Peter Thiel's Anti-Lean Manifesto

The Lean Startup methodology, first described in 2008 by Eric Ries, has taken the startup world by storm. His 2011 book, The Lean Startup, has become a New York Times best seller, selling millions of copies to aspirational entrepreneurs. The concepts the methodology describes, from hypothesis testing, to MVPs, to pivots, have become common vernacular in startup circles. And every major business school now offers an innovation class that leverages the business model canvas and other lean principles for developing a new product idea.

When an ideology becomes dominant, I find it helpful to read other perspectives on the topic to better inform my own thinking around it. So this past week I decided to re-read Peter Thiel's Zero to One, another New York Times best seller, that he published in 2014 based on lecture notes from a course on startups he taught at Stanford in 2012. Peter Thiel, the consummate contrarian, delivers a compelling anti-lean startup manifesto and offers an alternative playbook for startup founders. I wanted to share that perspective and playbook for startup founders looking to build a more robust toolkit for finding startup success.

Top 50 Resources on Product/Market Fit

The most important journey any new product goes through is finding product/market fit. Marc Andreessen, who popularized the term, defined it as:

Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

Despite sounding so simple, the majority of new products fail due to never finding this illusive fit. This fit illudes both new startups creating their very first product as it does established organizations seeking to expand their product portfolio. From Viddy to Quibi to Google Wave, we can all name famous product failures. And even more die quietly without such fanfare.

As a serial entrepreneur, I've been on a quest to learn how best to find product/market fit for each new product I build to avoid the pitfalls so many run into. In doing so, I've been collecting the very best resources on the topic for years. After reading and watching hundreds of essays, books, and videos, I wanted to share a curated collection of the very best resources I've found to help give you the best chance of finding product/market fit for your own product.

These resources cover everything from defining product/market fit, motivating it's importance, developing an experimentation culture to help you pivot towards product/market fit, measuring product/market fit, and case studies of startups own journey to product/market fit.

While they certainly won't guarantee your success, being well versed in the mental models, tools, and processes these resources offer will undoubtedly increase your chances.

Video: How to Master Influencing Without Authority

Video: How to Master Influencing Without Authority
Slides: How to Master Influencing Without Authority
Essays: The Art of Being Compelling | Engaging in Product Debates | The Most Underrated Product Management Skill: Influence Without Authority

In June I was invited by Dan Olsen to speak at the Lean Product Meetup. I decided to give a talk on what I believe to be one of the most underrated skills in product management: influencing without authority.

It's widely understood that product managers own the product but do not manage any of the resources required to successfully launch and iterate on it. Despite understanding this, PMs often under-invest in building the crucial skill of influence without authority. Whether it's engineers or designers on their team, cross-functional partners, or executives, PMs must be able to effectively influence each of these stakeholders in order to launch world-class products for their customers. In this talk I share my framework and best practices for doing just that. I'll walk through how to make compelling arguments specifically targeted at each stakeholder you need to influence. And thereby significantly improve your ability to convey ideas, reduce decision churn, and get your projects greenlit.

A Primer on Network Effects From Andrew Chen's The Cold Start Problem

In Silicon Valley, we are all familiar with the concept of network effects, which describes what happens when products get more valuable as more people use them. We experience these effects everyday when we use products like Uber, where the more drivers who join, the shorter your wait times; Slack, where the more team members that join, the quicker it is to communicate with more of your colleagues; and Airbnb, where the more travelers that join, the better the listing reviews. And we have seen these network effects enable companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft grow their flagship products to over a billion users each. We also realize in today's highly competitive markets where defensive moats are weak that network effects are one of the best protective barriers for building an enduring business.

And yet despite understanding the importance of network effects, our collective understanding of the full dynamics of network effects has remained fairly limited. We don't have established best practices for building and scaling networked products nor addressing the inevitable challenges that arise when we attempt to do so. Today Andrew Chen fills this knowledge gap with the launch of his new book, The Cold Start Problem. He's created the definitive guide on network effects targeted at practitioners seeking to build and scale the next generation of networked products.

I believe every product manager and entrepreneur should deeply understand network effects and how to wield them to build and scale successful networks. Given this, I wanted to share my biggest take-aways from reading The Cold Start Problem.

New Course: Mastering Product Management

For years now loyal readers have been asking me to package up my learnings on product management into a cohesive course on the subject. This has always been a project I've been eager to take on, but I wanted to ensure that when I did, I contributed a novel perspective to the community. So in 2020, I took a survey of all the available product management courses out there. There were plenty of courses introducing product management to those new to the role. There was even an emerging set of courses focused on product leadership. But there was a distinct lack of focus on courses that were all about helping those already in the role to level up their capabilities, to truly move them from good to great PMs.

I found the same gap amongst the PMs I regularly mentored. Some mentioned that while they had worked as a PM at startups for several years, they felt they still lacked the skills and tools to reach the next level in their career growth. Or PMs at larger established tech firms might see great PMs at work within their company, but they struggled to reverse engineer just how to recreate their success for themselves.

I went on to discuss this skill gap with Brian Balfour, CEO of Reforge. He shared how Reforge was squarely focused on building programs specifically targeted at experienced practitioners and how they had been continually enhancing their cohort-based virtual programs with live case studies with industry experts, community-based learning opportunities, and a membership model that provided ongoing access to new programs from the industry’s best. I knew then that Reforge would be the best partner for bringing a course that solved this skill gap to life.

And that's how Mastering Product Management was born, a new 4 week, part-time, virtual course available globally, focused on helping existing PMs level up their product management capabilities by mastering critical product management tools. The course goes well beyond product management foundations to help you identify and execute high leverage work that generates disproportionate product returns. We'll revisit the product work you are already doing in your role and share unique tools that help you prioritize needle-moving work, develop your product intuition, empower your team, garner leadership buy-in, and focus your efforts on what truly matters.