Browsing Tag


Hibernating an Idea

If you’re a type-A person, you believe that you can do anything.  If you’re innovative and entrepreneurial, and are crazy enough to believe you have the idea and drive to change the world in the form of a company, you might even qualify as insane.  However, there comes a time where you need to shut down an idea, even if you think it is still good, because you can’t make the time or energy to see it through.  That time for me is now.

Earlier this year I wrote a little about a project that I had started on the side, which I called Leaf.  Leaf is a project I’ve had in my mind for several years, and continued to change it and develop it, even banging out a little code, until my wife finally said “if this idea is eating you up, you need to get serious about it or kill it.”  So I did – after thinking about it for a long time, I eventually hooked up with Kevin Koym and his team at TechRanch Austin, a local tech incubator.

TechRanch was running an 8-week crash course at the time called “Employee to Entrepreneur (now called Venture Forth).”  The premise of the class was how do you go from idea to implementation and make the move from being an employee to running your own business.  Each of the dozen or so people in the class had different ideas and were at different stages of development.  The class was eye opening: I was doing it wrong.  We all gravitate towards our comfort zone, and in my case I was trying to scratch an itch myself and write my own code, not following my own advice and being the President of my product (or company, for that matter).  Most startups don’t make it past the idea phase, let alone get funded, and I was falling into that trap.  After the idea phase, most companies fail to focus enough – the second trap I fell into.  I can’t lavish enough praise on the TechRanch team, they know what they are doing and if you’re in the Central Texas area I encourage you to become a rancher – they have lots of free and low-cost options for you to engage with their community.

I invested a good deal of time and money in hatching an alpha version of my idea as an experiment to see if it had legs.  To get out of my own way I even hired an (excellent) prototyper in Ninth Yard to build it for me so I could focus on the product management.  Damon (my developer) would tell you that he probably thought I was crazy because most entrepreneurs don’t come to the first meeting sporting wireframes and database maps.  I did.

We had an intense period of time where we had the idea under development, going through revisions and ultimately unveiling it at ProductCamp Austin.  That created some controversy, but ended up for the best.  The idea had some traction and a couple hundred people got online and tried it out.  I ended up learning a ton and have a list a mile long of what needs to change, both in the product and the positioning.  Unfortunately, that list is as far as those ideas will probably go.

Effective immediately, I’m mothballing Leaf .  I’ve found that with two kids and a new role, I have a time deficit.   Leaf might be something someday…or not, odds are against it.  It’s easy to be envious of the 20-year old zillionaires that had “obvious” ideas and got there first.  However, I’m not envious (OK, maybe a little), because I learned a ton in my failure.  “The Idea” is necessary but not sufficient for success.  That is one of those sayings that seems obvious from the outside but when you’re holding the idea that you think will change The World it rings hollow.  Execution, talent, and quick traction are equally if not more important than your idea – because rarely will your idea end up as you originally envisioned it.

If you tried out Leaf during its brief lifetime, thanks!  Hopefully some day it will return, more tightly focused and helping you do something you need.   Until then, it is in hibernation.

Too Hot for TV! BANNED from ProductCamp!

We recently completed Austin’s fourth ProductCamp about 10 days ago.  I’m always humbled by the PCA planning team and the volunteers that step up to make ProductCamp Austin awesome.  Because of ProductCamp Austin, many other leaders in other cities have been inspired to make a camp happen in their own city, and we’ve helped at least a dozen other camps get off the ground.  Many people have approached me over the last few events to tell me that they consider Austin to be the best ProductCamp they’ve ever participated in.

PCA Spring had about 200 people participate and about 40 sessions offered for 30 available slots.  The voting in the morning went really well, and for the first time, we rolled out a mobile version of the schedule that people could pull up on their iPhones so we could reduce the mob around the schedule wall after the intro session.  The feedback on that app was very positive and it really helped.  Thanks again to Common Sense for developing it!  As usual, we had sessions on every product management and product marketing topic imaginable, from product strategy to social networking to product marketing.  My friend and colleague Josh Duncan won Best Presenter for his topic “Start with the Story.”  I even offered a session about my new venture, Leaf: more on that in a second.

By all accounts, PCA was another big success.  We’re doing the post-camp survey now, but over the past 3 camps we’ve run, over 99% of the respondents say that they would come back to ProductCamp again and that they would recommend ProductCamp to a peer.  Many people also remarked to me and to the planning team that the quality of the sessions was very high at this ProductCamp, relative to past camps.  Big kudos to Tom Evans for heading up the sessions team and recruiting great session leaders.

There has been a lot of drama recently surrounding ProductCamp.  I generated some controversy with my session “Leaf is Launching.”  Leaf is a social productivity tool that I am creating on my own, outside of my day job.  In the weeks before ProductCamp, I hired a developer to create a prototype and get it to a beta state so that I could launch it at ProductCamp.  My hope was to spend the first half of the session explaining the app, what problem it solved, and why I was doing it, and offer it (free) for use by a potential target audience.  Then to spend the second half discussing potential marketing avenues and strategies on a tight budget, to “crowdsource” the marketing.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it came across, and the fault is completely mine.  About 10 minutes in, one lady raised her hand and said that she felt like she was being “pitched” to, a strict no-no at ProductCamp.  I stumbled through the rest and ended up with a session that didn’t meet my expectations for excellence and I’m sure didn’t meet the desires of the people who came and participated.  For that I’m sorry.  I talked with a lot of people after the fact, trying to gauge how people perceived the session: was it a collaborative discussion, or was it a pitch?  The general themes of the people that I talked to were:

  • It was only half-a-pitch but if you had positioned it differently it would have been a non-issue
  • Yes it was a pitch but I like you personally so I didn’t take offense
  • Yes it was a pitch but I like the idea of that type of session and would like to see more in the future

As my old boss used to tell me, in Marketing, perception is reality.  So, it was a pitch, and that means that I broke the rules of presenting at ProductCamp.  Being a session leader at PCA is a privilege.  At the last PCA, we had around thirty session slots and almost sixty sessions offered!  That means that half of the people who prepared content went home without the opportunity to present.  It’s not good enough that I’ve built up enough goodwill that people might be willing to give me a pass.  Because I’m the founder of PCA, it’s even more important that I avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  If I can get away with pitching my own venture, how can I lead a team with a straight face to tell other presenters that they’re not allowed to do the same?

For all these reasons, I am banning myself for 1 year from offering a session at any ProductCamp Austin event (PCA, ProductPotluck, ProductParty).  I think that’s fair and is what I’d suggest for someone else that offered a pitch and was contrite and promised not to do it again.  If you don’t think that’s severe enough, feel free to leave your comment below.  This is painful; if you know me you’ll know that I’ve presented at each of the last four PCAs and that I love doing it.  I’ll continue to do the welcoming, but won’t be doing new sessions until Spring 2011.

In happier news, tonight we had our post-PCA wrapup, which is also our planning kickoff for PCA Fall 2010.  PCA Fall will be held on Aug 7th, 2010 at the AT&T Center.  We’re throwing down the gauntlet to Silicon Valley, and are going to claim the title of largest ProductCamp in the world!  It will be a tall order for little Austin to attract 550+ participants, but I believe we can do it!  Dallas, Houston, San Antonio – we need your help!

The PCA planning team is an amazing group.  We have had a consistent core team of about 10 people for the last year that have built up a great amount of institutional knowledge about what it takes to put on a ProductCamp event.  As a result of the excitement that PCA Spring just created, we about doubled the size of the planning team with interested new members.  If you’d like to join up, we’re happy to have you, just hop on the GoogleGroup and introduce yourself.  We will have in-person planning get-togethers roughly monthly.  I am really looking forward to seeing you contribute and influence the shape of ProductCamp Austin to come.


I meant to update this post a long time ago.  After talking with many of the people involved, I revised my self-imposed ban from “1 year” to “1 ProductCamp Austin.”  The net difference is about a month and a half in calander time.  If I had kept it at one year, I would have missed two PCA’s and the calander time missed would have been more like 18 months at least.  I believe that missing the opportunity to present at PCA Fall 2010, which was one of the largest ProductCamps in history anywhere, served the purpose and point that I was trying to make with my self-imposed exile: that no one is bigger than ProductCamp, even the founder/president.  Especially the founder/president.

