The Official Blog of Cogmap, the Org Chart Wiki


Archive for the ‘Corporate Strategy’ Category


Dove soap is magic for your business

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013


Dove soap is softer on your hands because it is one quarter moisturizing liquid

Best product positioning and marketing slogan of all time.

Think about this elevator pitch. I think about it all the time.

In one line, you know the value proposition: Soap that is softer on your hands!

In one line, you know the differentiation: They are focused on being softer on your hands!

And, most importantly, they tell you the magic: BECAUSE IT IS ONE-QUARTER MOISTURIZING LIQUID.

Now every other soap that wants to get in the game has to deal with this question: does your soap contain moisturizing liquid? How much?

If you are a competitor, your answers can vary:

  • Less than one-quarter: You are doomed
  • More than one-quarter: Are you still technically soap? You are just playing Dove’s game now! This is 3.5 minute abs!
  • We use something else: This is possible. But man, Dove uses moisturizing liquid!

So simple, so crystal clear, so easy to sell. You need to be like this.

Company Culture &

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

advertising-dot-com-logoBen Horowitz recently wrote my favorite company culture blog post of all time. Here is the key:

In this post, when I refer to company culture, I am not referring to other important activities like company values and employee satisfaction. Specifically, I am writing about designing a way of working which will:

  • Distinguish you from competitors
  • Ensure that critical operating values persist such as delightingcustomers or making beautiful products
  • Help you identify employees that fit with your mission

That is a big deal. It is not about yoga or massages or open layout or all-hands meetings or transparency. Great culture is about things that help you win.

When I reflected on it, I have only been a part of one company that had a culture that was meaningful in this way: had a culture centered on one event: The War Room.

The War Room was an all-hands meeting that happened every day at 9am. It was a 30 minute review of the previous days results. The CEO attended, the COO attended, everyone attended – almost every day.

This was a powerful, powerful message. was (is) a performance advertising network – we were arbitrageurs. We were squeezing pennies out of nickels, so there was a significant operational component to the business: When you make all of your money at the margins, neatness counts. The CEO and COO would call people out: What happened with this campaign yesterday? Why was performance not better? What are we doing to improve results tomorrow?

This had an interesting by-product: There was a culture of early risers at At 9am, someone important was going to ask you about the operational details of things that happened the prior day. The worst answer was, “I don’t know, I will look into that”. The best answer was, “The targeting was over-constrained, we have already made a change this morning and it is already looking better.”

You wanted to give the best answer, so you needed to be ready. You needed to have reviewed your campaigns prior to the all-hands. You needed to identify and resolve issues right then.

And if you think about it, the result was not just that the all-hands was better and you looked better: We made more money. Results the next day were better because you took care of business at 8am instead of 2pm. That is 6 hours of incremental profitability that goes right to the bottom line.

What made this work: This was a rare and real example of top-down commitment. The entire senior management team was in the room at 9am every morning. They called in if they were traveling. They were engaged. This isn’t about putting together some values and sending out a quarterly email. This is 30 minutes every day spent reinforcing the real, REAL values of the business: Operational excellence, attention to details, doing the little things that make the difference between losses and profits in a performance business.

The result: One of the best acquisitions of all time. Because the founders stayed after Aol acquired them and continued to reinforce the culture, even Aol was unable to screw it up for years and years.


Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Mentoring is great.

I am a mentor at’s The Fort incubator. You know what I get? I get to be a mentor!

Lot’s of people want to give back and I am all for that.

But I wish we had more qualified mentors.

Let me be clear: Mentor’s can make or break your business. In David Thomson’s book Blueprint to a Billion: 7 Essentials to Achieve Exponential Growth, he reviews a significant amount of documentation explaining how if a business does not have a board member that has built a billion dollar business, the odds that an entrepreneur will build their own billion dollar business falls dramatically.

You should get a billion dollar mentor for your start-up.

