A free and independent blog setup

But still not easy enough for me to use it

It’s 2020 and I re-platformed my personal blog to Substack. (I can’t wait for Substack to support custom domains, but I got a good subdomain so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. )

A personal blog is a great project to mess around with, especially since it’s allegedly the best way show off your professional skillz™ if you’re in tech.

Historically, this blog has been a minimalist, poorly-coded bastardization of an example. I was oddly proud of it, though, because I wrought it with my own terrible HTML & CSS.

That said, it turned a corner this year.

First, I finally found the combination of 100% free services to host & edit it completely painlessly (Forestry.io, Jekyll, and Github pages).

Since I’m a cheapskate, I’ve never wanted to pay Wordpress $5 a month. I already felt I was shelling out for my custom domain each year, why pay more?

Part of the problem was also that I should have been able to host this blog for free on HubSpot (because I work there). But, whenever I started down that route there were too many power / custom features standing in my way. I wanted a simple, “just words” theme setup I liked, and I couldn’t get there. (That may be changing.)

So, I tried a static site on Jekyll and Github Pages. It took a little fiddling, but it’s pretty straightforward and allowed me to learn some HTML/CSS without actually needing to make the template myself. Cool, works.

The only real problem with this setup was that I’d have to deploy EVERY TIME I wanted to change a typo or tweak a sentence. And as soon as I opened my terminal and started editing the repo, it was all too distracting. …Maybe I should adjust the padding just a little… all of a sudden, it’s 2 hours later and I haven’t written a thing.

Even when I did manage to resist the temptation of messing with the layout, the writing experience was far from polished. I was stuck in a code editor wishing I could write the post in a text editor - something easy, like Medium. But that solution comes with the old, “you’re renting space on someone else’s platform” issue.

(And yes, I’m aware GH Pages is now Microsoft, “the enemy”, but at least it was on my domain - which is what those “don’t write on medium” posts are really about anyways.)

Then the other day I discovered the missing piece - Forestry.io. It’s exactly what you need to enable a Jekyll+GH pages site! It allows you not only basic layout control, but also the no-hassle blog post editing/publishing front end I found myself missing.

So if you’re sick of paying $5 a month for the pleasure of updating your Wordpress plugins every month, check out this awesome new stack. If you care about independent control of your blog, it could be just the ticket.

——— Update ———

So. Classic advice post where the author doesn’t take their own advice, right?

Soon after discovering this stack, I relented to the tyranny of “easy”. As you probably noticed above, the biggest friction to publishing isn’t in 'how' you do it, it’s in the effort of doing it at all.

Substack has begun attracting journalists and bloggers that now depend on it to make a living. This has emboldened me to ignore the SEO costs of not hosting the blog on my own domain.

In the spirit of YAGNI, I’m betting that 1) Substack will release a custom domain feature within a year and 2) I won’t have a large enough following for it to matter until then (or realistically, after).

It seems Medium is pushing in this direction too with their reinvigorated bid for relevance.

Product Management as H-O-R-S-E

Popular backyard basketball game or career strategy?

What’s the best way to get promoted in the mysterious field of product management?

For many PMs it’s hard to know what you should be doing to impress your product leadership. Somehow, even the best organization’s attempts to define a career ladder seem to end up as buckets of nebulous skills. No matter how you slice it, product management is a squishy discipline.

So what should you *actually do* to get promoted as a PM? My suggestion: think about advancing your career using the classic hoops game HORSE .

Just like in HORSE, to succeed in your product management career, you need to:

1. Pick your shot,

2. Call your shot, and then

3. Make your shot.

Let’s dive into each one.

Pick your shot

One of the most important parts of HORSE is also one of the most important parts of the PM game. Picking your shot is where you put on your strategy hat and figure out what your plan of attack should be.

This is pretty straightforward in HORSE. You can decide, for example, that you’re going to go for a high-volume strategy. Taking lots of easy shots you’re confident you can make, and wait for your opponent to miss. This can work in the PM world too. Choose a bunch of simple bug fixes and features that will let you build a steady lead on your competitors. Then knock ‘em out.

That said, in product-land, whether you can do this depends on the product and the situation you inherit. You might not be able to bank on (pun intended) a strategy of easy layups, especially if you’re creating a new product from scratch. Like facing a stronger opponent on the basketball court, a competitive market will push you to take riskier shots to win the game. You might not hit all your shots in that scenario, but when you do you’re guaranteed points.

In HORSE as in PMing, it’s worth thinking about the difficulty of the shots you’re planning. Be sure to balance some easy and some hard shots to hedge your risk.

Calling your shot

The next step in HORSE: you have to call your shot. You have to describe what you’re about to do so the other person knows what you’re attempting. Oh cool, you made a random no-look, behind the back sky hook? Whoopdy shit - it only counts if you called it.

This is true for PMs too. To get credit for your work, you need to broadcast the problems you’ll be solving, why you’re solving them, and what the solutions will be. Without calling your shot, you may release something awesome, but miss out on the opportunity to showcase your (and your team’s) success. To score points in the PM career game, you gotta make sure you call your shots as you release features.

To be clear, this isn’t solely a political “get credit” issue, there’s actually a deeper reason that this analogy matters. Calling your shot as a PM is important for coordinating teams across the company. By calling your shot, you’re signaling to customer-facing teams what your priorities are (which shot you’re taking). You’re also giving them a chance to help you with your shot selection (by getting their feedback). And you’re letting them help you make the shot when they prepare customers for it.

So really, calling your shot lets you adjust and improve your chances of choosing the best shot and making it. Pick your shot, then make sure you call it out loud and clear.

Making your shots

Okay, so you decided if you’re going for a half-court trick shot or a layup, and you’ve announced what you’re gonna do. Now it’s showtime, and the **most crucial part** of both HORSE and building product: execute on the shot.

If you miss a shot in HORSE, the other player gets a chance to go on the offensive, and you’re forced to play their game. You cede control of the game to their strategy (not good). It’s not always as dire in the PM world, but it definitely puts you on the back foot when you miss.

To add to the complexity of product management, in the PM game you aren’t the one shooting. You’re more like a coach for the team that’s shooting the shot for you. You’re trying to give them all the advice you can, while not getting in their way or overwhelming them.

That means that “making the shot” as a PM is about giving your team frequent feedback about their work. Telling them what’s working on a strategic level (which shots are scoring points) as well as on a tactical level (shooting form). For a product, this manifests itself in metric-setting and constant customer feedback.

To win, you gotta hit shots. It’s tempting to move on and “choose and call” the next shot as a PM, so don’t forget, none of it matters if you don’t execute well.

The thing that gets product managers promoted is trust - trust that you are good at playing the product game. So while you can choose smart shots, and call them consistently, if at the end of the day you don’t make them, then nobody’s gonna bet on you. Make your shots.

PM Career advice, simplified

So, if you’re a PM trying to show off your “leadership behaviors” or “insights driven nature”, take a step back. Instead, consider whether you’re winning at HORSE.

Chances are you’ll gain trust (and get promoted) faster if you focus on:

1) Picking good shots

2) Calling your shots

3) Making all your shots.

The Goal

"If you're not driving the business, you're not driving your future"

"If you're not driving the business, then you're not driving your future."

-- David Henke

Most business books are drivel. The reason business books have the reputation they do is because there's one good one for every thousand poorly written copycats. One of those good ones, however, is "The Goal" by Eliyahu Goldratt. Jeff Bezos requires incoming execs read it, and it’s one of the books David Henke recommended when he came and spoke at HubSpot (where I work).

The core lesson in the book is to avoid local maxima, and to make sure your systems are optimizing for the overall goal your company has (hence the name). The story follows a manufacturing plant, but applies just as readily to many other businesses and their processes. The main character learns again and again how various parts of the plant need to subordinate their own metrics and throughput in order to maximize the overall output.

This is a great lesson to internalize, and for product managers like me, it's a good reminder when working on a small part of a much larger product.

The lesson: lift your eyes and see how you fit in the larger customer journey and don't just solve for your team and your part of the user's flow. We have lots of small, autonomous teams at HubSpot, which makes it all the more important to have an eye toward the full customer experience and the resulting revenue impact of our decisions.

That said, an even bigger (and more obvious) take-away that I got from the book is the necessary conclusion that you’ll come to whenever you're working in a company that isn't a non-profit:

Revenue will always be your north star at the end of the day.

Depending on the history/size/sophistication/industry of your company, you may not have been forced to consider this. It's easy to lose sight of in large corporations, especially when you're relatively far removed from the sales team that has numbers to hit every month. Maybe your team's focus is driving usage or improving specific on-boarding flows. You're measured by Weekly Active Users or Activation Rate (hey, at least it's not scrum points per sprint or something). Those all sound like fine goals for a product team.

Just don’t lose sight of the ladder those goals all sit on, and what’s at the top of it.

When you switch your mindset to always keeping revenue in mind, it puts your sub-goals in perspective. Sure, let's focus on increased Activation Rate *as a way to improve our customer conversion rate and drive more revenue*.

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Keeping your e-sanity

How I deal with the constant barrage of email and slack notifications

Group chat (or constant email checking) is a productivity killer. Like you, I probably check it more often than I should, and it saps my brain more than I'll admit.

But it’s worth fighting against.

My main strategy is an idea I’ve borrowed from one of my colleagues, who believes, “If it’s important, it’ll come up again.” That tenet is the basis for my email and Slack notifications workflow, which is to ignore them in the short term.

It sounds scary to ignore emails and slacks (what if it’s my boss!?). But in my experience, any notifications I miss always resurfaces if whatever caused them was important enough. Yes, this means I’m less responsive than I could be. But it’s worth the tradeoff to keep my attention. (There are, of course, important exceptions - write them down on your to-do list and move on.)

At this point, you might be thinking, "wow, Lars is one of those dicks who never responds to emails". And you're not completely wrong. But reflect for a second on 1) how immediately (and even whether) any given message needs a response and 2) how much your employer is paying you to focus your attention on something that moves the business forward instead of pushing emails/messages around. If there's actually an emergency, someone will get in touch with you - they'll find you in the office, call your cell, or continually ping you until you can’t ignore them.

So, what does this mean for my day-to-day workflow?

Here’s how I use email:

- I use Simplify Gmail.

- I use the keyboard shortcuts - “y” (archive) is your new best friend. I read and then archive anything without a direct action item for me to follow up on. I can always search for it if I need to re-read later.

- Some messages only require a quick (sub 2 minute) response. I deal with them immediately, then archive. (NB: I don’t leave those messages in my Inbox to remind me I’m expecting a response - If it’s important, it’ll come up again.)

- I leave messages (usually one or two) with larger ‘to-do’ items in my Inbox. I archive them once I’ve ‘done’ whatever the action was.

- Close the email tab so I won’t interrupt myself to check it out of habit. This has done almost as much for my productivity as the rest of these rules combined.

Here are my rules for slack:

- Turn off all notifications in the Dock / top right corner. I don’t understand how people get anything done without disabling this.

- Stay on the “All Unreads” tab.

- Hit ‘enter’ to read and then ‘r’ liberally to mark notifications not needing a response as “read”.

- Use Cmd-K to jump to and respond to channels/conversations.

- Create slack in my day by turning off Slack. I usually take a few hours in the morning to focus on “deep work” (a la Cal Newport - http://calnewport.com/books/deep-work/ ) before I open Slack for the day.

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