Reviewing 2018

I am always amazed by our perception of time. Not only our present time is experienced differently – sometimes it goes by really quickly, and other times it is painfully slow – but time becomes even more confusing when trying to look at retrospect.

A year went by since my last post. And on the one hand so much have happened and changed when looking at the details, and on the other hand when trying to think of it broadly, it feels as if just recently 2018 has only begun…

In a nutshell, it was a challenging yet fulfilling year, with great personal achievements and unique experiences. A year that I am very happy to look back at and derive the lessons I learned.

Career

On January 1st I joined SimiliarWeb as a Senior Director to lead the Mobile App Intelligence product. In spite of the big title, in practice the role didn’t involve any management of other Product Managers. I was a part of an agile team like any other PM, and was directly managed by SimilarWeb’s CPO. I wouldn’t have taken this role – as it was actually a step back in my career path – unless there were a few important factors that convinced me that this is a good decision:

  1. Company’s Culture. During the hiring process I insisted on meeting not only the people who hired me (the CPO and the CEO), but also other Product Managers, the VP of R&D and the VP of Design. I even unintentionally attended one of the happy hours in the company. And I got to a conclusion that the culture is positive and the people are A players. Even in hindsight, I am happy to say I wasn’t wrong 🙂
  2. My Manager. In my interactions with the CPO, during the hiring process, I felt a great connection with him. I felt that I can both trust him and learn from him. He was positive, energetic and clearly invested a lot of effort to bring me in. My first impression didn’t change even after a year. While I know now his cons as well as pros, I find him to be a great coach and even a friend.
  3. My Future. I was very clear about my ambitions before I took the role. I explained that while I have a passion for leading and creating products people love, my real passion in the last decade is creating product teams that create products people love. And while there wasn’t yet a clear path to a specific role when I took the role, both my manager, and the HR Business Partner in the company promised me that due to company’s dynamics, growth opportunities always appear, and the chances of me advancing in the company will be good as long as I show great results. And so it was. within the year, my role changed and grew 3 times, eventually taking responsibility for the whole SimilarWeb Platform and getting into the position of VP Product.

Although it wasn’t always clear during this year how my role will evolve, and there were periods I was wondering whether this is the best position for my career, towards the end of the year it became very clear to me that I was at the right place at the right time. The company is going through an evolution in its offering and the way we present ourselves to the market. Our platform is changing from a generic one-fits-all product to segmented experiences per persona. This is a very exciting opportunity to lead this change, while managing a diverse product team. I am looking forward towards 2019 to see our vision realized, propelling our company to a new level.

What did I learn from this experience so far? First I would like to put into a specific framework. Motivation is an interesting topic for me, as a leader, as product manager, and as as a game designer. I have been creating and teaching about motivation models in games, but I found Dan Pink’s model (appeared in his best seller Drive) to be simple yet powerful and I use it to evaluate my status in a job, as well as evaluate the motivation of the people I manage. The model has 3 pillars: Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose. I won’t get into explaining it here, but you can watch this Ted talk if you need a summary. During this year I saw the misalignment in these pillars and my situation: My mastery wasn’t developed a lot in the PM position, my autonomy was pretty small, and I didn’t really see a big purpose in my role. But it evolved and changed to become a challenging, autonomous and purposeful position. What kept me in the role through this misalignment phase were the two important factors mentioned above (and should be added to the motivation model, in my opinion): The culture and the manager. They are the foundation of the other factors, and without them, it will be very hard to stay on your job.

Personal Projects

By the end of 2017 I managed to strike a deal with Appsolute Games, and in February 2018 Hit n Run was launched and featured worldwide. It was very exciting to see this side project that was initially conceived as a prototype in 2015 to be launched as if it was built by one of the “big boys” in the industry. Still, it wasn’t perfect and there were many lessons learned from this process.

