Jason Shah

Some Relatively Trivial Household Product Ideas

1% disclaimer: These ideas are generally all things that make life marginally more comfortable and convenient but fail to solve deep fundamental problems of society. But I figured to share anyway.

  • Refrigerator Shelf Lazy Susan - It’s incredible to me that people still shuffle stuff around in their fridges. If a fridge shelf could rotate - be it round or square - without giving up current available surface area - it’d make using the fridge easier.
  • Combined Washer/Dryer - It’s silly that we transfer clothes from one adjacent machine to another. Clearly, it’d be hard to build a machine that did both jobs well in one structure/system. But it’s kind of odd if you think about it that you need to transfer items.
  • Shirt Folder - I am not good at folding shirts. If I could take a pile of flat t-shirts, put it into this contraption, and fold one side over another, and then open up the contraption to a pile of neatly stacked t-shirts, that’d be nice.

What do you think?

Dec 7

Domain Dependence and Careers

Fields/disciplines/professions aren’t deterministically artistic, or technical, or political. People make them that way. For context: a friend described to me a restaurant owner and how one who knows what they are doing will take time to craft the full experience: getting there, waiting for your table, the first waiter greeting, how your food is placed in front of you, the food (of course), and much more. He/she is an artist, who happens to be channeling efforts into their restaurant (the medium). This reminded me of when Kanye started talking about leather jogging pants, and how he wanted to be able to change fashion, architecture, etc. He sees himself as an artist first and foremost; music just so happens to be the medium through which he has most notably expressed himself. Yet he’s right to say that society pigeon holes him as a ‘rapper’, so they balk when he tries to assert himself in other domains. The same occurred, IMO, when Russell Brand started talking politics, democracy, and revolution (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YR4CseY9pk). It’s pretty liberating to think that people aren’t their jobs, but rather some mix of artist, scientist, or sheep practitioner…and in reality can apply this fundamental skill set, or world view, to a range of domains. Society will balk at this frequently because it doesn’t fit the humans-in-boxes model, but this shouldn’t limit the ways in which one endeavors to apply himself or herself.

Dec 4

Make Time to Listen to the Crazies Once in a While

Everyone is talking about Bitcoin. Many attempt to dismiss it as a ponzi scheme or something crazy people are into. While ‘crazies’ isn’t a fair term necessarily, I’d like to make an argument for why it’s worth at least considering what “crazies” claim. 

Some people getting into Bitcoin are pure speculators, some are followers listening to trusted parties, and some really get it. Some believe. It wasn’t until this morning (11/30/13) that I finally got it. Or so I think.

I would glance at blog posts, listen to snippets of talks, and look up explanatory sites that looked like this:image

It didn’t hit me. Over and over again. I heard about and invested in Bitcoin more than 6 months ago, but the importance of cryptocurrency didn’t dawn on me until this morning. I just heard smart people like Naval Ravikant, Chamath Palihapitiya, and Balaji Srinivasan talking about how big it was going to be. People threw around terms like the “Internet of Money” to help people understand the gravity of bitcoin and cryptocurrency at large. But it didn’t cut through my lack of understanding. Call it arrogance, call it ignorance - but I figured myself smart enough to see the value of cryptocurrency right away if it really were as big as the Internet, and although I didn’t see the value, I fortunately made a small bet on smart people — but I still didn’t really get it.

One fundamental flaw with that line of reasoning (“If cryptocurrency is going to be big, I’ll know it with full conviction and early.”) is that I actually didn’t see the power of the Internet, or Facebook, or mobile technology until mostly everyone else did. I like to think I did. I see the power of all of those things today, so it led me to an inflated sense of trust in my ability to detect a tectonic shift in technology. Because I understand the gravity of these things today, I have rewritten history to think I “got it” early. Just because I am involved and profiting from the Internet today, doesn’t mean I somehow am invulnerable to missing important technology trends in the future. Whether it’s not being a major user of Snapchat, or this delayed understanding of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Classic mistake of using the past to predict the future. Nassim Taleb would be disappointed.

Somewhere in my subconscious, I think I also had some element at risk-aversion at work: I’d rather be #20 and right with slightly smaller gains, than #5 and totally wrong and perceived to be crazy. In hindsight, what happened with Bitcoin when it shot to $1000, then $1200 didn’t leave any room for #20s.

I don’t like that bit of risk aversion, but we all have elements of it at work. The trick is to recognize, parse, and decide whether to change it or not.

Today I went for a run and a brief swim. I let my mind wander. That doesn’t happen very often in this world anymore.image

And then all of the simple, but not-painfully-marketed-in-layman’s-terms-over-and-over yet, benefits of bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) dawned on me…

  • Merchants lose roughly 2.5%-5% of transaction value when customers use credit cards. Or merchants pass that cost onto customers. But not accepting credit cards will cost the merchant a lot of lost revenue given how much consumers rely on credit cards. So the system goes on, but only credit card companies win, and continue to exist.

  • You could argue consumers win, too, if consumers benefit from the convenience of credit cards but don’t bear the cost. But what if the convenience to the consumer was surpassed by another financial vehicle and merchants didn’t have to pay credit card companies that 2.5%-5%? Then consumers and merchants - the only parties that truly matter if we think from first principles of marketplaces - both win. Credit card companies shrink in value and importance - but if you consider the marketplace from first principles, there is no inherent reason for the middle man. (To be fair, the notion of ‘extending credit’ is in fact a good reason, but plenty of people use credit cards without needing ‘the credit’. Plenty of people do use ‘the credit’, too, and wind up in credit card debt.)

It was a major convenience when people could buy things online by whipping out their credit cards and having it delivered to their doorstep the next day - not having to drive to the store to pick up that microwave, or t-shirt, or toilet paper. But welcome to the future when this credit card form is no longer “convenient”. Indeed, here’s a common (ugly) payment form.


It’s not that hard to imagine that payment form being considered “inconvenient” is it? We all do our privileged 1% complaining about it these days. Not to mention the more subtle cognitive inconvenience that we pay for the item AND manage a credit card bill as an aggregator of all of those purchases. Why do we fundamentally need that distinction? Bartering never had that. Cash doesn’t have that. Sure, there are ledgers for personal records, but you don’t “pay twice”: first for the item, then later managing your bill. (Financially, you’re not paying twice. Cognitively, you are.)

Now, forget pulling out your credit card and entering 16 digits. Forget trying to remember which address the card is associated with. Forget having to deal with ugly error messages when it turns out you forgot to change Visa to Mastercard in the dropdown menu. Forgot that this provider, it turns out, doesn’t accept American Express.

What if you just copy and pasted an address to send money to…and hit Send?


This is part of the story of “frictionless” commerce that digital currency proponents are trying to tell. And I could easily see my bitcoin wallets being integrated with various commerce channels and technologies. So my browser and my smartphone have my bitcoin wallets connected to them. The recipient bitcoin address is already behind the scenes on Amazon, or the Shopify store, or Macys.com. And you just hit ‘Buy’ next to the item and the frontend experience of the “1 Click to Buy” that Amazon has pioneered is now available throughout the entire Internet without them doing any special integration or you having to add your credit card to a proprietary, isolated system - but more importantly, if this wasn’t enough, the backend of the entire credit card system has been replaced with an instant, more secure, decentralized (P2P) transaction.

At this point, the merchant gets paid immediately. No 1-3 day processing time. No 2.5%-5% shaved off the transaction. No fraud or chargebacks.

Maybe you, the consumer, even got a better price because the 2.5%-5% fees are now not partially or fully passed onto you. This already happens today when gas stations offer lower prices for customers willing to pay cash instead of credit.

This could happen potentially be done today through Internet commerce if you were willing to link your bank account / debit card to every single merchant you deal with and transactions could be done as ACH transactions. But this doesn’t happen. And even this may still be subject to some fees, and still be subject to processing time. Indeed, the banks are still financial institutions that serve as intermediaries in the transaction. As long as that is the case, i.e. three parties do the work of two parties, there will be some form of friction - be it time or fees (or more likely, both).

