Is Product Management really all about the customer?

The last time I updated my resume, I wrote a headline that said “customer obsessed product leader.” it’s true, I LOVE engaging with customers and serving their needs, those are my favorite things about product management. I’m not alone, putting the customer first is what many product managers agree on. Customer focused Product Managers are what employers want to hire. Who wouldn’t agree that being customer obsessed is great?! There’s a problem though. This very true and appropriate focus may cause some other things to be overshadowed.

They other day, I had coffee with a colleague who said they had just read one of my blog posts on Product Management. That got us talking about stakeholders, one of the 9 things I said that great product managers have mastery of. Spoiler alert, the customer isn’t the only stakeholder product managers need to care about, and they may not even be the the stakeholder with the most weight, or part of the equation at all.

I believe that product management requires explicit consideration of 3 different groups of stakeholders: the current customer, your future customer, and finally the company vision & strategy. It is not good enough to simply focus on your current customer and their needs. That may be good, but optimizing for all three is great.


The Current Customer

Make no mistake, I am not minimizing the importance of your current customer at all! This is the stakeholder that allows your company to pay the bills, the stakeholder that advocates for you to potential customers, the stakeholder that trusted you over others and gives you more than just their money, they give you, the product manager, their time.

As product managers, we must meet this customer’s needs. Often that means solving the problem they came to you for, delivering on the table-stakes in your space, and providing a delightful user experience that allows them to easily accomplish what they pay you to accomplish. Sometimes they’ll come to you with feature requests and ideas that are related to your core. Listen to these. Work them into the product roadmap when they make sense. Keep this customer happy! They represent 1 of the 3 key stakeholders you must optimize for as a product manager, you’ll always do good work if you serve them well.

The Future Customer

If you are ready to do great work, this is where you begin to evolve as a product manager, when you look outside the current customer as your core stakeholder, and seek to serve more through your work. The future customer can be many things. It can be a customer in your target market, but one you haven’t won over yet. I might be the customer you have today but with needs well beyond what you do now. It could be the future of the industry, the way it works in the future and new problems it doesn’t have today. It may be a new industry you could enter, expanding the reach of your products and technology.

Regardless of how you define the future customer for the project or decision in question, considering this stakeholder will take you and your product to the next level. Serving the future customer allows you to grow with your market and customer base, rather than just selling it a little bit more. Serving this customer is how you become or protect your position as the leader in your space. Meeting this customer’s needs isn’t about paying the bills today, it’s about paying the bills tomorrow.

Keep in mind that serving this stakeholder doesn’t mean you are acting against your current customer. Instead, this is your opportunity to align the current customer with the future, to understand where they are going and get there before them. It could also be an opportunity to ask yourself how you might build for the current customer and show the the way to the future, at the same time. Solve a problem they don’t know they have….yet. Be the hero that solves it before the realize it.

The Company Vision & Strategy

There is one more stakeholder that you must consider, and in some ways it is the most obvious, but in other ways it is the most elusive. I believe that great companies have a vision and purpose that transcend the product, and transcend the market. They serve a higher purpose. Sometimes these visions and mission statements seem corny, but they are the hallmark of enduring companies. For example, at PagerDuty, they don’t serve oncall engineers, they serve anyone in a digital business doing real-time work. They don’t send alerts to the right responders, they empower people in moments of truth so they can elevate their work to outcomes that matter.

To be a great Product Manager, you must ask yourself what the company needs from you and your product. Most company mission and vision statements require inventive, focused, and considerate product managers to make them a reality. They leave enough room for the product manager to make decisions that not only align with the company’s vision, they also serve the current customer and position the product for success with the future customer.

This stakeholder can be elusive in a couple ways. If you work for a company with no higher purpose, with no vision beyond the current customer and their existing needs, you’ll feel as if there are not 3 stakeholders to consider, just two, since the company vision and mission are the same as the current customer’s needs. My advice here is to either help your company desire to be and do more, or get a new job. The latter is probably easier. The other way you may find this stakeholder elusive is all about you. If you can’t separate your current customer’s needs from the company vision and mission. Frankly this is easy to do. You see what you current do for customers, and you equate that to the company vision and mission. You take a bottom’s up approach, so to speak. To be great, spend some time thinking top down. In the example of PagerDuty, what could real-time work encompass? When do moments of truth happen? What are the possible outcomes that matter? If you give yourself space to take a top down approach, you’ll often find that there is so much more there than what your customer is ask you to do today.

This stuff doesn’t come naturally. It is so easy to consider just the current customer, and not the other stakeholders. It is hard to know how much weight to give to each. Do you have to consider all three, or can you serve just two? If you serve just two, is one required in a way others are not? These are all great questions, and you know what? I don’t know the answer! I don’t know because it depends on what you are building. I also don’t know because I’m not perfect, and I am still working on being a great, not just good Product Manager.

As I reflect on myself, I think I am pretty good at considering all three stakeholders as I guide, create, and decide. What I am currently struggling with is selling my vision to others, as one that considers all three stakeholders appropriately, for the maximum benefit of our vision and mission. If you have advice on how to do that, I am all ears!

My 2018 year in books

Just like my annual tradition of blogging about my travel experiences from the past year, I also like to write about my year in reading. Growing up, I hated reading, and in hindsight I believe that was because I had to read for school. As an adult, I love to read! Now, it’s the absorption of information and ideas that I love so much. That’s why I mostly read non-fiction, specifically books on business, behavioral economics, and self-help.

In 2017 I read just 9 books, so I set my 2018 goal at 12….a simple 1 per month. Unfortunately, I fell far short of that goal with 8.5 books read in 2018 (more on the half, below). Similar to the prior year, thats 1 book every 6 weeks or so. So I didn’t meet my goal, but didn’t regress much either. I’m not beating myself up about it, I’ll do better in 2019!

Without further to do, in no particular order, below are the books I read in 2018, with links to

When Breathe Becomes Air

This was hands down my favorite book of 2018! I first heard of this book when Bill Gates recommended it to his social media followers. This book is a memoir written by a neurosurgeon after being diagnosed with cancer that would likely kill him (it did). His writing honestly and vividly shares the struggles he faced with his new reality, such as his own mortality, the affect on his career if he survived, the impact to his wife and yet to be conceived child, and more. He did not finish the memoir before dying, his wife did that, and I did not finish the book without crying. I remember reading the last couple chapters stuck in the back of a delayed airplane at Boston Logan airport. I probably cried for 20 minutes straight as I finished the book just as my flight lifted off the ground and ascended into the late night sky. That was a good, healing cry, and I am not ashamed of doing it in public.

Hillbilly Elegy

In my effort to understand why so many low income people support Republican’s and President Trump, even when their policies are counter to the needs of these voters, I picked up this book. The author grew up as a self proclaimed hillbilly, before breaking from the norm and getting out of poverty himself. This memoir gives a view into the social and economic drivers of poor white Americans. It is not a political book, and I think the author may be a conservative himself, so expect a fair account. The reader must figure out on their own what if any connection there is to the way of living and the voting habits of the people in question. What you will learn if you read this book is that pride is a massive force, one that is at times greater than hunger, happiness, and health.

Zero to One

This book came out a few years ago. I heard nothing but great things about it from fellow entrepreneurs and product managers, but I resisted picking it up in protest of the author’s politics. Peter Thiel, the author of this great book on innovation, is an entrepreneur that co-founded PayPal and one of the first investors in Facebook. He is also a supporter of crazy conservatives and enemy of the free press.

However, I LOVED this book! It is a fantastic view into what makes it so hard to go from nothing to something in the world of product development and entrepreneurship. This book has helped me reframe my approach to building software products in my work, and helped me position the task, difficulty, and risks to my bosses and stakeholders in an effort to do things differently. The book also does a great job of explaining why venture capitalists operate the way they do, and a great job of demonstrating why the common VC approach to investing is ineffective. If you are an entrepreneur, read this book!

On Tyranny

Anyone that knows me personally knows that I am a liberal and I am disgusted by President Trump and bewildered by his supporters. I believe our country is at risk of falling into turmoil and ruin because of the way some of our leaders behave, and the willingness of the people to allow them to behave this way.

On Tyranny is a book of 20 short essays that each look at a 20th century example of tyranny in our world, and then passively relates them to the Trump Administration today. It is a good historical refresher, and a scary warning of what could easily happen to America today.

Just F*ing Demo!

This is another short book for the year. In software development, it’s common to demo your work to the team, to other teams, and to company leadership. I lead a few teams at PagerDuty, and each demos every other week. In order to pick up some ideas of how to use demos to drive urgency and speed, and to learn to conduct more compelling demos, I picked up this short guide. Lots of common sense and good reminders for a product manager like me.

The Power of Moments

Chip and Dan Heath are author-brothers that use the science of human behavior to help businesses and business people understand how to better serve their customers. I read their first book, Made to Stick, many years ago, and picked up this latest book after a colleague mentioned it.

The power of Moments is about how products and businesses can create memorable experiences that stand out from the crowd and pull the user/customer in. They cover 4 concepts that must be present in some combination to create a memorable moment with positive impact. It was an interesting enough read, but not my favorite book of theirs, of the genre, or of my year.

Killers of the Flower Moon

This was a book recommendation from my dad, and I am so glad I picked it up! Killers of the Flower Moon recounts the true story of the Osage Native American tribe, their sudden accumulation of wealth, and how white men went as far as serial murder to steel money from the Osage people. I knew that Native Americans had been treated horribly throughout history, but this story opened my eyes to the true extent of what our government and individuals did to treat Native Americans as less than human, with unequal rights.

Interestingly, this is also the story of the founding of the FBI and the rise to prominence of J Edgar Hoover. If you have any interest in American history, do yourself a favor and pick up this book.


This was a re-read for me. I first read the book in 2016 to help up-level my skills around rapid prototyping and building products that truly solve problems. In 2018, I tried to start a book club at work with the people I work hand-in-hand with to build new products for our company, and this was the first book we read. I say tried to start because we never picked up a 2nd book.

As I said in my 2016 write-up, this book helps innovators and product developers rapidly prototype and test products with customers in just 5 days. If you are in Product Management or Software Development, it’s a must read.

Leonardo da Vinci

This is that half of a book, and it kinda bums me out. I love Leonardo da Vinci, I think he was the most brilliant person to ever walk this earth. I’ve read other books about him, but all somewhat short and focused on his inventions and his innovation practices. This book is a true biography, by Walter Isaacson, one of the best biographers alive right now (he wrote the brilliant 2011 biography of Steve Jobs).

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t finish this long book (it’s about 625 pages). While I love the story of Leonardo, and I learned a lot from the parts of this book I did read, it didn’t manage to hold my attention as the author describes deep details of painting after painting. I hate not finishing books, but I put this one down for good when I was just 58% of the way through it.

What’s on my reading list for 2019, you ask? I’ve already started a book called Flow, which talks about the psychology of happiness, and I have another book by the author of Sprint to read, called Make Time. I also want to read some old school innovation books that I’ve never gotten around to reading, like Crossing the Chasm and The Innovators Dilemma. I also plan to read Radical Candor along with my finance, as we both seek to be better managers at work.

My 2018 year in travel

New year, new opportunity to reflect on how I opened my mind and my world through travel! Every year, I like to do a blog post which makes me reflect back on my travel throughout the past 12 months, and set some goals for the new year.

In 2017, I was bummed to not have traveled internationally (Canada excluded). This year I am happy to report that I did 3 personal, international trips! Additionally, I did spend a significant amount of time in Toronto, Canada this year. While technically international, it’s a very similar culture to the US, so hard to count. That said, I am really growing to love Toronto! I have my employer to thank for these opportunities to spend time there, we have a major office in Toronto, where most of the teams I work with are based.

My favorite trip this year was the trip to Paris that my fiancé and I took! We were having a particularly stressful time at work (we work together), and decided we needed some time to ourselves. So, we booked a week-long trip to Paris over the Thanksgiving holiday. There, we explored the city by foot and by Uber, checking out both tourists spots as well as local neighborhood life. The weather was cold, but dry, which made for a romantic setting as the holiday decorations came out.

