Confessions of a Small (But Mighty) Business Owner

The 10th anniversary of Brainmates is fast approaching. What I would love to report is that it’s been a phenomenal success and the market has responded positively when we’ve tried to sell professional and experienced Product Management consulting services. But alas…. it never plays out as one imagines.

In some cases, success has been easily achieved … and at other times, it’s been like treacle, difficult to get any traction. There are ups and downs, and the only way to climb out of a ‘down’ time is to:

  1. Grit your teeth and bunker down for hard work,
  2. Integrate more closely with your market,
  3. Course correct and,
  4. Make the decisions as you learn more.

And that in a nutshell is business.

But the down times are what drives us forward. Without it we wouldn’t innovate and we wouldn’t find new solutions to problems.

The lessons learnt from running a business can be applied to managing a product. Here are some of mine over the last 10 years.

Go Where The Puck Is

If you asked me 10 years ago if I would be managing a training and coaching business, I would have said ‘no way’. I wanted to build a consulting business and to help many different types of companies make wonderful products..

Unfortunately, the market had a different idea. It said ‘not really’ to Product Management consulting and ‘yes please’ to Product Management training. So here I am… running a business that I had not set out to create. Yet, if I had ignored the call of the market, I wouldn’t have much of a business.

The lesson here for Product Management is skate to where the puck is. Even if the market pulls in you a direction that you had no intention of going, go to it. The market doesn’t care what you want. It has it’s own goals that it needs to achieve. Helping your market achieve its goals is where you’ll find your pot of gold.

Be Agile

I don’t mean deploy Agile Development. I mean be observant, be responsive, be sharp and above all else make decisions.

Last October, the Brainmates business went into nothing short of free fall. After 9 years of year on year growth, our revenue took a tumble. It still pains me now to write about it but it’s an important lesson to learn.

So what did we do? We watched, we analysed and we made some serious changes to the business, quickly. Within 3 months, our strategy changed, our cost structure altered significantly, new products were conceived and a new value proposition emerged.

The lesson for Product Management is to be super observant of your product’s results and the changes in the market. If what you are doing isn’t working, don’t do the same things better. Instead do things differently so that when the market moves, your product can shift (for the better) too.

It’s Not You, It Just Is

Gosh this one is a tough one to learn.

Sales is a brutal job. Picking up the phone, leaving messages and waiting for the phone to ring. Sending an email to someone you’ve met and waiting for a response. Any response. Pretty please?

I use to pine and fret and wonder what I was doing wrong.

After 10 years, I know it has nothing to do with me.

It just is…

It just isn’t the right time, or the right product, or the right amount.

The lesson here for Product Managers is to NOT let others affect the way we do our job. Don’t be upset if no one responds to your email or aren’t as excited about your product’s new feature as you are. It has nothing to do with you personally. Certainly question and find out the reason for the lacklustre response but if you take away one thing from this post, remember it has nothing to do with you.

Get Help

I think I learnt this lesson early on. As a business owner, you can only mull things over a few times before going quietly insane. I have wonderful advisors to thank. Tony Mitchell, Nathan Moyes and Michael Bromley – thank you so much for listening to my stories and dispensing much needed help.

As a Product Manager, get a mentor, a coach or an advisor to help you through your career. They’ll kick you up the butt when you fall into that ‘woe is me’ trap. You won’t regret it.

Fall In Love With Your Market

Its awful when your market doesn’t love your product as much as you do. I know. Selling Product Management consulting as a product itself has been an uphill battle.

So my Product Management advice to Product Managers is this. DO NOT fall in love with your product but fall in LOVE with your market. That way when the product idea doesn’t resonate, at least you’re prepared to stick with the market that you love and deliver something that solves their problems.

I love my market of Product Managers, new and experienced, young and old, men and women, near and dear.

If I didn’t it would be very difficult to do my job.


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