Product management books that every entrepreneur should read

In the last four months since OfficeDrop’s tech and team was acquired, I have been catching up on a backlog of books that I bought but never had the time to read. Here are two books on product management I really like and strongly recommend that every entrepreneur and startup employee read:


Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan

inspiredlgIf there is one book you want to read on product management, this is the book. This book is not just for product managers but anybody who works with product managers that includes those from marketing, sales, engineering, project management and customer service.

It is an easy read, 200 pages long, one that you could plough through while taking a walk (I read it while walking Copper, our one and only dog) or while commuting to work.

In the first section, Marty talks about the importance of product management in this new world where 100s of new companies are launched every week and many of them fail. He discusses the roles and responsibilities of a good product manager, how they interact with non-product management team members and why great user interfaces play a critical role in product success.

In the second section, he discusses the process, activities and best practices to build great products – everything from product discovery to building a new minimal and marketable product. He finishes the section by presenting techniques to validate and test the product.

In the last section, he discusses what it takes to creating inspiring products by drawing upon experiences and best practices employed by companies such as Apple.

Agile Product Management with Scrum by Roman Pichler

Pichler_MECH.qxdIf Marty’s book is about what good product management is, Roman’s book is about how to practice it in real life. If you are an agile product manager or running agile product teams, this book is a must read.

I liked the second chapter of the book where he talks about the techniques one could employ in developing what the next product or the next version of the product should be. One technique that stands out is the Kano model. In the Kano model, you prioritize your backlog items by classifying them as either basics, performance or delighters.  I really like the idea of having one or more delighters in each product release, as it makes for a great story and excite bloggers and mainstream media. We employed this frequently at OfficeDrop when we released new versions of our mobile and desktop apps.

The third chapter discusses how to work with the product backlog. Techniques and best practices to groom, estimate and prioritize the backlog are presented. Chapter four discusses how to develop and manage a release plan and chapter five discusses how to run sprint meetings.


I would recommend reading these two books in the order I have listed. But if you are managing a product and have just enough time to read just one book, then you should read Roman’s book.

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Cool new blog series

I’m starting to think that Alex from Groove is a pretty savvy guerrilla marketer… he’s just started a cool new series of blog posts about his journey to $100k in recurring monthly revenue. And he’s got a ton of high quality comments already on the piece. Check out the blog series, it looks like it will be a good one!

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Startup marketing is about purchase intent

I’ve been thinking about channels a lot recently – where potential buyers/users come from, what were they doing when the ‘showed up’ and how did they even start thinking about making a purchase? When it comes to practical execution I find that understanding about purchase intent is a great way to cut the chase and efficiently decide on marketing actions that will result in either sales or learnings with data on what didn’t work.

By purchase intent, I mean the moment when a potential customer expresses interest in paying for a solution to a problem.

For a startup, there are at least two critical moments when you want to ‘exploit’ a potential customer’s purchase intent: a) when the person is forming purchase intent and b) when a person is expressing purchase intent. (I don’t like the word exploit, but it gets the point across.)

The funny thing is that now that I’ve run marketing at two different startups, I’ve found that the exact same channel could be in the formation phase for one company and at the expression phase for another.

For example, at my last company national press would drive a large number of new users into our purchasing funnel. Small business owners would read about us on a respected news site and decide to give the service a try, with many of them putting down their credit cards to begin using the service. Choosing to read an article about, say scanning receipts, shows that a person is already interested in the solution; nobody reads articles on b2b solutions for fun! Formation is triggered when the title the of the article is read “hey I have this problem,” and leads to purchase expression when the reader clicks to OfficeDrop’s website “this sounds like a great solution!”

At Boundless, national press does drive a lot of visits, but doesn’t covert in the same way. This is because students don’t make textbook buying decisions based off of news articles; students express intent during specific times of the school year. While they may be intrigued by an article on a way to save money with Boundless textbook alternatives, reading the article only helps them form purchase intent. It doesn’t directly lead to the expression of purchase. Instead, they (hopefully) remember to check out Boundless at the start of the next semester when they are looking for books. So news articles help the potential user form the desire to try out our solution when the time is right, but won’t directly lead to purchasing.

Supporting both sides of purchase intent is important. The Boundless press helps with branding (hard to measure) but also drives increased on page and in funnel conversion (by providing third party proof of quality.) So we can quantify the benefit beyond the hard to measure branding and awareness. However, my main point is that the exact same channel influenced different parts of purchase intent for two different startups. And if you don’t measure your channels you’ll never know if you are positively impacting anything, so careful tracking is critical to success.

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New TEDx Talk by Boundless CEO

My team at Boundless put a lot of effort into helping Boundless CEO Ariel Diaz prepare for his recent TEDx talk on inverting the curriculum. What he’s saying is that students are typically taught the details and inner workings of a subject up front. This requires memorizing physics formulas or cellular structures up front – which can be intimidating or overwhelming. What Ariel proposes is to show the big picture first – inspire the student prior to getting into the details. For example, imagine if an intro biology course started with lab work to give students an understanding of ecology before memorizing what an endoplasmic reticulum does. Students would grasp the beauty of biology from the start, and appreciate the small details more when they understand the big picture. Check out his talk below, and if you think it’s good give it up a “like” on youtube!

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Cool quotes on how to run your startup

I found this slideshare over on GrooveHQ‘s blog, and thought that some of them were really smart. I think David Karp’s of Tumblr is probably the one that resonates the most with me, but Tawheed Kader of ToutApp’s is most inspiring – “They can copy what we have. They can’t copy what we are going to have.”

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