Ken Norton

Ken Norton

Partner at Google Ventures, formerly PM at Google. Always brings the donuts.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON December 03, 2015

Discussion

Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
Hi - I’m Ken Norton, partner at Google Ventures, former PM at Google, and product management enthusiast. I always bring the donuts -- ask me anything!
Ryan Hoover
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Ken! The path to become a product manager is much less clear than other roles, like engineering or design. As a former product manager, several people have asked me how to get into this role. What advice would you give them? What resources/articles would you recommend to hopeful PM's?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@rrhoover Hi Ryan! I stumbled into PM somewhat accidentally because I didn't know anything about it when I started my engineering career. My advice to people who want to get into PM is to look for opportunities in their day job to expand their horizons. If you're an engineer, look for ways you can get exposed to more of the business - joining sales calls, answering support tickets, helping out with marketing collateral, etc. Broaden your horizons!
Mandy Kakavas
Mandy Kakavas@mkakav · Communications, Google Ventures
@kennethn @rrhoover Hi Ryan! For further reading check out: How to Hire a Product Manager: https://www.kennorton.com/essays... 12 things product managers should do in their first 30 days at a new company: http://thenextweb.com/entreprene...
Ryan Hoover
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@kennethn really good advice. I also stumbled into product management through marketing. Fortunately, @yangstax took a chance on me. 😄
Tony Yang
Tony Yang@yangstax · Director of Product, Mind Candy
@rrhoover my best decision to date!
Ryan Hoover
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
erickuhn19
erickuhn19@erickuhn19 · Product Manager at FIS
@kennethn What are the top 5 books you would recommend to Product Managers? (or as many as you can remember)
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@erickuhn19 The most important business book of the last 50 years is The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, and every product person should read it. Other favorites on my must-read list: High Output Management (Andy Grove), Hard Thing About Hard Things (Ben Horowitz), Lean Startup (Eric Ries), Innovator’s Solution (Christensen’s follow-up), Design of Everyday Things (Donald Norman), Inspired (Marty Cagan). I once tweeted a photograph of our PM bookshelf at the GV office [1], if you can make out tiny text and want LOTS of recommendations. Four (non-PM) books I’ve read recently that I enjoyed: Superforecasting, The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Sixth Extinction, and Dead Wake. [1] https://twitter.com/kennethn/sta...
Klajdi Turlla
Klajdi Turlla@klajdi_kl · Product Manager, MPAY Albania
Thanks for taking the time. Two questions: Much debate is around technical and non-technical Product Managers. Whats your take on it? As a non-technical product manager in a small company what is the best path to implement Scrum, the one of Scrum Master or Scrum Product Owner?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@klajdi_kl this is an excellent question. Requiring that PMs have a CS degree was a reaction to bad experiences many engineers had working with PMs who didn't understand the technology. Requiring a CS degree was a statement, but it's an overreaction (hint: I don't have a CS degree either!) I've often said that PMs need to be *technical enough* which means they need to understand the technology at a deep enough level to get credibility with their engineers. So I'm not in the requiring a CS degree camp. Re: implementing Scrum. Any changes to process require buy-in from everyone, so if the members of your team aren't on board, you won't have success. When convincing people to try something new, always approach it by helping them understand how it will make their jobs easier.
Klajdi Turlla
Klajdi Turlla@klajdi_kl · Product Manager, MPAY Albania
Many thanks Ken @kennethn :-)
Andrew Ettinger
Andrew Ettinger@ettinger · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
What technical skill did you learn in PM that most helps your current role in VC? What was the hardest adjustment?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@andrewmettinger Spreadsheets :-) Seriously, understanding how to turn data into insights. In VC you're constantly asked to evaluate different businesses, and you need to have a good foundation in interpreting financial projections and the like. Biggest adjustment? When I first started at GV I didn't think I'd have much to offer to companies that weren't in consumer or enterprise software. What could I offer a company that's curing cancer? Pretty quickly I began to learn that organizational and process challenges are the same, and that even if I didn't know anything about the company's core business I understood the challenges they faced putting together teams that are working effectively and deciding what's important.
