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Why I Switched Careers From Social Media Manager to Product Manager

16 Jan

In December, I accepted a job offer as a Product Manager for our suite of eCommerce APIs within the Online Business Unit (Sears.com, Kmart.com) at Sears Holdings Corp.

What does a Product Manager do?

Wikipedia defines product management as “an organizational lifecycle function within a company dealing with the planning, forecasting, or marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product lifecycle.  Product management often serves an inter-disciplinary role, bridging gaps within the company between teams of different expertise, most notably between engineering-oriented teams and commercially-oriented marketing and sales teams.”

Put another way:

Think of a Product Manager as the conductor of the orchestra, the sheet music as the PRD (product requirements doc), the musicians as the engineers, marketers and designers and the audience as the customer.

What are APIs?

Application Programming Interfaces. Wikipedia definition: Source code based specification intended to be used as an interface by software components to communicate with each other.”  Think of them as a set of guidelines and specifications that allow developers to build interesting products and features leveraging the Sears.com, Kmart.com and MyGofer.com site functionality and data.

Put another way:

Think of Sears.com as a car, developers as after-market accessory manufacturers and APIs as the set of specifications that make sure the 24″ rims, custom roof racks or bumper guards fit the car.

So what exactly am I doing?

I have two main job responsibilities:

  1. Lead the product offering/development and marketing roadmap for our Sears Developer Network site and Open API Platform.
  2. Evangelize or raise awareness of our suite of APIs to developers and provide them with the support and tools they need to build interesting products/features leveraging our data.

Why did I change my career path?

Quite simply, I missed tech.  I enjoyed my career in social media, but found my role becoming increasingly tied to online marketing campaigns than the underlying technology platforms.

Furthermore, I felt a lack of entrepreneurial freedom (intrapreneurial, in this case).  I like creating things.  Counting Firmology and Firmology Reviews, I’ve launched 6 online-based businesses ranging from eCommerce sites to media sites.  Product management is similar to running your own business as you’re essentially running your own show and are held accountable for the success or failure of every decision you make.

Being a people person, the best part is I get to meet and do business with a variety of interesting people within engineering, user experience, online marketing, finance, legal, vendors, consultants and most important, our customers.  In the context of my specific role as Product Manager for our suite of APIs, my customers are internal and external developers, founders of tech startups and executives like VPs of Business Development.

I’m excited.

It’s only been about a month and a half since I started transitioning into the role, but it’s been amazing so far.  It’s empowering knowing that the sky is the limit and the role is truly what you make of it.

Help me learn!

Any of you in product management?  Help me learn!  My goal is to learn about and read everything I can about product management.  I’ve found some interesting (and some hilariously entertaining!) product management blogs like The Accidental Product Manager, On Product Management, The Experience is the Product, The Cranky Product Manager and a number of others listed on Alltop’s Product Management section.  What blogs, sites or books do you recommend I check out?  Do you have any tips for me?  Leave a comment below

Productivity Challenge: Break Your Email Addiction

28 Dec

Photo: (Esparta)

What’s the first thing you do upon waking?

Take a shower?  Make coffee?  Eat breakfast?

Perhaps, but probably not.

Most of us check our work email on our Blackberry or similar mobile device.

Is email that important that we have to read it as soon as we open our eyes?  No, it’s not.

Does your profession require that you are on-call 24/7?  If yes, you’re probably a doctor with an emergency pager or a plumber with an emergency hotline number.  Otherwise, the answer is no.

Furthermore, do you really want to start your day thinking about your boss or your coworkers while you’re: in the shower (not recommended)? sipping hot coffee? eating bacon? stuck in traffic?

Productivity Challenge: Break Your Email Addiction
Try going through an entire week without checking your email until you arrive at the office.  If that’s too challenging for you, try not checking your email for the first 15 minutes after waking for a week. Increase by 15 minutes each week until you reach the full goal of not checking your email until you arrive at the office.

Instead of checking and worrying about your email, try showering in silence, reading a book, meditating or collecting your personal thoughts, listening to the crunch of your cereal or even enjoying smell of your fresh coffee just like a Folgers commercial.