  • Although the game was featured worldwide, it didn’t include critical countries like the US, China, Korea and Japan. Therefore, the game has reached about 200K installs on iOS during the week it was featured (by the end of the year it reached 250K). While this is quite impressive for a side project, it is far from achieving its full potential. I am not sure we could do better, as featuring games is not in the hands of the publisher, and we are competing with some big name game studios. Working with other publishers or controlling this relationship with the store are possible alternatives.
  • The game didn’t perform well enough from a financial perspective, reaching only about $0.1 per user (LTV) – way below any ability to run user acquisition campaigns with a positive ROI. There were different reasons for such a low LTV. Some of the reasons were just stupid errors, other reasons happened because we didn’t invest in more user testing. Since then, we fixed the errors and improved some of the game mechanics. Our last test yielded a result of $0.2 per user (in the US), which is now much closer to being a revenue generating product. I wish we did an additional soft launch before we actually launched worldwide, as we would probably generate twice the revenue we did. The decision whether to continue investing in the game or to stop is yet to be taken.
  • The Android version was a big disappointment. Not only Google Play decided not to feature the game, the retention, and the financial performance were very poor. Even after we took claim back of the game, the metrics didn’t improve, and we decided stop investing in it. In hindsight, we should have waited to see the results of the iOS version before investing in Android.

Beside the specific lessons about good game design and good game dev processes, I got to a conclusion that leading a 2-3 year project is just too long. While I am proud I managed to sustain it, it is still not the most efficient way to master this domain. Therefore, I decided it will make much more sense to build smaller games, faster. Faster to build, faster to test, faster to learn. So nowadays I am investing in hyper casual (one tap) games. The first one is called Crush Hero (prototype), and it is based on a concept ideated by my son, Jonathan. I already started working on the game art. Exciting stuff 🙂

Habits, Health and Fitness

This year I continued practicing my habit-forming system. I successfully kept my previous habits regarding sleeping, journaling, side project running, professional reading, and daily planning. But this year I decided to try the system to achieve one the hardest goals I had – to reduce my weight and become more fit.

During 2017, I got to my lowest point (and the highest weight): 82 kg. Moreover, I wasn’t training on a regular basis and I felt weak and out of energy. I had to change it.

For a long time I was looking for a sustainable way to not only reduce weight, but to use a habit that will help me keep a balanced diet. Eventually I stumbled upon the Intermittent Fasting. There are different variations of this type of diet, but I decided to go with the 8:16 rule, which means eating only during 8 hours of the day, and fasting the next 16 hours. From a habit forming perspective it was easier than I thought, and within a month I was doing it without any effort. Within 4 months I reduced my weight by more than 10 kg, and I keep my weight (70 kg) stable for the past 8 months!

When I reached my desired weight I decided I to gain my energy and muscle back. In the past, I was doing many types of sports (mainly Martial Arts 2-3 time a week). But in 2017 our group stopped training, and I didn’t want to start searching for a new one. But then I stumbled upon a new system – the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). I started training in the morning (after sending my kids to school) 5-10 minutes 3 times per week, and increased it as my habit became stable. Today I am practicing 10-20 minutes every day, 7 days a week (keeping the streak for 6 months)! Moreover, lately I decided to walk more and stopped driving any distance that is shorter than 30 minutes walk. Not only I am saving money on gas and parking fee, I am walking more than 10,000 steps every day.

I feel more energetic and fit than I ever was. Again and again, I learn that keeping daily – small enough – habits is easier than trying to achieve bold abstract goals. Through habits we can achieve big goals.

Family

It was a very intense year in my career. Moving up the ladder every 3 months took its toll. I spent much more time at the office, and even when I was back at home, I continued working deep into the night. It really consumes most of my wakeup time and my energies.

And yet, I managed this year to pull off the longest and most complex trip I did since my tour to China almost 20 years ago. Tammy lead most of the trips we had in the last 2 decades, but in 2016 we started a new custom – a child and parent trips. It wasn’t actually a well planned concept but a result of Tammy’s decision to have a girls trip with Romi (our daughter) to London for the Christmas. I thought that this is actually not fair – and decided to have a boys trip with Jonathan (our son) to Berlin for Christmas… and so it sparked an new habit 🙂

I had to plan the trip to Berlin by myself, and it was a great success. A parent and a child trip is so much easier to plan, as you need to compromise less, and focus on small group of common interests. But more importantly it was real quality time for more than a week – a rare experience.

In 2017 we planned to have a family trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar during the Jewish holidays. But unfortunately, Tammy broke her ankle (on our anniversary weekend on July!), and it was decided that Romi and me will continue with the plan. And boy… this was a great adventure. Again, a rare quality time with my daughter, experiencing exciting new places. Tammy and Jonathan followed our footsteps and did the same trip 5 months after us, when Tammy was back on her feet (literally).

