Recently, my company and I left @ATLTechVillage. It was bittersweet — a place I visited right after @davidcummings bought the building, and always wanted to be a member of. As I left, I wanted to write a letter, but decided a list of lessons from my time would be more welcome…

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

Here are my 21 lessons learned from my time @ATLTechVillage… to all you Villagers, entrepreneurs, Atlantans, the Community. (Many more sure to come up as time goes & things marinate, but here goes!)

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

1Don’t EVER merge into the right-turn lane in front of ATV on Piedmont too late during lunch or afternoon rush hour. Police will yell at you to “unmerge”. Talk-back & get a ticket. Think you got away? Check your rearview. She’s likely running after you.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

2If you want some mid-day entertainment, watch the traffic police during lunch or afternoon rush hour to see the above lesson in action. Warning: 15 minutes will pass without you knowing.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

3Spend more time getting your oatmeal or morning coffee, and finally say hello to the people you always see, but still never get to know. It’s amazing how many strangers with familiar faces there are in the place you spend so much of your life in.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

4If you’re going to interact with the @ATLTechVillage Community Team, be incredibly enthusiastic because that’s the level they always bring to the table. If you’re emailing, include at least 12 exclamation points. Doesn’t matter how many sentences.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

5The ATV cleaning staff is made up of some of the hardest working, friendliest folks you’ll encounter – shout out to Rossy and Crescensio. They’re likely there before you, and they’re likely there after you. Say, “hola” and “adios” more often.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

6If you enter the building and exit the building via the first floor, you have the added benefit of saying good morning and good night to the security team.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

7@Lane_JKL is great at creative handshakes.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

8The walls are thin. Realize that your Lady Gaga and “Kiki, do you love me” on the TVs and computers can be heard during a demo to Fortune 500 leadership teams (everyone).

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

9When you least expect it, those damn columns in the parking deck move causing you to scrape your car.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

10Feedback and help are literally next door. There’s so much brain power and creativity in your own office, I’m sure. But there’s even more when you consider all your friendly neighbors.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

11After walking to and from lunch on a hot summer’s day, the best way to cool down is sitting on the couch in the mailroom. It’s always the coldest, most refreshing room in the Village.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

12Don’t wait for the elevator if you’re going up or down one flight of stairs unless you’ve got a good reason. From a productivity standpoint, you’ll lose time 75% of those trips.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

13I never took advantage of the roof enough during the good weather days that I then regret during the bad weather days. When the weather’s nice, go up there.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

14Even though many of the hallways are whiteboards (paint), the writing tends to stay there for a long time. Don’t write something that reflects poorly on the Community, your company, and you.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

15Never steal food.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

16Okay, the nap room is a little weird. But when you need it, it’s the best room in the Village.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

17Freestyle (verb. To travel to and acquire beverage from@ccfreestyle machine on the 1st floor next to the Community Room) whenever you can for the exercise, for the break, for the hydration, for the community.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

18Post a bunch of times on the Atlanta Tech Village Slack and Forum to sell used equipment. It moves your inventory and keeps good tech amongst good tech people. ?

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

19Go to events as much as possible. The world is built on relationships. Those “organic” meet-ups can make the world of difference – a sales opportunity, a partnership, a creative idea to get over a problem, a friend, etc.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

20To the last point, say hello to more people, and then, go beyond to find out who people are. So many strangers with familiar faces, and the world needs more authenticity. Say hello and find out what drives people. You’ll be amazed.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

21The Atlanta startup ecosystem is bustling. Amazing to see folks taking the leap and dreaming big in ATL & @ATLTechVillage. Soak it all in. Rare to be around concentration energetic people who love what they do! Say hello. This is the Village, not Atlanta Tech Building.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

I just finished The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni on why organization health is the number one reason companies succeed. Lencioni argues it’s the true competitive advantage companies have.

I’ve read a lot of business books and have gone through an MBA program to learn about competitive advantages and the “it” factors that makes some companies better than others. Most of the readings have been about culture with a sprinkling of motivations. Culture makes the most noise for success, and it’s not a surprise. Culture is more uniquely applied for a company. How it operates with values and its mission. If values and the mission provide the map of a company, then organization health is the step-by-step directions to navigate.
The key take-aways:
  • Organizational health starts from the top. Much like culture, leaders can determine the health of company. Eliminating office politics (big points here from Lencioni) while ensuring the leaders row all in the same direction fosters strong health. Removing politics and acting in as a single cohesive executive team cultivates greater success than operating well but in silos.
  • Lencioni hits hard on trust across the executive team. This is the key to removing politics. Encouraging individual leaders to be vulnerable enables folks to work better together understanding individual purposes and reasons for actions – he encourages leaders to share vulnerable stories from early years (oftentimes, childhood). Trust enables leaders to have healthy debate, and agreement to move forward together as a team despite opposing feelings individually.
  • Healthy organizations exhibit cohesive teams where the whole is greater than the parts. Organizationally healthy companies exhibit functional groups who may operate outside their functional silos and even, at times, reducing effectiveness of a functional role to support another function as long as the greater company is positively impacted. In one case, this could mean sharing engineering resources to help on the marketing or sales side.
  • Meetings are big, big deal. Typically, meetings are also a waste today due to not only a lack of action, but poor structure and categorization. Lencioni argues for four types of meetings: the daily check-in, weekly tactical, monthly strategic, and quarterly off-site. In some ways, these meetings can actually increase the number of meetings in the short-term. However, long-term, meetings can reduce, but also be highly actionable making meetings productive. Being structured on the topics and the goals for each meeting type drive results. Lencioni argues that this is the biggest and lowest hanging fruit for companies.

This book was recommended to me by a friend who works at one of the top companies to work for in Atlanta. It’s not surprise why he recommended this as he’s seeing the book’s influence at his company. It’s clear to him how Lencioni was onto something on building organizational health.

“Business insulation” – I’m going to trademark that to stand for both the visible and hidden layer(s) that stops/ slows businesses from learning outside processes and systems. I think about business insulation for two reasons:
  1. It’s common for companies in “typical” industry positions to operate much like they have operated since inception. Many industries and businesses stay closely aligned to original go-to-market strategies. Folks do not realize the opportunities afforded by fast-growing technology companies and the evolution of “best practices”.
  2. Companies with business insulation are ripe for both good and bad opportunities. The good opportunities include companies that can be made stronger and grow faster sustainably with streamlined workflows and minor tweaks to business systems. The bad opportunities (“challenges”) include the difficulties for companies to overcome the insulation. How do they learn of opportunities, let alone implement them? Think: change management is the number 1 driver of failed implementations.
Business insulation masquerades today as:
  • Excuses from “That’s just how we’ve always done business” to “Things are going well, let’s not rock the boat”.
  • Working so deep in the day-to-date that leaders are unable to pull up for a more strategic view. They’re unable to steer away from risks and steer towards opportunistic endeavors.
  • Hiring the same type of candidates repeatedly creating a homogenous workforce and culture.
  • A team led by distrustful executives playing political chess.
  • Lack of deliberate time for learning from current and outside industries.
Of course, business insulation has the benefit of keeping companies squarely focused on what they’re good at. That can be a type of long-term strategy. However, over time, these strategies turn companies into highly niche offerings that take the company from long-term sustainability to short-term rewards.
What elements are contributing to business insulation where you are? How are you contributing to the insulation? How are you tearing down insulation?
I know a few folks who are diving into new ideas. One way of starting up has been fleshing out the Lean Canvas — a simple one-pager in lieu of a business plan. 
Like a business plan, the Lean Canvas helps folks capture the key elements of a business without building out a detailed, largely never-to-be-used-again business plan. It’s certainly a good way to get started while thinking holistically. 
Another method I’ve been thinking about after reviewing “landing page how-to’s“(see Julian’s Landing Pages handbook) is what I’ll refer to as the Alternatives-Value-Personas (AVP) framework. This is a stripped-down version of a Lean Canvas. In fact, this may be a preceding model before the Canvas. 
 
(Source: https://www.julian.com/guide/growth/landing-pages) 
  
In this framework, the idea is to dig into the pain today — what exists — and describe the value of a proposed solution as well as the people involved. Why I bring this up as another option is to understand the problem and the people greater while having a hypothesis of the value of the solution. The most important facet of starting out a business is the market and the pain. Is there a pain at all? What exists solving the pain, or even contributing to the pain? 
Another option for folks is building on a Simplified One-Page Strategic Plan as David Cummings calls it. This is an outline layout of the key aspects of the business. You’ll recognize here, too, the template has specific sections for values, purpose, promise — cultural elements.   
 
(Source: https://davidcummings.org/2016/11/29/2017-simplified-one-page-strategic-plan/)  
There are a lot of different options to get started. However, the most important piece is understanding the audience and addressing real pain, or as one VC describes “hair on fire“. 
Finally, I wrapped up Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. I was recommended the book years ago to better understand psychology. Understanding psychology has many benefits for entrepreneurs, sellers, marketers, and others – better understand people improves interactions within teams, with customers, and even provide hypotheses for product direction.
Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow
Let me start off with: this is a dense book. The paperback copy spans 499 pages. It’s both conceptual and technical. I’ll likely need to read this book multiple times to truly appreciate its depth. As it stands, I feel the book could have (should have) been split into multiple books with the latter half diving very deep into sampling (sizes).
The two concepts I took away most from the book:
  • System 1 vs. System 2. This is the most renowned principle of the book – the systems that think “fast” and “slow”. System 1 is the mind’s reactionary processes. System 1 relies on heuristics such as recency (a recent event prejudicing the current situation), anchoring (think about the first number thrown in a negotiation), and others. System 2 is a more deliberate, limited-resourced process of the mind. Solving a math problem like 34×27 being an example. It requires a slower, deliberate thought process.
  • Sample sizes. Especially the latter half of the book, Kahneman makes several points about understanding sample sizes when deliberating biases, results, and even research (psychologists and economists most notably studied). Too often, statements or actions are based on limited sample sizes (read: not statistically significant). Instead, they are influenced solely by “what you see is all there is”.

