Zoomed in vs Zoomed out

When you look at any successful company, the chart is up and to the right. It looks fantastic.

However, the zoomed in reality of the day to day is not that. It’s a rollercoaster of metrics and emotions.

Being a founder or CEO is hard. You live zoomed in. Don’t compare yourself with the zoomed out chart of others.

Product FTW

Could not agree more with this post by Fred Wilson. One of the things we told PMs at eBay is “You are the CEO of the product”. It is great training to become the CEO of the company.

It’s not really different from what we look for in startup founders. Most of the time, the founders we back come from product backgrounds. They have a track record of building and shipping products. They are technical and can go toe to toe with their engineering team. They understand where technology is headed and they understand how software products are made and evolve.

When young people tell me they want to start or run a tech company, I always tell them to go work in product at a big tech company. I believe that product is the heart and soul of tech companies, it is where it all comes together. You can’t build a great company without great products (or great people).

Being part of the solution (aka screw secession)

Yes, Silicon Valley does amazing things – creates and changes industries, impacts people, imagines the future. Given that, one can either look at the rest of the country as a burden or an opportunity. One can either say “screw them, let’s move forward alone” or say “let’s help everyone move forward”.

The latter path is, obviously, much more painful.

What I love about the tech folks working in Obama’s “Stealth Startup” is that they are choosing that path.

Oh, and the stories about Weaver. “First name is Matthew,” Weaver says, sitting on a cheap couch in a makeshift office near the White House. But no one calls him Matthew, he explains, since there are too many Matthews in any given room at any given moment. Even among D.C.’s new technorati, people view Weaver as someone separate from the fray. Maybe it’s because he once lived in a camper in the Google parking lot without going home for an entire year. Maybe it’s because he was the one guy who, if he didn’t answer an emergency call, the whole search engine might go down. Or maybe it’s because in a group of brilliant engineers, Weaver, as one of his new colleagues puts it, stands out as “someone who is, like, superhero-fucking-brilliant.” Recruited from California last year by these guys Mikey and Todd to work on the broken website, Weaver decided this year to stay in D.C. and leave behind the comfort of Google and a big pile of stock options. He recalls it in terms that suggest the transfixing power of a holy pilgrimage. “That”—he says, meaning the fix-it work—”changed my life in a profound way. It made it feel like all my accomplishments in my professional life meant very little compared to getting millions of people through the hospital doors for the first time. And that made me see that I could never do any other work without a public impact.” Weaver now spends his days in the guts of the Veterans Administration, helping the agency’s digital team upgrade their systems and website—and trying to reboot the way government works. As an early test to see if he could challenge the VA’s protocol, he insisted, successfully, that his official government title be Rogue Leader. And so he is: Rogue Leader Weaver.

Valuing the struggle

The popular history of science is full of such falsehoods. In the case of evolution, Darwin was a much better geologist than ornithologist, at least in his early years. And while he did notice differences among the birds (and tortoises) on the different islands, he didn’t think them important enough to make a careful analysis. His ideas on evolution did not come from the mythical Galápagos epiphany, but evolved through many years of hard work, long after he had returned from the voyage. (To get an idea of the effort involved in developing his theory, consider this: One byproduct of his research was a 684-page monograph on barnacles.)

The myth of the finches obscures the qualities that were really responsible for Darwin’s success: the grit to formulate his theory and gather evidence for it; the creativity to seek signs of evolution in existing animals, rather than, as others did, in the fossil record; and the open-mindedness to drop his belief in creationism when the evidence against it piled up.

The mythical stories we tell about our heroes are always more romantic and often more palatable than the truth. But in science, at least, they are destructive, in that they promote false conceptions of the evolution of scientific thought.

The mythification of very hard work makes for a good story, but it minimizes the effort that went into it.

The oversimplification of discovery makes science appear far less rich and complex than it really is.

This very good op-ed in the NYTimes is focused on science, but this is true not just for science – it’s true for almost anything. In tech, it’s the pithy “and now it’s a unicorn”. In film, it’s “and it premiered at (insert name of festival)”. The punchline ignores all the decisions and work that went before it.

While you are in the middle of the struggle, it’s easy to be seduced by the thought that others had it easy, that somehow it all came together instantly. But it’s the grind, the perseverance and the hard work that matters, even though it is unglamorous and hard and unreported. It’s the only thing you control.

The myths can seduce one into believing there is an easier path, one that doesn’t require such hard work.
The Darwin, Newton and Hawking of the myths received that instant gratification. The real scientists did not, and real people seldom do.

Responsibility comes with social media

There’s a video doing the rounds of a young woman on the Metro North train who gets into a verbal altercation with the conductor1. She keeps bringing up how “well-educated” she is. Her behavior is disgusting and despicable. Education has nothing to do with classy behavior. Neither does money. We’ve all seen enough examples of that.

