Tab Purge, February 9

(Previous tab purge posts:  January 13, January 5)

This is what was lingering in my browser tabs last week:


Explaining eBay’s Turnaround. This isn’t really a comprehensive description of eBay’s turnaround, but it does share a fascinating story of how one enterprising eBay employee used unconventional methods to accelerate innovation. Great illustration of why quick wins are so important, and some inspiration on how to engineer one.

Org Design

Unlocking the Power of Stable Teams with Twitter’s SVP of Engineering. The First Round Review has become one of my favorite sources for insightful writing. This piece talks about building stable teams based on principles discovered by the Roman army: strong, small (~8 people) teams that are modular, close and share output often. If you’re familiar with how Spotify has approached scaling their product organization, you’ll recognize a lot of this.

This feels familiar to a lot of how we think about hiring and staffing at Undercurrent, although we’re much smaller (~25) and not explicit at this level of detail about our own principles of team work.

A few favorite quotes:

In the U.S., we have this cult of the individual, but I encourage leaders to think about the value of strong units. As a manager, your focus should really be creating these high-performing squads of people who have good chemistry, who can get things done. Then you figure out how to apply them to problems.


A big part of building long-lasting teams is protecting your people. Too often, Fry says he sees startups failing to treat their employees as well as their hardware. “Would you run your data center at 100% utilization all the time? No. Not even 80 or 90%. But some companies expect this level of performance from their people.” This is a one-way street to burnout and attrition, and the losses that come with them.


Product Management

So Long Scrum, Hello Kanban. How a company called Stormpath made the shift from the former to the latter. I love this case study, the way it compares and contrasts the two approaches is great for building understanding about the strengths and limitations of each one. I know I’ll be reading and re-reading this article many times.

I first learned about Kanban 2 years ago. Its underlying principle of creating a self-regulating system is fascinating, smart, and just feels natural. There’s no time estimation. You optimize for focus by design, by minimizing context switching and multi-tasking. I don’t have as much familiarity with either Scrum or Kanban as I’d like to, simply because I’ve never used more than one or a couple of ideas from each (and never in the context of building product), but I look forward to the day I’ll get a chance to learn either more completely.


Cactus for Mac. Workflow management for hand coding websites.

etCML. Very simply explained, this is a WYSIWYG for data analysis. This team’s mission is exciting: “To API-ify the web.”


What are some particularly female engineer-friendly companies to work for in San Francisco? Interesting insight into Square’s culture. I have a lot of admiration for both the product and the company these folks are building.


Writing is Thinking. Helpful advice for non-habitual writers who want to write more often.

Kimono. A bookmarklet for scraping data.

Stock Photos that Don’t Suck. A handy list of places to find good stock photos.

The Weekly Tab Purge: January 13

(First time? See the first Tab Purge)

Judging from these tabs, this was an introspective week heavy on thinking and lower on doing than I would’ve liked.


The Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators. If you can get over the buzzwordy-ness of the title, the list of the 5 is actually interesting, while not surprising. It aligns neatly with but is leaner than what I count as the key skills of a great strategist (I do however include skills necessary for a consulting strategist or someone who leads a team, such as consensus-building and clear communication).

Undercurrent Curriculum. A list of recommended resources for the ever-improving strategist, from the Undercurrent team.


A Manager’s Manifesto. This is what I aspire to as a team lead and mentor. File this under “I wish I’d written that”.

How To Make OKRs Actually Work at Your Startup. I’m currently working on my development plan for the year, and am writing my objectives as OKRs. What I like about this system is that it forces you to be very deliberate and honest with yourself. This article takes a very human view on something that was born inside of a huge corporation in order to manage people at scale (perhaps I’m being unfair and too cynical here). This view comes from Angus Davis, CEO at Swipely. He shares some great advice and examples of how to write good OKRs. My favorite take-away from this is the point that the success of your applying something like this that has been made famous or successful in another environment first all lies in your execution; you’ve got to tweak the tool for your own problem.


Using Language to Shape a Creative Culture. About the power of a quite simple phrase: “How Might We”. Language is important.

Build a Quick and Nimble Culture. New  York Times writer Adam Bryant has interviewed hundreds of CEOs, the results of which he’s publishing in his second book. Sounds like a worthwhile read.

A few great nuggets from this interview:

Culture is such an amorphous concept — if you and I stood at a whiteboard and tried to list elements of our companies’ cultures, we could come up with 100 things and they might all be true. A lot of managers just let culture happen — it becomes the sum of the personalities, good and bad, that work in an organization. While writing this book, I became convinced that culture really does drive everything. Managers do focus on results, but I think culture drives results. That’s the important equation.

In thinking about how CEOs communicate, I’ve become a big believer in the power of the number three. I’ve come to admire the CEOs who can come up with three or fewer metrics for how they measure company performance. When I’m interviewing a CEO and ask about their values, if the CEO says the company has 7 or 8, I privately make a bet with myself that he won’t be able to remember them all. Very often, he can’t. If the CEO can’t remember the company values, how will anyone else? So keep things simple, and keep repeating it.


