Matthew Andrews
Product Manager ・ Software Engineer ・ Executive MBA Graduate ・ Tokyo Resident
Week Notes #2 ・Non-alcohol, Website restructure, Alan Parsons, Into The Night

This is second weekly note of my weekly Week Notes. Why not read post one first?

Non-alcohol

Thursday 21st May marked 5 months since I gave up alcohol. I miss it far less than I expected. Partly because I feel so much healthier and partly because I’ve found some really excellent alternatives to alcoholic drinks (I have comprehensively reviewed the ones available in Japan here: https://mattandre.ws/nonalcoholic)

Website restructure

Observant viewers may have noticed I have reorganised my website a little bit.

  • The home page, which used to show all my newest posts, will now only show ones I’ve chosen to feature.
  • There’s a new section “All Posts”, which is the full unfiltered feed.

I’ve done this because there are some posts (like my negotiation article) that I spent a lot of time on, am genuinely quite proud of. But sometimes I just note down coding tips or personal thoughts like these Week Notes that, frankly speaking, would be better less read.

With this change I hope to create far more content on topics of personal interest to me, without (hopefully) drowning out the good stuff.

Alan Parsons

Speaking of subtle, almost inconsequential changes, I noticed that the music being played in my local 7-11 that always seemed to have been a cheap synthesiser version of The Monkee’s classic “Cheer Up, Sleepy Jean”, has been replaced by a less irritating piano rendition of the far more obscure Alan Parson’s “Eye In The Sky”.

I’ve actually seen that song being performed live by Alan Parsons, at a gig in Shepherd’s Bush, which I went to with my parents. That same night I took them to one of my favourite Chinese restaurants in London and introduced them to authentic Peking Duck (none of this Crispy Fried Duck rubbish), which they liked a lot, and Jellyfish, which they liked a little less.

I miss live music.

Into The Night

Reading books, cooking, running and Netflix are now what we’ve been doing ‘for fun’ during this pandemic.

I used to joke that after finishing my MBA (last December) I planned to spend the whole of January in my underwear watching Netflix. It seems very hollow now we’re all locked at home hiding from the virus with not a lot else to do.

Over this week we watched “Into the Night”, the new Belgian series on Netflix where the sun’s rays have turned deadly and a group of survivors, each with dark and troubled personal histories, use an airliner to try to outrun them by flying west into the night. Lord of the flies meets Lost meets Speed. It’s utterly ridiculous. Unbelievable. Full of plot holes. Way too overdramatic. But it’s awesome and you should definitely watch it.

Week Notes #1 ・Copying, Listening, Running, Emergency

Hello and welcome to my ‘Week Notes’. This format was inspired by copied from my esteemed colleague, Alice Bartlett.

Week notes will be:

  • Weekly. Except that some weeks will be too quiet or too busy and therefore notes will not be written.
  • Containing the kind of content I might tweet then wait an hour then retrospectively realise was not worth tweeting then delete.

In other words, what follows is unreliable low-grade content. Enjoy.

Copying

On the topic of copying, I’ve written a short note before about the value of copying competitors so I felt slightly vindicated to read it being advocated in the current edition of Harvard Business Review.

The practice of borrowing runs directly counter to the conventional strategic imperative of differentiation—which traditional strategists argue is essential to avoiding the negative spiral of competing only on cost. But trying to differentiate early on in a new market can lead a company down a blind alley. A more effective approach, we argue, is to treat other companies in the space as peers rather than competitors … Borrowing [enables companies] to develop working [prototypes] of its product quickly and cheaply.

https://hbr.org/2020/05/the-new-market-conundrum

Listening

It was an excellent read … or, in my case, listen. This latest issue of HBR was also available in audio for the very first time through their mobile app. I have listened to the audio edition of The Economist for years and absolutely love the hands-free continuous listening experience whilst commuting and going to the gym (remember those?) … so I was absolutely delighted by this new feature.

Running

The gym has been closed since the declaration of an emergency in Tokyo but I’ve been pairing my audio editions with loops around Tokyo’s almost-built Olympic stadium instead. A jog around the stadium’s perimeter is an almost-flat uninterrupted 1.5km and since the Olympics has been postponed I figured someone may as well use it. On Thursday I passed the milestone of running 500km so far this year.

Emergency

The state of emergency in Japan was lifted in most prefectures this week. We never had an enforced lockdown, only a polite request to shut businesses and stay home. Tokyo, which continues its state of emergency, has already started showing signs of going back to normal. More and more restaurants are open for sit-down meals.

This is good news. Not because I’m itching to eat out but because it’s being done because Japan’s COVID 19 situation seems truly heading a good direction. Tokyo is down in the 10’s of cases per day.

It’s also good news because I am rapidly approaching the inflection point where the danger posed by going to get my hair cut is less than the danger posed by constantly touching my face to brush hair out of my eyes.

Special mention

My dear friend and former MBA classmate Laura Martinez Oliveras has launched her business in Australia. I had the good fortune of working with her during my second semester, the work we produced together was the best work I was part of during the entire programme. I highly recommend anyone to work with her and her hugely talented associates! https://www.martinezoliveras.com/

How to write a hash in YAML

I was tripped up by this silly little thing whilst writing a blog post with the title Week Notes #1 - Copying, Listening, Running, Emergency, which rendered as simply “Week Notes” — losing everything from the ‘#’ onwards.

My code was:

1
title: Week Notes #1 - Copying, Listening, Running, Emergency

YAML had, as my blog’s syntax highlighting hints, interpretted everything from the # (hash or pound) symbol onwards as a comment.

The fix is simple. Put the #-containing content in quotes:

1
title: 'Week Notes #1 - Copying, Listening, Running, Emergency'
How to define a Product Vision

The past few days I’ve been researching product visions — what they are, what are the ingredients of a good one and what are some examples. These notes are the result of that research.


According to Marty Cagan, the product vision describes the future, 2-5 years from now, that we are trying to create. Its primary purpose is to inspire the teams (including stakeholders, investors, partners, prospective customers) to bring this vision to life.

Buying into a vision always involves a leap of faith. You might not know how, or even if, you’ll be able to achieve it but at this stage you should believe it’s worthwhile trying.

Principles

  1. Start with why. What is your purpose. Everything follows from that.
  2. Love the problem, not the solution.
  3. Think big. Something that can be achieved in less than a year is not ambitious enough or substantial enough to inspire.
  4. Inspire. Create something you can get excited about. You can make any product vision meaningful if you focus on how you genuinely help your users and customers.
  5. Determine and embrace relevant meaningful trends. It is not very hard to identify the important trends but it is hard to understand how those trends can be leveraged by your products to solve customer problems in new and better ways.
  6. Skate to where the puck is heading, not to where it was. Identify the things that are changing—as well as the things that are likely not to change—in the time frame of the product vision.
  7. Be stubborn on vision but flexible on the details.
  8. Realise that any product vision is a leap of faith. If you could truly validate a vision, then your vision probably isn’t ambitious enough. It will take several years to know. Make sure what you’re working on is meaningful, and recruit people to the product teams who also feel passionate about this problem and then be willing to work for several years to realise the vision.
  9. Don’t be afraid to disrupt yourselves because if you don’t someone else will. Focus on creating new value for your customers, rather than on protecting what you have.
  10. Evangelise continuously and relentlessly.

Format

There is no set format for Product Visions. They’re sometimes short. Other times they can be very long, specific and go into all sorts of details.

The folks at TransferWise suggest defining a vision for a product by listing the core properties that customers use to describe its quality, imagine ultimate values for this properties and set a goal to achieve them.

Others suggest using the following format (originally from ‘Crossing the Chasm’, a book by Geoffrey Moore):-

  • For (target customer)
  • Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
  • The (product name) is a (product category)
  • That (key benefit, compelling reason to buy)
  • Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
  • Our product (statement of primary differentiation)

Company Mission versus Product Vision

As far as I can tell they can be the same or they can be different, but if they’re different they should certainly be aligned. The company mission addresses a broader audience, whereas the product vision may be relatively more internally focused.

Clearly if your company has multiple different products, each might have its own vision. On the other hand if you are a small single-product company a single combined company and product mission-vision statement may be more appropriate.

Don’t forget Marty’s 10th commandment “evangelise continuously and relentlessly” — that evangelism will be diluted if split between multiple competing visions.

Examples

AOL

https://svpg.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Example-Vision.pdf

SpaceX

SpaceX was founded under the belief that a future where humanity is out exploring the stars is fundamentally more exciting than one where we are not. Today SpaceX is actively developing the technologies to make this possible, with the ultimate goal of enabling human life on Mars.

Telenav

At Telenav, we believe the car is at the beginning of a massive innovation wave that mirrors what happened on the smartphone several years ago. Building on our long history of mobile and in-car navigation software and services, we are on a mission to make people’s lives less stressful, more productive and more fun when they’re on the go.

Anonymous CRM product

For a mid-sized company’s marketing and sales departments who need basic CRM functionality, the CRM-Innovator is a Web-based service that provides sales tracking, lead generation, and sales representative support features that improve customer relationships at critical touch points. Unlike other services or package software products, our product provides very capable services at a moderate cost.

Innocent drinks

Make natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old.

TransferWise

Money without borders - instant, convenient, transparent and eventually free. We’re powering money for people and businesses: to pay, to get paid, to spend, in any currency, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.

Zuora

Zuora enables businesses of all industries and sizes to price, package, and sell their products on a recurring basis. Our mission is to help you grow your business by establishing, cultivating and monetizing recurring customer relationships.

Further reading

Stop going to networking events and start networking

When I hear the term ‘networking event’, I imagine a room of business card swapping suits and waitstaff carrying trays of canapes. It’s often a waste of time.

It’s hard to recall many (if any) of the people I’ve met at such events having a significant impact on my career. All the really influential people have come from more spontaneous meetings. It’s time to stop going to ‘networking events’ and start networking instead.

So much material exists about how to overcome shyness to network effectively — and whilst being an introvert is still a barrier for many people, I believe many more perfectly confident people struggle to get as much value out of networking as they should because so many events intended for networking are so bad — and they miss out on opportunities to accelerate the development of their private and professional lives.

Instead, we should think of networking as a mindset that we should have all the time.

1. Create opportunities where you can meet people naturally

At so-called ‘networking events’ the purpose is too direct and artificial: there’s no real communication. Better to look for opportunities to naturally connect at a more personal level, leaving business to later.

Sign up to a course, join a sports club, go to local meetups, volunteer at a charity, organise something, find out where the people at the companies you’re interested in hang out after work.

Doing so randomly can be good (you never know when you might stumble upon an opportunity) but you can be strategic: try to find places frequented by the sort of people you’d like to meet.

Take networking online: join conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn, publish a blog, create something.

If you publish a blog post once per month on Twitter and LinkedIn, chances are someone you would be interested in talking to will eventually ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ one of your posts. This can be a very nice, natural excuse to send them a message to thank them and start up a conversation.

2. Be open to new unexpected opportunities

Networking is an opportunity for discovery and learning. Be excited, curious and open minded.

Spend enough time with the people you talk with to really get to know them.

Be open to talk to everyone. You never know which people will end up being most useful for you in the future.

3. Make a good first impression

Think about what your interests and goals are.

Then think about what the interests and goals of the others could be — and where they might align with yours.

If you can, spend time preparing for each meeting, interaction or event before-hand seriously researching into people’s backgrounds and preparing intelligent informed questions.

If you take time to properly identify and research shared interests, you’ll leave a better first impression and have a better chance of creating a more authentic, meaningful long-term relationship.

4. Expand what you have to offer

Find something valuable to offer by thinking beyond the obvious.

People tend to think narrowly about what they can offer. They focus on tangible things such as money, social connections and information, while ignoring the less obvious such as gratitude, recognition and enhanced reputation.

You might also have unique insights or knowledge that could be useful to people you meet. For example, junior people are often better informed than their senior colleagues about trends, new markets and technologies.

When you think more about what you can give to others than what you can get from them, networking will seem less self-promotional and more selfless — and you’ll become someone that people want to talk to.

5. Be led by a higher purpose

People who focus on collective benefits of making connections (“support my firm” or “help my clients”) rather than on personal ones (“support my career”) feel more authentic whilst networking.

Any activity becomes more attractive when it’s linked to a higher motive. For example, if you belong to an underrepresented group, media attention that would result from building a stronger network would not only benefit you individually but help counter biases against the entire group.

So, if you find it hard to motivate yourself to put effort into networking just for the sake of just your career, find a more meaningful, motivating reason to do it, like becoming a role model or addressing an issue you consider important.

6. Nurture the relationship by helping each other

Don’t just exchange pleasantries and LinkedIn profiles. Go deep.

People establish the most collaborative and longest-lasting connections when they work together on tasks that require each other’s contributions.

Spend time really listening to the people you meet. Then when you get home, follow up. Create opportunities to work together. Keep in touch.

In summary

  • Create opportunities where you can meet people naturally
  • Be open to new unexpected opportunities
  • Make a good first impression
  • Expand what you have to offer
  • Find a higher, more meaningful purpose
  • Nurture your relationships by working with and helping each other

By doing this all the time, networking will change from being an activity to a mindset, will feel more natural and be more meaningful.

Final thought: I’m absolutely terrible at applying this advice in real-life but I hope that by writing it up publicly that will improve.


Adapted from several classes on Networking taken as part of my IE Executive MBA, notes from the very excellent “Learn to Love Networking” from Harvard Business Review and my own reflections.