BUT – what’s happened to her is also unacceptable. Her name has been made mud across the internet, people have posted her resume, there’s a Facebook page in her name where people are calling her a c**t. This stuff never goes away – ever. In 20 years it will still be there when you Google her name2.

Is it a violation of her privacy to take video of her without her knowledge even though it’s a public place? I am not sure, but the person who took and posted the video is equally vile and despicable and has taken an unpleasant and disgusting situation and potentially ruined her life. That’s not fair punishment.

Why is there no repercussions to that person? He/she was being surreptitious – it’s not like he/she was bold and brave – the video was taken on the sly. This is the downside of videos on cell phones and instant uploads. The person probably posted it without thinking through the consequences. And now, there is no going back.

A sad situation, made sadder. Two wrongs were done here – let’s be very clear about that.

  1. She happens to be South Asian, but that has little to do with this post. 

  2. For that reason, I will not post any links to the video or any articles. 


If you read this blog, you know that I rarely, if ever, blog about food. Living in New York, it easy to eat at great restaurants and I manage to do that every once in a while. But at the core, I’m a reluctant cook.
If there was ever going to be a site that could change that, however, it would be Yummly1. Billed as having “Every Recipe in the World”, it is incredibly well-organized and just… beautiful. I love beautiful sites – they make you feel good.

When you do a search for a recipe, the search results are well organized and each recipe is shown with a star rating, and how long it will take you to make it. For the reluctant, like me, this is excellent – it’s always a tradeoff between time it will take and yummyness. And yes, I am personally willing to trade off a bit of yummyness for oodles of time saved.

Each recipe is also ranked by flavor – Salty, Savory, Sour Bitter and Sweet. And a slider on the right side lets you specify if you want more and less and shows you options that fit your requirements. All this to say – it’s how a site should be designed. You want to find something? It has all the ways to help you refine and find exactly what you want. And since Yummly pulls in recipes from all over the web you will find a recipe for pretty much anything you want.

Try it out and let me know what you think!

  1. Full disclosure: Yummly is founded by ex-eBay friends and colleagues and I’ve been aware of it since it was a sparkling little PowerPoint presentation in the founders’ hands 

Use the best, even if it’s a competitor

Experts and developers say that is in part because the Android Market, the dominant store for Android apps, has some clunky features that can be annoying to phone owners eager to make a quick purchase. For starters, Android uses Google Checkout rather than an online payment system that more people are familiar with, like PayPal. As a result, many Android developers make their apps available free and rely on mobile advertisements to cover the cost.

In large companies, when a team is building a new product, there is often pressure to use other products/services offered by the company, even if they are not the best products in the market or the best user experience.

That is a mistake.

Google’s Android Marketplace product and development teams should build the best product they can. For the checkout component, they should use the best product out there – the one that guarantees the best user experience.

Internal and external products should be treated the same and allowed to compete for the right to be part of the product. For example, if PayPal is the best product, they should use PayPal for checkout. This puts the onus on the Google Checkout team to improve their product – it forces them to be competitive and up to scratch. It ensures that the Google Checkout team is never complacent, never just expecting to be slotted in just because they are a part of Google. It forces a startup, competitive mindset onto the team.

This open, competitive approach is not easy to do. In fact, it is very hard. There will be a lot of voices that say that Google should push Google Checkout in order to get adoption up – basically, prop it up. It’s almost always the wrong way to go, in this case for the Android Marketplace and if you are willing to take a bigger picture, for Google Checkout as well.

It’s about the user experience, stupid

All the conversations about open or closed are somewhat irrelevant. Consumers don’t care about open or closed. They care about the user experience. They care that things are intuitive and they don’t have to “think” about things.

If users are unsure about

  • which app store to go to
  • which apps will be available in each app store
  • whether an app will work on their phone
  • if an app works differently on each phone, it is not a good experience for users. The average user will not understand it.

If, however, Android can

  • get one uber-app store that all Android users, irrespective of carrier and phone model, can access
  • apps that work on all phones without the consumer having to think about it
  • apps work the same way on all phones

then Android will win.

I really wished that Apple would not “approve” apps. They could offer a section for the “unapproved” apps that a consumer can use that their own peril. But they have no need to do this because right now, Android is till too hard to use.

Now, coming to the topic of Open – right now, Android lets the carriers play the role Apple plays for it’s app store. How, precisely, is that open? They are both closed – just in different ways.

A response to the articles on women in tech

The conversations about women in tech are getting crazier. It’s always good to have conversations about important things, but right now all I see is a certain perspective being touted as ultimate truth, wrapped in gross generalizations. Even saying “women in tech” and making generalizations doesn’t make sense since the group is large and very, very heterogeneous.

The tone of these “conversations” is such that I want to distance myself from all these groups. The whining and playing the victim card are really galling to me. The “women want” lines thrown around with such confidence give me a lot of pause. I think some of these conversations are actually hurting the rockstar women in tech rather than helping them. And hence my post.