One could argue that the banks provide a degree of security that P2P will lack. I’m not an expert on fraud and financial services more generally. Indeed, there have been cases of hacking cryptocurrencies (and users’ wallets). However, banks, too, have been fighting financial fraud for all of time, and plenty of individuals have had credit cards stolen / identities stolen. This - digital currencies - is a new medium, and I, too, am unsure at this point if P2P will in fact be more secure than a bank-intermediated transaction, but logically speaking, the more actors involved in a deal, the more potential there is for something to go wrong.

Also, as mentioned above, the idea of extending credit is also a value that these intermediaries do currently provide that I’m unaware of how digital currencies / that ecosystem will replicate. Could there be P2P credit? Isn’t that sort of what financial institutions facilitate today? Does the credit system entirely devolve? Maybe, maybe not.

All of this to say nothing of the devaluing of currency. Imagine how in many parts of the world, one may put their savings in an account earning them 0.1%-1% annually, while one watches their currency lose more than that in value - whether it’s 2% or 20%. If your storage of value was the same as the currency itself…and that currency achieves stability due to a fixed supply, then you won’t face a constant loss of value. Bitcoin hasn’t achieved stability yet in its value though.

To be honest, I’m not sure if digital currencies can achieve this promise of stability, but if it’s true, it’s another positive attribute of digital currencies.


Anyway, this is the most clarity I have had of the value of cryptocurrencies. It just makes sense.

None of this is financial advice. For all I know, Bitcoin could go to $0.00 and not get adopted by the masses.

But the lesson for me here, bigger than Bitcoin or anything else, was that I didn’t spend — no, I didn’t make — the time to understand Bitcoin earlier than now. But when I had 20 free minutes of gap time to let my mind wonder about it, I made realizations that could have proved useful (and profitable) had I made them much sooner. In life, we’re all so busy. Pushing paper, clearing emails…the routine. I believe we’re so consumed by the mundane day-to-day that we end up doing a million things less important than understand tectonic shifts in the world when sometimes all it takes is a run and a dip in a pool to clear your head and see the big picture.

How Not to Prioritize (And Why You Should Delete More Unread Emails)

People underestimate the importance of prioritization. Why? I don’t know.

I have some guesses why people don’t confront what needs to get done and assigning priorities.

//This is part of Startup Edition. Read about how other people prioritize.

Prioritizing means…

  • admitting that some things are less important than others (and building consensus around that)
  • realizing that some items simply will not get done
  • confronting the intellectual laziness underlying the idea that everything should be done and worked on

These are not pleasant things. Thinking “I’ll just work hard and do everything” is simpler, doesn’t require making trade-offs, and makes one feel Herculean. That seems superior than accepting limitations. We generally think prioritizing means focusing on the important things, without consciously acknowledging that such focus requires us to NOT, and maybe never, do the less important things.

Aside from what’s pleasant or not, I believe the simple effort and limited cognitive input of prioritizing is too much for many people much of the time. It’s easier to push it off or to not do it sincerely.

Some things I believe get overweighted in prioritization when building a technology product (vs. personal productivity)…

  • Customers asked for it. The volume (#) and volume (!) of loud customers.
  • Same as above, but replace Customers with Sales/Marketing Teams.
  • How cheap it is to build in terms of engineering time and infrastructural costs (this often leads to product bloat)
  • "Strategy" without enough rational support
  • Because we can.

…And here are brief thoughts on how I prioritize in various domains of my life.

  • Professional Identity Building (networking, brand building, blogging, etc.)

When I’m considering writing a blog post, or speaking somewhere, or accepting some sort of new commitment that will raise my profile in the tech community - first and foremost, I ask myself if I’ll enjoy it. If so, then it’s usually a no-brainer. Most of my blog posts, believe it or not, I write because there’s something in my head I just want to write about. It brings me clarity. And figuring out how to express it is fun and challenging.

Separate from that, there are questions like: Is this different from my past experiences such that it’ll increase my “experience surface area”? Is this, if risky, something with a lot of upside? Do I like the people involved?

Honestly one of the most important things I have done for my prioritization is deciding NOT to do a bunch of things: not responding to some emails, choosing not to write if it’s purely self-promotional, going to every last meetup, etc. Writing shorter emails (terse but always polite and helpful if I can control it). Scheduling meetings for 1/2 the time I would otherwise do them for. Finding shortcuts if it’s a shortcut type of thing. This has been quite liberating.