But it was only the introduction for the BIG trip in 2018. Years ago, when I found that Romi shares my enthusiasm for Roller Coasters, I told her about the cool Coasters I rode in the US and I promised her that when she is 16 we will have a trip and will do all the cool theme parks. So a short while after we came back from Tanzania, I started planning for the big adventure. This time Romi was involved in details. We had to decide the timeframe (3 weeks, during the summer school break), the cities we will visit (New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco), the parks (the Coney Island Luna Park, Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain), the shows (Stomp, Cirque du Soleil, Harry Styles)… And the trip was absolutely amazing. So many experiences. A perfect balance of planning and spontaneity, nature and city, eating and walking, calmness and extreme. I will never forget this trip, and I hope Romi will not forget either.

I could write a whole blog about it (which I kind of did by posting daily on Facebook), but the important lesson for me was that even in the most intense times, we can – even must – set aside time for the people we love. And there’s something wonderful and unique doing these private experiences of one parent and one child. A custom we will definitely continue with.

Summary

All and all, it was a wonderful year. A year in which long term projects got to fruition, a year of personal growth and career advancement, a year of unique experiences with my family.

Looking forward to 2019, I am setting myself a few new (and old) goals:

Professional

  1. Transform the product, transform the team – I aim to bring our team to greatness so they can create an amazing product. I believe this will be done by changing and adapting processes and routines we have that will help us to focus and execute faster on the right things.
  2. Ship more games – while making Hit n Run was a fulfilling experience, I understand that the learning process is too slow, and the cadence is too slow to improve the chances of success. I need to ship in a much faster rate, by building smaller games. I can do that only if I will be able to invest at least 10 weekly hours.
  3. Note taking – I feel I am not doing enough good note taking. There are a few good techniques for note taking, and I would like to improve my skill in it. Hopefully I will be able to tell about it in my next post 🙂

Personal

  1. Mediation – Since I started with the habits system a few years ago, Mediation was one of those unstable habits. I really want to nail it this time and ensure it sticks with me. I prefer to meditate in the morning so I will need to connect it to the morning routine.
  2. Stop looking at screens 30 min before going to bed. Screen light is bad for us, especially at night time. Most of the time I go to sleep immediately after working on my screen. This is bad for our sleep quality, and while I don’t have any sleep problems, it’s always better to invest in the quality of your sleep. And I don’t have any night routine anyway – so this can be a good start.
  3. Reading Fiction – this year was really hard on this habit. I enjoy reading so much, but unfortunately I didn’t succeed in freeing the time for it. I will need to find the right existing habit to connect it to. Probably part of the night routine… 🙂

Family

  1. My last two parent-child trips were with Romi, so it’s time for a trip with Jonathan. I don’t have any specific destination yet. But if you want to suggest a good place to visit for 2 video game geeks – please let me know 🙂
  2. Plan and execute a personal trip with JonathanPlan and execute a family trip. Although the parent and child is a great format we need to work on the family relations as well. It will be a great adventure…

If something resonated with you, or you have relevant lessons to share, or you want to ask a question, just comment below.

Advertisements

Collaborative Hobby Project Essentials

So what is it?

Do you have a great idea, but you’re afraid to take the risk and leave your job? You like what you’re doing, but you search for fun activity with a bunch of nice people? You’re searching for another way to practice your creativity or your leadership skills?

What the hell… it doesn’t matter. Just set a mission. Commit to it. And have fun. It’s a hobby project!

My list of essentials for a successful (hobby) project:

  1. Great team
  2. Simple work processes and habits
  3. Easy-to-use free collaboration tools
  4. Leadership, faith and patience

What? What about ‘a great idea’? Could I forget this ingredient?

Usually people think the first thing you need is a great idea in order to start a project. I disagree.

1. A Great Team

The first thing you need is a great team. If you have a group of self-motivated, talented people, you don’t need an idea. The ideas will come on your first brainstorm meeting. Even better, when people conceive the idea together they are more committed to its goal.

I always search for new candidates. I always think: “is that guy I just met could fit into the team”?

I gathered a team of guys I already worked with in the past. I knew their skills, and I knew I could trust them. Only than we started brainstorming for ideas. Our main focus was – how do we leverage our knowledge and transform it into innovative and exciting products? After few brainstorm sessions we had more than 50 (!) ideas. Even after filtering we had almost 10 really good ones. Eventually we had to choose one idea to start with. We chose the easiest… small wins is always better than big losses.

