For the last ~6 months I have been doing Product Management Consulting a small group of clients. An opportunity came up and I took it.
The Primer to What I Do: There is a client with some mobile product related need. Sometimes it was inaccurate analytics, sometimes it was issues developing the roadmap, sometimes it was setting up user acquisition, and sometimes it was simply helping instill good product sense among the team. After talking over the needs, figuring out if working together makes sense, then it’s negotiation and defining the work to be done.
While I don’t know yet if the life of independent consulting is for me, there are some real benefits that I want to share for anyone else considering.
Tackling New Problems
As a Product Manager working on the same product, there is not a huge variance in the problems you face. Sure, new things come up, but the chance of something completely arcane and random happening is minimal.
When working for different clients in different stages of development, different people, different levels of experience, and different industries, the stuff you can come across may be completely foreign. For those, like me, who love new challenges and learning something new, the life provides constant excitement that may be hard to come by you are one company.
Flexible Hours & “Free Time”
Working full-time, I would put in between 50-70 hours a week. For my clients, they usually didn’t need (or could afford) that level of effort, so I found myself with a lot more time to myself. What does that mean: I have a lot more time to pursue personal project that were on the back-burner. Even had time to hit some conferences and meetups I never had time for before. Also, you can double up on clients for bigger payouts and more interesting work.
BUT … the converse is that to remain working with a project, you need to spend that free time developing relationships and keeping opportunities in the funnel. You are your own Business Development and without making a name for yourself, you are dead in the water. Turning someone’s need into a paying contract takes time, meetings, and discussion. And even after spending the initial time, it can still easily fall apart.
On a per hour basis, expect to make 1.5x to 2.5x of what you made as an employee. If you work 40 or more hours a week, this adds up. And now all that “overtime” are actually billable hours.
BUT … the reason you charge more is because you have no health insurance, no paid time off, no 401k, and none of the other benefits employees get. You will need to pay for your own insurance (or be married like me) and manage your own retirement. If you are good with money, it does pay to go independent.
Sense of Accomplishment
The reason people are hiring you is to fix one or
a million more problems. If you’re good, you will fix them (or some of them). These problems are usually core to the business and have huge impacts. What this means is that in a short time you can have a very large impact for your client … maybe more than you would get at a larger company.
Also, I say this as a consultant who executes. I haven’t been on a project where I could just sit and make recommendations … just to clarify my role as a “consultant”
It’s simple … what feels better, keeping a large boat afloat or single handily saving a smaller boat from sinking.
At the end of the day, it’s a different lifestyle and is not for everyone, but I have found some very specific benefits in the life of the Independent Consultant. There are just as many (if not more) negatives I will say though, if you have the opportunity to try it … try it! It’s been transformative for me.
Now that 2013 has passed and the new year is rushing in, you will see a lot of tech articles about it. Either it’s the best, worst, or most XXXX of 2013 or it’s predictions, guesses, and hunches for 2014.
Well, here’s one more …
For the new year, there are a few things I hope happen. Things that would make my life better, would be cool to see, or might improve the entire human existence …
Wearable Tech Goes Mainstream
I still wear a watch, an old analog watch that ticks. I find the convenience (and style implications) make it worthwhile.
I have been eyeing a more technologically advanced watch for years, but haven’t fallen in love with any. The form factors are bad, the battery life is disappointing, and the options are limited. I’m hoping as more tech giants come into the space, we will see new and better offerings.
And looking beyond watches (such as the Smarty Ring pictured above), I would love to see more interesting wearable tech that makes small things more convenient, but without looking terrible.
Android Delivers an Answer to iMessage
I’ve just switched back to Android after a 1 year affair with the iPhone 5 (I’ll detail the “why” another day). I’m overly happy with the switch and feel that Android grew a lot in my year away, but one thing I miss everytime I pick up my phone is iMessage.
From the simplified group messaging, the seamless integration with my phone book, and the “xxx is typing” functionality, I loved iMessages. Reminded my of my love of BBM.
Sadly, Android and Google just don’t have as good of a solution. I know WhatsApp, FB Messenger, and even the new Hangouts, but none are good enough.
Here is hoping Google makes this a priority as “Messaging” is the thing now.
Phablets Take Over
I am now the proud owner of a Galaxy Note 3, the originator of the Phablet craze. Personally, I just don’t talk on the phone that much and most of the day is spent looking at my phone screen. As a logical person, makes sense to optimize for my primary use case (looking at the screen).
Another great benefit that isn’t talked about is the battery. The battery on the Note 3 is ~50% bigger than on the S4. I get excited and not having to charge my phone while at work if I’m going out at night. It’s liberating.
So, selfishly, I hope the rest of the world agrees with me and Phablet sales go through the roof.
As I am a simple man, I have a short and simple list. What are your tech hopes for 2014?
I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years.
And I don’t just mean a blog where a person can just talk about whatever randomness pops into their head and convinces themselves that the world actually has a desire to listen to their commentary.
This blog just barely skirts out of this definition because I really do try hard to make sure there is some sort of consistent theme of tech and/or business here … FYI
No, I’ve actually created real blogs in my time (well, only 1 that is actually popular and has a team behind it). I’ve read books on it, learned about the business of blogging, learned the technology, and been (minimally) a public advocate of the whole blogging ecosystem. Hell, even won some awards. I’ve got the basics down and would say I “get” blogging.
Except … themes
Oh how I hate finding a blog theme
For the uninformed, that is the color, fonts, and general layout of the blog. I’m not taking about the theme of the content or anything
Wordpress is my tool of choice. And for Wordpress, I have access to premium themes, I know the system, I can make changes myself.
But, it never looks good enough …
Now that I’m on Tumblr … FML!
Every 2 weeks I go on some random caffeine or liquor fueled search for the perfect theme. I want something that looks good and is functional. I go in and make changes where I see a need and start tweaking things until I’m happy. I toil and move, pixel by pixel, until what I have in my head starts to come out on the screen. At some point, I realize that it’s way too late and I decide that I am happy with what I have come up with.
Until a week later when I go back to write some more posts …
Suddenly, the font’s are all wrong, I kick myself for doing a left column instead of a right column, and then I get embarrassed that I have attached myself to something that looks this bad.
Then … rinse and repeat
Someday I’ll get some professional training in design. Someday I will have the ability to actually design a webpage for more than just usability (as a PM I know usability!). Until then, expect the theme to keep changing … a lot
I find myself … humbled
For the last few years, I have held the belief that learning to program is like riding a bike. Although I have not professionally developed in ~3 years, I still “understand” software (go ahead and ask me what SDK or API stands for). I know all the basic constructs, I know what an array is, recursion, inheritance, and all of those good words you learn in school and don’t really use in the real world.
As a result, I have always been sure when the time came for me to make something real (and I don’t mean the random PHP & CSS hacking I’ve done keeping my various blogs alive), I would spend a week learning a new syntax … and then boom … the next Google.
Yet, as I sit here listening to this online instructor drone on and the blindingly white screen of the IDE I have open stares at me … I just don’t want to.
Yes … I didn’t realize that the reason I chose to change my career and stop developing software is because … I don’t want to code.
But, then I question if that is a cop out and the fact is that I just am not that great of a developer. Is it true that even though I did it for years, I just don’t have what it takes to dedicate my life to coding?
Sure, there are moments when something I do comes to life and I am partially filled with the excitement I had in high school as I got “Hello, World” to print across my screen for the first time. But for the most part, as I suffer through these new languages with foreign constructs and an alien way of managing type safety … I groan.
Alas, I’m committed to staying minimally proficient and not squandering my ability to birth digital life … so I will persevere. But … at least I have a public sounding board to document my moment of pain.
I don’t want anyone to think you need to go to business school to be a good PM (plenty of terrible MBA PMs). Sadly, too many MBA PMs would have you think that MBA PMs are simply the best.
BUT … I do think there are a lot of important things I learned which have proven invaluable in my Product Management career.
Another caveat, I went to MIT Sloan for my MBA. It’s definitely one of the most tech & entrepreneurship focused programs . So, my experience might not be the same as others.
You get really good at excel
One very common result of most finance, marketing, or statistics classes will be a much better understanding of excel. Considering data analysis is now a core skill for any good PM, knowing excel is important (SQL too).
You get better at working with others
Team projects, group meetings, student organizations, and a myriad of other tasks that require working with, influencing and leading others, who you have no authority over, are core to every good b-school experience. A core PM skill is working with others (engineering, marketing, design, management,etc). With the myriad of egos, personalities, ambition levels, and backgrounds of any b-school class … you will get a very quick crash course (if you do it right) on working with others.
Understanding the Business Component
Most companies hiring a product manager are making most of their money from their products. Hence, to manage the product is to manage the business (at least a large portion of it). Do you focus on monetizing or retaining users? Do you work on something that enhances your marketing efforts or long term user happiness? Going to business school helps you understand business, which makes you better at making product decisions with business impacts.
Making Decisions with imperfect Information
The single most useful thing I learned in business school that helps me everyday as a PM is making very big decisions with very bad information. The data is always missing something, or needs more data points, or has something wrong with it. Any MBA program will inundate you with cases with crap information and expect you to “solve” it. While doing them, I kept thinking “this is stupid. In the real world I would have much more information”. WRONG! So much less! Getting comfortable with making very important decisions with minimal information is the skill I cherish the most.
An MBA isn’t needed for a job in product management. In my opinion, a technical degree (or something heavy in math or analytics) is more useful, but … it helps a A LOT. The non-douche MBA (had to be said) has received several skills that will really help in a long and lustrous career in product management.
Recently I asked Apple to update their Macbook Pro (Retina). They did it. Thank you for that.
Now, I am waiting on it to arrive.
That is all …
I want a new laptop!
I made the switch to Mac laptops back in 2009. It was hard at first, but as my reliance on actual applications diminished to next to nothing and my appreciation of good hardware increased, I became a true convert and love everything from the trackpad to the keyboard.
The specs on my first Macbook Pro 13” have been holding up well over the years, but alas … it’s time. I rarely play computer games, but found myself hooked on Starcraft 2 (like 2 years after it came out) and got irritated with the sluggishness of my computer costing me online matches (I also suck really bad).
Back in June the MacBook Air got Intel’s new generation processor. This gave better performance, battery life, and graphics.
A few weeks ago the iMac (does anyone besides artists buy these?) got the updated internals too.
Yet … one of the shining stars of their laptop lineup, the Macbook Pro (Retina), languishes!
As I sit here calmly waiting and googling “Macbook Pro Haswell” every week hoping for information … I am getting tired. I feel like each new event is a letdown and I’m about to start shopping among all the great PC offerings at better prices and with much better hardware … almost.
Apple … help me out … please …
There is a commonly used saying among B2B tech companies I heard repeatedly while looking at the space:
"Find a Pain Point … Then Solve It!"
I’m not saying this doesn’t come up when talking to consumer companies, but … not so much.
On the consumer side, novelty and uniqueness are often demanded of any new product or service. Don’t get me wrong, some great companies and products have come out of novel ideas that just wanted to do something new, but it’s definitely not the mantra you see in B2B.
What I now find interesting are problems that are so terrible that people go to the web, their phone, or their friends looking for a solution. This is important because any new product needs to find their customers and customers looking for a solution are easier to target.
Regardless, there are a couple of problems that impact consumers which I now think are sooooo painful, that people actually go out of there way to find a solution.
I am very biased on this subject as I love to write and talk about dating (although I’m married and not looking). But, dating has become so painful for people as free-time shrinks, demands increase, and the average marrying age falls back. Look at the rise in online dating and it becomes very apparent.
It’s been many years since I bought my condo and the thought of ever having to go through that again scares me. Finding a realtor you can trust, finding a bank that isn’t trying to scam you, figuring out what “closing costs” are … it’s a nightmare.
It used to be that you worked at the same job for all your life and they gave you a pension. Now, we can’t even trust that Social Security will still be around in a few years. As more and more non-rich individuals need to navigate the financial markets and the number and complexity of financial vehicles keeps increasing, there is a lot of room to help out this new generation of investors.
Again, personal bias as I remember the pain of finding my first job post-MBA, but it sucks for everyone. You have to network, you have to sit through a lot of coffee’s, drinks, and interviews to get to an offer. Or, you apply like a madman to tons of online portals and spend the rest of the time searching through endless job postings. Then when you get an offer, how do you negotiate, price yourself, or value the benefits.
There are so many facets to healthcare, and surprisingly so many of them are painful. From finding a doctor, to picking health insurance, to making sure you have the right diagnosis … it all hurts.
The one that I forgot …
I would love to hear what you think is another industry that consumers find SOOOOO Painful … that they go out and look for a solution. Leave a comment!
Half experiment, half thoughtful move based on how little I blog and how much easy it is to “tumbl” than “blog” … I moved to Tumblr.
Now I get to figure out a new platform and try and bring over my old comment … yah!!!
Several times in my new career I’ve been asked a simple question which elicits a detailed 2-part response from me:
Interview, coffee, catching up with a friend, or random conference conversation. Every once in awhile someone asks me why I have an unhealthy obsession with making mobile products.
Since it’s been wwwwaaaaayyyyy too long since I’ve blogged for myself, I figured I would document my reasoning and allow the world to agree or poke holes in my logic.
Business Answer: There is Growth And There is Uncertainty
When I look at the mobile market there are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of volatility. Back in 2011, I got into a debate about the future of the Windows Phone in the smartphone ecosystem. My friend vehemently argued it would never be relevant or pose a real threat (so far … he’s been right). But I quickly brought up that Android managed to dominate the market in 3 years. And before them, it was Apple. Before that, Palm. Around the same time, Windows. Basically, when it comes to mobile … it’s all written in pencil.
And here in America, it’s easy for us to ignore the billions of people that don’t live here. Their preferences, buying power, and desires can vary significantly from ours. A hit in China or India … is a REAL HIT! While the world’s economy matures and changes, expect some interesting things to happen.
Growth + Uncertainty = Opportunity.
Change The World Reason: Mobile is Changing the Face of Human Existence
There have been many notable inventions that have truly changed the course of human history. Rather than sit and list them, just agree that mobile is one of them.
I actually sat and thought of all of the things I now take for granted, but are not possible without my phone. It’s Crazy.
Do you remember MapQuest? Remember making the wrong turn and being scared you would never get there? Remember printed papers sliding around your car? Then, remember when in-car GPS units came out and thinking … this is great?!
Do you remember owning an iPod? Wasn’t it amazing how much music you could carry with you and the fact that your Discman was useless? You could actually listen to multiple albums all from the same device.
Remember the color Game Boy? Not sure how many people are gamers, but for me it was amazing. Color gaming was something I could only do in front of a TV, not it was with me everywhere!
Remember those arguments with your friends over random facts? How many points did Jordan score last night? What was the name of the actress in this TV show? What time is the movie starting tonight?
Mobile has killed industries and created several, and fundamentally changed how we feel about technology. It’s the first major electronic invention that we take everywhere and use for everything. I think there is something special about that and I want to be part of it.
Mobile is great. That’s all …