ProductCamp remains stubbornly a “no-pitch” zone, and will remain so.  If you have a session like mine, which you believe may toe the edge of acceptability, I recommend strongly that you consult with the Sessions lead for your ProductCamp.  In Austin, that person is Tom Evans, and you can reach him at  Thanks!

ProductCamp Austin Spring 2010

ProductCamp Austin is back again! If you are or can get to Austin on March 27, 2010, we would love for you to join us at the AT&T Conference Center for Austin’s 4th ProductCamp. Keep reading for why this one will be our best yet…

First, the AT&T Conference Center are some amazing digs. This is probably the nicest place to ever host an unconference…probably too nice. The juxtaposition of our Winter 2009 camp (held in a trio of 40 year old TV studios) and this one will be interesting to watch. Also, the attached AT&T hotel is pitching in and donating a free weekend night’s stay to some lucky participant, by random draw.

Once again, our sponsors have stepped up to make things interesting. 280Group is busting onto the Austin scene in a big way in conjunction with PCA planning team member Tom Evans and his business Lûcrum Marketing. Pragmatic Marketing and ZigZag Marketing will be there, as always. Planview is a first time sponsor and will be bringing their newest product aimed at Product Managers, and even give away a copy, plus discount codes for everyone else!

The sessions and networking are the main reason that people keep coming back. Over three ProductCamps, we’ve achieved over 98% of participants answering “yes” to the questions “would you come back to ProductCamp” and “would you recommend ProductCamp to a peer?” This high customer satisfaction is why our local community loves to come out – in droves. Last time, we had over 500 sign up and over 300 participate. This time we are limited by our venue and won’t be able to hold more than 300 or so, so register today and reserve your space. It’s free of course.

Sessions are being actively submitted, and if you’re on the fence, just do it. Presenting at ProductCamp is a fun experience. These are “your people” and it is a great opportunity to practice your presentation and facilitation skills in front of friends in a collaborative, low pressure environment. Everyone is rooting for you. Session types include traditional presentations, round tables, panel discussions, workshops, and more. There are plenty of fun ways to contribute, and if you need ideas, please reach out.

We encourage participation for everyone as their “ticket to entry” to ProductCamp. If running a session isn’t your thing, let us know. There are lots of way to participate, such as being a volunteer. We always need people to take a bigger, more active roll in the advance planning, so join our planning team and raise your hand when called.

Finally, we will have a ProductCamp first – I am going to launch my new venture and product, Leaf. It is a social productivity tool that I’ll expand on in a separate post, and will open for a private beta in my session at ProductCamp. This session will be fun and collaborative, and everyone who comes will get a beta login. I can’t wait to meet you there.

Join us on March 27 and help us keep the ProductCamp community in Austin vibrant! Find me to say hi, I’ll be in the green shirt with a leaf on it.

Also check out:

ProductCamp Austin Twitter

ProductParty Austin

By now, many of you have been to ProductCamps in or around your city.  The ProductCamp brand has exploded – there have now been ProductCamps in well over a dozen U.S. cities, at least 3 countries, and 2 continents!  ProductCamp is an exciting, fun event that everyone should participate in, at least once.  As great as ProductCamp is, we have found some needs in the market that ProductCamp can’t meet effectively.

ProductCamp is a fairly large endeavour.  Participants give up a Saturday to learn from each other, to teach, and to network.  It’s a big investment.  We’ve settled on a twice per year schedule for ProductCamp Austin, and that seems to fit our community.  Austin is unique in that unlike the Bay Area, we do not have a strong Product Management and Marketing group to facilitate other face to face meetings.  ProductCamp is filling that need.

The first way is with ProductPotluck, which we introduced a little over a month ago.  ProductPotluck is a mini version of ProductCamp.  It is held on an evening, has only one session slot with two sessions to choose from, and is paired with a happy hour for networking.  It’s a low time commitment way to get the community together.