Another highlight was a 5 day trip to Sayulita, Mexico. This small town north of Puerto Vallarta has a bohemian, surfer vibe. It’s a quiet, simple town, not overrun with tourists, but full of American expats. We rented an Airbnb right on the beach in a newer condo complex, and enjoyed an outdoor kitchen and living room, with Pacific Ocean views! When we weren’t at the pool and beach, or eating freshly made guacamole while relaxing in our outdoor living room, we were strolling the dusty cobblestone streets to shop and drink. We then got engaged shortly after this trip, so decided to do a destination wedding in Puerto Vallarta in 2019, “forcing” us to do a scouting trip in May of 2018!

Another highlight of the year was taking my 15 year old, soon-to-be nephew on his first flights! He lives in Connecticut and hadn’t had a reason to fly until we brought him to San Francisco to spend a week with us. Since he hadn’t flow before, I decided to fly to Hartford and fly back to San Francisco with him. We were scheduled to fly through Chicago, but a major thunderstorm was about to hit, and I quickly changed our flights to go through Newark. After a short, bumpy ride from Hartford to Newark, we had a long smooth ride from Newark to San Francisco, and he is now a comfortable and veteran flyer. He’ll be flying to Puerto Vallarta in March to be at our wedding!

I was also happy to see 2 new metro areas that I hadn’t been to before: Pittsburg and Raleigh-Durham. Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend much time there, with only 1 night in each and a schedule packed with meetings, but still fun none-the-less.

So, without further to do, here are my key travel stats for 2018:

  • 68,384 miles traveled (83% increase from 2017)

  • 52 flights (30% increase from 2017)

  • Average of 1,315 miles per flight (41% increase over last year)

  • 3 Airlines flown (United, Air Canada, Alaska)

  • 5 trips to Portland to visit family

  • 4 trips to Toronto for work

  • 3 trips to Las Vegas for work

  • 2 trips to Mexico for vacation (Sayulita, Puerto Vallarta)

  • 1 trip to Paris for vacation

  • First flight of 2018: Seattle to San Francisco, on January 1st

  • Last flight of 2018: Portland to San Francisco on Dec 27th

  • Longest flight: Paris to San Francisco, about 5,580 miles

  • Shortest flight: Hartford, CT to Newark, NJ, about 105 miles

I expect 2019 to come in about the same as 2018. I already have 2 Mexico trips booked in the first 3 months of the year, one for our wedding! We plan to take a honeymoon, and expect to make that an international trip, but we haven’t decided yet among Europe, South America, or Tahiti. I like to visit my colleagues in Toronto about once a quarter, so should have about 4 trips there in 2019. I hope to do one or two trips out east to visit customers, and will surely do 4-6 trips to visit family back in Portland, with the first trip already scheduled for January 26th.

Here’s to a fun, eye opening, rewarding, and safe year in travel for 2019!

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What is a startup?

Recently, I was talking about business with one of my co-workers. I enjoy chatting about innovation, strategy, products, and everything that has to do with commerce. In the middle of this conversation, I said something that prompted my co-worker to respond with something along the lines of "my brother worked at a startup that sold belts online...." Wait, what? A belt startup? I steered the conversation in that direction, and probed more into this belt startup. Had they reinvented the belt to be dramatically better than what we know today? Nope. Had they come up with a new manufacturing process that would revolutionize the belt market? Nada. Did they maybe come up with a business model that would allow them to dominate the market? Not at all. I guess they simply sell a wide variety of belts online, maybe they drop ship, maybe its fast-fashion.

What ensued was a friendly debate about the use of the word startup to define new companies. I argued this belt company is not a startup, my co-worker defended that it was.

The world is in an incredible cycle of innovation and entrepreneurship at the moment. I want to say that we are on a 10 year run, but on the macro scale its a lot longer, and a philosopher may say its a never ending run. Regardless of how you look at things, with more innovation comes more entrepreneurship, and over the past 10-20 years, more entrepreneurship has lead to more use of the term startup.

What is a startup, anyway? I mean, most of us could give an answer, but how specific would those answers be, and would we all agree?

Does it even matter? Absolutely not! I do, however, find it an interesting topic, and there are some very mild consequences to correct, or incorrect use of the term. Go into a bank for a loan, say you are a startup, and you'll get laughed out of the building. Walk into a venture capital firm and say you are a small business, and they'll laugh you out as well.

I believe that all startups begin as small businesses, but not all small businesses are startups. Let's explore!

When I first had this question, years before the debate about a belt company being a startup, the first thing I did was search for a definition that I could hang my beliefs on. You can find a whole lot of textbook definitions out there, some are meaningful and others just confuse the question even more. Then I came across the definition by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup (one of my favorite books on startups, entrepreneurship, and innovation):

A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

This definition, short and to the point, is spot on. There are two subtle things in this definition that stand out. First, the mention of something being new, not doing the same thing others do. Then, the requirement that the conditions be extremely uncertain.

When I have this conversation with others, I tend to use a very simple example as a test for this definition: a bagel shop. Their product, bagels, is not new. Been around for a few hundred years and consumers have clear expectations of what a bagel is. If you are starting a bagel shop, you likely aren't creating anything new. You also aren't entering a market of extreme uncertainty. The market demand is well known, or can be. You know how many people are in the area around the shop, what your competition is, and more. The knowledge is broad and relatively easy to obtain.

So, if I open a bagel shop, am I a startup founder? No way! I'd be a small business entrepreneur. Being a small business owner is a difficult task, one that most couldn't or wouldn't have the guts to do. I applaud these folks, and admire their work. They are an important to the economy, and good for the community. They aren't startup founders though.

I do think that Eric Ries is missing one thing in his definition. I believe that in addition to the product being new and the conditions being extremely uncertain, startups also have the potential for massive and hyper growth, with the economies of scale to turn an investment into outsized returns.

Now, lets take a look at a company that I would define as a startup, Tesla. At first glance, you may be thinking that a car company isn't new, and the market isn't uncertain. However, I disagree! When Tesla started, they were in fact creating something new, a mainstream electric car, and more specifically, an electric sports car targeted at wealthy buyers. The idea that a high price sports car could be electric was new and wild. The idea that an electric car could have broad appeal flew in the face of the ugly and underwhelming electric cars that had hit the market before. The plan to then create other models of electric cars for the mass market while remaining sexy, and at affordable prices, was down right crazy when Tesla started. The newness of the product is also connected to the conditions of extreme uncertainty. Tesla cars would have just a fraction of the range of a gas powered car, something customers may struggle with. There was no charging infrastructure, like there is a network of gas stations. Setting up automotive manufacturing is an expensive, upfront investment that may not pay off. In 2003 when Tesla was started, the economy was still coming out of the recession from the dot-com bubble bursting and 9/11 changing America forever. Gas prices were actually low in 2003, so Tesla couldn't count on that for help.

Tesla started by doing something completely new. They were doing so under the circumstances of extreme uncertainty. And they had the opportunity to create immense wealth through rapid growth. They currently do about $12 billion USD in annual revenue, with a market value of over $50 billion USD, making them about as valuable as the big three America automakers, in just 15 years compared with the 100+ years Tesla's competitors had to grow into that valuation.

The founders and early executives of Tesla were taking a risk that no small business owner can compare with. Their likelihood of failing was high, and being successful would require very specific skills, many that can't be taught. If they were successful, the reward would be at levels that most can't fathom.

The bagel shop owner and electric sports car company founder are both entrepreneurs, and should both be applauded. They don't, however, face the same job, the same risks, or the same reward. One can walk into a bank for a loan, the other can't. One can build a nice business that throws off cash to make them wealthy, the other can make tens of thousand of others wealthy and change an industry in the process.

Nothing would make me happier than if you, the reader, were thinking to yourself at this point that a bagel shop could be a startup, if they did things differently. I love to think that any and every industry is ripe for the type of disruption that Elon Musk brought to the automotive world with Tesla. Its not that online belt retailers and bagel shops can't be startups, its that they typically aren't startups.

So, let me know when someone revolutionizes the world through bagels or belts, and I'll update this post. That said, I'll never equate being a small business owner with being a startup founder.

Officiating a wedding

Last year, two of my dear friends got engaged. To my surprise, a couple weeks later, they asked me to officiate their wedding. This was a first for me, and I was not only honored, but also scared! Not scared to talk in front of a group, but scared to have big responsibility for such an important milestone in their lives!

I put a lot of effort into being an officiate that this couple could be proud of. I also really enjoyed playing that role in their lives. Below is the wedding ceremony script that I wrote. I'd like to thank Zoe and Todd for asking me to play this role in their wedding, and for giving me permission to share their ceremony text with the world. I'd also like to thank my co-workers Ryan and Dave for sharing their wedding officiate experiences with me!



Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today for the wedding of Zoë Dixon and Todd Andrich. My name is Jeff Martens and I’ll be your guide for the ceremony.

I’ve known Todd and Zoë for a few years now, but I was still surprised when they asked me to officiate their wedding. Many of you have known them longer, laughed with them more, and enhanced their lives greater than I.

As I thought about it, I realized that asking someone to officiate a wedding is less about the length of a relationship and more about finding someone that won’t screw up and ruin the most memorable day of their lives! And honestly, that says a lot more about you all sitting in silence than it does about me standing up here!

So knowing that each and every one of you sitting here today have played an important role in the lives of Zoë and Todd, I’d like to start out by asking you a question. I’d like to ask for your permission to be the representative of all of you here today. I may be the one that is performing the ceremony, but I do so only as a representation of all you here today, the friends and family that support and love these two people and the life they are building together.

If you give me that permission, please respond with I do.

The Story of Todd & Zoë

Zoë, I’d like to thank you for joining us and being here on time. Yes, I know she is the bride so of course she has to be here, but if it weren’t for a groom that knows how to wait patiently, we may not be here today. One of the very first things I learned about Zoë and Todd as a couple was that Zoë showed up late for their first date. Very late. But Todd, he waited, patiently, and it paid off.

There is so much that is different between Todd and Zoë, but also so much that is the same.

Zoë, she is a free spirit that’s up for anything and willing to say “my date can wait!” She carries passion for what’s important to her, and is a fiercely loyal sister, daughter, and friend.

Todd, an engineer, is well organized, calculated and on time. He is a stable rock to all those in his life, a voice of wisdom, with a deep offering of care and love.

Together, these two combine to be something even more special. They are two free spirits, two voices of wisdom, and two hearts filled with love for those around them. They carry each other’s burdens, share in each other’s joys, and bring out the best in the other.

Any of you that have attended one of the amazing birthday parties they throw for each other, know what I mean. Any of you that have watched The Bachelor with them, those of you that have had a holiday dinner at their home, know what I mean. If you’ve asked one of them to be a friendly shoulder in a time of need, if you’ve heckled college basketball refs with one of them, or somehow had body glitter as part of your day with them, you know what I mean. We love Zoë, and we love Todd…..we deeply admire and celebrate Zoë and Todd together.

What is Love/Marriage

Marriage isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t between just anyone. Marriage is a choice that symbolizes the ultimate commitment between two people. The most successful marriages I’ve witnessed are between two people that, like Todd and Zoë, are strong individuals on their own, but choose every day to bring joy to their partner’s life and to elevate the couple over the individual.

The quote, by A. A. Milne, that Zoë and Todd asked to be read today exemplifies the special love of a couple in marriage:

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart I'll always be with you."

That, friends and family, that is love. That is the intent of this bride, and this groom before us today. And with that, let’s make this official.

Declaration of Intent

Will you, Todd Andrich, to take this woman to be your wedded wife?

Todd: I do

Will you, Zoë Dixon, take this man to be your wedded husband?

Zoë: I do

Wedding Vows

Now, I’d like to invite Zoë and Todd to exchange their own vows to each other, with all of us as witnesses.

Zoë vows…..

Todd vows….

Ring Ceremony

Todd, as you place the ring on Zoë’s finger, please repeat after me:

I, Todd, take you, Zoë
To be my wife, my forever best friend, and my love
I give you this ring, as a daily reminder of my love for you

Zoë, as you place the ring on Todd’s finger, please repeat after me:

I, Zoë, take you, Todd
To be my husband, my forever best friend, and my love
I give you this ring, as a daily reminder of my love for you


Todd...Zoë...from this moment forward, even if you are apart, you will never be alone. May you together be brave with belief in your love, strong in your commitment to each other, and smart with how you spend your lives together.  

By the power of your love and commitment, on behalf of all the friends and family in attendance, and with the permission of your cat Gettysburg, I now pronounce you husband and wife!

Family and friends, please give a round of applause for the newlywed couple!