Leadership lessons from my garden

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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? 

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

Walled Gardens

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

Yesterday I put up a new post  on how to optimize your mobile app’s URI scheme.  The post is mostly technical but touches on a few important points – notably the fact that the mobile app ecosystem is a fragmented series of walled gardens.  This is in sharp contrast to the free and open web where anyone can add content and anyone can access it.

If you feel the way I do about free speech, feel free to insert your own rant here about the privatization of the (virtual) commons.  This is the digital equivalent of town squares where free speech was legally protected being replaced by malls where a rent a cop will firmly escort you off the premises if you try to do any sort of outreach. Continue reading

3 rules to optimize your mobile app’s URI scheme

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URIs are the app equivalent of a URL on the web – they specify the path to the content in your app.  For mobile developers who want to use deep links to send end users to specific content in their apps, having well structured URI’s is therefore very important.

The sheer number of mobile apps means that tons of potential URI schemes are out there, since every app can—and should!—have its own. No industry standard for URI scheme creation exists, despite some attempts. Accordingly, I’d like to offer a few suggestions on how to pick a URI scheme that will gives users the best possible experience. Continue reading

How to succeed in Technical Sales… and Life

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In the last month I’ve been reviewing and revising the job description for Sales Engineering (SE) at work as I work on expanding my team here. These guidelines form a sort of code of honor that I try to adhere to as a professional and outline what I look for in potential team members.  They aren’t always easy to live up to, but making the effort is its own reward.  I hope they will help you as much as they’ve helped me. Continue reading

The State of Electric Motorcycles

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The last of my 4-part series on the state of the Electric Motorcycle industry is now live!  This was a really interesting project because I got to dig deep with representatives from some very cool companies including Harley Davidson, Zero Motorcycles, and Mission Motorcycles.

I chose those three because Mission is an early-stage startup that’s just starting to monetize and sell technology but hasn’t delivered their bikes to consumers yet, Zero is a late-stage startup that has already carved out a space and brand recognition for themselves, and of course Harley Davidson is the first of the big global manufacturers to move into the space in a serious way.  I also sent an interview request to Brammo, but they did not respond in time.  I hope I’ll be able to talk to them next time.

The contrasts and similarities in positioning and organizational culture and the way those differing cultures influenced the bikes each company has introduced was absolutely fascinating.

1) The State of the Electric Motorcycle

2) Zero Motorcycles company profile: Standing at Ground Zero

3) Mission Motorcycles: More than a bike, it’s a Mission

4) Harley Davidson Project Livewire profile: The electric motorcycle with name recognition

This is an industry that is changing very fast and shows a lot of promise.  And as someone who works in the mobile technology space the incorporation of mobile tech into these bikes is particularly interesting.   I had a lot of fun doing the research and writing and hope you enjoy the articles.

Multi-Touch Attribution in MobileAppTracking

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I’ve written a new technical blog post for the MobileAppTracking Website on how MAT (my day job) handles multi-touch attribution.  It’s a cool feature that adds a lot of value for our clients but there has been some confusion about how it works so I wanted to explain it for our clients.

Check it out: http://www.tune.com/blog/understanding-multi-touch-attribution-in-mat/

10 Rules for Startups

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I was hiking with a good friend from a previous company this last weekend and we got to talking about some of the things we’d both learned over the last few years of working in tech startups.  I mentioned that I’ve put together a list of rules that for me determine whether I think a company is likely to succeed or not and he expressed interest in seeing it, so here it is.  I reference these rules both during the job hunting process as I’m evaluating opportunities from various recruiters and to decide if and when it’s time to jump ship and look for something new. Continue reading

First Impressions

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Google Glass lately.  There are a lot of naysayers, as with any new tech, but I’m really hoping they’re able to pull off a successful launch.  Unfortunately, Google has a long track record of not giving their new releases the support and rapid iteration that’s required at the beginning of the lifecycle for a new product (ex: Google+) and then standing by while they wither on the vine.  So today I’d like to talk about some of the things that need to go into launching a new product and what we can learn from technologies in other industries that should have succeeded but didn’t.

