tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:/posts Guillaume Lerouge's blog 2017-07-05T14:09:55Z Guillaume Lerouge tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/1104909 2016-11-02T14:50:23Z 2017-07-05T14:09:55Z Ten years

Ten years ago, on this very day (November 2, 2006), I sent the following email to jobs@xwiki.com:

Hi,

My name is Guillaume Lerouge, I am a french student on Erasmus year (3rd year exchange) in London. I am currently studying business and international marketing. I have a DUGEAD (ex DEUG) from Université Paris 9 - Dauphine. 

I've been interested in wikis for a while and started writing my own blog on the topic (http://wikibc.blogspot.com). I feel quite comfortable on the subject and have been thinking about offering consulting services about the potential use of wikis, but as a student this is not easy to start from scrap. I would be really interested in working with your company for it looks like the competences you need and the skills I have to offer match pretty closely. 

I am fluent in both french and english. I'll be back in Paris by june 2007, and until then I would be interested in remote working. I'll be in Paris from mid-december to mid-january if you'd like to meet me. 

Looking forward to get in contact,

Guillaume

The reply was prompt:

Hi/Salut Guillaume,

When do you want to start!

Ok we need to talk first... But we are very interested.

Merci pour l'anglais... On parle très bien français dans le bureau à Paris.

Ce qui me paraît tout à fait interessant c'est déjà de voir ce qu'on peut faire sur le marché londonien d'ici juin 2007.

Ensuite il y a des choses très interessantes à faire au niveau marketing chez XWiki à Paris pour developper la stratégie marketing.

Ludovic

Roughly translated, it said that French people speak French very well, merci, but they'd be happy to chat with me. This was how I got my first job - a job I ended up keeping for 10 years. 10 years is a long time, yet it feels like it was only yesterday. I started as a 19-year-old intern, then an apprentice, then an employee, then a manager. In that timeframe, I also became a husband and a father (though not at the company!).

During the course of those 10 years, I learnt so many things that I'd be hardly pressed to list them all. How to hire someone. How a great product is built. The value of constructive disagreement. How to build a (very) simple web application. Why it's so fucking important to fix your messes *right now* - debt accrues fast, whether it's organizational, managerial or technical. How to sell anything - an idea, a project, a solution, a mission. Most important of all, I learnt the value of trust. Trusting that your colleagues will deliver under an impossible deadline. Trusting that your clients will keep believing in you even in tough times. Trusting that whatever happens, your boss will do the right thing.

Some lessons I learnt the hard way. What it's like to lose a deal that seemed set in stone. What happens when an irreplaceable employee decides it's time for them to look elsewhere. The year-long consequences of a bad product management decision. How it feels to let someone go - the burning in your stomach, the thought that maybe there's still a chance, the days that pass in indecision before finally making up your mind. 

Towards the end, a question kept popping up in my head: should I stay or should I go? Am I still contributing enough? Am I doing my part? Am I living up to the expectations the company has of me? Those of you who went through similar motions know this: once you start going through these motions, it's probably too late already.

Ending a 10-year-long work relationship isn't easy, but Ludovic understood. I've done it in private, but I'd like to thank him one more time, publicly, for everything he's done for me over the years. He got me started when I was but a random Erasmus student getting in touch out of the blue. He trusted me with increasingly important missions, all the way from intern at an 8-person startup to the executive committee of a 45-people company. He was never afraid to point out my mistakes (and oh boy! the mistakes I did) and remained supportive all the way. I wish him and XWiki the best in their path forward!

Deciding what to do after such a long stint wasn't an easy thing. I was the man of one company. As I told Vincent, XWiki's CTO, when he asked me what I hoped to do next: "I spent ten years at one company, now I'd like to spend one year at ten companies". I had dabbled with short consulting missions towards the end of my time at XWiki, helping young startups define their go-to-market strategy and assumed I could do this full-time.

However, one thing quickly became clear to me: helping startups as an outside consultant is complicated. You have no skin in the game. Your fees are always too high for their constrained resources. You need to be on the inside. How could I reconcile this with my wish to work at 10 companies in one year?

In hindsight, the answer was simple: 2 weeks ago, I joined La Javaness, an up-and-coming French startup factory. I couldn't have hoped for a better place to pursue my career. Our worldview is simple:

  1. Several technological revolutions are currently sweeping the world (Blockchain, AI / Machine learning, Virtual Reality...).
  2. B2B tech startups are emerging in this space, but they have a hard time cutting through the noise and getting noticed by large corporate partners & potential recruits.
  3. Big companies are looking for innovative ways to embrace these revolutions.

Our mission is to bridge the gap between startups, corporate actors and tech talent. We do this in the following ways:

  1. We built a team of world-class experts in the fields we identified as the most promising - machine learning in particular.
  2. We developed a strategic partnership with Eurogroup Consulting in order to get access to the largest companies in France and help them make their digital transformation projects successful.
  3. We incubate promising B2B startups, giving them access to tech talent they would be unable to benefit from otherwise as well as corporate partners they wouldn't otherwise be able to reach.

My job at La Javaness will be to help startups and corporates build innovative projects together.

Effective today, I am also taking over the organization of Startup Grind events in Paris. Looking forward to meet you there :-)

On to the next 10 years!