One of the challenges is to keep your team motivated. After all, it’s a hobby project. There’s no investment, no budget. Everybody are a part of that project only for the ride. Of course you can promise that they will be rewarded right after the big success… I prefer to talk about the journey itself. No fake promises. Just the truth: we’re here for fun, for the learning experience and for the chance that someday our idea will become a product people will love. That’s all.

2. Simple work processes and habits

Workload

It’s a very delicate relationship. You must find the balance between a productive and manageable workflow, and a mild workload. Very easily the hobby project may become a second job. If your team members do it on their spare time, you must be tolerant to timetables, to meetings being postponed, to team members not showing up. Still you need to know when to cut things. Too tolerant – and your team will break a part.

We found the balance in 5 hrs of work every week. This sounds very reasonable. Just an hour a day… less than the time needed to go to the gym.

Meetings

We have a sync meeting every 3 weeks. Usually it happens as we planned. We do it even if 2-3 team members are missing. It’s almost impossible to have everybody at the same time every time. Usually we have more than 80% attendance.

I recommend making the meetings a fun get together. After all, people are doing it for the sake of the idea, not for the money. Order a Pizza, bring the Playstation, you name it… invest in fun. If you succeed in that – nobody will miss a meeting.

I believe in sharing knowledge and collaborative creation of ideas. So whenever I can, I conduct a brainstorm sessions. There might be some specialist in your team (technology, marketing), but it will be less fun if every specialist would only do his chores. So on big issues – brainstorm. That way everyone can influence the project. This is a great opportunity to learn new things. The key is to do it right. Too many times I was engaged in bla bla discussion meetings titled “brainstorm”. To conduct a good brainstorm you need to have a specific mindset and keep few (simple) rules. I found this article comprehensive yet simple. After you read it, you will be able to conduct a productive brainstorm session.

Now the meeting is over – a good summary is essential. Wait, aren’t we talking about a hobby? I know it sounds almost like work… But the commitment needed in this project is not different than any other reasonable hobby: going to the gym 2-3 (or more) times a week, managing your band, etc. So, if you want the project to work, you need everybody in sync. I use the simplest way –  send an email of a meeting summary + tasks. I also recommend you to do it yourself. Most of your team members produce, create and innovate. Don’t bother them with project management.

Staying in Touch

Meeting every few weeks is a problem. It’s not like going to work. It’s very hard to keep the tension. No tension = little work done. I try to stay in touch, have a friendly conversation once a week on an IM application or the phone, ask about the project  status, motivate and offer some help. This helps raising the tension a bit. For instance, one of my team members – a programmer – prefers working when we’re both chatting online. He needs the company to get in the mood. Anything for the sake of the project… 🙂

Achievable goals

This is a simple rule. It’s true in every project. It’s very important in a hobby project. When people contribute only few hours a week, your pace is really slow. So you’ve got to think of achievable goals, quick wins. Don’t stay in the design stage too long. It might take ages. When you know enough about the core of the project, start developing it.

Agile development process

Of course when talking about quick wins, experimentation instead of long design processes… you’re talking about agile development. Although it would a lie to state that we’re developing in an agile method per se. Still, we keep few agile rules:

  • Short sprints: the time between our sync meetings. Usually 3 weeks.
  • Deliver working software frequently: We have a working application in every meeting. Usually even in between.
  • The team acts as an Effective Social Network: This is easy – we’re all friends, not co-workers.
  • We use user stories in order to reflect the requirements
  • Everybody has the authority, everyone can contribute, no hierarchy

Because we meet only once a week we don’t stand in our meetings. And they take much more than 5 minutes. Maybe we should incorporate this kind of habit in the beginning of our meeting…

Sub teams

Working alone isn’t much fun. So if you have enough team members – break them into small sub-teams. It seems to work better for us. Nowadays we have marketing team, product design team, and development team. But it will change. At first we didn’t have the marketing team, but we had a website design team. We changed it as the focus changed. The lesson here – people are flexible. So don’t be afraid to reshuffle. It gives them an opportunity to change roles, try new things.

That covers the first two points. I wonder if anyone has some good advice here. We’re always ready to get a good advice and update our work processes.

Next time I will talk about tools to enhance your project and some qualities you should have in order to achieve your goals.