The second way we’re filling the need is with ProductParty.  ProductParty is a networking and fun event from the ProductCamp planning team, just focused on networking.  We’re going to get together at the AT&T center and have a few drinks, and some fun activities that will make you laugh, prime your creative juices, and help us get to know each other.  Get ready…for the Product Manager SMACKDOWN.

For the Product Manager Smackdown, we will get four teams of product managers and present them with a “mystery product.”  The PM’s will have 10 minutes to evaluate this “product” and then 5 minutes to deliver their best product pitch to the judges.  It will be funny, creative, and irreverent.

ProductParty will be held on Wed Dec 2, 2009 from 6-9PM, at Gabriel’s Bar at the AT&T Center next to the UT campus.

We hope that we’ll see you tomorrow night!  For all of the details, hit the ProductParty Austin page.

ProductCamp Wrap-up, and Introducing ProductPotluck!

Another ProductCamp Austin has come and gone – Austin’s third.  If you haven’t participated in, or planned a ProductCamp in your city, there really are no excuses left.  ProductCamp has proven itself to be the ultimate grassroots gathering for Product Management, Product Marketing, and Marketing pros anywhere.  Austin’s third edition had a some valuable highlights:

  • Participation continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  The first PCA, we had 90 show up.  The second, 160.  The third – over 300!  In just over a year, we’ve experienced over 300%+ growth.  Many businesses would be envious of that kind of growth.
  • We’ve managed to maintain the spirit and character of the event as we grow it.  We do a post-camp survey after each event, and for the third consecutive time, our “customer sat” metrics were off the charts great.  98% of our participants would recommend ProductCamp to a peer.  For the third PCA in a row, we scored a perfect 100% on the question “Would you come to ProductCamp again?”  That is a testament to the team we’ve grown around this event.
  • Sponsorship is increasing.  We run ProductCamp on a shoestring budget – less than $10,000 not included donations such as venue.  In the beginning, we had a big sales job to get national level sponsors like AIPMM and Pragmatic Marketing interested.  Now, all of the major national product management sponsors are involved: Pragmatic, ZigZag, and Sequent Learning.  Local companies such as SolarWinds and AustinVentures are also taking notice.  SolarWinds used ProductCamp as a recruiting tool – it makes sense, since only the most motivated, passionate people are going to give up a Saturday to geek on on Product Management topics with their peers.
  • We’ve (re)validated Austin’s corner of the world.  Austin’s tech community has always perplexed me.  There are so many of us here, and we are so disconnected.  Austin doesn’t have the pulse that Silicon Valley has, and we definitely don’t have the density.  We do have passion and strong leaders in spades.  This third PCA proved that we can drive huge turnout here, and outside of the Valley can claim to put on the biggest ‘Camp.
  • ProductCamp is spawning leaders and building a critical mass.  We’ve built a great core team: people like Colleen Heubaum, Mark Suchanek, Bertrand Hazard, John Peltier, John Milburn, Roger Cauvin, and Scott Sehlhorst (and many others) have all contributed to the planning and execution of multiple ProductCamps.  This team makes me believe that we have established momentum.  It will be exciting to see the next generation of leaders step up, and the established team can work with them and mentor them to keep ProductCamp fresh and exciting.

Gaining critical mass has been a huge undertaking for ProductCamp Austin.  Setting up and tearing down the leadership for each event, twice per year, is a massive undertaking in manpower and logistics.  One consitent piece of feedback that we’ve heard from the ProductCamp participants is that they would like to continue the ProductCamp experience between the semi-annual ‘Camps.  In Austin, we don’t have a strong central Product Management and Marketing networking group like in other areas of the country.  That does not mean that we have to settle!