There’s a lot more covered in the book. I am limiting the concepts here in these two broad concepts because they’re absolutely key to my take-aways. But also, there was so much discussed in this book that sticking to the highlights help influence change.

And what’s the change? Kahneman consistently reminded the reader that the research he and his former partner Amos was applicable to everyone. Though the situations hypothesized often drew criticism or defensiveness from others (readers included), the findings were widely accurate for readers – myself, included. The change then becomes more self-awareness of the fast thinking that occurs, and the necessity to slow down, when more scrupulous attention is needed.
System 2 is a limited resource. It was not hard to realize in my own life how often my System 1 jumped into action to save even just seconds of System 2 “work”. It’s true. Viewing optical illusions within the book or even evaluating double-digit multiplication, my System 2 was lazy. It was easy for my System 1 to take a quick glance and draw a conclusion (usually incorrect as was designed to throw me off) or even renege completely on the problem in front of me. It’s shocking.
I can couple this thinking and need to slow down with Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. One of my greatest challenges is slowing down and stop being immediately reactionary (read: impulsive). Perhaps because of recent events with people and challenges, it’s no wonder being more mindful is one of my main take-aways.
The book is great. It reinforces (or rather, puts a foundational view on) many other literature I’ve read recently including Dale Carnegie’s book as well as Never Split the Difference and others. Helpful to set that foundation. Though, the book is quite long, and half-way through, I wanted to skip to my next book with more actionable tactics. Choices, choices… need some time to slow down and think about this. J

Where do you want to go? Where are you now? Are you getting to where you want to go?
These are questions I’ve been fielding recently. However, these are questions that should be periodically asked and answered. More than likely, myself and many others ask these questions only when things are bad. That is, thoughts arise like, “I don’t like where I am, what should I do next?” It’s akin to reevaluating bad habits or poor exercise form only when pain occurs. Even less often is when longer-term questions are asked.
It’s a problem.
We shouldn’t ask these questions so rarely. We definitely shouldn’t ask these questions simply when things are not going well. (“Don’t go to the grocery store when hungry” comes to mind.)
We should ask ourselves several times a year where do we want to go. Has this changed since the last time we asked? Why?
The difficult part of not asking these questions periodically, then, comes when we have to ask the question not out of a want and simply to stay aligned. Instead, the difficulty comes when the change must come out of necessity – when a drastic change must occur. The difficulty comes when we find ourselves further beyond our locus of control. The difficulty comes when things have become easy or comfortable, and we’ve adopted a higher luxury. That’s when lethargy comes in and we forget about our why.
Ask yourself: Where do I want to go? Where am I now? Am I getting to where I want to go? If not, how do I get back on-track?

With the thousands of companies and solutions in the B2B space, developing a one-size-fits-all sales process is near impossible. There are many variables in a selling and buying process that takes the control out of a sales professional’s hands. However, there are practices that can bring some structure to a sales process – fit the goals of sales while also fitting a buyer’s process. One such method is utilizing a Mutual Action Plan (MAP), or Mutually Agreed Action Plan (MAAP).  
The MAP helps align sales and buyers (teams or individuals) understand and execute on a set of tasks towards a buying decision.  
The key part of the MAP is the first letter — Mutual(ly). This enables a sales professional to guide a buyer through the sales process while molding the process to fit the prospect‘s buying considerations. Without “Mutual” there is no “agreement”. That would be an action plan — or simply, a sales process. 
Sample Mutual Action Plan 
The second element that makes a MAP effective is making the plan available to all parties. Visual or otherwise, this enables alignment on the responsibilities for each member of the team. Consider staying simple with the action items for stakeholders or consider more robust frameworks like RASCI.
  • Responsible for 
  • Approves 
  • Supports 
  • Consults 
  • Informs  
A MAP can be employed early on in an engagement — from a discovery call through implementation. It’s a simple enough framework that keeps both teams moving toward a common goal.  
Note: the goal is not about “selling” or “buying”. Instead, it’s about delivering the benefits the customer is looking for. Value = benefit – expectation. 