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/1009541 2016-03-10T11:00:00Z 2016-03-10T11:00:02Z To chat or not to chat, that is the question

Jason Fried has a great article about group chat software:

What we’ve learned is that group chat used sparingly in a few very specific situations makes a lot of sense. What makes a lot less sense is chat as the primary, default method of communication inside an organization. A slice, yes. The whole pie, no. All sorts of eventual bad happens when a company begins thinking one-line-at-a-time most of the time.

We’ve also seen strong evidence that the method and manner in which you choose to communicate has a major influence on how people feel at work. Frazzled, exhausted, and anxious? Or calm, cool, and collected? These aren’t just states of mind, they are conditions caused by the kinds of tools we use, and the kinds of behaviors those tools encourage.

Based on these discoveries, I’ve put together a list of the positive and negative impacts of group chat on an organization. If you’ve gone chat-first, or you’re considering heading down that path, I encourage you to review and consider these impacts on your own organization.

An absolute must-read if your company is considering using Slack, HipChat or Skype for business. We've been using Skype internally for as far as I can remember at XWiki. I couldn't see us running a distributed company without it, but the associated cognitive costs are real and should not be underestimated.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/1009432 2016-03-09T11:00:03Z 2016-03-09T11:00:03Z Mishael Moritz on why yesterday is irrelevant

Continuing in the vein of yesterday's post, here's another great article from The Macro. This time it's Michael Moritz from Sequoia, sharing advice on how to build a company that achieves success over a long period of time (think 40+ years):

Yesterday is irrelevant

How have we done it? It all sounds very, very mundane. You can read a book about the principles of high performance, or great leadership, and it’ll all sound very straightforward and rudimentary. The difficulty is doing it every day, doing it every week, month, quarter, year, and keeping that beat up.

That was one of the great things about Steve Jobs, it’s one of the great things about Larry Page, it’s one of the great things about Jeff Bezos, or Reed Hastings. These are leaders who are capable of doing it. How do they do it?

They want to make sure that their product is fresh, that it changes with the times; that they never rest on their laurels, or get complacent; that they always have an element of insecurity about feeling that they can always get eaten by a competitor, and that past successes don’t mean all that much.

Which is part of the reason we don’t have all sorts of lucite blocks commemorating this or that anniversary of some company hanging around the office at Sequoia: Because all of that is yesterday, and it’s irrelevant to the future.

Achieving success once isn't hard. Sustainable success at the highest level is. 

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/1009424 2016-03-08T13:21:52Z 2016-03-08T13:23:04Z Building a nuclear reactor people want

Y Combinator is publishing a lot of great articles through their outlet, The Macro. From an interview last week of Jacob DeWitte, founder and CEO at Oklo:

So how did Oklo, formerly known as UPower, start?

Jacob : At MIT, I’d met my co-founder Caroline Cochran, who was also in nuclear engineering and had a background as a mechanical engineer. We started really digging into how would we do something advanced in nuclear with a startup. But we didn’t want to be technology pushers. We wanted to follow what people wanted, what people needed.

We had a series of conversations with friends and contacts who were working in power development for remote communities – for projects like mining and gas. They’d talk about how much a pain in the rear it was to get power to these remote places they were working on. The common thing to use is diesel, but it’s a big problem: There are often no roads to deliver the fuel, it’s quite unwieldy, the weather can be so severe that it will freeze, and so on.

These people would say, “Well, diesel is the most energy-dense fuel we know.” But nuclear is 2 million times as energy dense. We’d ask them, what if there was a small enough reactor that you could bring out on a job site? They all said, “Whoa, who makes that? We would buy that in a second. As many as you could make.”

And that's how you get started building the nuclear reactor of the future!

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/1007191 2016-03-04T17:21:22Z 2016-03-04T17:21:22Z Psychological safety: the key to building a successful team

The New York Times Magazine ran its Work Issue last week. The first article from the issue shares learnings from project Aristole, a Google initiative to understand what makes team click. The Google People Ops team had actually published findings from this issue back in November 2015.

They found that psychological safety was the most important among 5 key dynamics experienced by successful teams:

Psychological safety was far and away the most important of the five dynamics we found -- it’s the underpinning of the other four. How could that be? Taking a risk around your team members seems simple. But remember the last time you were working on a project. Did you feel like you could ask what the goal was without the risk of sounding like you’re the only one out of the loop? Or did you opt for continuing without clarifying anything, in order to avoid being perceived as someone who is unaware?

Turns out, we’re all reluctant to engage in behaviors that could negatively influence how others perceive our competence, awareness, and positivity. Although this kind of self-protection is a natural strategy in the workplace, it is detrimental to effective teamwork. On the flip side, the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles. And it affects pretty much every important dimension we look at for employees.

While this doesn't come as a big surprise, it's still a good reminder. As a manager, your behaviour and attitude can be interpreted in (very) unexpected ways, and making sure that you're not sending the wrong message to co-workers and that they can express themselves freely without feeling that they're being judged is extremely important.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/1004516 2016-03-01T10:16:50Z 2016-03-01T21:13:02Z When professional services make sense

Tom Tunguz has a great article on professional services:

As the next generation of SaaS companies achieve maturity, they have begun to serve larger and larger customers, who in addition to demanding a great product, often request services. Professional services, as they are often called, entail training and customization. For product driven startups, the decision to offer professional services is a tricky one.