To fill the gaps between ProductCamps, the team that brought you ProductCamp Austin is introducing a new flavor of the ProductCamp experience: ProductPotluck Austin.  ProductPotluck is a mini-version of ProductCamp: instead of an all day event, it will be a happy hour plus a one hour session.  Instead of many topic areas and dozens of potential presentations, ProductPotluck will have 2 topic areas of focus, and a handful of potential presentations (or roundtables, panel discussions, or workshops).  Just like ProductCamp, ProductPotluck is by and for the participants – we will still have participants voting on which sessions make “the cut,” and the majority of sessions will be offered by the participants themselves (we’re leaving a little wiggle room to bring in distinguished guests, too).  We’ll cap the whole thing off by providing more time for drinking and networking, which is always popular.  As always, ProductPotluck is FREE; your only cost is your participation.

Austin’s first ProductPotluck will be October 21st, at the AT&T Conference Center near the University of Texas campus.

Happy Hour will be in Gabriel’s Cafe, which is located in the lower lobby (Level LL), to the north inside the University Avenue entrance.

ProductPotluck Sessions will be held in Classrooms 101 and 103.

Parking is available in the AT&T Center underground parking lot.  Pay for parking in Gabriel’s Café during Happy Hour and receive the $7 discounted rate.

1900 University Avenue
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 404-1900


5:30-6:30pm  Sign-in, Networking Happy Hour, Final Sessions Voting – Gabriel’s Café

6:45-8:00pm Marketing and Product Strategy Presentations – Classrooms 101 & 103

8:00pm -?? Networking Happy Hour – Gabriel’s Café

The two topics we will focus on this month are: Marketing and Product Strategy.

In true ProductCamp spirit, the participants determine which sessions are ultimately presented. Here’s how it will work: five Sessions have been submitted for voting consideration.  See the PPA wiki for detailed descriptions of each Session.


  • Applying buyer personas to marketing strategy – Mike Boudreaux
  • Top 10 Ways to Use Facebook to Promote your Business – Christopher Sherrod
  • Error 404: The Panel You Are Looking For Does Not Exist – Jonathan Gesinger, Alex Jones, Amanda McGuckin Hager, Jason Sugawa

Product Strategy

  • Help! I work for an engineer who knows nothing about Product Strategy – Jeffrey Eversmann
  • From customer centric design to customer centric marketing to customer centric companies (Enterprise 2.5?) – Andreas Voss

At the PPA October 21 meeting, the five sessions will “face off” during the 5:30-6:30pm networking Happy Hour in Gabriel’s Café.  Each participant will be given one vote to place on the session of their choice.  The top session in each category will be announced and will run in parallel in Classrooms 101 and 103.

To get all of the details, please go to the ProductPotluck wiki.  We’re looking forward to seeing you on the 21st!

ProductCamp Austin Summer 2009

ProductCamp Austin Summer 2009

ProductCamp, the free unconference for marketing and product management, is teaming with the McCombs School of Business to return to Austin for its Summer edition!  ProductCamp is a must-go event for marketing and product management professionals.  ProductCamp is a free, collaborative,  gathering for interesting, smart people to network and learn from one another.  ProductCamps have been held in Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston, New York City, Toronto, Atlanta, with more in the planning stages.  This is Austin’s third ProductCamp, and will be one of the largest in the country.  If you are in Austin, or can get here, ProductCamp will be well worth your time.

ProductCamp Overview

If you’ve never been to a ProductCamp before, you’ll need to wrap your brain around a few new concepts.  First, ProductCamp is an unconference, meaning that everyone participates in some way.  For some people, that means offering a traditional lecture style 1-hour session on a relevant topic.  For others, it might mean being on a discussion panel, facilitating a roundtable, participating in a workshop, helping with planning, volunteering for venue setup, doing marketing activities, or managing the budget.  At ProductCamp, there are no attendees, only participants. Second, there is no direct monetary cost for ProductCamp to the participants.  The only cost is your investment in time and effort.  Third, the trappings of a traditional conference are gone.  There is no keynote speech, no thinly veiled sales pitches, and very little B.S.  As a peer-to-peer event, ProductCampers bring their very best stuff – and we keep each other on our toes.  ProductCamp is sponsored by corporations who enjoy supporting the marketing and product management communities, and often offer sessions of their own.