Tip: if you want to change jobs, roles, careers, think about what you want in the grander picture (“vision”), and why your current situation is not fulfilling that vision. Don’t focus only on why you’re not “happy”.
There are a lot of folks who are curious of new jobs, new companies, etc. They usually have the same reasons for wanting to leave. At least, for many of the folks I meet with who want to join a startup from a large company. The last several folks I’ve met with work at large enterprises. Each shared almost the same reasons for wanting to leave – they didn’t feel valued, and they wanted to work in a smaller company where their work mattered.
Except, companies (big or small, established or startup) are all different. They differ in their cultures. True many big companies come with much structure – multiple layers. Then again, so, too, could small companies have layers. Small companies can be directed by very strong founders who have sole discretion of direction and product.
Meanwhile, adding members to the Board due to a funding event will change the expectations and execution for a young company. Many of these are outside of the control of an employee.
There should be more focus on the position today. There’s a lot to learn in every position even the role someone may be in for the last 5 years. Too often, folks focus on the bad while missing the good – what is learned and what can be learned in a current situation. By focusing on the bad, folks go searching for new roles with a short-term view to “alleviate” the bad of a current position. This can lead to consistent change and unsatisfied work. Go beyond short-term objectives and take a look at the long-term view of goals and objectives.
Steve Jobs famously said in a Stanford commencement speech, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” This also highlights an important point in that each decision leads to another decision which leads to many, many more. It gives freedom to take chances knowing that the dots connect but having that vision of where you want to go helps make the next dot fit closer to the trajectory you’re hoping for.
Before making that next jump, even before you ever feel “unhappy”, evaluate what your vision is for yourself. Then, evaluate how each position/ jump/ dot fits into the vision including where you stand today.

I’ve been diving into different product management – importance of roadmap and product prioritization and then a RICE framework for prioritization. Today, wanted to jump back in but look at story mapping. I haven’t done a story map before, but I’ll share what I’ve found reading up on several sites including Aha!, MANIFESTO, Agile Velocity, ThoughtWorks, and others.

The benefit of story mapping is its effectiveness as a visual tool to organize the development tasks and activities with goals – the stories a product/ service user traverses. It prioritizes for value and aligns the team on value and goals.
How to think of story mapping – my preferred route:
  • There are two axes – from left to right, the goals a user accomplishes to achieve a greater goal (e.g. make a purchase, stream a video, other). From top to bottom, the prioritization of stories (activities/ tasks) organized into a release schedule.
  • At the top level, you have the intermittent goals a user achieves. All tasks and activities that help accomplish this goal fall under. For streaming a movie on Netflix, for example, the top-level goals, these can be: “Find movie”, “Assess movie (details)”, “Select movie”. 

  • Under each goal would be the activities to accomplish the goal – the stories a user undergoes. For example, under “Assess Movie”: “View movie trailer”, “View movie description”, “View critics rating”, “View user rating”.
  • Take an iterative approach to the story map where developers, product managers, and customers review the stories for gaps… adding missing stories and removing redundant stories.
  • Evaluate which stories are critical for the first release – this may create the “MVP”. You could prioritize stories by “MUST”, “SHOULD”, and “COULD”. Assessing the stories, you could draw a line that demarcates the stories into the releases (or MUST, SHOULD, COULD).

  • Utilizing Post-It notes is a fantastic way to create these maps offering flexibility and color-coded stories, goals, etc.
  • Keep story maps focused on achieving specific outcomes and performing specific tasks for a target persona. Then, create other story maps as needed.

These are the highlights of utilizing story mapping in the realm of product management. It’s an effective route to hash out the activities to accomplish a user goal.


What are other methods for managing product development?

Back to talking about product! Last week, I talked about the importance of product prioritization and the product roadmap. I’ve also shared takeaways from Des Traynor of Intercom talk on product development. Specifically, how to drive adoption and engagement. Today, here’s a framework for product prioritization – RICE.
  • Reach – How many customers or prospects would a feature/ development engage?
  • Impact – What is the outcome/ results of a build? Would this drive engagement – feature/ user adoption? Drive revenue?
  • Confidence – How likely would development have the effect on reach and impact?
  • Effort – How many total man-hours/ weeks/ months would this development take? Remember to include hours for each resource across functions (i.e. product, front-end, back-end).

Intercom suggests teams add bands of scores to quantify each factor as best as possible. For example, to understand the factor of Impact, scoring can follow: “3 for ‘massive impact’, 2 for ‘high’, 1 for ‘medium’, 0.5 for ‘low’, and finally 0.25 for ‘minimal’”.

Combine each of the scores for:

The idea of RICE is to measure each potential development (feature, build) objectively to drive the most value – benefit vs. resources.