But most mentors, myself included, are nowhere near what you are looking for. What is really crazy is that these days, I see people that are still in incubators, not yet having found product/market fit for their product, in many cases doing start-ups straight out of college, that are mentoring! I don’t want to be a jerk, and I have no illusions that I am some special guy, but really?

On the one hand, everyone should have a mentor. Larry and Serge have Bill Campbell. Bill Campbell probably has God actively mentoring him. Are these people bad mentors? No way, they are probably great (I have never met them personally). Still, if your mentoring qualification is primarily that people have mentored you, that is a bit disturbing.

Let me spend just a minute throwing myself under the bus: My last start-up was acquired when we were just 3 people. I have never directly managed an organization larger than 30 people. I have never raised a significant amount of money. Yet I advise people all the time because I think about all the crappy advice and crappy advisors that I got/had at my start-ups and I feel like I can at least keep people from getting the same crappy advice/advisors that I got.

Still, don’t pick a mentor for how nice and friendly they are. You need a mentor that will push you. You need a mentor that you respect. Everyone is a mentor, but you don’t want them to be your mentor.


The Secret to Product Training for Product Managers

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

To understand product training, first you need to understand high school debate.800_mcbridesmall

High School debate changed my life, but one of the things that I reflect back on frequently (and thought about frequently at the time) was that I was not too smart. I would have these debates with people about the economy, but really, I didn’t understand the interaction between deficit spending, inflation, and interest rates. I would tell people things like “anthropocentrism is bad for the environment”, and that may be true, and I may have been able to articulate it well, but I didn’t really, REALLY understand it.

This is not unlike the world a sales person lives in. If she is at a company that doesn’t suck and she is good at her job, then the possibility that she can know products well is very low. I am a product manager and if I thought a sales person could know the product as well as me, it would offend me.

Now let’s bring it back. So when we launch a product, what do we do?

Let’s assume that from a materials perspective, you already have it covered: slides to add to their decks, leave-behind material, whatever.

What is the best format: Multi-format. Different sales people learn things differently – some need the white paper. Some need you to come into the office and sit with them. Some can dial into a webinar. Newsletters? Sure. My feeling is you have to do all of these things to do it well.

When is the best time: Over and over and over again. People need different formats. Also, people tune in and tune out. I have always found that training is 100x magically more effective if the sales person just talked to a customer with this problem. Part of hitting them 20 different ways over and over and over is hoping that it will be at a magic moment when they are feeling exceptionally receptive to the message.

Now here is the secret that brings it full circle:

THE OBJECTIVE: The goal is not to educate the sales people about the product. It is to give them what they need to sell it.

Think about this for a second because this is big. They don’t need to know how the product works or what it does. They need to sell it.

I have found that this is about “giving them war stories”. The products they sell every day in the market are easy for them to sell because they have sold them before. They talk with the customer about how they worked for other customers, what made them particularly effective, and why they would work for the customer. I always called this “patter”: 30 second spiels I used over and over again. I did this in high school debate, I did it in sales, and I do it now today talking about all sorts of things. I tell the same stories again and again to different people as I try to make a point. I tell them the same way, I use the same verbiage, and I have the same cadence. Why? They work. Most sales people do something similar.

Your job as a product manager, when releasing a new product, is to fill your sales people with the stories they need to talk to the customer about the product. Part of this is having a because: “Dove is softer on your hands because it is one quarter moisturizing liquid”. Sales people don’t really need to know how you got it in there if the customer will take it on faith, but knowing that it is one quarter moisturizing liquid makes it sound like it works! Recognize where this boundary is and how much you need to give information. The sales person has to be able to go deeper than the powerpoint slide you gave him, but usually only one level deeper than the slide itself.

They need a voice track that is slightly more sophisticated than the slide, but simplified in a way that is mnemonic.

Finally, they need a success story. They have to be able to relate the customers experience back to a previous experience they had that was good for a similar customer. This is the essence of consultative selling: “I did this for customer X, you have the same problem and I can take care of it for you.” A discussion like that is a critical trust-building activity for a sales person.

You have to give them that success story. This doesn’t need to be a formal case study. It can be anonymous, it can be vague, it just has to be a single talking point in the salesperson’s dialogue. And it needs to sound real.

(Attached is a picture of the legendary Brian McBride, a man I idolized in high school, (although I knew him when he was ~19 years old, so maybe it is a stretch to call him a man in this context) (He also had much better hair at the time). He invented the “kritique”, a philosophical argument used by almost every high school debater in the country today to argue that discussing certain things in the context of debate is so offensive that it should cause him to lose (e.g. For a man to propose a policy to help women is to further repress women by enforcing the patriarchy.))



Product Management Roadmaps, Example and Discussion

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Plan Cannot Fail

When I google “Examples of Product Management Roadmaps”, the answers are all nonsense. This blog post is expected to serve as a better #1 result.

My most popular blog posts are the long-form posts where I explain to people how they should do things. In that vein, I am desiring to start a new series of posts on Product Management. My first post is intended to answer the following question: As a product manager, when someone asks me for a product roadmap, what should I give them?

First, as with virtually all of my blog posts, I have some caveats:

  • All of the businesses I like to join are growing at more than 30% YoY. That means that multi-year time horizons are ridiculous. 6 months is the firm plan, 1 year is the strategic plan, 2 years is the vision. Many people think a roadmap is 3-5 years. I am unsure what industry I will be working in 5 years from now. So I don’t do that.
  • Different people mean different things when they say roadmap. Sometimes they are asking you to lay out a market driven vision for the company. To me, that means something else – it is usually more closely related to the fund-raising deck. In this discussion, the best situational case is that a customer (internal or external) wants to “know where the product is going”. Telling them about market demand or customer research is only tangentially important – they want to know what you are doing for them and when, not so much why, except in-so-far as it justifies or de-justifies projects related to them.
  • Of course, it is all software, generally enterprise. With consumers or non-software, your mileage may vary. Although it seems on-face relevant.

This is not a caveat in the same sense, but it is an important point: Product Roadmap decks for external customers are different than roadmaps for internal customers. Typically, I will lag product commitments externally by one quarter (The only things they are getting this quarter are things that are already code complete/in-testing/being rolled out). Also, you probably want to filter out roadmap activities that are not contextually appropriate for the client or are confidential.

Finally, the document I am sharing is based heavily (100%, basically) on Ian McAllister’s concept for Product Roadmaps on Quora. Frankly, my contribution is producing an actual reference deck.

So I have attached an example (fictional!) product roadmap for Cogmap to give you a sense of how I organize it.

Download an example product roadmap now!

This deck has both examples and comments in red. Plain red comments are straight commentary from Ian’s Quora post. Bold red comments are my additional opinions.

Powerpoint is the best format, of course, because it may need to be injected into other content.

This deck is also designed to be easy for me to refresh. This usually gets refreshed quarterly.

This is not the end-all, be-all of product roadmaps, but I want to improve the discourse in this area, so this is my contribution.

Your First Day

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

walrusNot enough companies work hard to make an employee’s first day at work special. Frankly, I include myself in that category. But I am a big believer in first days. The old saying is true: “You never get another chance to make a first impression.”

An employee’s first day is that chance to make an impression. A chance to establish tone and culture. For the employee, it would be nice if it was a mix of unboxing an apple product and a trip to Disneyland – a thoughtful experience that shows that you are thinking about them, that they are going to have a great, great time, and that they will never be happier.

I am a big believer in getting people right to work. On the first day, an employee will never think more highly of a new organization, be more eager to make a great first impression, and more excited to show the kinds of contributions that they are capable of. Don’t waste a new employees excitement with filling out HR forms – help them show you what they are eager to demonstrate: how incredibly productive and useful they can be as a member of your team.