How ProductCamp Works

The first thing you do is register.  You’ll fill out a form asking you how you want to participate and what topic areas are the most interesting to you.  Next, check out the ProductCamp Austin website, and list of sessions offered by people like you.  Based on what you marked, you’ll be contacted by one of the ProductCamp Austin planning team leads to get your help.  For people interested in Marketing, you’ll post about ProductCamp Austin to your blog, or retweet @PCAustin‘s tweets.  You’ll receive several emails over the next few weeks from the PCA Planning Team, and on the day of, you’ll stumble out of bed early on a Saturday to come to the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas for your first ProductCamp experience.

When you walk up for registration, you’ll receive a badge, some goodies, and three small stickers.  A volunteer will take you to a wall where all of the sessions being offered by your peers are listed; there may be dozens of them.  You’ll be asked to “vote” by placing your three stickers under the three sessions that interest you the most.  This helps the PCA Planning Team understand the interests of the group and assemble the schedule.  When you’re done, you can grab a coffee and head into the auditorium for the Intro session.

In the intro, I will explain to you what ProductCamp is all about, and we’ll play some icebreakers to set the tone for the day.  Soon, the schedule will be done and posted on the website and on the walls, and you’ll go to sessions throughout the day, stopping just to grab one of the box lunches we provide.

At 3PM, everyone gets back together for a quick closing session.  Then we head to the bar to burn through any extra budget we might have!

During the day, expect to network with a ton of people.  You’ll meet product managers, product marketers, social media experts, marketing greybeards, executives, startup junkies, big company people, developers, agile experts, finance and ops people, and everyone in between.  You may leave with a stack of business cards, and should bring a stack of your own to give away!

ProductCamp Austin Details

When: Saturday, August 15, 2009

Where: The University Teaching Center (UTC) at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin (map)

Who: Anyone willing to participate!

How: Register Now! (space is limited)

Cost: FREE!

To learn more: ProductCamp Austin, Follow ProductCamp Austin on Twitter, ProductCamp Austin on Facebook

We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

ProductCamp Austin Winter 2009

I’m proud to announce that we are bringing ProductCamp back to Austin for an encore!  The first ProductCamp Austin had amazing participation from the Austin and Central Texas area, with over 130 people signing up and about 90 participate back in June.  ProductCamp Austin Winter will have more people, more sessions, and be better in every way – if are are in Product Management, Marketing, or Product Development and can get to Austin on Jan 24th, this is the event you want to participate in – and it is free.

What is ProductCamp?

ProductCamp is an unconference.  An unconference takes the old, stogy idea of a conference and turns it on its side.  Instead of corporations paying for boring keynote speakers talking and waving their hands, you have the participants in the conference leading all discussion sessions.  ProductCamp is a meritocracy, or perhaps a participatocracy – anyone can lead a session on any topic relevant to product management or marketing.

At the first ProductCamp, we had sessions ranging from career advancement for product managers, to intellectual property discussions, to working with Agile development organizations, to working effectively with Sales and Executives, to user interface design.  ProductCamp attracts a broad and diverse crowd of smart people who “get it,” so the networking is really good and the discussions are rich and rewarding.

Describe the ProductCamp Experience…

It’s Saturday January 24, 2009 and you wake up way to early for a weekend and head down to the UT campus.  You park and walk up to the College of Communications and follow the signs to ProductCamp.  As you ride the elevator up to the 4th floor, there are three other people with you looking confused.  “Are you here for ProductCamp?” “Yeah, this should be interesting…”

You exit the elevator and see a registration table with people milling around it.  As you make your way to the front, you recognize a few familiar faces from other companies.  You give your name to the PCA volunteer at the table and he hands you a badge and a goodie bag with a PCA shirt in your size.  You make a beeline to the coffee.

