Fashion and the Commoditization of Devices

January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment


The Versace phone is old news –a $7,000 phone is bound to make the twitter rounds.  Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Armani, and Dior weren’t long to follow the unsuccessful bandwagon of electronic endorsements. As one of the 10 people on earth actually interested in both technology and fashion, I’m surprised a designer mobile device came so soon, but I guarantee it is the face of things to come.

Before I get into predicting the future, I’d like to discuss why these devices (and in particular the Versace phone) failed. 

Wrong market!

At the $7,000 price point this phone wants to compete with luxury watch makers.  Watches are timeless, ageless, and last a hundred years.  They maintain value.  Phones get tossed about every two years.  Instead of looking at watchmakers as competition, Versace should target the luxury handbag market.  Priced between $1,500 and $2,000, these devices would be much more accessible to people with interest in (or a weakness for) fashion credibility.  Send them down the runway with other accessories targeted for mass appeal. 


I’m not going to debate the merits of the form factor – I think the phone is tacky, but I’m not a huge Versace fan.  HP recently partnered with a few designers to give their laptops shiny designer-emblazoned cases.  What did they create?  A line of crappy, ugly laptops with designer logos.  High end designers (in general) are to clothing, what Aston Martin is to cars – they obsess over every detail and the result is a work of art.  You can’t take a Honda, add an Aston Martin logo, and expect people to buy it for markup.

But if you could take the experience of purchasing an article of designer clothing – the smell, the feel, the stitching, the way it fell on a body, the colors, the contrast and applied it to electronics you’d have a hell of a business.  If holding, talking, and internet browsing were fundamentally different, more visceral, the device would sell. 

User experience

It isn’t just the form factor that sells phones!  It’s the UX!  It’s the app story!  It’s the battery life!  And the stability!  I could go on.  Until these things are so commonplace we take them for granted, a device will never be able to survive on designer-branding alone.

Network hassle

This is really US specific, but I’m pretty sure that very few people with the inclination to purchase a designer phone could actually get it up and running on a network.  You need physical hand-holding for even the most vaguely technical situations (especially with fashion people).

So with the laundry list of problems, why do I think this market has a future?  The smartphone industry is still so new — these designer-y gadgets are before their time.  As the features that differentiate the iPhone become commonplace, there will be more opportunity for fashion to differentiate the players – and make a huge profit in a saturated market.


What *should* a Product Manager do?

January 20, 2011 § 5 Comments

Once upon a time, developers and marketers were making software. Developers had all of these ideas about how the product should work, marketers had all of these ideas about what should be said about the product, what it should cost, and how it should be sold. Developers spoke the language of architecture and code, marketers spoke the language of focus groups, and messaging. They existed on completely different levels, (best illustrated in this mid-90’s Orson Scott Card essay). But then, someone else came along –someone who understood software development fundamentals, but also product strategy and vision. This person was the first product manager – a jack of all trades who identified with the customer, understood the vision, and could make fantastic, sell-able software happen.

These days Product Management is a vaguely defined role – different in every organization. But what is the standard? What makes a Product Manager great?

Focus on the product, not the process
A great PM is not glorified project manager or an administrative assistant. He understands the strategy of the product, and has a vision for the product’s future. He knows what the customers want, and what the customers don’t know that they want. He specs, he develops user experience, he knows what he wants built. He is not a meddlesome micro-manager, keeping devs on task. But a visionary with a 10,000 foot view of the product, leaving engineering process and schedule to engineering management.

Someone remarked to me recently that “PMs love process”. They should’ve said “bad PMs love process”. Bad PMs flock to process to demonstrate value with tangible deliverables (e.g. red/yellow/green status reports, update e-mails, checklists of all sorts). Great PMs don’t have the time or inclination for process.

Major grassroots impact
A great PM knows how to sell his product and ideas. He doesn’t wait around for top-down management. He influences direction and strategy. He regularly chats with customers and influencers. He blogs, he tweets, he understands the competitive landscape. He is the unofficial CEO of the product – no power, but all of the responsibility. He coordinates his peers — keeping devs honest, and ensuring that marketing doesn’t screw up the launch plans.

Authority on design, and development
The platonic PM ideal has the perfect combination of common sense, business understanding, and technical prowess. He is broadly technical, understanding the development team’s plans and feature costs. He has design savvy and user experience intuition. He ensures that product-killing compromises are not made. With his broad scope and proven skills, the team trusts him to make hard decisions.

Part of a strategic organization
The PM organization must be configured to attract and retain these great PMs. The number one organizational barometer of the product management discipline’s success is the scarcity of product managers. More than any other discipline PMs (in excess) dramatically decrease your product team’s execution ability. Think about it this way: in moderation eggs are really good for you – Omega-3s prevent cancer and depression. In excess the cholesterol will give you heart disease. PMs are similar – in small doses they can make your product great, and create harmony in your organization. In large doses, they will drown you in process, fill your inbox, and have meetings for other meetings.

I’m interested – what do you think a PM should do? What makes a PM great?

Coincidentally, my friend Alex Weinstein wrote a post on the very subject today – be sure and check it out.

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