  • Yammer Product Development

Vision - Does this feature fit with our vision? Does it drive us closer to our vision much faster than something else would? Do we need the lay the groundwork for other work?

Existing Data - Do we have data that suggests we should explore building say, a file directory, or make a change to the group creation flow? 

User Input - Have users said or indicated that this is an important problem to solve? Irrespective of the solutions a customer may have proposed, do we have a product solution that we feel solves the fundamental problem?

Resources - Do we have available engineers, designers, etc. to be able to build the feature in question right now?

…and much more. But those are some questions and areas we explore.

  • HeatData Product Development

Much of it is similar to what I do at Yammer honestly. But it’s a much, much earlier stage product (mobile analytics) and company with HeatData. So there’s a bit more of a bent on monetization and even though it’s a SaaS app with no obvious network effects right now, virality. 

But again, as a young company, there’s a lot of weight given to features that drive in new customers and help upgrade existing customers / reduce churn. Nevertheless, I’ve chosen not to build certain expensive features if the engineering cost is too high or I know the customer can live without it but just asks because it’s so cheap to ask and I’m soliciting feedback frequently enough to make that so.

Anyways, how do you prioritize? 

//This is part of Startup Edition. Read about how other people prioritize.

The Placement of Your Fields and Buttons Should Make Sense

Notice how “Sign In” is adjacent to the Online ID field. But the Account Location dropdown is below and separate. Yet it is required!

This flow makes the user enter their online ID and hit Sign In, but ignore the Account Location field because it does not appear to be required given its positioning.

And then people get this error…womp womp.

The ordering, labeling, and existence of your fields and buttons should make sense. No wonder they need a help/options link in the very same box.

Why Friction Matters

For some time now, it’s bothered me when people talk about friction. It often feels so “1 percenty” if you will. Just wait for your damn browser tab to load. Some examples of when I’ve thought about this friction:

  • Waiting for Microsoft Word to load (vs. the much snappier Google Docs or a lightweight native text editor)
  • Having to find a Songza or Pandora tab and pause the music (vs. being able to use the hardware’s pause button w/ Spotify desktop)
  • Waiting for a Gmail message to finish sending, so I can send another message or execute a different inbox task

But there’s a reason why it gets under our skin. There’s a reason why those seemingly trivial seconds or minutes matter.

Friction prevents us from living our best lives. From spontaneously capturing a shot of a beautiful sunset. Or writing down a brilliant thought.

Imagine seeing President Obama pass you in a car across the street. If only you could snap a photo…oh wait, by the time you entered your passcode he’s gone.

Well, lucky you, Apple cared about reducing friction when it matters here.

Imagine having the most brilliant idea, but no fast enough way to record it. Lucky you, Evernote makes it pretty damn easy to start a quick note - from surfacing the option, to making the cursor active in the text area.

Imagine you’re out with old college friends having the time of your lives. The night is winding down, but people who were on the fence about going home decide to stay out if you all can get cabs to the next bar fast enough. It begins to rain outside. Cabs fly by, all taken, since it’s peak time. The crowd breaks up, only to reunite again years later at the 20th Reunion…Lucky for you, Uber to the rescue (if you’re willing and able to pay). 

Tonight I found myself wondering whether it would be worth someone building a Chrome extension to make it easier to convert plaintext to event invitation. I also read about Cover, a new service to make it even easier (or, “more frictionless”?) to access your favorite apps on Android.

It’s been easy for me to dismiss friction-reducing applications and features in the past. But I for one don’t want to make that mistake moving forward.

Don’t Be Afraid to Rub People The Wrong Way

There are many reasons why people fail. There are also many reasons why people merely achieve mediocrity. So why don’t people succeed?

One reason I have not achieved the level of success I’m aiming for in life is because I don’t like to piss people off.

Some part of me is polite, another is timid, and yet another part instrumentally fears I will need that person.

Sure, I piss people off sometimes all the same. I’m blunt with my opinions. I don’t work on things I don’t care about. And so on. So people get pissed.