How We Got Our First 2,000 Users Doing Things That Don’t Scale. Another piece from Ryan Hoover. I love these types of case studies, and I really like how this one is structured chronologically with so much detail that it reads like a blue print. Good reminder that you can always go smaller with your MVP! Product Hunt by the way is really interesting. If you haven’t already, the email is worth signing up for.

Mailbox’s Gentry Underwood: What Hackers Should Know About Design Thinking. I’m fascinated by combinations of different schools of thinking. I know I’ll keep returning to this article.

The closest thing to “design thinking” in startups is the concept of a “lean startup” and the related concept of pivoting–searching for an MVP in this kind of iterative way. But it’s not quite the same as Human Centric Design. Let’s start with the commonalities. This concept of staying lean and cycling quickly to try and find an MVP looks a lot like the Human Centered Design process of iterating fastidiously with a goal of failing early and often to succeed faster, and increasing the resolution of your prototype as you go forward. In that sense, they look very similar. In a Human Centered Design process, you’re prototyping like crazy. You’re cycling as fast as possible to get feedback on your prototypes. At some point, you go from a small test set which might be your other designers or people in your office to you begin to test them in the field and in that sense, you’re doing the same thing as an MVP. The processes seem quite similar.

Why Most Startups Fail at Acquiring New Customers and How You Can Succeed +
Rational Growth (PDF). Two good pieces on user acquisition, the first one in particular is very meaty and goes into the business rationale of user acquisition tactics. This will be my go to resource if I ever get to do any direct user acquisition work.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Building with Data. Hard-earned learnings from Facebook’s Product design director, Julie Zhou.

Product Strategy Means Saying No. An old favorite that re-emerged last week. Strategy is about making choices.

OPSM Eye Check. This app looks cool. Sadly it looks like it’s only available to people in New Zealand.

Unicorns, Mental Athletes, and Caged Animals (With Superpowers): A Core77 Exclusive Interview With The Design Team Behind Google X.

All of the X-ers […] are convinced that their strength as a design group rests largely on the breadth of expertise they have on hand. Since X projects span a huge range of arenas, and since they typical involve doing things that have never been done before, it’s crucial that X employs a variety of experts—and that each member is comfortable rapidly acquiring new skills. “It’s the whole ‘mental athlete’ thing,” Smith says. “You’ve got to be able to move quickly, acquire knowledge quickly, and immediately apply it.” Prada adds that “the key part of it is a depth at the thing you’re good at. You are one of the world’s best at this. And then you have the ability to say, ‘I’m also conversant in all these other things; I could do them if I was pressed; I know how to reach out to the people who are the best at this; and my T will complement your T.'” (The last comment is a reference to T-shaped persons, a metaphor that IDEO has also used to describe its approach to recruiting talent.)


Tech Trends 2014. A list of tech predictions from frog design. I really like the format they’ve presented this in, in particular the voting mechanism. Looks like it works like a charm, too.

Timoni. Timoni West has a pretty online home.

Programming/web tech

The Gentrification of Reddit in a Few Great Graphs. I love this for two reasons: 1) I wish I’d made it 2) Reddit is my default online destination.

In accordance with the theory of stock and flow content, this is no surprise:

These days, Olson points out, four of the five top subreddits are dedicated to sharing images. “From this brief survey, it becomes abundantly clear that the primary content of reddit nowadays is pictures and videos,” he writes on the project page. “This trend makes sense, too: Pictures are easy content to produce and take only a few seconds to look at, enjoy, and upvote.”

Makes me wonder if the secret to building community at scale is to find places for both stock (think: r/programming or r/keto) and flow (think: r/funny or r/pics) to flourish. A “something for everyone” strategy of sorts.

Is this a clue for online code-breaking scavenger hunt Cicada 3301? How freaking cool is this???


Rubber Duck Debugging. Explaining your work out loud to a rubber duck can be the best debugging (or thinking!) tool. (Thanks to Johanna for sending this my way)

Spree Commerce. A friend told me about this and swore it to be the next big thing in ecommerce. (Agree? Work with Spree? Ping me! I want to hear a first-hand experience of working with it)

Competitiveness And Overconfidence Help Explain Why Men Earn More Than Women. Interesting summary of a Columbia research paper.

“Our results also suggest that the gender gap in earnings expectations are partly driven by overly competitive individuals,” the authors write, “who are disproportionally men, who presumably seek occupations with tournament-based pay, whilst individuals who are averse to competition, who are disproportionally women, shy away from such higher-paying jobs.”

So competitive individuals, who are disproportionally men, seek out highly competitive professions which are linked to higher wages and reward structures that encourage aggression and confidence. I’d be curious to know what the gender gap looks like in these industries, whether it’s persistent or lower when we remove affinity to competitiveness from the equation.


Blast from the past: A collection of old blog posts

A bunch of old stuff, published a while back in other places: