Warren Buffet’s Prioritization Strategy

Part of working at any high growth technology company is juggling a lot of competing priorities.  To be clear, having a lot of opportunities is a good thing – it means the business is growing and the company is thriving.  However, if you’re not careful, trying to do too many things at once can leave you spread too thin and not really doing anything well.

Add a 1-month old child to the mix – and you can probably guess why I’m thinking about prioritization this week.

I wrote about Essentialism a few months back, but I still felt like I was missing a practical tool for forcing prioritization.

I was chatting with my friend and colleague Justin Pines about this very topic last week and he recommended I read James Clear’s post about Warren Buffett’s “2 list” strategy for prioritization.

The post is fairly short and simple.  It describes an encounter between Warren Buffet and one of his employees, Mike Flint.  Buffet asks Flint to write down his top 25 priorities on a piece of paper.  Simple enough to start.  Given a few minutes, I’m sure we could all write down a list of 25 priorities.

Then Buffet asks Flint to review the list of 25 and circle only his top 5 most critical priorities.

This leaves flint with two lists of priorities: his “top 5 list” and then a list that contains priorities numbered 6-25.

Initially Flint declares that he will get right to work on his top 5 priorities, while at the same time trying to accomplish some of the things from his other list as well.  From here I’ll quote directly from James Clear’s original post (it’s Flint talking to start):

“Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”

To which Buffett replied, “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

“Avoid-At-All-Cost list”

When those words hit me, a little something in me changed.


Selling Tech to Businesses

I’ve been very lucky over the past three weeks to have some time off from work to bond with my new son Jack (thanks to AppNexus’ generous paternity leave policy).  Although not sleeping very much, he’s really doing great (and thanks to everyone who gave me baby advice following last week’s post!)

I’ve also taken some time this week to re-read one of my favorite business books – Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Solution.

While reading through the book, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to successfully sell technology to business customers.  It’s really one of the holy grails of the tech industry – creating a product that customers want so badly they knock down your door to buy it. Ideally that technology comes in the form of a product that you can also sell profitably, at high scale, and with low variable cost.

So how do you pull this off?  What’s the magic formula that allows tech companies to succeed?

According to Christensen, the secret is really two things. (more…)

The First Two Weeks of Life

Almost exactly two weeks ago, my wife Miranda and I were blessed to bring our son Jack into this world.  Well, I guess she did most of the work, but I was there and felt quite involved the whole time.

We arrived home from the hospital a week ago Wednesday and started our new life as a family of three.  What we found when we got home was something no one had prepared us for.

See, when we brought our newborn Jack home from the hospital, I thought, at first, that we were bringing home a baby (you might have thought the same thing if you were in my position).

However, I was wrong.

We didn’t bring home a baby – we brought home a puzzle.  A living, breathing puzzle.


Running a Website Business is Really, Really Hard and Google Makes All of the Money

Two weeks back*, Brian O’Kelley wrote the second part of his Forbes series entitled “Can Technology Save Journalism.”  The article, which is very good, talks about some of the problems facing digital publishers today – namely that they don’t make much money, and a good chunk of the money they do make ends up in the hands of Google and Facebook.

As a product manager on the buy side of the ad tech industry, I spend a lot of time thinking about how advertisers can more efficiently reach their audiences.  However, it’s also important to realize that on the other side of that transaction is an ad-supported website business that is probably struggling to get by (or even operating at a loss).

To illustrate this issue, let’s take a look at this blog (the one you’re reading right now).  As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t put ads on the site and I’m not trying to generate ad revenue, but let’s pretend like I was.  How profitable would this blog be as an ad-supported business?

Surely there are advertisers out there that want to talk to readers of this blog – you are all intelligent successful people, right?  I must be sitting on a goldmine!  Ok – let’s do some math to figure out how much money I could make. (more…)

My 9/11 Story

Today is the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.  As I do every year, I spent a little bit of time in quiet reflection, thinking about that day back in 2001 and how the world has changed since.  Today, I also read Politico’s excellent piece, “We’re the Only Plane in the Sky,” which walks through the morning and afternoon of 9/11 from the perspective of the President’s staff and support crew.  It’s long, but very good.