On one hand, the customer is always right and services often enable substantially larger contracts. On the other hand, selling hours to drive revenue decreases the efficiency of the business, by hiring more people in order to grow revenue linearly. In addition, many businesses operate their services divisions at a loss. But not all.

Professional services are a subject close to my heart. As an open-source software company, XWiki SAS derives a significant part of its revenue from professional services. The ideal we're striving for with our new XWiki Collaboration Suite offering is to find a way to enable customisation according to client needs while keeping upgrades as seamless as possible.

What we've found aligns closely with Tom's observations: the larger the client, the more likely they are to have custom requirements that you'll need to fulfil in order to close the deal. When applicable, product roadmap sponsoring is a great way to bridge that gap: your client gets the feature they need and your product keeps progressing.

Brian Trautschold of Ambition offers interesting insights about this process:

It’s really tough. I think part of what you have to do, unfortunately, to survive early on is you kind of have to toe that line. And you have to always go back and say, “What we’re building is a software product that is going to be scalable, that’s going to be used by multiple companies.” But it also depends on what part of the market you’re selling into, what types of customers you have. If you’re selling $100k enterprise deals, you’re going to bend a little bit more to make sure it works for Oracle or some huge company, versus Bob’s Pizza Shop.

But it’s really delicate. I think we may have taken too stern of a line early on and said, “No thank you” to customers, where we said, “Here’s our vision of what the future is going to be, you need to agree with us.” And over time, maybe as we grew the engineering team, we grew our capability and we could ship features or variations more easily we tried to open our arms a little bit more and bring people in.

But you never want to be truly doing things that are one off. You want to say, “Is this going to be useful for the next 20 customers?”

How do you handle professional services at your company?

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/998890 2016-02-24T14:32:34Z 2016-02-24T14:32:34Z The strategy behind Slack's launch

From 0 to $1B - Slack's Founder Shares Their Epic Launch Strategy:
When the product was first coming together, Butterfield and his co-founders returned again and again to Paul Buchheit’s now-famous blog post, “If your product is Great, it doesn’t need to be Good.” Known as one of the creators of Gmail, Buchheit has a simple thesis: If you do a few things incredibly well, the rest doesn’t really matter. [...] Buchheit’s words strongly resonated with Butterfield and his team.

"We don’t cut corners, and we try to focus on the few things that are most important to our product vision."

For Slack, those three most important features are:

    • Search [...]
    • Synchronization [...]
    • Simple file-sharing [...]

These may not be checkbox features, or buzzworthy new concepts, Butterfield notes; they may not even be things that users think they’re looking for in a solution. But when it comes to a successful go-to-market strategy, perhaps the most important decision you can make is to build a product you believe is different from everything else out there, and an important change for the audience you're going after.

“We had a lot of conversations about choosing the three things we'd try to be extremely, surprisingly good at,” Butterfield says. “And ultimately we developed Slack around really valuing those three things. It can sound simple, but narrowing the field can make big challenges and big gains for your company feel manageable. Suddenly you're ahead of the game because you're the best at the things that really impact your users.”

Blue Ocean Strategy talks a lot about the need to create a differentiated value curve. It looks like that's exactly what Slack did, by focusing on a set of key things that they had to do much, much better than their competition in order to stand out from the crowd.

I would say that since this interview, a fourth pillar that emerged is the ease fo creating integrations. Being able to very simply send pieces of information and content from apps to Slack channel is a killer feature for many teams, and something that other chat products didn't really do well before.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/998895 2016-02-23T11:00:04Z 2016-02-23T11:00:04Z Towards apps that help you get your job done

David Cummings has some interesting insights about the future of productivity applications. He argues that we will more and more see apps that focus on a specific job, with one application of record per job function:

Phase three is new vertical-specific SaaS applications as well as more specialized solutions that represent portions of more complicated products. One way to think about it is that there is an application of record for each job function (that is, a product that people in that job function spend a large number of hours per week to perform their job). [...] What job functions currently use a generic solution, but would be better served by a more specialized solution?

One specificity of such apps is that they will guide the user on how to do their job well, moving towards prescriptive solutions:

One of the biggest trends for SaaS over the next five years is new products that offer prescriptive solutions in place of general tools. What I mean is that there are a number of well-defined categories like CRM and ERP that are essentially customizable front-ends to specialized databases (e.g. CRMs are mostly contact management databases). These new products are still going to have the specialized database behind the scenes, but the front-end is more of a business process management system that actually tells the user what to do next.

This also corresponds well to the "First SaaS explosion" as described by Clément Vouillon:

As SaaS penetration grew (businesses of all sizes are ready to buy SaaS now) and as the technological barriers kept going down, many verticals saw an explosion of new players. These new startups very often focus on a more specific part of a vertical and offer products with better UX/UI than what the bigger players can do.

It's going to be interesting to see whether this leads to further fragmentation down the road, or whether big players will just gobble up smaller ones in order to beef up their offerings (the way Salesforce did it with Eloqua and Pardot in the marketing automation space).

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/998786 2016-02-22T11:30:14Z 2016-02-22T11:30:15Z The SaaS rallying cry: "Retention, retention, retention!"

Great presentation about the story of HubSpot by Dharmesh Shah:

h/t David Cummings

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/996112 2016-02-18T11:05:07Z 2016-02-18T11:05:07Z You are not your users: the Viaweb example

From the interview Paul Graham did with The Macro:

Aaron : That’s the 30- and 40- years of software trauma that people are dealing with. Which is why I think people are still amazed every time something works. A little bit amazed.

Paul : You know what, though? I’ll tell you. The one real advantage of having a Ph.D. in computer science is you don’t blame yourself. Because you can say, “This is really hard and painful for me.” And instead of stopping at that point, you can say, “And I have a Ph.D. in computer science, so here’s an interesting data point. That means it’s probably too hard and painful for almost everyone,” right? Except the people who wrote it.

Aaron : Right. Because they know all of the quirks and all of the tricks, and they internalize that.

Paul : Yeah. Well, that’s why it’s really useful to go and watch your users use your stuff. If you build something for users, go and stand behind them. And my God, it is so hard to say, “Oh, no, don’t do that. Just click on that obvious button right in front of you. What are you doing?” It’s not so obvious.

Aaron : Why do you think people have such a hard time taking that step and actually going and spending time with their users?

Paul : I think because they think they know what their users are already like. And they don’t realize how different they are. And boy, let me tell you, direct marketers are very different from programmers.

When looking at people who are using your software the "wrong" way, it's just so hard resisting this impulse to reach out and tell them, "Don't do this! Do that instead!" - yet the best way to learn is to keep your mouth shut and keep observing. Taking a step back to put yourself in the shoes of your users is tough, but the benefits are worth it every step of the way.]]>
Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/995506 2016-02-17T16:32:00Z 2016-02-17T16:32:01Z Focus is hard: staying on the critical path

I read "Traction" by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares over the Christmas holidays. The book is full of interesting and relevant advice for startups looking to find and build an audience for their product. In short, they recommend going through a 5-steps process called the "Bullseye framework" in order to identify which distribution channel is the best for your company at a given point in time. The five steps are the following:

  1. Brainstorm: find a reasonable way you could use each of the 19 traction channels they present
  2. Rank: order your ideas from most to least compelling
  3. Prioritize: identify your top 3 most promising channels
  4. Test: run an experiment for each of the 3 channels
  5. Focus: direct all of your effort towards the selected channel

They go on to introduce the concept of "critical path": the key steps you have to follow in order to reach your traction goal. The key is to stay on the path until you've reached your goal:

While I agree with this line of thinking, I've found it very difficult to apply it in practice. Forcing yourself to use one single channel is hard and triggers a lot of discussions: "Should we really stop going to events X and Y to do just online ads? Those events have been a big source of leads for us in the past!". In any case, forcing yourself to give a hard look at your various traction channels on a regular basis is an interesting and useful exercise.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/994706 2016-02-16T17:41:05Z 2016-02-19T03:06:30Z The power law of online content

I have been reading Work Rules by Laszlo Bock lately. Chapter 8, dubbed "The Two Tails", addresses the topic of performance repartition across employees. Laszlo observes that though some attributes (such as employee height) are distributed according to a normal repartition, others (such as employee performance) follow a power law:

What's interesting is that I observed the same phenomenon taking place with content I've been posting to various online services. Incidentally, it's also something Paul Graham observed about startup investing:

The two most important things to understand about startup investing, as a business, are (1) that effectively all the returns are concentrated in a few big winners, and (2) that the best ideas look initially like bad ideas.

In startups, the big winners are big to a degree that violates our expectations about variation. I don't know whether these expectations are innate or learned, but whatever the cause, we are just not prepared for the 1000x variation in outcomes that one finds in startup investing.

For instance, my top-viewed answer on Quora (out of 225) has been viewed 4 times as much as my next best one, and close to 20 times as much as my 20th most-viewed answer (note: this graph does not show a power law distribution, it only illustrates the relative audience size for each answer):

It's even worse on Slideshare (though the sample size is much smaller, only 7 presentations), where my top presentation strongly dominates the 6 others (note: same here, this graph does not show a power law distribution, it only illustrates the relative audience size for each presentation):

On a related note, most of the contact & consulting requests I receive come after someone saw that specific presentation. 

What I find particularly enlightening is that I would most likely not have been able to predict in advance that a specific piece of content would resonate so much more than most others. In addition to this, online content can take a life of its own a long time after it was initially published. Case in point: my top Quora answer started getting a lot of views 18 months after I initially wrote it.

In "Traction", Nikhil Sethi shares an interesting piece of wisdom related to this:

Said differently, if you're trying to build an audience, it's important to publish new things on a regular basis, but also to invest as much as possible in your winners, since those are the pieces of content that are going to have the greatest ROI for you. That's counter-intuitive to most people. Says Paul Graham:

To succeed in a domain that violates your intuitions, you need to be able to turn them off the way a pilot does when flying through clouds. You need to do what you know intellectually to be right, even though it feels wrong.

Not all pieces of online content are born equal. Act accordingly!]]>
Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/994382 2016-02-16T09:16:38Z 2016-02-16T09:16:38Z UX is hard: the Quora comments edition

A while ago, I wrote an answer to a question I found interesting on Quora. This was far from the first time - I have written over 200 answers so far:

As it turns out, it looks like a lot of Quora users can't seem to fathom the difference between a question page and an answer page. Here's a short sample of typical comments I received on my answer:

When Quora includes an answer as part of their newsletter, they use the direct link to that answer. This means that users coming in are exposed only to your answer, and not to the question page itself. This has an interesting side effect: most commenters do not seem to understand that there's a difference between the two. Thus I'm exposed to a regular stream of scathing comments from people who assume I asked the question, even though my answer directly contradicts it. Happily enough, other Quorans came to my rescue:

Now I'm not sure what could be done to fix this. Adding a notice asking the commenter "Are you sure this is where you want to post?" would sound paternalistic. Putting two comment input boxes (one for the question, one for the answer) would be downright confusing. Allowing the answer writer to move comments back to the question would be lots of handywork. In short, the problem is real but finding a good solution is tough! Though I'm sure (or at least, I hope) Quora product managers are hard at work on this and will fix it soon... In the meanwhile, I'll keep enjoying the upvotes, and will try not taking the scathing comments for myself :-)

As a side note, here are some interesting things I noticed while writing this article:

  • Content can resonate with an audience a looong time after it was initially published. Even though I wrote the answer more than 18 months ago, only recently did it take a life of its own (when for some reason Quora decided to send it in one of its weekly emails).
  • Out of 1680 upvotes I have received in total, close to half (765) have been received on that one answer.
  • People seem much more likely to add a comment when they disagree than when they agree. I'm left to wonder what would have happened with the old UI, when the downvote button was as prominent as the upvote one!
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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/933221 2015-11-13T14:24:15Z 2015-11-13T14:24:15Z Elon Musk

I've read a number of very interesting pieces about Elon Musk recently. Taken together, they try to explain who's Musk, why he's doing what he's doing and how he is able to accomplish everything he has. If you have a some (actually, a lot of) time during the week-end, I encourage you to go ahead and read them all!

First is this article by Nathan Kontny, aptly titled "The Scientist":

In 2004 at Burning Man, a yearly gathering in the Nevada desert, someone erected a 30 foot wooden pole with a dancing platform on top. Dozens of people failed to climb the pole. And then there's another who gives it his try. He doesn't look like someone who could climb it. And as he's trying, suspicions are confirmed. He's terrible and looks like he's about to fail. He hugs the pole the whole time as he squirms and inches his way up. With sheer determination he reaches the top of that platform. Who was he? Elon Musk.

Beyond the anecdote, there is a relentlessness to that man which can't help but impress. It is more fully explored in the 4-part articles on Wait But Why? (highly recommended read by the way), that review pretty much all of Elon's projects and how he's able to get them done:

  1. Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man
  2. How Tesla Will Change The World
  3. How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars
  4. The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

For context, here's the introduction of Tim's first post:

Elon Musk, for those unfamiliar, is the world’s raddest man.

I’ll use this post to explore how he became a self-made billionaire and the real-life inspiration for Iron Man’s Tony Stark, but for the moment, I’ll let Richard Branson explain things briefly:

"Whatever skeptics have said can’t be done, Elon has gone out and made real. Remember in the 1990s, when we would call strangers and give them our credit-card numbers? Elon dreamed up a little thing called PayPal. His Tesla Motors and SolarCity companies are making a clean, renewable-energy future a reality…his SpaceX [is] reopening space for exploration…it’s a paradox that Elon is working to improve our planet at the same time he’s building spacecraft to help us leave it."

So no, that was not a phone call I had been expecting.

This guy is inspiring... and probably a bit frightening too :-)

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/930768 2015-11-09T13:10:22Z 2015-11-09T13:10:22Z Article: CS183C Session 8: Eric Schmidt

Very interesting interview between Reid Hoffman and Eric Schmidt:

Q: Is there anything you’d tell your younger self?

A: Do things sooner and make fewer mistakes. The question is, what causes me not to make those decisions quickly. Some people are quicker than others, and it’s not clear which actually need to be answered quickly. Hindsight is always that you make the important decisions more quickly.

Another gem:

Q: Talk about when you joined Google.

Almost all small companies are full of energy and no process. My list was straightforward: internationalization plans, sales plans, product plans, accounting, etc. My first meeting at Google was like being at a graduate school full of interesting people with no deadlines or deliverables. Offices at Google had 4 people because Larry and Sergey’s office at Stanford had 4 people.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/926613 2015-11-03T10:32:37Z 2015-11-03T10:32:37Z The SCARF Framework

I recently read an article by David Cummings on building an irresistible organization:

Want to build a great company? Find product/market fit, a repeatable customer acquisition process, and build a simply irresistible organization.

In the article, David refers to a presentation of the same name by Josh Bersin. Josh remarks that:

Engagement still startlingly low: only 13% of employees worldwide are highly engaged (Gallup)

The presentation itself refers to "Your Brain at Work" by David Rock. The book is full of interesting insights about how your brain works and the applications for how you work. Incidentally, it's an interesting companion to "Thinking, Fast and Slow", illustrating many of the concept in Kahneman's book.

In the book, David Rock talks about his "SCARF" framework. The letters stand for:

  • Status: where do you stand in the social ladder relative to your peers?
  • Certainty: do you know what's going to happen?
  • Autonomy: are you in control of what's happening to you?
  • Relatedness: do you feel connected to others?
  • Fairness: is your sense of justice satisfied?