As you get your coffee, you notice that ProductCamp has attracted all types – managers, developers and engineers, academics, startup junkies, and everything in between – and these people are talking to one another.  Someone is rambling about their startup, and other person is educating a small group about Twitter: “ProductCamp has its own Twitter ID, here’s how you follow it…”

After chatting for a few more minutes, a PCA volunteer calls everyone into one of the rooms.  The studios at UT are huge, with 40 foot ceilings and have seen much use and abuse over the years.  As you walk in, a volunteer hands you three post-it notes and you wonder “why just three?”  The room has a projector showing a “Welcome to ProductCamp” slide.  Someone gets up and introduces themself as a ProductCamp planner and thanks the sponsor for breakfast.  Next, someone gets up and gives a short minute intro on the open grid scheduling process.  You listen as you’re told to put vote with your sticky notes under the three sessions you’d most like to attend, which are listed on the back wall.

You head to the back wall and read the session names, offered by people just like you.  You recognize a friend-of-a-friend’s name who is giving a session about “Connecting with Customers.”  That sounds good – you use one post-it note.  You see another session about “Agile Product Management.”  Your engineering team is moving to Agile so that might be a good session to attend, and use your second note.  As you step back to consider your third note, you see a dozen other people doing the same thing, and people feel geniuely torn about what to vote for – there are so many good sessions to choose from!  Finally, you put your last sticky on a session called “Career Building in Product Management and Marketing.”

You walk back to your seat and see the PCA volunteers start to rapidly count the votes.  Someone gets up and explains that they are determing which sessions are most in-demand so that they don’t overlap on the schedule.  While the volunteers assemble the schedule, a ProductCamp planner gets up to talk about what ProductCamp is and why everyone is here.  He says things like “ProductCamp is for starting conversations, not finishing them – it’s OK if these discussions spill out onto email, blogs, forums, twitter, or facebook.” “Learn from each other’s collective experiences, but challenge each other – speak up if you hear something that you agree or disagree with.”  You think “wow, this is definitely not a normal conference.”

The planners announce that the schedule has been set, and the crowd huddles around the posted schedule to see which sessoins they are going to attend.  You notice that your favorite sessions are at 10-11, 1-2, and 2-3, and you fill your schedule with other sessions you think sound interesting, including a roundtable discussion.  You refill your coffee and head to the first session in Studio 4E…

As you walk in, you see 20 other people looking at each other and wondering how this is going to work.  The session leader is welcoming everyone and making introductions, and you see her slide projected with the session title “Roundtable: Working with Sales.”  The session leader gives a quick facilitation of 1-2 slides and kicks off the discussion by talking about a recent scenario where she introduced a new product to Sales and was immediately met with hostility from the Sales team.  The questions fly quickly “was the pricing right?” “how is your relationship with them normally?” “How did you explain the value of the product?” “Does that product solve a customer problem?” “Did you just repackage one of your existing solutions?” “Is sales compensated correctly on your product?”  The Q&A continues and the facilitator guides the discussion into new areas: how to be effective with your sales leadership, how to get sales buy-in for new product launches, how to end-of-life a product with sales, and so on.  Through the discussion you furiously type notes out on your laptop as you try to capture some of the great ideas that the team is generating.

The hour-long session feels like it is over as soon as it begins.  You wish it could continue, but you only have a few minutes to get to your next session.  You quickly introduce yourself to the facilitator and a few other people you were impressed with and exchange business cards.  You notice that they have their Twitter ID’s on their badges and quickly follow them on Twitter.

You go through two more sessions before lunch and meet several impressive people.  You think “I need to keep these people on file because they might be good if I’m hiring or looking for a job.”  You grab a plate of catered lunch and sit down with some of your new friends and talk about the sessions they attended so you can get the scoop on what you missed.

After lunch, you hit 4 more sessions.  By the end of the day, you are spent, physically and mentally.  As everyone filters out, people are already talking about the next ProductCamp and what sessions they plan to offer, and you think that maybe this isn’t so hard, and you’ll offer a session next time, too!  A group breaks off to do an official ProductCamp happy hour, and you join in few a few drinks.  The week after ProductCamp, you email some of your new connections to grab lunch – it’s great to keep the network fresh.

I hope that this gives you a taste of what to expect at ProductCamp.  After running one, I was very excited to lead another, and have high hopes for ProductCamp Austin Winter 2009.  I look forward to meeting you at ProductCamp!