A woman who enters the technology world can do it any number of ways – in a large company, medium company, small company, as a founder, as a product manager, marketer, strategist, etc. To generalize across all these groups is silly.

A woman has different points of view in each stage of life. And those points of view are also particular to each person. Some may not want kids, some may. Some may want to stay home, some may not. Some may want to stay home initially and go back to work later – things change, life changes, perspective change. To generalize across all these age ranges and individuals is silly.

But the conversations doing are exactly that – generalizations from one point of view based on the poster.

There’s one group that complains that VCs won’t fund women. The solution offered is a woman-only fund. To this group I say – great, if you want a women-specific VC fund, that’s your choice, make it happen. But I never want to be funded because I am a woman. I want to be funded because I have an amazing company/idea (or now, film).

Are there VCs obsessed with the young male 20-something college dropout who is going to be the next big thing? I am sure there are. But do you really want to take money from them if their judgment is so questionable? I know this must be really hard to deal with as a founder, but it is probably best not to take money from such close-minded VCs.

And given that there aren’t that many women founders, I worry that a woman-only fund would actually be a bad idea for LPs. Doing things that are bad for other constituents with the purported goal of helping women actually ends up hurting women much, much more.

One very tangible way to help women (single, married, divorced, parents, grandparents) in tech is for the current women in tech to just execute and execute brilliantly. Prove yourself, earn a seat at the table – that is a step forward for all women.

So much time, effort and whining about women not having the exact same opportunities? Who has the time if one has a full time job in tech? When I was in product, I could barely go to the dentist every 18 months much less participate on blogs1. I was having lunch a month ago with an *awesome* woman in tech. We couldn’t fathom how people with line responsibility spend so much time blogging and commenting on blogs. This woman could raise $ any day of the week, from any VC, if her idea was solid.

I bet Paul Graham would fund a mother with  young children if she fits the other criteria and if she can execute. Y-Cominbator is one fund with a certain set of criteria – you either fit or you don’t. If Y-Combinator doesn’t work for you, it’s either your loss or their loss, I don’t know, but get over it. Go to the next person who is interested and who’s criteria you fulfill. This happens in *every* industry. Sundance labs requires participants attend on location. I don’t see anyone saying – well, that’s just unfair to women. It is how it is. Deal with it, work around it, make things happen.

And yes,  biologically women have to have the children. Figure out a way to make it work. Is it harder? Yes, but whining never got anyone anywhere. If you are the CEO, go home, get the kids in bed and then get back to work. Women do it in tech *all* the time – I’ve seen them do it, I’ve worked with them, I’ve had them on my teams, I’ve been amazed by them. I can’t believe a VC won’t fund you because of that.

If you have a good idea and  you know how to execute, you *will* get funded. As I posted on Fred’s blog

I know lots of women in their thirties who are leading startups – some chose to get angel funding, some did not. None of them faced the issue that they were women. And yes, some are mothers. But all of these women worked in the tech industry and learned the ropes. They know how to make stuff work.

If you are a man or a woman and don’t know how to build a tech company – whether code or product, it’s going to be hard to get funded.

It is only now that the over-40-women-in-tech crowd is reaching the numbers where it is statistically significant. I have a feeling that this issue is one of timing rather than gender bias. Let’s see what happens in the next 10 years with this “class”.

At the end of the day, the problem has to be solved earlier than the funding stage. More women need to be comfortable with math and science and encouraged by their parents as children2. More women need to think about tech as an option. Unlike consulting or banking, there isn’t a real “career path” in technology. It more amorphous and it can seem scarier from the outside. This may also deter women (or men) – but once you understand tech and fall in love with it and are good at it, the lack of a real career path is actually to your advantage.

I’m not in tech anymore. If possible I’m in an industry where it is even harder for women than tech. But blogging about how terrible it is will get me nowhere.

Now, to the group that says women don’t do startups because they want to have kids – yes, some women want this and it’s their choice. It’s personal. It’s great for them. Some women though, will want children and will want to come back to the work force. And some women may not want kids.

If you are talking about your perspective, fabulous. But please, let’s make it clear that’s what it is.

What I’ve seen in tech is that if you work your ass off and are good at what you do, you get the respect. Maybe women have to work harder, but then.. work harder. If you think of yourself as an awesome product manager, ceo, marketer, fill-in-the-blank, you’re much better off and much more likely to succeed than thinking of yourself as an awesome woman product manager. If the world sees you as an awesome product manager instead of an awesome woman product manager, by that alone, you are helping women in tech.

Maybe I’m too pragmatic and therefore won’t change the world… but I think it’s better to earn respect by what you do. Not because of who you are.


Thanks to Emily Hickey for reading a draft of this and sharing her thoughts.

  1. It’s true that the online world has evolved a bit and one’s social presence is much more important now, but still… 

  2. I have to add here, however, that I know lots of women in tech who are not engineers or CS majors. To be in product or marketing you need to understand things and not fear it, but you don’t have to be able to code. And product people make great founders.