The Signal's Product Wisdom from 2016
Blog Post

The Signal’s Product Wisdom from 2016

Customer Advocacy @ Mixpanel

2016 was filled with difficulties and revelations, and for tech leaders building out today and tomorrow’s products, it was no different. However, hard-earned lessons (and data) lead to insights and innovation.

Take it from us. At The Signal, we spent our year meeting with today’s brightest minds in business and technology in order to hear and capture the most valuable lessons on how to detangle technical issues and build software products.

Whether you’re a founder, product manager, or leading an entire organization, we wanted to bring you comprehensive product wisdom from 2016.

We hope today’s insights will bring you tomorrow’s success.


Andrew Chen on the state of growth hacking

Click to Tweet: Text superimposed on Andrew Chen that reads "Growth is an after-effect of strong product/market fit and great distribution."

In a relatively new field, Andrew is an elder statesman. He’s been at this for a while. His early posts on growth hacking helped put the term on the Silicon Valley map.

“Growth is a magnifying glass,” Andrew said. “If you have a tiny diamond and you put it under a magnifying glass, then you’ll make something big and great. But if it’s just kind of a tiny piece of shit, then it’s just going to be a big piece of shit, right?”

Link to read the full article.


How Breather built a network of spaces and succeeded where so many startups fail

"How Breather built a network of spaces and succeeded where so many startups fail"


Breather is one of the many startups venturing from the vacuum of software out into the real world. A venture that is equally promising and frightening. Asking supply questions about a product are difficult.

But by finding quantitative answers to qualitative questions, like what a person is willing to do for a little peace and quiet, Breather better understood where to position their product. Something that is much higher stakes when you’re dealing a with a real world product. And even higher stakes when that product is real estate.

Link to read the full article.


Why most A/B tests give you bullshit results

Click to Tweet - 7 out of 8 A/B tests are inconclusive and we don't talk about it enough.


AppSumo revealed that only 1 out of 8 A/B tests produce results. Kaiser Fung estimates that 80 to 90 percent of the A/B tests he’s run yield statistically insignificant results.

Link to read the full article.


We’re in a Bot Gold Rush. Kik tells you how to strike it rich.

Click to Tweet: Beyonce stands with two back-up performers at her side. The text says "Who runs the world? Bots."


Creating a frictionless experience via bots has been vastly overlooked by businesses, and herein lies the gold rush potential. But if you’re a product manager or developer, there’s a major caveat: bots can’t be mere replicas of a product.

Link to read the full article.


Danielle Morrill’s guide to the galaxy

Click to Tweet: Most startups are one-trick ponies. It's why they don't scale.


Danielle Morrill, CEO of Mattermark, has harnessed what many founders resist out of fear: chaos. It’s her competitive advantage. As the modus operandi for her career in tech, entropy is the mother of her inventions. Most importantly, it’s the force behind tomorrow’s data-driven world.

Link to read the full article.


Hinge’s “good churn” connects 50,000 dates a week, and more unlikely startup lessons

good churn


Hinge’s success, like most dating apps, is paradoxically linked to losing customers. After a user joins and finds love through Hinge, he or she typically then churns from the app. And yet, those “churned” users are also happy customers who refer Hinge to their friends when asked the classic new couple question: “So, how’d you meet?”

In fact, since launching in 2011, Hinge has been the Yenta to 50,000 dates per week, 3,000 of which turn into a relationship. Successful users churn out of the app every day. When it comes to fueling product growth, Hinge is proof that not all churn is bad churn.

Link to read the full article.


In Data We Trust: Max Levchin Blows Up Consumer Finance



Max Levchin shares how he’s using data to blow up consumer finance at Affirm, his biggest experiment yet, and beating Wall Street at their own game.

Link to read the full article.


Bo Ren’s framework for creative thinking in product management



Bo Ren has been a determined product manager for the world’s most influential social networks, like Facebook, Instagram, and now, Tumblr. But she wasn’t always Silicon Valley-bound, and her path to product management was unlike the rest.

“Before I joined Facebook, I told myself that I would stay humble and agnostic to what I was going to work on,” she said.

In teaching herself the ropes of product management, Bo discovered that she could still be successful without a traditional background. Instead, she’s found a practical framework for creative thinking that helped her build both great products and a great career. No CS degree? No MBA? No problem.

Link to read the full article.



Ellen Chisa’s uncommon practices for building richer products


Ellen Chisa was feeling restless. After working at Kickstarter and attending Harvard Business School for a year, she knew it was time for a change of scenery. But she didn’t go off on an “Eat-Pray-Love”-type expedition. Instead, she became the VP of Product for Lola, the on-demand travel service.

After a winding path in product, Ellen abandoned the notion that there’s only one way to do things. So, she took her own advice and did something radical.

She overhauled Lola’s entire product roadmap, upending conventional wisdom around onboarding flows and success metrics. And in Ellen’s uncommon practices, Lola’s product organization was able to give its users a new taste for adventure.

Link to read the full article. 


Ken Norton’s Discipline of No


“Failure is a natural thing we do when building products, just as the threat of crashing your bike is a part of getting on the bike,” says Ken Norton, seasoned product leader and avid cyclist. On a bike or in the boardroom, Ken has navigated his fair share of switchbacks.