But there’s a number of people I’m afraid to piss off. Potential partners, employees, investors, etc. The most dangerous group one worries about pissing off is this grey area group.

The video above shows Vinod Khosla talking about how he called Stanford Business School 30+ times to ask to be let in. He was turned down by the head of admissions at least twice. He came off as annoying, arrogant, and perhaps even desperate at times.

Yet when he delivers this talk, those qualities turn into “persistence, resourcefulness, and determination”. Somehow success magically redefined otherwise undesirable traits.

But when success is more likely attained by being annoying, arrogant, and desperate…do you accept the lower likelihood of success just to increase your chance of mediocrity?

I hope not. Don’t be afraid to piss people off.

(But don’t be a jerk).

Freeing Oneself from Jealousy

Human beings are competitive by nature. The grass is always greener. We worry about who’s making more, who’s better looking, and who’s happier.

I find this especially displeasing when it happens between friends. So rare are people OK when learning that a friend makes more money. Or a friend achieved something that this person could not achieve.

Indeed, this often leads to discounting and dismissing. “Oh, you climbed Kilimanjaro? Somebody must have helped you. Besides, I was advancing my career while you were falling behind” What a nasty thought. It stems from insecurity, I imagine.

One problem with thinking this way, aside from its mean-spiritedness, is that from a self-serving perspective it robs us of happiness and learning about the world. We are not happy because we are bitter about others’ achievements. But what if we looked at the achievement as something objectively wonderful, and good for both that person and the world? What if we reminded ourselves that we are not measured by how we compare to that person? Then it would be possible to be legitimately happy for them.

But aside from being happy, by discounting people’s stories and assuming they are lying or somehow not being forthright, then we limit how much our world view can evolve. 

I saw this Upworthy video about a homeless man who ends up turning his life around. In the beginning of the video, he claims he loved watching the Discovery channel when he was younger and has a passion for education. I looked inward. I was watching Hulu earlier today. And Netflix. And I shirked most of the true education that K-12 schooling offered. Indeed, I avoided most of the formal education Harvard offered, too. And here, this man was talking about how much he loved education.

And this horrible thought ran through my mind: “Liar. Who loves watching the Discovery Channel?” Simply because I do not love watching the Discovery Channel cannot possibly make his claim false, yet I was jealous for a moment (even though this man has been homeless in his life, and I should be eternally grateful for my privileged, but apparently narrow at times, life). I was jealous that he could have such a passion. Jealous perhaps at his immense strength and fortitude to succeed at life how he has.

But I caught that jealousy. And once I realized what it was and how sick it was, I squashed it. I realized it was irrational and misguided. And then I just resumed the video, and appreciated everything the guy in the video offered about his story. It allowed me to learn from what he experienced, rather than question or envy it. That was freeing. I’d like to do more of that.

In Defense of The Seemingly Trivial: If We Never Solved Minor Problems, We Wouldn’t Have The World As We Know It

This may be a bit of rambling, and you may disagree.

I struggle to personally define impact, and problems worth working on. Many ideas I think of or come across can easily be dismissed as not worth working on because they may only help a small cross-section of the world. But then I looked around. And I believe a lot of common products, features, and rituals came about amidst, despite, or in absence of such criticism about being petty — even though one could have dismissed them at the time of conception for also only being incremental or solving a minor problem.

Here are some ‘problems’ that probably didn’t seem like problems originally, and what I believe are popular solutions today to those problems. Admittedly, some of the solutions may have come about for reasons other than the paired problem.

The ‘problems’ I have chosen admittedly oversimplify the impact of some of the solutions (e.g. Not finding what you need on Yahoo’s homepage is hardly the span of the problems that Google is solving today).