Go Register for ProductCamp!

ProductCamp Wrap-Up

ProductCamp AustinProductCamp was this past Saturday, June 14th, and I’m happy to call it a complete success. In almost every way, it exceeded our goals for participation (130+ signed up, 80-90 showed up), sessions (over 20 presentations and roundtables), sponsors (11 great sponsors), volunteers, and feedback. Nearly everyone I talked to was extremely positive about the event, and was looking forward to the next PCA. The consensus of the group was that they would like to do ProductCamp twice yearly, so we’re going to do just that.

If you missed ProductCamp, first I’m sorry because you really missed out on a great day of teaching, learning, and networking. Second, we’ve capture many of the presentations and session notes on the ProductCamp page for you to review. Here are some highlights:

  • Charlie Ray won Best Overall Session for his presentation on “Navigating the Poltical Minefields of Product Management.” It was a really raucous and entertaining session, some choice quotes included:
    • “Product Management is the most visible position in the company. People see you hanging out with the CEO and glad handing the VP of Marketing, and they want you to fail!”
    • “You should be aware of which people are setting you up to fail so you can get them first. Always listen, and never give information, only take it.”
    • “The hardest thing I do in my job is fake sincerity and pretend like I’m interested in going to your meetings.”
  • John Milburn of Pragmatic Marketing and I hosted a standing-room only session on Startup Product Management, based on the webinar we did several weeks ago (based on the article we wrote for the Pragmatic Marketer). This fostered a really good discussion of the differences between PM in a BigCo and Startups. My favorite quote from the audience:
    • “Startups in the Valley are hipster-based. Startups in Austin are geek-based.” The commenter was making a point in reaction to John saying that if you asked VC’s they would say that the startups in Austin are less focused and driven than in the Valley.
  • Ben Phenix gave a User Experience session that people raved about on Twitter. Twitter was the surprise hit of the day to me – everyone was using it, and you could monitor the tweets as a backchannel discussion to gauge how the day was going. We set up a PCA twitter account that everyone could reply to.
  • Tal Boyd of Seilevel and Paul Sizemore went around a took lots of pictures, which are now on Flikr.
  • Graham Joyce of Pragmatic Marketing handed out their upcoming book entitled “Tuned In” (which I am almost done reading…topic of an upcoming post) during lunch to the person that had been in Product Management the longest (28 years, sorry Don), the shortest (1 week), and who traveled the furthest to get to PCA: Plano – we actually had several Dallas people make the trip, which was great.

I had lots of interest from PCA participants to help plan the next ProductCamp. If you’re interested in planning, please join the Google Group PCA-Planning. If you’re interested in participating in a future PCA and would like to be kept up-to-date, please join the general ProductCamp Austin Google Group.

My favorite memento was I had the PCA participants who lasted until the evening all sign one of the ProductCamp Austin sponsor boards that we had made. That will live in my office as a memory of a great day, and more great days to come.

Some final notes, in the post-PCA survey we sent out, we asked “Would you recommend ProductCamp to your peers?” 100% said yes (n=26). That says enough for me!

Thanks to everyone who made ProductCamp Austin a reality, and let’s get started on the next one!

ProductCamp is Today!

I am writing this from the “Dealing with Sales” discussion session at ProductCamp. It’s been an exciting day; lots of good sessions and very smart people. I will be updating the PCA wiki with all the session presentations and notes over the next few days. If you’re not here – you’re missing out!

Seilevel Sponsors ProductCamp

Seilevel ProductCamp Austin has hooked another sponsor – Seilevel. Seilevel helps companies write better software requirements. From their website:

Seilevel is a professional services company that creates software requirements documents for Fortune 1000 companies. Leading companies turn to us to identify and delineate their needs because of a proven approach to software requirements that saves you development dollars and maximizes resources. Seilevel gets the requirements right, so our clients get their software right.

We’re thankful to have Seilevel onboard for what will be a great Product Management and Marketing event. In addition, Seilevel is going to propose a session on requirements, and send a representative to take pictures during the event – we’ll post them on Flikr afterwards.