From leading product teams for Mobile Maps, Google Calendar, and Google Docs, to joining GV’s operations team, Ken didn’t just pump through tough sprints or push through resistance on his Trek. Being a PM requires endurance, honesty, and sheer determination.

But product management also requires a discipline of “no.” This practice isn’t about shutting down ideas. As Ken has learned, the discipline of “no” is about steering around the obstacles so that the real priorities gain speed.

Link to read the full article.


Why The New York Times isn’t afraid of a tech takeover



Did the technological revolution kill journalism? Many publications went under. Others threw themselves at the mercy of clicks. The New York Times has folded to the pressure of neither.

Instead, the newspaper of record is engineering better reading experiences, without compromising 165 years of editorial wisdom. The Times has volumes of data on its readership. The question is just, What to do with it?

The Signal sat down with Nick Rockwell, the Chief Technology Officer of The New York Times, to learn how his team is building a strong data culture and engineering all the news that’s fit to print.

Link to read the full article.


Competition isn’t your enemy. It’s your product’s secret weapon.


Arjun Lall was the Director of Product on FarmVille when mobile gaming came out of the woodwork and blindsided Zynga. While the gaming giant’s fall from grace was rough, the lesson wasn’t lost on him.

Now, Arjun leads SurveyMonkey Intelligence, which is building the most comprehensive database of competitive intelligence available to mobile developers.

By stoking internal competition between PMs and using external competition to benchmark, Arjun has locked on a uniquely data-driven approach to building products. Competition isn’t something to fear, after all. It’s something to listen to.

Link to read the full article.


The future is now: Why machines will take over our wallets


A third web is coming. The first one was made of hypertext. The second arrived in the form of likes and shares. And for Andreessen Horowitz partner Balaji Srinivasan, the third will be made of payments themselves.

Srinivasan’s company, 21 Inc., is trying to build the machine-payable web. With 21, developers can add Bitcoin functionality into their app with a line of code. It’s not just for cryptocurrency wonks, either.

The machine-payable web could be the key to unlocking a full-scale Internet of Things ecosystem. It also may be our best chance of tapping into the dormant power of millions of computers worldwide. As Srinivasan says (with virtually no irony),”The future is now.”

Link to read the full article.


Product Management in a Driverless World


By 2020, drivers will begin to turn in their keys. The rise of autonomous vehicles is neigh. And whether you’re a skeptic or an early adopter eagerly awaiting your science fiction dreams, there’s more to consider than how you’ll get from Point A to Point B.

While product managers and engineers at Google, Uber, Cruise and other leading automotive companies are inventing our future, it won’t just be the car experts impacting this new mobile operating system.

We sat down with some experts in e-commerce, venture capital, and enterprise software to hear how they’d product manage the driverless world. Fasten your seat belts. We cover a lot of ground.

Link to read the full article.


Steven Sinofsky on Building Your Product Team



Steven Sinofsky is one of product management’s earliest champions. In fact, he was there when Microsoft invented “v. 1.0” of the product manager career path.

After his tenure as a software design engineer in 1989, Steven moved into program management at the Seattle software company, leading the team behind a little something you might’ve heard of – Microsoft Office. Twenty years later, he became President of the Windows Division. Today he’s a board partner at a16z and an advisor to many prominent tech companies.

From floppy disks to the cloud, Microsoft has seen it all, and so has Steven. But according to him, “The most interesting thing about being a product manager and scaling over time is you. You have to figure out a way to scale yourself.”

Link to read the full article.


Sean Ellis on growth hacking, company-wide


He coined the term “growth hacking,” but Sean Ellis hasn’t rested on his laurels yet. He keeps doing what’s come naturally to him over the last decade: grow, learn, adapt, and find even more ways to grow.

Sean teaches entire companies to become engines of growth — from engineers to marketers to sales.

Link to read the full article.


Willy Wonka and the Product Leader


What can product leaders learn from Willy Wonka? A lot, it turns out.

Product management can feel like making complete fantasy into reality, and scaling up a product org can feel like trying to eat an Everlasting Gobstopper.

One of our very first employees, Woody Schneider, has seen and heard it all – from Uber to Spotify. When it feels like there’s no earthly way of knowing which direction you are going, he’s got five ways product leaders can stay on track.

Link to read the full article.


The Career Dilemma: Hunter Walk’s advice to product managers

headshot of hunter walk that has text that reads "Hunter Walk on following your own path in product"

For a guy who led YouTube’s growth by 40x, Hunter Walk describes his tenure as director of product as just “okay.” What gives?

This isn’t a humblebrag. After 15 years in product, the now seed stage investor imparts some of the best lessons to those navigating a career in product management.

In short: Hunter wants everyone to rethink the corporate ladder. He’s learned that “progress” doesn’t have to be synonymous with people management or titles, and impact is not a zero-sum game.

Link to read the full article.

dotsBuilding Tomorrow’s Products with Today’s Data

Non-technical employees are becoming regular data consumers, and data teams are getting time back to run higher-value experiments. At Mixpanel, we’ve compiled a set of stories and data to show how cutting-edge firms are reinventing the way they approach data and keep their products ahead of the curve.




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