Wednesday, October 14

Tech meet Press, Press meet Tech and What's a Product Manager?

Last night, the nexyNY Digital crowd got a chance to converse with members of the Fourth Estate (or me, depending on their poor fortune). Charlie O'Donnell put together the "Meet the Startups" touting "100 CEOs and founders of NY Tech Startups in one room". Since I was not representing a tech company this time around, I went as a stringer blogger to gather some info and names of new companies that deserve some visibility.

To start off with, I must thank all who spoke with me and gave me a short 30 second pitch - and will list them below. I also asked two questions, based on the recent discussion on tech companies and product managers in NYC brought up by Fred Wilson at the Clickable Cafe from a couple of weeks ago.

It was asserted that there is a dearth of "product managers" in New York City and a growth of this community (and skill set) would be a positive indicator of NY Tech growth. So, aside from meeting the founders - I asked about their tech staff and their "product management" staff.

Requisite Company Mentions
As promised, I wanted to mention the companies I met last night. All were excellent discussions - albeit incredibly fast...
  • Market Publique - online market place for vintage clothing (must be at least 20 years old)
  • MyItThings - online user-generated fashion magazine
  • Mobile Commons - SMS/telephone advocacy tools
  • UpSkil.com - a new career education site (cheaper but better than UoP)
  • foursquare - mobile, location-based notification and community tool
  • centrl - mobile, location- and social-network-based community tool
  • boomerater - user-generated portal/magazine for baby-boomers into a number of vericals
  • Funnel Scope - travel search engine with twitter API connection to converse with friends on trip decisions
  • Asian in NY - a "craigslist for Asian community members" or a gumtree in the US for the Asian community
  • Kidmondo - online baby journals
  • cookstr - online receipes
  • MeetingWave - faciliatating connecting in person with your contacts (Meetup meets LinkedIn)
  • Cloud Contacts - scanning of your business cards into a single dataset
  • Convos - one-stop group communication and management platform
  • OMGPOP - online multi-player games for teens
  • Unigo - online publisher using student-generated content on universities
  • Gate Guru - iPhone app for information on airports (similar to SeatGuru for airplanes)
  • SquareSpace - SaaS web CMS with extensive tools
  • kgb_web - an upcoming "Pandora for Content" - recommendation engine for all forms of content (with many other incarnations)
  • Instinctiv - a smart-phone music player with stronger recommendation tools by tracking your on-device actions (e.g. skip, fast-forward, etc)
  • Stratus Security - API access management and billing toolset
Now, in the course of the discussions with these companies - there were a couple of observations I made:
  • Over 80% of these companies would not be considered "tech companies" - specifically a company that is a tech product that is solving a business need. Rather, most of these companies were media or service companies that were startups - using tech as one of their differentiator. Most of these companies either outsourced or "had a tech guy" on their founding team.
  • Of the other 20% of the companies, the product management work was being handled by the founder, the CEO (and or CTO) or (in the rare case of kgbweb) a separate Sr VP of Products.
  • "Product management" was understood as "owning the product", but the strengths of the owner was the driving factor of what the responsibilities were of the PM.
  • One person who discussed with me about his company also mentioned that as a former Product Manager of a major bank, he could not find "product management" jobs in NYC when he went looking.
Why the concern?
One of the comments Fred made at the Clickable event was the need for more product managers in NYC to help create startups. Being a former Valley guy (Silicon Valley, not SoCal!), I was a product manager for a number of companies and knew the community of members during my time there. PMs were the "CEOs" of their products - either by market or by channel. Their responsibility was to the P&L of their product line and responsible for:
  • sales performance (how the sales team performed with direct authority over them),
  • market penetration (what percentage of the market did they own)
  • marketing message and communication (how did the market understand the product)
  • product features and enhancements (to expand their market offering)
  • product delivery and testing (working with engineering/production to deliver the product on time)
  • customer acceptance and service (all about retention and up-to-the-minute status on product service)
Depending on the company, these responsibilities had different priorities based on internal resources. But, if you note the list above, these are also the responsibilities of a small business owner - just at a very different scale or vocabulary.

During Web 1.0 in the Valley, the strongest CEOs tended to be the PMs of other companies because they could easily generate the direction for these areas - not simply one person for each. By being strong in a number of these areas and being able to tie them together into a coherent product and company strategy is one of the keys to a successful company. The challenge: how do you make companies that need such product managers that are also (eventually) rewarded for being the CEOs of small startups in the future?

1 comment:

mike said...

Hi Sanford,

Great article! It was both fun and informative to meet all the founders. The press as well (can't forget them).

Thank-you for the mention of FunnelScope! Big favor, would you mind linking to us at http://funnelscope.com as you did with the other companies? Every link counts!

Thanks again,

Mike