Your mind needs this break to rejuvenate and discover.

Some discoveries to look forward to include: reduced stress, clearer thinking, deeper sleep, increased focus and creative.

Try it. Let us know what you’ve discovered.

Is Your Snow Day a No Day?

23 Dec

Photo: (Leeni)

This past Tuesday marked the first day of winter.  The official arrival of winter also marks the unofficial arrival of the “snow day.”

What is the snow day?  The annual rite of making excuses to avoid work or school.  It’s an interesting phenomenon actually.  When it snows on the weekend, there are no excuses.  When it snows during the morning commute, all bets are off.

I arrived at our suburban office as usual, only to find my colleagues were shocked to see me.  Apparently, a sprinkling of snow during the morning commute had caused mass hysteria, even among those who have the option of taking the train.  Half of the team didn’t show up.

This isn’t anything new.  We were trained at an early age to avoid things we don’t like to do.

In grade school, I remember being really excited when school was cancelled.  I played video games all day.  When classes were cancelled in high school, I hung out with my friends at Old Orchard, an OUTDOOR shopping center.  In college, classes were never cancelled.  I skipped them anyway and ran errands, went shopping, had lunch with my friends and even went to the bar– all during the middle of a blizzard.

After graduating from college, everything changed.  I quickly realized that skipping work during bad weather was pointless.  Not only did I actually enjoy my job, but I also worked on commission.  I remember many times where I worked diligently in my office on days where we had in-climate weather.  I fully controlled my destiny, so I took my job seriously.  Years later, I am no longer working on commission, but I am still enjoying my job.

That’s the main point here.  I enjoy what I do and therefore:

Make no excuses.

Plan ahead.

Wake up earlier.

Take alternate modes of transportation.

Get work done in advance.

Find other things to do that have been pushed aside.

Is your snow day a no day?  If it is, you should reconsider what you do for a living.

Are You Maximizing the Potential of Your Weekends?

18 Dec

Photo: (David Urbanke)

What are you doing this weekend?  Are you taking steps to move your life forward or are you sitting around complaining about everything?

What I’m doing this weekend
I’m advancing my health by going to the gym.
I’m improving my writing skills by blogging on PhilipNowak.com.
I’m working towards my goal of entrepreneurship with Firmology.com.
I’m writing another chapter to fulfill my goal of writing a book.
I’m attending a going-away party for a close friend who is moving to Singapore.
I’m helping decorate the Christmas tree at my parent’s house.
I’m studying Russian, so that I can better communicate with my girlfriend’s family.
I’m creating a zen-like environment by tidying up my home.

What I’m not doing this weekend
I’m not moping around the house after a long workweek.
I’m not drinking my night away only to do nothing the next day because I’m hung over.
I’m not complaining about the fact that my home is dusty and that I need to do three loads of laundry.
I’m not watching the Bulls game, although I’d love to sneak a peek at some point.
I’m not wasting away on my couch watching football all weekend long.
I’m not going to gorge on junk food, only to feel like I gained 5 pounds on Monday.
I’m not satisfied with the fact that I lost over 15 pounds in the last year and can now take a break from working out.

I’m doing my best to maximize the potential of my weekends.  Are you?

If nothing else, remember this:
Time is lost forever.  Are you satisfied with what you accomplish each day?

Stop Apologizing in the Workplace

17 Dec

Photo: (mofo)

“Sorry, I need to reschedule our meeting.”

“Sorry, I didn’t have a chance to review the report yet.”

“I’m sorry. I’m out of the office.”

“Sorry, but I don’t understand what the ask is on this project.”

“I’m so sorry about this. I will get to it as soon as I can.”

Are you tired of reading this yet?  I am and I’m tired of writing this too.  I’ve noticed this phenomenon for several years now, but finally decided to write about it when a frustrated acquaintance mentioned it as one of their biggest pet peeves.

I typed ‘sorry’ into the search field within my work inbox and came back with 202 results.  The true results could have numbered in the thousands, but I delete most emails in an attempt to better manage my inbox.  While this phenomenon isn’t just isolated to email, it’s an example that all of you can easily replicate to see this for yourselves.

‘Sorry’ is one of the most overused words in the workplace and has become almost meaningless.  Why are you sorry?  Are you really sorry?  Do you really feel that bad about it? 

Don’t apologize.  It makes you sound submissive, lazy and lacking confidence.

Let’s clean up the examples above.

“I need to reschedule our meeting. This is my availability:”

“I haven’t reviewed the report yet.”

“I’m out of the office. Please contact Robert Smith, at (123) 456-7891, if you need assistance.”

“The ask on this project is not clear. Please explain.”

“I haven’t started yet, but will work on this shortly.”

Much better.  Not only have we eliminated the pointless use of ‘sorry,’ but the sentences are much clearer, more concise and pack a powerful PUNCH.

Create a Powerful Message Through Simplicity

15 Dec

Photo: (Apple)

The Beatles are now on iTunes.  Is this a life-changing event?

Not quite, but Apple has launched a marketing campaign that is beautiful in its simplicity.

By reminding viewers of the impact the Beatles made on the music industry as well as human society, Apple allows the product to sell itself and instantly connects with the viewers emotionally.

Simple. Beautiful. Powerful.

There are several versions of the same commercial and each follows the same formula:

Classic Beatles Song + Black & White Photos + The Band that Changed Everything + Now on iTunes = Apple Logo

In the version below, Apple takes a decidedly more aggressive approach, perhaps even taunting its competitors:

Enjoy.

A Little Bit of Compromise

14 Dec

Painting: (Ben Heine)

Several colleagues and I held a brainstorming meeting recently to discuss an upcoming project.  Brainstorming meetings can be very productive in harvesting creativity, but can also spiral out of control without a structured agenda.  In this case, a different dynamic emerged: a stalemate.

After our initial ideastorm, our team started crafting a process flowchart to include in a pitch to company executives.  I made a suggestion that I believed would maximize our company’s ability to reach and engage our customers, but would require some flexibility within the original plan.  My colleague refused to compromise, became visibly frustrated and made it very clear that they were intent on delivering the original plan in-tact.

I eventually conceded due to time constraints, but I spent the rest of the day wondering about compromise.  Specifically, why does the act of compromising carry such a negative stigma in human society?

Politicians are the worst at compromising.  It’s their way or no way.  In ‘Decision Points,’ President George W. Bush talks about the Democrats refusing to pass legislation supporting research into alternative sources of stem cells if they couldn’t fund embryonic stem cell research.

Couples spend the rest of their lives compromising, but not before going through an emotionally-charged decision-making process that can strain their relationship.

In my previous career as a commercial real estate broker, I witnessed many transactions implode because two parties refused to compromise when they were just a few thousand dollars apart on a multi-million dollar deal.

Why do we make it so difficult to compromise?

Are we too stubborn?

Are we too proud?

Are we too competitive?

Are we ignorant of hearing and understanding a point of view different from our own?

Are we afraid that we might be wrong?

Are we worried that our deeply-rooted values will change over time?

Are we worried that others will doubt our passion if we step aside?

The next morning, I received an email from my colleague: “I thought about your points yesterday, and I think you are right.  Blah, blah, blah you are right and I am wrong.”

Perhaps, we just need some time to sleep on it.

A More Effective To Do List

13 Dec

Photo: (Tangolarina)

Ever wish there was a more effective to do list?

A list that doesn’t require a pen, especially when one isn’t at hand.

A list that doesn’t repeat the same uncompleted tasks over and over as they get re-prioritized on each new sheet of paper.

A list that doesn’t clutter your personal space with endless sticky notes, whether at your workspace, on the refrigerator, in the car or in your wallet.

The team over at 37signals felt the same way and now that list actually exists: Ta-da List

To-do list example

Simple, elegant, fast and accessible anywhere– just like all of the other 37signals products.

Increased productivity due to intense focus, better organization and a strong sense of accomplishment each time a task is completed.

It’s simply, a more effective to do list.