erickuhn19
erickuhn19@erickuhn19 · Product Manager at FIS
What is your take on Product Design Sprints the GV Design team uses? Have you had the chance to be involved in one?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@erickuhn19 I love them. I've seen amazing results where teams worked together in 5 days to come to an understanding of the problem they wanted to solve and then tested it with real people. It's keeps you incredibly focused. PMs are a critical part of this, and I've heard nothing but enthusiasm from PMs in the portfolio who've been through sprints. (If you're wondering about sprints, check out the GV Design Library if you're curious to learn more.)
erickuhn19
erickuhn19@erickuhn19 · Product Manager at FIS
@kennethn Totally agree, I've had good success with PDS in the last startup I worked with, but looking to integrate the methodology into a much bigger company for my next PM role. This book was also a great read for learning more about them: http://www.amazon.com/Design-Spr...
Jonathan Zazove
Jonathan Zazove@jzazove · designer + engineer
Which product that you worked on are you most proud of and why?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@jzazove hard to pick, but if I had to I'd say Google Calendar. When I started on the project it wasn't taken seriously by anyone in the industry. When I moved on, we were powering millions of enterprises and had displaced entrenched competitors. I'm sorry about all your meetings though, that I won't take credit for :-)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
@kennethn thanks so much for joining us today! During your career to date, what is the best piece of advice you've ever been given? Flip side - what's the worst?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@ems_hodge *Best Advice*: Jonathan Rosenberg, former SVP of Product at Google used to ask all the PMs on his team to write their resume in 10 years. Where do you want to be? I was skeptical until I did it. I realized pretty quickly that my resume in 10 years didn’t say “CEO.” I didn’t want to be a CEO. But I hadn’t explicitly stated that, and in many ways the PM career path defaults to the CEO career path. Knowing I wanted something different helped me be more deliberate about my career decisions and communicating my goals to others. *Worst Advice*: at my first programming job out of college I got excited about the web (this was 1994-1995). I couldn't get our management excited about the internet and eventually decided to move on. Worst advice came from my boss who said the internet reminded him of CB radio. "Years ago truckers used CB radio, then it became a fad and everybody had a CB radio. Know who has a CB radio now? Truckers. The internet is a fad." I didn't listen to him :-)
Sherwin Wu
Sherwin Wu@sherwinwu
@kennethn When evaluating the strategic assets of a company, when is the company's core technology innovations (or engineering accomplishments) considered a defensible asset (if ever)?
Sherwin Wu
Sherwin Wu@sherwinwu
@kennethn What do you think is the future of search? Do you think the "lookup" experience on the internet will be the same 20 years from now?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@sherwinwu years ago when I was at Yahoo! we believed that search should be personalized and anticipate the user's needs. We used to say "Go beyond the SERP (search engine results page)" I'm amazed looking back at how much of that has come true. Search has broken out of the box (hehe) and it will continue to do so.
Jacqueline von Tesmar
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as misguided?
Sol Weinreich
Sol Weinreich@solfrombrooklyn · Founder MINR
How important is it to have a technical background ( CS degree or coding experience) to be a great PM?
Ross Simmonds
Ross Simmonds@thecoolestcool · Entrepreneur | Giving 💯
Ken - I've got two questions: 1) What advice would you give an entrepreneur looking to raise capital but has a small network in the venture/angel world? 2) I'm stealing this one from Peter Thiel - What important truth do very few people agree with you on? Thanks for taking the time!
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@thecoolestcool Excellent questions. 1. Look for ways to stand out. VCs and investors see lots of pitches in any given day, and anything that stands apart always catches your eye. Same kind of advice you'd give someone looking for a job actually. Don't be afraid to lean heavily on contacts you have, even ones that may be a few steps away. A referral from a friend of a friend of a friend always carries more weight than something cold. 2. A startup shouldn't hire a product manager too early. It's counterintuitive because conventional wisdom seems to be that it's a critical first hire, but there's danger in bringing in extra cooks too early. Startups I work with are often surprised when I tell them it's too soon.
Cobby Amoah
Cobby Amoah@cobbyamoah · CEO, Peach
Ken - With leaked info about the next versions of Google Glass (Project Aura), is GV still interested in investing in the Glass Ecosystem?
Mɐx Bulger
Mɐx Bulger@maxbulger · maxbulger.net
@kennethn Hey Ken! Thanks for all your awesome contributions to the product management canon-- me and many other young PM's wouldn't be in our current roles without them. Product management varies so much from company to company-- not just by audience/target users (consumer, enterprise, developer, etc), but also by company product development style and org structure. What advice do you have for young PM's trying to navigate across the wide, variable range of PM roles out there?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@maxbulger Hi Max! First and foremost find a product you're passionate about. For PMs, it's essential that you work for a company that understands and values product management. I'm surprised at how many people I meet who are PMs at companies that don't seem to care, or are actively hostile to the role of product management.
★ Karan Goel ☂
★ Karan Goel ☂@karangoel · Engineer @ Google
@kennethn Hi Ken. A question that's probably unrelated to what you do. If you could talk to a room full of students who are entering the industry and tell them anything you wanted to, what would it be?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@karangoel Be patient. I've met many young grads who are expecting immediate success, and dissatisfied when they don't achieve their goals right away. Take your time, think long-term, and learn.
Rick Klau
Rick Klau@rklau · Partner, GV
@kennethn What are the best 3 records you added to your shelf in 2015?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@rklau tough question. Probably the latest albums by Majical Cloudz, Sufjan Stevens, and Kurt Vile.
Rick Klau
Rick Klau@rklau · Partner, GV
What's the best donut you've ever been given?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@rklau sour cream old fashioned. I've tried all sorts of fancy donuts, but simplicity always wins in the end.
Gabriel Rubinsky
Gabriel Rubinsky@gabrubinsky · Product Manager, Panasonic
How do you handle time management?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@gabrubinsky I've written a bit about meetings, I'd encourage you to check that out if you haven't. As for day-to-day time management: I've learned that PMs don't really control their time. They're at the service of their team, which means they need to be available when their team needs them. Unstructured conversations, being available at your desk for someone who needs you, and ad hoc hallway conversations are essential. If you're not making time for that, you're not doing your job.
Avi Bitton
Avi Bitton@ajbitton
@kennethn Hi Ken, I come from a graphic-design background, but lately my interest in it has been drifting away and I'm starting to like the idea of Product Management. My whole life I've been organized and like to see things from a outside perspective. I love Post-it's, whiteboards, scrumboards, etc. How would I know if it's the right path for me? PS: Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts? 🍩
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@ajbitton Hi Avi! I'm excited to see designers moving into PM. It both expands the definition of what makes a great PM but also speaks to how integral design has become to software. Designers are naturals at seeing problems from the user's point of view, and empathy which can sometimes be a struggle for PMs coming from engineering. I'd look for opportunities to branch out a bit and take on more PM responsibilities, try before you buy. Re: Krispy Kreme or Dunkin? Neither: Psycho Donuts! 🍩🍩🍩
Avi Bitton
Avi Bitton@ajbitton
@kennethn @ajbitton When you say "opportunities" do you mean at my current job? I work at a "ma and pa shop" so-to-speak and I don't think I'll be able to "try before I buy" as much as I could. Do you recommend applying as a designer somewhere else and moving up or going to a GA course for PM for example?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@ajbitton Yes, I mean day-to-day opportunities at your current job. Whether or not you choose to find a design job somewhere else should be driven by whether or not you're happy and feel like you're contributing where you are now. As for moving into PM, there's no time limit or window that closes. It's never too late to make the move, and more years of design experience just means you've got more domain expertise. I don't know anything about PM courses so can't comment there, but nothing beats real-world experience.