Most companies screw this up because it is hard. Usually it takes time to figure out how to get someone productive in your work environment. Hey, if great on-boarding was easy, everyone would do it.

Night School

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

If an employee at your company announces their intention to go to night school, what does that mean for the organization?

Caveat: I have never gone to night school. I barely finished college. Also, I am talking about technology professionals that already have an undergraduate degree and are getting an MBA or something.

Generally I would say that people that decide to go to night school fall into a few buckets:

  • People looking to make a career shift.
  • People that believe that upward mobility in their chosen profession is restricted by their lack of degrees.
  • People are bored.

Frankly, to me, when an employee tells me that they have decided to go to night school, that is a red flag. Are they not challenged enough? Do they think that their upward mobility at our company is limited? My objective as an employer is to capture as much of my employees mindshare as possible. I recognize that people have personal lives and I want employees to have a healthy work-life balance, but to me, this is “work” and I want “work” to be focused on work. Why are you spending your nights thinking about problems that other people assigned to you besides your colleagues?

Incidentally, if I was interviewing someone and they were doing night school, that would not be a huge negative. That just means they aren’t challenged at work today. Good for them to not settle.

Senior People Can Always Be Fired

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Couldn’t find an unoffensive photo for this blog post. Sorry.

If you are a middle manager at a large organization, you will find that letting someone go is difficult. In fact, at Time Warner/Aol, it was near impossible. True story: I was told by a fellow manager that he had tried to cut a poor performer but had been told by Time Warner legal/HR that because the poor performer was a female minority it could not be done. IT SIMPLY COULD NOT BE DONE.

This isn’t true at higher levels in the organization. The CEO can let anyone go simply because.

“We have re-organized and no longer have a CFO.”

“We have re-organized and no longer need a head of sales.”

“We have re-organized and no longer need you.”

These are all plausible things a CEO can say to fire you. Or generally, any senior person can say to any senior person that reports to them.

Just FYI.

iPhone revolutionizes computing, not phones

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Loved this blog post. My tweet is a few characters too long, so here it is in blog form:

I told people when I got my iPhone “I thought I was buying a better phone, but it turned out I was buying the Internet in my pocket, I totally needed that.”

Everybody knows what a Clayton Christensen nut I am.

Engineers irrationally hate advertising

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

What engineer thinks this sounds very interesting:

  • Big data
  • Incredibly complex algorithmic learning
  • Huge scale
  • Millions of users daily
  • APIs
  • A de-emphasis on the user interface – EXCEPT WHERE IT IS EMPHASIZED

The answer is most engineers. Because most engineers cannot stand the idea of working for an advertising company.

One of the things I have noticed in the course of recruiting people to work at, Deconstruct Media, and Verve Wireless is that engineers have an irrational loathing of working on advertising projects. Despite the fact that their rational mind recognizes that advertising funds free content (including search engines like Google), they have no desire to help make the world a better place for advertisers and help fund the development of better content.

Why is this? When I was at and random people would ask me what I do, I would say, “You know all those University of Pheonix ads you see on the Internet.”, “Yeah, I see those everywhere, they drive me nuts”, “I put those there!”

I would say that because it was funny. Engineers would feel like it was the truth and be depressed by it.

When you compare some of these projects to other projects, they frankly don’t compare too badly:

  • LivingSocial: We sell pizzas at half price – is that what engineers want to do?
  • Government contracting: We are building tools to help the FDA manage case applications
  • Yahoo: We help people read their email (where success=seeing more ads)
  • Google: We help people search for stuff
  • Even Quora: We help people get answers to their questions

Call me crazy, none of those seems inspiring. But advertising seems to create a response that is 100% pure loathing.

This is particularly tragic given the fundamental interestingness of advertising technology online today.

I will add to the list of good qualities advertising companies have:

  • Clear path to revenue, profits, and fundraising
  • Huge market
  • Rapidly growing

It is easy to start a company in this space – why aren’t engineers diving in?