Pulses of connection

Two parallel streams of thought, combined into one post.

Stream 1: Perception

aaFor the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring the concept of perception – how our brains choose to take specific sensory stimuli and perceive meaning from them. For instance, when I try to perceive my friend, Samantha, I recall the blueness of her eyes, the prosody of her voice, the way she moves her hands. In doing a similar exercise with my top fifty people, I realize that for over 40% of them, my primary perception of them is digital – the specific spelling mistakes they make, the way they use emojis, how quickly they respond to my IMs, whether they use capital letters or not, their name spelled out as I see the “H is typing…” on Whatsapp.


Stream 2: Transience of friendships

I’ve beaten myself up over being a fickle person, especially when it comes to friendships. People that were incredibly important 20 years ago are entirely forgotten now. Batches of friends have come and gone, each one more promising than the next, yet the story often ends the same way. I understand this logically. When we share a context like school or work, not only do we have a lot in common to bond over, we’re also co-located, which makes spending time together quite easy. Once the context changes (as it must), investment increases and return declines, and our internal capitalist walks away, letting the relationship die on the vine.

A new type of friendship

The merge of these two streams is the recognition of an entirely new type of friendship – i.e. relationships formed in the physical world but almost entirely transitioned to the digital world. Friends from prior places of work, or school, or a random meeting in a foreign country,  are now comfortably settled in a snug spot on Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp.

I have observed that I “text message” approximately 300 times a day. I call BS on phones leading to personal disconnection. I am connected all day, in the best way possible, with friends who would otherwise probably be non-friends because of lack of shared context. The ease of being able to have a pulse of connection in the middle of the day, after a stressful meeting, in the loo whilst taking a shit, in the Starbucks line, lights up my entire day.

Our conversations are deep and wide, funny and vulnerable. The 2D nature of this medium makes for more honest conversations, more silly conversations, more flexible conversations.

Here’s a sampling from my phone over the last month, just to make the point more obvious.

Conversation 1: Right after an insanely boring meeting

A: “Check this out ”


A: “Hilarious but also looks like an expensive prank”

B: “How much is a dildo?”

A: “I’m guessing like $20 for a cheap one. Even if they found a bulk deal for $8, that’s over $100 in dildos”

B: “They should donate them to prison”

A: “Haha great idea”

B: “Where else could dildos be donated?”

A: “Convent?”

A: “All girls school?”

B: “They make park benches from recycled plastic. Why not make one with dildos?”

A: “Oh man, that’d be fun to sit on.”

B: “Vatican?”

A: “Vatican people would probably be happier if they accepted a shipment of dildos every once in a while”

B: “Stick to plastic penii instead of small boy penii? Definitely”

A: Smile.

B: Smile.

Conversation 2: While waiting at the airport

P: “I want money. All the money.”

Q: “Ok 😊”

P: “But in the meantime, please suggest some good books.”

Q: “What type of books are you in the mood for?”

P: “Books that are jolts to the heart.”

Q: “Scary jolts or sad jolts?”

P: “There are other types of jolts too.”

Q: “Like romance? Puke”

Conversation 3: While folding laundry

A: “I feel like I’m drowning”

B: “Ugh, I’m sorry”


B: “When your mind is racing with thoughts and you feel like you’re drowning with sadness, there’s always a part of you that is observing you having this experience. This part of you is always quiet, always calm, just observing, not participating. It’ll remain alive as along as you do, and it will always be calm. Sometimes we have to reduce ourselves to this Observer to feel peace, to regroup, to find a way to wake up the next day and go at it again.”



A: “I don’t think I’ll ever be happy again”

B: “But can you find, create, and take notice of moments of joy?”

A: “Moments doing what?”

B: “Well…like watching Southern Charm, or eating cake”

A: Smile


Conversation 4: While doing groceries in a pissed off mood

A: “My manager just doesn’t understand how to work with a Creative”

B: “What’s a Creative?”

A: “You know…like me…I’m a Creative.”

B: “What do you create?”

A: “That’s not important – I connect dots”

B: “What type of dots?”

A: “Just random stuff…it’s about the creative process.”

B: “Can you help me understand this process?”

A: “It’s different for everyone – sort of hard to explain if you’re not a Creative.”

B: “Ok. Perhaps I can understand it in terms of inputs/outputs. What is the the end-product of this process? A poem, a story, an animation, a document, code?”

A: “You sound like my manager.”

B: “I’m sorry.”


A: “I should go.”

B: “Yeah, ok…hope you feel better.”

A: “Thanks.”

B’s inner rant on the drive home (guess what, B is me :-))

“When did Creative become a country, with citizenship restricted to rare unicorns that poop sparkles, and an immigration ban on the masses who are clearly too ordinary to understand a concept that can’t be described with any rational language.”

“Doesn’t creating an imaginary box, then labeling it with capital C Creative, then putting oneself in it fundamentally challenge the concept of creativity? Or have I been wrong this entire time that creativity denies and defies the existence of all boxes.”

“Even if I can be convinced to believe in the Creative, shouldn’t it be a requirement to create things if you are a Creative. Objects, physical or digital that others can interact with?”

“Is it pedestrian of me to think that Creativity without impact on the world is entirely narcissistic and a waste of human energy?”

Time for dinner.

Watch some Succession.

Let this day be over.

Phone buzzes.

oooh…Nadya just text, lemme see what’s up with her…



On Product Management

I talk to many people about their desire to become a PM in the tech industry. Enough of them have mentioned that they’ve found my perspective in these conversations to be useful, which is why I feel compelled to write it down.

What’s in a name?

First of all, I think the name must be revised in the context of the tech industry. P can stand for Project, Program, Product – each role being vastly different if done right. The P I’m referring to is Product.

Here’s the fun thing about this role – everyone from a stay-at-home mom to a dog walker to an engineer to a philosopher to a rocket scientist thinks they can do this role. I mean, after all, it’s just sending email, managing projects, telling people what to do, commenting on user experience, right?


Just like you and I speaking English and writing emails doesn’t make either of us an author, general life-planning skill doesn’t make us product managers. Unfortunately there are so many other P’s taking on the guise of product management that it’s difficult to have a clear picture of what a real Product Manager is all about. In talking with many startups, it’s clear to me that this skill is sorely lacking and it’s unknowable for the founders what they’re missing and why it’s needed. In my current role, I’ve had to push hard to create room for PMs for the same reason, been met with resistance and just exhibited through experience how they can contribute to top-line revenue, customer delight and team building.

The essence of a PM


  1. She’s a perseverent idealist (yep, I just made up that word, but you get my drift). She believes in the power of positive change, the value that one individual can bring to a larger group, and perseveres through detours and struggle.
  2. She’s obsessed with her customers – not just how they’re experiencing the product but who they are, what their emotional and logistical drivers are, who they aspires to be. Also important, her customer is always ultimately the customer of the company, not internal teams (which are all partners that must align to deliver end customer value). In interviews, I often ask people to design a product with me as their customer. I pick the product based on my read of them and what they’re least likely to use themselves. The best answers start from the candidate asking more about my lifestyle and who I am as a person and incorporate that in all elements of the product (form, function & distribution). The worst answers are either a “requirements gathering” exercise or the candidate designing a product for them and losing sight that they are quite different from me, their customer.
  3. She’s grounded in the business model – she understands how money is made, where it comes from, how it’s spent and how to create a defensible strategy for the business against competitors, but never fucking the customer over in the process. She can quantify business opportunity, use that to develop what’s really important and invest accordingly (i.e. don’t spend 3 engineers for 6 weeks on something that’ll make you 30k unless it’s part of a larger strategy that she’s not hand-wavey about but truly understand and agree with).
  4. She’s strategic in her thinking and tactical in her execution – she can envision a radically different world and use that to inspire people around her, but keep everyone focused on a set of well defined next steps.
  5. She’s qualitative and quantitative – she seeks out data to gain insight, but she knows the power of instinct and trusts it. She knows disruptive ideas require leaps of faith and she’s often right in her hunches.
  6. She’s outcome driven – and outcome is always defined in terms of benefit for the customer and the business.
  7. She’s curious about how things work – business models, user models, design patterns, organizational structure, technology – she follows industry trends, experiments with new products, learns new skills so she can relate with her partners and her engineers
  8. She’s flexible & creative – in her thinking (always evolving), in her ability to define a big picture and dive into the details, in her communication skills, in her ability to influence people and overcome obstacles
  9. She has courage – she is unafraid to share her perspective, she doesn’t let fear stand in the way of taking risk, she has the courage to receive feedback and evolve.
  10. She understands the difference between urgent and important and is ruthless in prioritizing what’s important above all else. The hardest part of this is letting go of the thing that’s just below the list. But that’s exactly what she does.

Simple. Here are some tips and tricks to refine your craft as a Product Manager, just in case you’re interested.

Habit creates excellence

I often have this discussion with PMs on my team. It’s easy to overlook the non-day-to-day things that are essential to your development as a PM – always another email you could respond to, always another meeting you could go to. This is why it’s important to create ritual and habit for the activities that make you a great PM. Here are some that I follow religiously:

  1. I use the product every day – not with the intention to click around and find bugs but actually use it as an integrated part of my life. Working at Zulily, this means friends and family get a lot more random shit they don’t need than before.
  2. I use competitive products – also not with superficial curiosity but as an active user. Note, I define “competition” very loosely (i.e. doesn’t need to be a like for like comparison)
  3. At least once a month, I talk to real customers (all the synthesized PowerPoint decks and usability result findings are great but aren’t supposed to be a replacement for high-touch textured understanding of real customers)
  4. I read customer support issues every week
  5. I read world news and tech news every day
  6. I take time each month to tinker with new products across the board (i.e. not related to my core line of business) to help me build and recognize patterns and trends.
  7. I tinker with adjacent skills – from learning Ruby to creative-writing classes to playing with cloud services – generally one class or activity in progress all the time
  8. I reverse engineer – whenever I find myself drawn to a product or service, I journal explicitly about what I like about it, why it works for me as a user, I ask why the company that built it decided to build it, what their business model might be, how I would do it if I was in their shoes.
  9. I talk to people from other companies to learn how they do work. It’s always interesting to compare notes and try things that are working for other people to see if they’ll be effective in my environment. Regardless, I learn from the experience.

None of these habits are rocket science – it’s just a matter of having the discipline to do them regularly. If you have other habits you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.