It made me think about my 9/11 story.  I was lucky, my story is not very exciting.


The (Hypothetical) Case for Donald Trump

So, to start, let me be clear: I do not personally think that Donald Trump should be president.

Actually, I don’t intend for this to be a political commentary at all. It’s more of a thought experiment.

As a New Yorker, I rarely run into people who support Trump.  Most people here dismiss his legitimacy.  He’s crazy, he’s a lunatic, etc… Some of that is probably warranted. However, one of the things I like most in life is understanding the perspective of different people. It can be easy to dismiss people at face value and jump to conclusions, it’s much harder to truly understand the situation. Part of being a product manager is digging deep and really understanding what other people are thinking – even if you don’t share any personal characteristics with them.

So, here we go: the best explanation for why Donald Trump should be president.


Being a Good Operator

I’ve recently been introduced to the concept of being a good “operator” in business. I’d heard the word before, but never really understood what it meant. I’ve thought a lot about leadership and management in the past, but being an operator is a bit of a unique concept.

When it comes to being a good operator – there are two things that matter most:

  • Keeping a firm view on the high-level business metrics (KPIs) that drive your business.

These are the same metrics that an investor or an analyst would look at to determine the health of your business. For example – revenue, cost of revenue, gross margin, employee turnover %, # of deals in the pipeline, days sales outstanding, revenue per employee, etc.

  • Deeply understanding the industry trends, resources, people, processes and values that drive each of those high-level business metrics.

What levers can you pull, incentives can you change, projects you can start that will actually impact your high-level business metrics. Which of those high-level business metrics are easy to change and which are hard? Which can be impacted quickly and which ones take a very long time to change?

The key to being a good operator is maintaining a firm view of the high-level business metrics that are driving your business, while at the same time deeply understanding the activities, trends and people who are driving each of those numbers.

Further, a good operator understands what the high-level numbers need to look like in order for their business to be successful and they understand what needs to happen in order for those numbers to look the way they want.

Most people can only do one or the other.

There are people who can define the high-level metrics that matter, and there are other people who know how to manipulate the business to change the numbers.

It’s a very rare person, a true operator, who can really do both.

On Preparing for Change


Only six weeks away from welcoming our son into this world, I can’t think of a more appropriate time to think about change.

Ever since reading the classics of business literature – the likes of Peter Drucker, Marshall Goldsmith, and Jim Collins – I’ve focused a lot on change and being a change agent. If there is one thing that all business gurus seem to agree on, it’s that change is necessary for growth and success.

However, lately I’ve started to think about change differently, both at home and at work.

I used to see change as an event. I thought it went like this:


Why I Think Slack is a Terrible Collaboration Tool

First of all – I don’t hate everything about Slack. In fact – in a lot of ways Slack is really excellent.

Slack is the first instant messaging software that actually works the way you’d expect an instant messaging client to work. Having used different instant messaging tools for the last 15 years – Slack takes the cake in a lot of ways.

Here’s what Slack does well:

  • Every message is archived and searchable (and the archive is reliable, a huge problem with other messaging clients)
  • Support across desktop, mobile, tablet, etc. in a seamless, intuitive way
  • Quick and easy file transfers
  • Lots of emoji’s and other fun goodies (like a nifty tool that lets you set reminders)

As an IM tool – Slack is actually very good: far and away the best choice for person-to-person communication.

Now – here’s what I don’t like.


So Good They Can’t Ignore You


Over the past couple weeks I’ve been reading So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport on recommendation from Michael Griffiths.

In general I think the book has a valid message, but I really didn’t like reading it that much.

The bulk of the book is spent debunking a common career myth: “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Cal asserts that this advice, often given to young professionals or recent college graduates, is misguided and leads people to make poor career decisions.

Instead of following your passion, Cal suggests that those new to the workforce should focus on building their “career capital” and assembling skills that companies are willing to pay for. Only after working for a number of years and assembling a large amount of career capital should employees then use that capital to get more control over their work schedule and start to think about what they really love to do.