I found the framework simple and interesting. It explains many of the common pitfalls one might face when working in a group. As a manager, I'll try to make sure I meet the SCARF needs of my teammates in the future.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/919276 2015-10-19T15:18:55Z 2015-10-19T15:20:19Z Article: Getting the Right Stuff Done

Steven Sinofsky:

A key role of product management (PM), whether as the product-focused founder (CEO, CTO) or the PM leader, is making sure product development efforts are focused. But what does it mean to be focused? This isn’t always as clear as it could be for a team. While everyone loves focus, there’s an equal love for agility, action, and moving "forward". Keeping the trains running is incredibly important, but just as important and often overlooked is making sure the destination is clear.

It might sound crazy, but it is much easier than one might think for teams to move fast, get stuff done, and break things that might not be helping the overall efforts. In fact, in my experience, this challenge has become even greater in recent years with the availability of data and telemetry. With such, it becomes very easy to find work that needs to be done to improve the app or service — the data is telling you right then and there that something is tripping up customers, performing poorly, or going unused. Taking action makes it easy to feel like the right thing is happening. It feels like moving forward. Everyone loves to get stuff done. Everyone feels focused.

But is the team focused on the right work to achieve the right results?

Very interesting article. The framework he suggests reminded me of the tools outlined in the book "Traction" by Gino Wickman: define your 10 years vision, your 3 years plan, then your yearly priority, then your rocks for the quarter, and in the end your tasks for the week. If you're always making sure that what you're working on right now is aligned with your broader goals, the risk of going astray is very low!

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/914334 2015-10-08T08:09:06Z 2015-10-08T08:09:06Z Article: A Leader’s Guide To Deciding: What, When, and How To Decide

Steven Sinofsky:

With that experience, my view is that before deciding something a CEO or exec should be clear how he/she contributes to a project or work, using one of the following:

  • Initiator: kicking off new projects
  • Connector: connecting people to others so the work gets better
  • Amplifier: amplifying the things that are working well or not so there is awareness of success and learning
  • Editor: fixing or changing things while they are being done

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

Very interesting and insightful article. The way you choose spend your time between all types of activity says a lot about you.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/913071 2015-10-05T07:51:45Z 2015-10-05T07:51:45Z Article: The Curse of Knowledge

Harvard Business Review:

When a tapper taps, it is impossible for her to avoid hearing the tune playing along to her taps. Meanwhile, all the listener can hear is a kind of bizarre Morse code. Yet the tappers were flabbergasted by how hard the listeners had to work to pick up the tune.

The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.

In the business world, managers and employees, marketers and customers, corporate headquarters and the front line, all rely on ongoing communication but suffer from enormous information imbalances, just like the tappers and listeners.

This idea is strongly applicable in sales. In order to be successful, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person you'll be meeting with, understand their unique perspective on the world, and only then try and help them assess whether what you have to offer may fit in their picture.

In addition to this, developing a deep understanding of your prospect's needs lets you engage in a very potent sales tool, negative reverse selling, much more effectively:

- You:"I'm not sure whether what I just told you about [your specific solution] may help you fix some of the issues you're experiencing..."
- Prospect: "Well, actually I think it would help us quite a bit with our problems in [area of concern you were discussing earlier]."

When doing this, you help your prospect convince themselves that your solution can and will be valuable to them. You help them build their own case for using your solution, which will also make a rollout easier down the road since they'll be able to clearly explain to other people in their organization why your solution is worth investing in, in their specific context.

Of course, this approach can only work if you're confident that the issue you raised was an actual issue experienced by your prospect... which was the exact point why you needed to get into their shoes.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/910822 2015-09-29T08:10:55Z 2015-09-29T08:10:55Z Location Analysis of Slideshare Viewers Using DSS

I've been using Slideshare quite a bit lately in order to share presentations. While it offers interesting statistics tools, the geographic information it surfaces is a bit light. You get a view count by country, but you can't really dig any deeper:

I was wondering how to get access to more detailed information about my audience. As it turns out, Slideshare allows you to download a CSV list of the last 1000 viewers of your slides, along with a bit of additional information (name of the presentation and, more importantly, city and country the viewer is from):

Once I had access to this, the next item to tackle was to find a way to perform a more detailed analysis. In order to do this, I decided to use Data Science Studio (DSS), a product by French startup Dataiku. They offer a free community edition that you can install locally on your Mac. It works for up to 100,000 rows of data, which was plenty enough for my needs.

After performing a local install, I realised that to do the kind of work I was trying to do, I also needed to install an additional plugin: the Geoadmin plugin. I had to restart DSS after installing it - I could have saved time by installing it before running DSS for the first time. Last but not least, I also needed an API key for a mapping service. You can easily get a free one from MapQuest, which gives you up to 15,000 location lookups - again, plenty enough for my needs.

Once my setup was ready, I launched DSS and headed to http://localhost:11200/ (DSS is a web application, which means lives in your browser). Once there, the first thind I did was to create a new project and import my dataset (Dataiku has several tutorials to help you get started with DSS):

A nice touch about DSS is that it always keeps your original data as is, without modifying it. This means you can always go back in time without fear of altering your data.

I clicked on the "Analyze" button in order to create my first analysis. The analysis tab is the place where you're going to do most of the grunt work of cleaning and improving your data in order to be able to use it. In my case, there were a couple things that needed to be done before I could create the map I was looking for:

  1. First, I had to clean the data in order to remove rows that were lacking geographic data. I did this by clicking on the "Country" column, and using a transformation that removed all the rows with useless data (such as "N/A").
  2. Once I had done this, the next step was to get more accurate data to feed MapQuest. I achieved this by concatenating the "Country" and "City" columns into a new "Address" column.
  3. Once I had the addresses, all I needed to do was to run them through MapQuest using DSS' Geocode function. This gave me the latitude and longitude for each "Address" entry. I proceeded to mark them as their respective data types.
  4. Once I had this, the last thing that was needed was to add a "Create GeoPoint" step that took the latitude and longitude in input and created a... well, you guessed it, a Geopoint based on the coordinates.

Here is the resulting recipe, as well as a sample of its result:

Once I was done processing and enriching my data, I could at last get to the heart fo the subject: creating a map of my viewers! In order to do this, I headed over to the "Charts" tab and followed these steps:

  1. Set the graph type to "World Map".
  2. Put "Geopoint" in the "Break down by..." section and set the granularity level to "8 (city)".
  3. Put "Count of records" in both the "Color" and "Size" of the "Show..." section.
  4. Waited for the map to update with my data.

Here is the final result, centered on the US for better viewability:

Great! I now have access to a visual representation of my audience, city by city, all over the world!

I think I only used the tip of the iceberg when it comes to DSS' feature set, but I was able to quickly create a beautiful map that gave me way more information than what Slideshare has to offer: exactly what I was looking for.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/910427 2015-09-28T08:44:42Z 2015-09-28T08:44:42Z Article: Service sunsets aren’t the least bit pretty

Signal vs Noise:

So Basecamp 3 is not going to sunset anything. Not the current version of Basecamp, not the classic, original version of Basecamp. Either of those work well for you? Awesome! Please keep using them until the end of the internet! We’ll make sure they’re fast, secure, and always available.

But, but, but isn’t that expensive? Isn’t that hard? What about security? What about legacy code bases? Yes, what about it? Taking care of customers – even if they’re not interested in upgrading on our schedule – is what we do here. Cost of business, as they say.

At launch, Basecamp 3 is not going to have all the same features as previous versions, so some existing customers may well just want to continue with whatever version they’re on. That’s great! All the new, exciting features will still be there when (or if) they choose to upgrade.

Very interesting approach. Many services give you a bit of time to adapt (I can think of Google Apps fur Business or Salesforce, which give you a couple months to adopt interface changes), but none that I know goes as far as keeping their old services fully alive and working.

I guess having just one specific line of business makes it easier, though they still have to maintain 3 products in parallel - potentially more in the future. I guess being able to do this is one of the main reasons why 37Signals (their former name) divested all their other properties and decided to focus exclusively on Basecamp.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/908989 2015-09-24T09:21:50Z 2015-09-24T09:21:50Z Article: How we lost (and found) millions by not A/B testing

Over at Signal vs Noise:

We’ve always felt strongly that we should share our lessons in business and technology with the world, and that includes both our successes and our failures. We’ve written about some great successes: how we’ve improved support response time, sped up applications, and improved reliability. Today I want to share an experience that wasn’t a success.

This is the story of how we made a change to the Basecamp.com site that ended up costing us millions of dollars, how we found our way back from that, and what we learned in the process.

Pretty enlightening. The next time you think you don't need A/B testing? Well, think again.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/905768 2015-09-16T19:00:01Z 2015-09-16T19:00:01Z Presentation: Sales & Marketing Tools for B2B SaaS Companies

The goal of this presentation is to present a set of tools that startups can use in order to implement their marketing & sales processes, from initial contact with a prospect all the way to customer service.

For each step of the marketing & sales process, a subset of existing solutions is presented, with a short overview of its features and use cases. If you're looking to build the marketing & sales machine at your company, this presentation is a good place to start!

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/905315 2015-09-15T12:28:12Z 2015-09-15T12:28:12Z Apple: Hardware as a Service

Two very interesting articles from analysts following-up on Apple's announcements last week. What both articles hint to is the fact that the strength of Apple's long term position is often underestimated because people do not take into account the systemic properties of Apple's offering. However, once you start considering Apple as a "Hardware as a Service" company, its position appears even more formidable than it already is.

Stratechery:

It’s a lot easier to give the designers control when Apple’s business model is predicated on achieving high margin, not necessarily the lowest possible cost. Relatedly, all of the company’s software development, from operating systems to cloud services, exists to differentiate the hardware, not to make money in their own right, resulting in a virtuous cycle that means it is becoming more difficult to compete with Apple’s hardware products over time.

This cycle of design, differentiation, profit-taking, and reinvestment is seen most clearly in the iPhone. [...] Apple’s cycle of accelerating improvement only matters to the extent that iPhone customers perceive benefit from those improvements. It is easier, though, to perceive and value those benefits the more you use a device, and the more uses a device has; to put it another way, an infinite number of interactions with a slight improvement is even more valuable than a few interactions with a huge improvement. By extension, the mistake made by Apple bears who continually claim the iPhone is “good enough” is to underestimate just how much people use and value their phones.

Asymco:

Much more interesting than this value is the notion that Apple is in business to deliver a product/service mix to loyal customers and to preserve their loyalty through constant improvement and innovation. You can see strategic intent in increasing the attach rate per device of services. You can see a strategic intent in building loyalty and the right customer base which is likely to be loyal. You can see strategic intent in the iteration of the product in a way that extends loyalty and expands the solid base but also increases the $/day rate. This analysis correctly informs almost all decisions the company makes. [...]

The fact that Apple has just launched a subscription service for the iPhone makes what was clearly their strategy all along plain to see however it has been a strategy in effect for decades. It isn’t a difficult idea to embrace. It always surprises me that it’s not more commonly held.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/902947 2015-09-09T10:03:13Z 2015-09-09T10:03:13Z Article: Forget about the mobile internet

Ben Evans:

For as long as the idea of the 'mobile internet' has been around, we've thought of it as a cut-down subset of the 'real' Internet. I'd suggest it's time to invert that - to think about mobile as the real internet and the desktop as the limited, cut-down version. [...]

Our mental model of how and where you used 'mobile' was that it fitted into specific, occasional places and times where you were walking or waiting or needed a single piece of information and didn't have a PC [...]

Mobile is not a subset of the internet anymore, that you use only if you're waiting for a coffee or don't have a PC in front of you - it's becoming the main way that people use the internet. It's not mobile that's limited to a certain set of locations and use cases - it's the PC. [...]

This is why thinking about 'mobile' as another bullet point next to 'SEO' misses the point: mobile becomes the platform, and it's a much richer and more powerful one. What happens when almost everyone on earth has a pocket supercomputer connected to the internet? It's not a subset of the internet - it IS the internet.

Great piece.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/902471 2015-09-08T08:10:05Z 2015-09-08T08:10:05Z Article: Fluid Coupling

Asymco:

A more onerous issue is that companies have procedures for accepting technologies (capital expenditures) which require high degrees of interaction and decision making. In order to step though these procedures, the vendors need to have sales people who need to invest lots of their time and therefore need to be compensated with large commissions. If those commissions are a percent of sale then the total sales price needs to be large enough “to make it worth while to all parties”. As a result, paradoxically, an enterprise technology must be sufficiently slow and expensive to be adopted.

Mobility was disruptive to enterprise because the new computing paradigm was both too fast and too cheap to be implementable.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/902069 2015-09-07T09:46:05Z 2015-09-07T09:46:05Z Article: 4am Panic

Rands:

The 4am Panic is achieved when the work I need to complete exceeds my mental capacity to consider it. Something annoyingly biologically chemical is triggered at 4am where apparently I must uselessly consider all of my current work on my plate for no productive reason at all. Just stare at the ceiling and fret until I fall back to sleep.

You might not have the 4am panic, but you know the state because you’ve probably been there. It’s the state of constant reaction. It’s when you start blocking time off on your calendar just to keep up. You reinvent your productivity system, you write list after list after list, and you sleep poorly.

It’s worth taking some time to think about how you got here, but that’s not the point of this piece. I have simple advice and, well, it involves two more lists.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/892003 2015-08-10T08:26:14Z 2015-08-10T08:26:14Z Article: Give It 5 Minutes

Timeless post:

What did I do? I pushed back at him about the talk he gave. While he was making his points on stage, I was taking an inventory of the things I didn’t agree with. And when presented with an opportunity to speak with him, I quickly pushed back at some of his ideas. I must have seemed like such an asshole.

His response changed my life. It was a simple thing. He said “Man, give it five minutes.” I asked him what he meant by that? He said, it’s fine to disagree, it’s fine to push back, it’s great to have strong opinions and beliefs, but give my ideas some time to set in before you’re sure you want to argue against them. “Five minutes” represented “think”, not react. He was totally right. I came into the discussion looking to prove something, not learn something.

This was a big moment for me.

I see this behavior regularly. You go to someone with an idea you think is great and their immediate answer is "Meh!" or "I've seen it before, it won't work!", which pretty much closes the discussion. Besides the potential opportunity cost of missing that specific idea, this type of behaviour kills creativity instead of empowering team members to think about and suggest new things.

Next time, give it some time - that idea may end up much better than you initially thought.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/889375 2015-08-03T08:52:59Z 2015-08-03T08:55:16Z Article: The Art of Knowing When to Make a Decision

Great article:

The process of making and remaking decisions wastes an insane amount of time at companies. The key takeaway: WHEN a decision is made is much more important than WHAT decision is made.

If, by way of habit, you consistently begin every decision-making process by considering how much time and effort that decision is worth, who needs to have input, and when you’ll have an answer, you’ll have developed the first important muscle for speed.

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Guillaume Lerouge
tag:guillaumelerouge.com,2013:Post/886835 2015-07-27T10:06:41Z 2015-07-27T10:27:33Z Article: What You Can Learn from a Scorpion

Great article:

When I spend time talking with startups about this I usually start with a parable because it’s less heavy than political theory. I often tell the story about the scorpion and the frog. People act how they do because they can – it’s who they are. And the sooner you begin to think about that in your interactions in business (and life) the easier decisions become.

So my simple recommendation for everybody who is new to business and working in a startup (or frankly anybody in business trying to understand people and organizations around you) is to think about the scorpion in each of us.

Why does this person or company exist? What are her motivations? Put yourself in her shoes – what is she trying to achieve at her company? What is the company trying to achieve? How powerful or vulnerable is that company and why do they want to work with me? How will they act if I become extremely successful? How will they act if the market tanks? How will she act when my competitor comes along and offers the same product at 50% cheaper to steal marketshare from me?

We live in a Hobbesian world. Knowing your place in it is a great start. And it will make you a significantly better negotiator and operator.

Go read it!

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Guillaume Lerouge