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Doing it Right

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There’s no shortage of people who claim to be experts on Social media. I have several family members who think that because they waste time on Facebook means they’re qualified to list “Social Media” as a skill on their Resumes. Not trying to be mean here folks, but no. It doesn’t. Social Media, as experienced by the end user, is a very very different beast then Social as understood by folks who make their living designing and building the promotions and marketing campaigns designed to attract the attention of end users. Think of it like the difference between baking a cake and eating one – it doesn’t matter how many cakes you’ve eaten, the only way you’ll learn to bake is by baking.

The question many businesses are facing today is how to distinguish the bakers from all the people with crumbs on their faces. It’s not like there’s a certification you can check after all! And that my friends is the purpose of this post. What follows are a few tips designed to help you sort out the actual Social Media experts from the people who just play Farmville or Mafia Wars. You’re welcome. Continue reading

Culture and Opportunity

Posted in Life | Tagged , ,

I’m kind of a radical.  I say “kind of” because I’m fairly sure that at 32 my days of living in treesits and getting teargassed at endless pointless protests that don’t change anything are pretty much over.  But I learned a lot along the way and these days I tend to see those lessons or principles as the most valuable part of the ethos.  The old lefty idea of a messianic revolution that will solve all our problems is pretty much completely discredited.   The good news is that there hundreds of mini revolution happening around us all the time.   And the more experience I get in the business world the more strongly I believe that horizontally organized peer groups are more efficient and productive then the standard top-down management structure that typifies governments and most businesses.

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Data is King

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Back when I was in college studying Political Science I spent a lot of time (or at least a lot more then I expected going into the program) studying statistics and data.  In retrospect that was a good thing.  Knowing how to get reliable data from focus groups, how to write a survey and avoid bias in my questions,  and how to accurately analyze the bulk data resulting from that survey have all turned out to be very valuable in my work managing user communities.  I’ve found myself thinking about data even more then usual in the last month as I went through the interview process and started my new position at Kontagent. Continue reading

Facebook working on Search, Google still MIA on Social

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I’ve written several times before about the ongoing merger of Search and Social and I expect it’s something I’ll write on a good deal more over time because I think it’s one of the biggest industry changes we’re facing and has the potential to fundamentally change the way people find information online.  Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg told the world I was right.  Not that he mentioned me or anything, I would be incredibly surprised if he even knows I exist, but in his first post-IPO interview he talked at length about Facebook’s plans for Search. Continue reading

Development without Constraints

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A co-worker just shared this video with me, it’s all about the Content Repository API for Java, a new-ish standard for building databases that’s gaining market share in Europe. The standard is open sourced and you can store anything and access the data however you want. The system supports strong typed data, as well as no types. Of particular interest to web developers, everything is REST based. The result is you can build db’s storing hierarchical, unlimited metadata. Find out that you’ve got a new piece of data you need to include that you didn’t anticipate prior to starting the build? No problem! That gives it some interesting advantages as compared to traditional relational databases.

Very cool stuff!

Socializing your SEO

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Originally posted on the Involver Blog at http://blog.involver.com/2012/06/28/socializing-your-seo-2/ 

Socializing your SEO

I have written here before about the interactions between SEO and Social Media, and it’s a topic I expect to write quite a bit more on over the next several years.  At root, both SEO and Social Marketing are designed to do the same thing – get people to your website, promote your products and services, and make your brand more visible.  The difference is how they accomplish these goals.   Continue reading

Security Culture

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Most websites today run on non-secure connections (http instead of https) most of the time – and that’s just fine. Browsing pictures of cheeseburger-craving cats doesn’t require a secure connection because the user isn’t sharing any sensitive information. Even e-commerce sites usually only use secure connections for the actual transactions- no one cares what shoes you’re looking at but they might be interested in your credit card information so it’s the credit card transaction that e-commerce sites protect by forcing a secure connection.

This minimalist approach to security has been driven partly by user indifference but also partly because SSL certificates (which allow sites to encrypt user data and enable secure connections) have historically been fairly expensive – though that is now changing rapidly. After all, why spend the money on a certificate for your site if it’s not necessary and your users won’t derive any tangible benefit from it? So while a minority of internet users might have preferred to browse in secure mode all the time, it simply wasn’t an option on many websites.

All of this is interesting if you’re into tech trivia but not something most developers have spent a lot of time thinking about. For social media developers,however, that’s changing and changing fast. Facebook has recently announced that they’re going to require that all app developers in their ecosystem be able to serve both secure and non-secure versions of each tab. They’ve also introduced a ‘secure browsing mode’ which allows users to check a box once and have their entire Facebook experience automatically shifted from http to https.

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Facebook vs Google: What Will It Take To Win?

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(Originally posted on the Involver blog: http://blog.involver.com/2011/07/25/the-battle-between-facebook-google-what-will-it-take-to-win/

In past blog posts I’ve written about the challenges of figuring out when it’s right to cross the chasm and make the leap into unknown territory. Knowing when the right time is, can of course be a challenge. Jump too early to a new platform and you risk sinking precious resources into something that may never be adopted on a large scale. Wait too long and you miss the chance to reap the rewards that early adopters can earn by leading the pack. The astonishing number of indie musicians who still use MySpace profiles as their main website is proof of the danger of tying yourself too tightly to a single platform. Sure, it was hard for bands to leave a place where they had thousands of Friends for a place where no one Liked them yet, especially since Facebook doesn’t even offer a native music player! But times change and we have to change with them. Today Myspace is a ghost town and the musicians who failed to make the leap have watched their audiences evaporate. The only constant in our industry is change, as proven by the recent rollout of Google+. I’d like to talk a little bit about the impacts of this latest change and how I see the coming fight shaping up.

I believe the key factors in how the fight between Facebook and Microsoft on one side and Google on the other will play out are:

1. Audience Adoption
2. Audience Retention
3. Successful Monetization

Technical issues such as scaling and platform stability have obvious impacts on all three of these factors, and so does the mobile experience. Facebook has proven it’s ability to succeed in all three of these areas and is working very hard to close the technical advantages that Google currently holds. Facebook is a dynamic company with very intelligent people and they know full well this fight will not end in a truce. It would be foolish to count them out at this point.

At the same time, in the weeks since Google+ opened it’s virtual doors it’s become the fastest growing social network in history. Because it fully integrates with Google’s other products it has a significant advantage in terms of client retention as well. Add to that a mobile experience that is in every way superior to the one offered by Facebook’s mobile app and you have a powerful formula for success.

This leaves monetization – both direct advertising to consumers and the ability for advertisers to build their brand pages as the wildcard. After all, at the end of the day social networks are really about one thing – advertising and selling products and services to their members. Finding ways to do this which don’t turn off your audience are a constant challenge. I believe the ongoing fight over advertising dollars between search and social is the main reason Google decided to enter the social media arena. If they can beat Facebook at their own game, Google will have unprecedented power. If Facebook wins out their partnership with Microsoft’s Bing to supply social-assisted search, this will not do any favors for Google’s core search business. Both companies are literally fighting for their lives and we can expect them to fight hard.

As a developer, I’m paying particular attention to the branded pages environments on both platforms. Even with the arbitrary restrictions on custom content on mobile, Facebook’s iframe architecture results in an exciting platform that reaches hundreds of millions of people. Google+ is still in the early experimentation phase on this front and it remains to be seen how they’ll implement this functionality. We know it’s coming but no one knows what the final picture will be. If we’re lucky the mobile experience for branded pages will be as natural and easy an experience as the rest of the platform.

What we do know is that no matter which network wins, social marketers require tools that can be deployed quickly and easily and work just about anywhere. Whether it’s a major change within Facebook or a major change in social media like Google+, the key is to stay flexible and be prepared to shift tactics in a hurry. The market is changing – be prepared to change with it.