains where the user experience is simple, and the business model is already proven elsewhere, it is often improving the tech that differentiates a product from its competitors.

Most of the products Google creates are good examples of this category. Google users care most about finding what they want quickly, and Google’s technology enables them to do this better than anyone else. In this case it is often PM’s with technical backgrounds, such as software engineering jobs or computer science programs who are best suited.

In Summary
What good product managers do, and where to find them, varies greatly depending on your product, strategy and maturity. It’s unlikely, if not impossible, to find one individual who possess all the capabilities, approaches, and values needed to solve any type of problem.

A better approach is to understand what type of problem your product is addressing and find PMs with strengths in the areas you need most.

If you would like to read more on this topic I recommend checking out this post by Dan Schmitt and this one by Daniel Demetri who both influenced my thinking.

The Secret to Achieving Your Goals

The secret to achieving your goals is to place more bets.

It only takes one bet to pay off to move you forward and the more bets you place the better you get at predicting what will work and what won’t. You will experience failure more than most but in the long term, those failures will be dwarfed by the impact the successes create.

I’m finding more and more that when I feel stuck and nothing is working out for me, it’s because I’ve been taking fewer bets. The quickest way to get unstuck is to place a bet, take action and see if it pays off.

Remember, the world rewards NOT those who are most talented but those who are the most consistent, so turn up every day, place more bets and double down on what works.

Then repeat until you achieve your goals. I think you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve!