Leadership lessons from my garden

Posted in Life, Tech & Startups | Tagged ,
Close-up photo of a Clarkia (one of my favorite native wildflowers) from my garden.

Since leaving my most recent position, I’ve found myself with plenty of time to spend in my garden. The timing could hardly be better – October-December is planting season for most native plants here in California as the winter rains spur growth and renewal. For Californians who are in tune with our natural cycles this is a time of abundance and wonder as new life emerges everywhere. It is my absolute favorite time of year.

Some of my earliest positive memories revolve around gardens. As a child, food from our garden was an important part of how my family survived right at the bleeding edge of the poverty line. As I grew up I spent many weekends helping my parents and grandparents dig, plant, and weed. I’ve planted gardens everywhere I’ve gone in the years since.

So what does any of that have to do with leadership and startups? As it turns out, gardening has a lot to teach for those who can slow down and listen, and many of those lessons are directly applicable to the business world.

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On the Ethics of Professionalism

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This article is a plea for human empathy, for connection, for community. For all the things that make us human. That may not come across as “professional” to some people. Which is why it’s necessary.

I recently wrote a post about the true story of a father stranded on the road with his little girl, unable to get cellphone service, and how she almost died because no one was willing to stop and help.

I ended the article by arguing that human beings need each other and have a moral obligation to be ‘the person who stops.’ Almost every religion and philosophy I know of would agree with that statement. And yet it seems oddly out of place in contemporary America – particularly in professional environments. Posts about topics of social justice on LinkedIn often garner comments about how such topics don’t belong here and aren’t “professional.

It makes me wonder what is the point of a version of professionalism that undermines human solidarity and strips away the moral framework by which ethical human beings live their lives? Yes, the goal of business is to make money, but the goal of being human is to live a good life. And it is entirely possible to deliver value for shareholders and stakeholders while also looking out for the people around us.

As I consider that moral framework and what ethical professionalism looks like, I think it comes down to two main things.

1. Be the person who stops to help

We all make choices every day about how to prioritize our time and resources and it’s very easy to get focused on our own destinations and not stop to help someone in need.

This is most evident after something like a round of layoffs where people are often thrown to the wind with little or no support. Taking the time to stop can be as simple as writing a great recommendation for a former colleague or forwarding them job listings they’d be qualified for. Over and over I’ve seen people recoil from former colleagues, as though they thought being let go was contagious, instead of leaning in to lend a hand. Everyone gets laid off sooner or later in this industry, it’s a fact of life. So why not treat former colleagues the way we would want to be treated? Besides, in a volatile startup world, professional relationships often span multiple companies. The person who you help today may well return the favor next time you’re looking for an opportunity. 

Even outside the extreme circumstances of a layoff, there are plentiful opportunities to stop and help. It might be as simple as telling a colleague that you appreciate them, that their work matters, that they did something well. It’s easy to focus on the negatives, but a simple thank you can be powerful and lift someone’s spirits when things are harder than you know.

That goes double for anyone in a management position – your people will do their best work if they know they can trust you to have their backs.   I’ve built the culture of thank you into my team management strategy – every month my entire team spends an hour together going around in a circle and each person gets the opportunity to say thank you to colleagues who’ve made a difference and gone the extra mile, after which we set goals for the next month. It sounds cheesy, but it makes a real difference in team morale. People who feel seen and appreciated are more focused and more productive. What could be more ‘professional?’

2. Be the person who stops to speak up

Stopping for people inside our circles is hard enough, but what about people outside them? I’ve written here before about what I see as the moral obligation to pay privilege forward and use whatever power one possesses to lift up others.  As a white man in a society where my identity gives me certain advantages, I have a clear moral obligation to support my colleagues from other demographics in the unique challenges they face. 

Some people may mistake this for white guilt, which is generally useless and counter-productive, but that would be missing the point. Guilt about the actions my ancestors took or didn’t take is irrelevant, what matters is that here and now I have some small degree of power and influence and so I should use it to lift up and support everyone around me.

Is doing so part of professionalism? If the Harvard Business Review is correct and diverse teams make better products, the answer is clearly yes. In fact, it would be negligent of me as a product leader not to speak up for diversity in hiring and make sure that opportunities to advance are available to all! By the same logic, advocating for things like comprehensive parental leave, speaking out against age discrimination, and other forms of advocacy that make the workplace more accessible and equitable are essential components of ethical professionalism. 

Humans are social animals, we need each other. And if I have the means and the opportunity to help someone who genuinely needs my help, I have a moral obligation to deliver it.

Further, the obligation to use one’s voice increases alongside one’s influence. Power implies responsibility and at this stage in my career as a Head of Product I have plentiful opportunities to be an advocate.


In both cases above, my concern about morality and ethics here is focused on my own behavior. The only person in the world who I control is me. My responsibility to my fellow human beings is to be the best version of myself that I can and lift up the people I interact with – it is not my place to judge them for decisions about things that do not affect me. Your morality is between you and your conscience, just as mine is mine alone. I feel like this is a crucial distinction – far too often people performatively police others’ actions as a way to distract from their own shortcomings. Doing so seems both unethical and unprofessional.

There are also, obviously, ethical considerations about what sort of work a person does which are beyond the scope of this article and about which people have strong feelings.

What does ethical professionalism mean to you? 

KPI’s for Life: Adding Beauty

Posted in Life, News and Politics, Tech & Startups | Tagged , ,

My son was born almost 11 months ago and is just starting to walk on his own.  Seeing him learn to stand on his own feet and the look of sheer glee on his face as explores his world is  magical.  Watching him and his big sister become more and more themselves is basically the best thing in my world.  I think most parents experience something similar, having kids gives us a chance to see the world through new eyes and experience familiar things for the first time once again. Continue reading

A Close Look At Mobile Ad Fraud

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I have a new article up on MediaPost looking at the various types of ad fraud in the mobile media space and how brands and their partners can combat them.

Media quality remains a top challenge for digital marketers. With mobile ad spending accounting for 70.3% of total U.S. digital advertising spending, many of the techniques used to perpetuate fraud as well as detect it have migrated from desktop to mobile. Mobile ad fraud comes in several varieties; let’s take a look at several of the most prominent.

Read more at: https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/312740/programmatic-insights-a-close-look-at-mobile-ad-f.html

Tying digital media and actions to in-store behaviors

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Many brands struggle to prove ROI for their digital media spend. These 3 simple strategies can to tie real-world conversions to digital advertising.

Unlike TV and Radio advertising, digital media offers the possibility of tracking individual ad views to purchases. Many brands have made this leap for their online and in-app purchases, but a much smaller number have taken the next step and started tying digital media to real-world activity – or even realized that it’s possible!

That’s a huge missed opportunity – for modern advertisers being able to accurately link media to sales is an essential step in proving the value of campaigns. There are three main strategies that can be used to do this deterministically. Continue reading

Deep links and Cross-platform targeting

Posted in Tech & Startups | Tagged , , ,

Two new posts up on corporate blogs for my job.  One is a product announcement on our new deeplinking solution:

Announcing: Smart Link

The second is an explanation of how data from that tool is being used along with other data to power our new cross-platform and cross-device targeting technology:

Cross-Device and Cross-Platform Targeting

(Hopefully) interesting stuff if you work in the mobile advertising and media space!

The art of jumping ship

Posted in Life, Tech & Startups | Tagged , ,

I started a new job last week and was talking to my good friend Tim O’Neil about the where’s and why’s.  He’s happy in his current position but suggested I write a follow-up to my article on what to look for in a new company addressing when to start looking for that company.  After thinking it over, I thought it would make for an interesting conversation – so please feel free to add your $0.02 in the comments!

One of the hardest professional decisions is when to look for new opportunities.  Taking a new job is a risk after all!  The thing is, job security is a myth – it simply does not exist any more.  Layoffs are a normal part of business and startups die almost as fast as new ones are born.  No one is going to stay at the same company their entire career.   On the other hand, Silicon Valley is one of the only labor markets where demand significantly outstrips the available supply (thanks in large part to the abysmal failure of American schools to turn out the engineers needed to power our tech industries).  That puts talented workers in a uniquely strong position.  Millions of Americans who are struggling to stay afloat would be thrilled to have the opportunity we have.

The solution is to start treating your working hours like a stock portfolio – if you’re not getting the ROI you need it may be time to make a change.  Here are a few KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) for that portfolio: Continue reading

Career advice for my younger self

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2008’s The Incredible Hulk is – by far – the weakest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it has a few good lines. One of them is when the antagonist declares to General Ross that if he could take the knowledge and skills he has as a forty year old and put that into the body he had in his 20’s he’d be a truly dangerous soldier. It’s a moment that I think most people who’ve dedicated years to something could relate to.

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