  • Doing the dishes by hand: Dishwasher
  • Bending down to sweep the floor: Swiffer
  • Carrying your suitcase: Suitcases with wheels
  • Slight blurriness in how you see the world: Eyeglasses
  • Printing out your boarding pass at home: Airport check-in kiosks and mobile boarding passes
  • Sweatiness in your footwear: Socks
  • Preparing a fire to warm the house: Home heating units
  • Lack of good distribution of music throughout a home: Sound systems
  • Instability when walking up stairs: Handrails
  • Backpain from stools: Chairs with backs
  • Heating food up on the stove: Microwave
  • Picking up and refilling a bucket of warm water to shower: Showerhead
  • Uncertainty about how much gas is in your vehicle: A gas tank indicator on the dashboard
  • An inability to call people when you’re not home or near a payphone: Cell phones
  • A way to check the weather without watching the news or listening to the radio: Weather websites and apps
  • Making coffee in the morning: Instant coffee
  • Not having extremely fast Internet: Home Internet router
  • Having to hold your phone to your ear: Bluetooth devices and microphones on earbuds
  • Blank walls: Hooks and photo frames
  • Having to lift the trash can lid yourself: ‘Clickable’ trash can lids
  • Having to tie trashbags with no strings together to close them: Strings on trashbags 
  • Looking at more than one website in the same browser window: Browser tabs
  • Not being able to send money from your couch: Paypal
  • Not finding what you need on the Internet through the list of Yahoo’s top links: Google
  • Having to tell the bus driver you would like to get out at the next stop: The string or button you push to request a stop
  • Boredom on commercial airplanes: In-flight TV entertainment
  • Being upright in a comfy chair: Recliner sofas
  • Having to call a doctor to schedule an appointment: Zocdoc
  • Getting a physical copy of what you see on your digital computer screen: Home printers
  • Washing clothes by hand: Washer, dryer

Perhaps some of these ‘features’ are just a matter of big corporations staying ahead. So I shouldn’t accept gimmicky features that help boost Q1 financial statements as a guiding star for the bar on innovation. But is it fair to ask “Just because we were fine washing dishes by hand, does that mean we shouldn’t have dishwashers?”

This leads me to asking not, “Who will this help?” but rather “Should this exist?” In doing so, you alleviate yourself of the misdirection that comes with the false choice about who your audience is. You don’t know who the audience may be, unless you know what the future looks like. Innovators do not get to choose their adopters. Rather, you build and maybe help a specific audience today — but maybe eventually what you build also helps everyone else. Thinking that way then frees you to create - on the simple basis of whether or not something has positive potential for the world.

Indeed, to be fair, whether something should exist or not may be an even more complex question. For example, at this moment, I’m not certain if the Internet is necessarily something that should exist. For all of the convenience and self-actualization it may afford us, it has also caused, or perhaps facilitated, human disconnect and laziness.

I’m not sure if this post is advocating for us to pursue minor problems or dismissing major advances. I don’t think it’s doing either. From the outset, the space exploration that NASA pursued, or the electric car technology that Tesla has pursued were major issues to go after. And that’s a good thing. But I’m simply exploring whether or not we’re well-suited to define whether an improvement is major or minor, or helps 1% people or the broader world, until the idea takes shape. And instead, if we simply focus on tinkering (Antifragile) we can come up with minor improvements that better our day-to-days and also eventually see minor improvements blossom into major shifts - rather than dismissing minor ideas as minor ideas.

Oct 8

Explore and Practice Your Craft

“Experts who acknowledge the full extent of their ignorance may expect to be replaced by more confident competitors who are better able to gain the trust of clients.” - Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

It’s scary to think of oneself as an expert. It often requires you to hide your doubts. Doubts. Those doubts in my opinion make for the best experts. Those people have the self-awareness to acknowledge the shortcomings of your approaches. Doubt allows you to address those shortcomings and iterate to truly superior solutions. I never want to lose that. Indeed, the way to become a guest expert on a conference panel can be the same way to be erode your skills.

Nevertheless, I aim to get better at my craft. Right now, that is product management. And people often ask me how I have gotten better at my craft. Here’s how I think about it…

//This post is a part of Startup Edition http://bit.ly/1e2L9uJ - read how others have become experts at their crafts

Explore and be rigorous about your interest in the craft

It’s silly to become an expert in a field without thinking deeply about it at first. Indeed, many of us stumbled into our professions and industries. But imagine you haven’t committed decades to your field yet, and if you can, pause for a moment. Why do you want to be an expert in growth hacking? Or why do you want to be really good at solving access to essential medicine?

It’s going to be difficult to be an expert at anything you’re not either deeply passionate about or believe directly leads to some tremendously important next step in your life. Sure, it’s doable, but if you’re arguing that one should be an expert at something he or she doesn’t care about, we have bigger problems than semantics.

  • Meet with people already in the field

No better way to understand what product management, or basket-weaving, or accounting, is all about than meeting the practitioners themselves. Cold emails, tweets, friend-of-friend referrals, Meetup groups - this is how I and many others have done it. Don’t be ashamed to put yourself out there just because others seemingly got into the field without ever putting pride on the line.

Maybe you really love numbers and assumed accounting would be for you. But then you meet the accountant, and she is depressed and unexcited about her work. That could be revelatory. Or maybe the product manager misses the days when she was an engineer. Oh, you’re an engineer? You may realize your temporary dissatisfaction with the project isn’t cause to change fields. And the basket-weaver? Maybe the pure bliss he gets from his work convinces you to work for fulfillment, ignore a shrunken industry, and forsake stock options and a steady income.

Would you marry someone without ever meeting? Then why do that with your career?

  • Reflect on your motivations

Many of my friends from college went into management consulting. Why? Money, prestige, and exit options based on the training received during a miserable two year analyst program.

If these friends had articulated these motivations sooner, other paths may have seemed available. But they were locked into this career path handed down from previous classes who attended our college and returned to recruit the new flock of overworked analysts.

One night during my freshman year of college, my cousin asked me over second dinner in the middle of the night in a New York diner: ‘What are you planning to study?’ I responded, ‘Economics, so that I can get a good job.’ Saying so, somehow for the first time, made me realize the grand mistake I was making. It made me realize I didn’t want to be a person who traded the chance to pursue passion for a fatter paycheck. I switched to Sociology and Computer Science. Now, in hindsight, that seems obvious for a product manager, and I didn’t have to trade passion for compensation. But in 2007, I had no such hindsight.

I ask aspiring PMs why they want to do the role. For some, the reason is vanity. Imagine, for example, if the title was ‘Product Liaison’ or ‘Development Coordinator’. Would you still want the role or do you care about title? Many people then start to frown.

  • Imagine yourself in this field in 20 years

Maybe product management is the craft du jour. Maybe it won’t be around in 20 years. Simply thinking about the next 20 years may force this question. Will you still find the skills valuable? Will you be OK with the fact that no one will know what the job was about? Maybe I’ll be bored by it then. I don’t suggest planning out every year of your life - that’s often a wasteful exercise, especially if it incurs a lot of anxiety. But think longer term and question your investment in the craft.

For example, I really believe product management will serve me well, not only when I start my next company, but also when I go to development work abroad.

Practice your craft

  • Develop the mindset of obsessive practitioners

I advise aspiring PMs to evaluate products and services constantly. Why does Spotify promote playlists? Why does Facebook have ads on the right side and the feed? What would be the tradeoffs of Twitter removing the 140 character limit?

But also, why do toilets have separate lids, both of which you need to touch with your hands? Why do athletic stadiums structure entrances in the manner that they do? What are the tradeoffs of having people look at teleprompters during speeches?

  • Work on projects at your day job and execute well

You have to actually execute on the principles of the craft to get better. Some learnings only happen this way. Some learnings can only be proved this way. Solicit feedback and reflect on your performance as often as possible.

Learn from others

  • Quora / the Internet
  • Casual conversations with other PMs
  • PM Poker
  • Interview PMs

Teach others

  • At Yammer, we are trying to spread our product development methodology to other groups with Microsoft. This requires reflecting on how we build product and clarifying one’s own understanding and having it challenged by others
  • I launched my Udemy course. It forced me to refine my thinking and also opened up the class to an audience that raises a bunch of new questions.

Be perceived as an expert

This is my least favorite piece. It has nothing to do with the actual skill-building to be an expert. But what separates experts from people who know just as much or more than the experts? Self promotion and brand-building that leads others to believe one person is more knowledgeable than all the other equally qualified parties.

What do you do to practice your craft and become an expert? Is the concept of an expert evolving over time?

 //This post is a part of Startup Edition http://bit.ly/1e2L9uJ - read how others have become experts at their crafts.