There’s a lot of discussion in New York right now about the lack of experienced Product Managers. Basically, the last few years in NYC have seen a boom in startup culture from developers to investors and almost everything in between. One problem though is that there are very few people in NYC with any experience operating sites past the startup phase. Makes sense considering how few actual startups from the early to mid 2000′s actually survived the fall of Silicon Alley. So, where does that leave this next crop of entrepreneurs?
There are some amazing startups coming out of NY right now with more up and coming every day. Startups like Meetup, Foursquare, Tumblr, Solvate, Hot Potato, MeetMoi, Bit.ly, Chartbeat, PinchMedia (now Flurry), Medialets, Gilt Group, Ideeli, Outside.in, Nabewise, Kidmondo, Market.io, Simple.pr, Drop.io, and the list goes on – for more check out Mike K’s post about the NY tech scene here.
Needless to say New York is energized. The problem is that almost all of these companies are brand new, and with only a handful of experienced tech startups in the city, the pool of resources from which to draw talent has been very small. This is especially the case when it comes to Product Management. Note: some would argue that there’s a shortage of developers and designers in NY as well, but my experience says that this is not the case. New York is a design hub and has been for a long time. There is no place in the U.S. with a stronger UX, IxD, or visual design presence, and there ARE developers here. As an example, my friend Paul Dix has scheduled the inaugural Machine Learning meetup w/ over 300 members and 90 people RSVP’d for next Wednesday’s event. IMHO nothing says “developer” like Machine Learning. I digress.
So, there are a ton of new startups but a shortage of Product Managers in NY. Some folks are trying to do their best to remedy the situation – Charlie O’Donnell recently kicked off the NY Product Managers School, there’s also the Software Product Manager’s Meetup, Zach Klein’s blog series on Product Leadership, and probably a few other interesting resources that I can’t remember off the top of my head right now. These attempts are awesome, and I support them wholeheartedly.
I just want to add some of my thoughts on the matter.
1. Product Management, especially with startups, is NOT babysitting. It’s not all about managing a giant feature list and queuing up the next iteration. Product Management IS about driving a product (Zach hits the nail on the head when he talks about Product Leadership). It means taking ownership, having P&L responsibility, and making decisions about what should be done. Product Management is a leadership role.
2. Good Product Managers are passionate, creative, execution oriented, and metrics driven. I tend to disagree w/ few others who think Product Managers aren’t “building or selling” because, IMHO, nothing gets built or sold w/out a Product Manager making sure it is what SHOULD get built and sold. It’s the Product Manager’s job to predict the future and make it happen.
3. Good PMs won’t balk at the responsibility. Don’t hire a Product Manager who isn’t willing to step up. Balance this by asking them to justify all decisions. Make them earn the trust you’re giving, and make it clear that with great power comes their job if they mess up.
4. If you can’t find someone local, as Charlie O’Donnell advised me in a brief conversation he probably doesn’t remember having – try looking outside of New York. Try to find people who left NY for places like the Bay and convince them to come back. The scene here is viable again and New York has a lot to offer.
6. A Product Manager’s job doesn’t stop when the feature is launched. This is why it’s important to try to find people who have actually operated products – launching a feature is easy, knowing what to do afterward can be tough.
7. Prioritization is the toughest thing for a PM to do. It can be reminiscent of the story about the hunter who got trapped in a bear trap and had to saw his own arm off to avoid starving to death. Try to find someone with the guts to saw their own arm off to launch a product and respect them for it. “The perfect is the enemy of the good” and “Better to build half a product than a half-assed product” are two quotes that come to mind.
That’s all I have for now. Will try to follow up soon w/ more.
Sphere: Related Content
OK. So I worked for an “online personals” company for a while. We had to call it “online personals” instead of “online dating” because of the lawyers. It just so happens that there are legal requirements for dating services in many states that require things like guarantees and reimbursement if no matches are made.
Anyway. Here are some of my takeaways from working in the online personals space.
1. It’s a direct marketing business. At it’s core, the online dating game is about lead generation and conversion. It’s typically broken up into this simple process – find people, get them to sign up, convince them to pay, then keep them as long as possible. Simple. I say it’s a direct marketing business because, traditionally, the best way to get members is to used targeted performance based advertising. This is one reason it’s very difficult for startups to compete against the big boys w/ budgets. That and #4 below.
2. There’s a reason why all of the major online personals companies use a subscription-based model. It works. Before coming into the game w/ a “new” business model, realize that almost all of them have been tried before. Free dating, credit systems, free for women pay for men, ad supported, white-labeling, etc. Not saying that the game can’t be changed, just do your research before jumping in.
3. There are typically two types of dating site: Classifieds and Services. Match, JDate, etc. fall into the Classifieds model. No matter what they say, they’re not really about matching you based on any kind of magic sauce. Classifieds rely on people actively searching/browsing for other people. They tend to focus their efforts on two things – 1. gathering lots of information about you, especially photos. 2. getting you to view/interact with as many other profiles as possible. They make money by being in control of the communication between users. They’re paranoid that you’ll somehow go out of band and find a way to contact someone without paying – Social Networks are their enemy. Services like eHarmony or Chemistry.com focus a lot more on matching. The idea is that people who are serious will pay, and the more “serious” you make the site, the more “serious” people will join and pay “serious” money. Services focus on the illusion of matchmaking. They tend to actually have some magic behind how they match people, but ultimately rely on the fact that their long, difficult, and sometimes expensive registration processes tend to be the best possible pre-qualifier. Funny thing is that they’re right and it works.
4. Location is important. Lots of people socialize online, but most people using dating sites actually want to meet other people IRL. This poses a massive problem for startups because they have no critical mass in any one location. There’s nothing worse than a dating site w/ no members near where you live.
5. Women use online personals sites a lot differently than men do. Women tend to use sites to manage their dating lives, men use sites to actively search out and find potential partners. I know I’m making sweeping generalities based on gender here, but the research holds true for the majority. One anecdote I can throw out there is something I saw when testing a new instant message feature on a site I worked on. I had a member of our team sign in – she happened to be an absolutely stunning female team member. The moment she signed into the site w/ the new instant messenger, she received so many IMs that the design of our notification system failed. This experience is not uncommon. I also have heard from a good number of women on dating sites who never go out to contact men. I’m still waiting for the dating site that actually designs their site around the fact that genders use dating sites differently.
6. No one has perfected the “social network as dating site” concept. Friendster started it, Facebook followed, and there are lots of others who have tried. Black Planet may be the closest and JDate basically went from dating site to social network, but no one else has effectively combined the two. Why? One reason is that you can’t make people who already know each other pay to contact each other. The second reason is that people don’t really want to date the friends of their friends, at least not online w/ everyone knowing about it. I do think there is room for a “friend as matchmaker” play in the space, but it’s hard because there’s a lot at stake for the matchmaker. I don’t envy the site that tries.
7. Users often use more than one dating site at a time. Do what you will with that info. A friend of mine who ran a competing dating site actually allowed the competition to place their ads in his search results – for a very high price – and I don’t think it hurt his business at all.
8. It’s not about the features, it’s about the photos.
I guess I could go on and add a lot more detail. Honestly, I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for years but never sat down to it. Hopefully it shines a little bit of light onto the online dating space for those who are curious and doesn’t get me in trouble with the online dating experts for not giving enough detail or being flat out wrong. Enjoy.
Sphere: Related Content