Avi Bitton
Avi Bitton@ajbitton
@kennethn @ajbitton You're awesome! 🙌 Thank you for the advice! I'll have to check out Psycho Donuts one day! 🍩
Gabriel Rubinsky
Gabriel Rubinsky@gabrubinsky · Product Manager, Panasonic
@kennethn have you had experience as a PM dealing with company founders making the priority calls for the products features/releases?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@gabrubinsky Absolutely, because I've been fortunate to work for great product founder/CEOs. The best place to be a PM is at a company led by a strong product person. But you need to come to an understanding with them about where they've given you ownership and where they need to continue to be directly involved. A good founder knows that their role as First PM changes when other PMs are onboard to take on day-to-day stewardship of the product. There's a lot of other parts of the business they need to hold in their head, and this gives them the ability to do that. But they should never "let go" of the product. There's a lot the founders can do to set the PM up for success too. When I started at JotSpot I was the first non-founding PM (Joe Kraus had been playing that role). Joe was excellent about making it clear to the team that I was responsible for day-to-day product decisions, he really set me up for success. He had to trust me, and know that I'd have good instincts on when to get him directly involved (and when he was unhappy about that, he came to me personally rather than undermining me in front of the team :-)
Kingsong Chen
Kingsong Chen@kingsongchen · Dev
@kennethn What convinces you that a company trying to change an old industry (Flatiron Health, Foundation Medicine) will be successful?
Akaash Nanda
Akaash Nanda@akaashn · Student, Stanford University
@kennethn Hi Ken, question from a (soon to be) fresh grad about career paths: What role do you see larger companies playing the the development and seasoning of young professionals? Is starting a career at a larger technology firm something you'd recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@akaashn Hi Akaash! My advice to new grads is to look for high growth businesses. Andy Rachleff makes this point very eloquently, and even puts out an annual list of companies to consider. If you get exposure to massive growth early in your career you'll learn a ton of lessons that will benefit you later. You'll also come away with a brand name on your resume and a network that will be incredibly valuable. So I would look to companies like Uber, Medium, or a Slack to start your career (disclosure: GV portfolio companies!).
Amir Pakzadian
Amir Pakzadian@amirp · Founder of Bia2, ex PM @ Medium & Amazon
Hi Ken, what advice do you have for PMs interviewing for a PM role at Google?
Michael Carusi
Michael Carusi@michaelcarusi · Independent Consultant
@kennethn Hey Ken, thanks for taking the time, glad I could make it! Have you worked on a product that you didn't necessarily 'click' with initially? Was it a good learning experience in the end?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@michaelcarusi Yes, I have. I can think of one occasion where I was asked to take over a product because my organizational and team-building strengths were a good fit, but where my own passions and interests weren't. It didn't work out, and I eventually realized that most importantly I need to be working on a product that I'm excited and passionate about.
Shubha A T
Shubha A T@shubhaat · Product Manager
Ken, Thanks for doing this! Sitting in India, where PM was still super nascent in 2011 when I like you accidentally stumbled into it, your articles were a guiding force. My question: What excites and frustrates you the most about the PM role ?
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
@shubhaat *What excites me*: starting to see a generation of founders starting amazing companies who came up as PMs. Product management at a company like Facebook or Google is tremendous preparation for being a founder/CEO. We know the best founder/CEOs are product founders, so I'm excited about the future. *What frustrates me*: PM still does mean different things to different companies and different people. I feel sad when I learn that someone dismissed the entire role because they had a bad experience with a PM early on, or at a company that didn't value or understand PM.
Ken Norton
Ken Norton@kennethn · Partner, Google Ventures
Hey everyone - thanks for all of your great questions. I had a lot of fun! You can always find me on Twitter (@kennethn) and on the web - www.kennorton.com. Bye! 🍩🍩🍩🍩🍩🍩🍩🍩🍩