Gentlemen Coders, Writers and Musicians

It is interesting to draw a parallel between what has happened in the music industry and what is now happening in the tech and publishing industries. A new breed of professionals, who are really good at what they do and can “hustle”, are giving established companies are hard time in all these industries.

On a long walk with one of my previous managers in San Francisco last week, we discussed a new generation of coders, who he called “Gentlemen Coders”. He described them as :

  • Self employed developers paired up with a good designer
  • Via the app stores,they sell directly to customers
  • No desire for world domination – just building the best product they can
  • Value their time and quality of life over a desire for just money
  • Can hustle and get attention to their products

He moaned how he would have loved to be able to do this when he got out of college 25 years ago. He told me of story where he sold his product’s rights to a publisher and then when the publisher went bankrupt, he could not sell his product – period. His product had become a property of the lenders to the bankrupt publisher and its fate had to be decided in bankruptcy court.

I see many interesting products being created by gentlemen coders. See:

And, this way of developing software is significantly faster and cheaper than how established software companies develop products. Gentlemen coders are very closely tied to their customers and have complete control of the pace and direction of development. Thus, they seem to respond faster to customer demands and update when they are ready not when “everyone in the company” is ready.

So, is it game over for large software companies or publishing houses? I dont think so. But, this new way to develop software should attract a lot of talented, fresh out of college graduates towards starting their own companies. Working for a large innovative software company is so 2007. 🙂

Its much easier to build out a product idea that excites you and then take it to market via the app stores today than it ever was. These stores are hyper-competitive though and knowing how to hustle will be the differentiator between success and failure.

Music Book Publishing Software
Publishing Channel(s) Own website Kindle, e-Books App Stores (apple and android)
Successes Jonathan Coulton Hugh Howes AirServer
Hustle methods
  • Free give a aways
  • Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license
  • Blogging
  • Sending free copies to reviewer
  • Building the first 1000 fans
  • Social Media
  • Posting to the forums
  • Experimenting with App pricing



Quirky and GE

Pretty cool way to innovate while riding on the “internet of things” theme.

I have a lot of regard for Quirky and its clear that GE could do with some help in this area by asking the community for help and using Quirky’s different and innovative product development process.



The Pace of Technology – Digital Music, Redigi & Copyright law

If you are a below 35 chances are that you are buying or have bought digital media like music, movies, ebooks etc on iTunes, Amazon or any other digital marketplace. But, I dont think you have realised that can’t sell it or pass it on to you kids, as you could in the past.

Physical media is easy to resell and pass on and rent. And, its legal since its covered by the first-sale doctrine in the USA and similar laws in other countries. Digital media, as of today cannot be resold or passed on. That said, I see no way of really enforcing this as I can pass on any music and movies I own. So, this is all very confusing.

Apple says that you cannot burn music bought from iTunes to a CD but you can copy it to a USB drive – really!  Thankfully, the idea of protecting music was dropped by Apple in 2009. So, now you can burn any purchased music to a CD or copy or it to a USB drive, which means that purchased media is no longer tied to your machine and can be passed on to anyone – but not legally. And, you still cannot sell it.

Selling “used” digital music just like to could sell used records or CDs is not legal but Redigi is fighting hard to build a marketplace for used digital media. I just do not see them succeeding because used digital goods are exactly the same as the original. They do not age or scratch or stop playing unless the format goes away, like minDV for example. So, it will always be better to buy the same asset cheaper on redigi than from the publisher or the record label. Now, the way redigi works is not completely unencumbered. There’s way too much big brother code it in to make it worthwhile to use this service right now. I do not want them to track what music I own and how I secured access to the digital media files on my machine.

So… technological pace has once again overwhelmed laws and judiciary. As of right now, they judges are trying to figure out how to interpret old laws like the first sale doctrine, in 2012-2013, without giving too much power to the copyright owner. The recent ruling gives the publisher monopolistic rights on digital content. So, it seems like its game over for Redigi.

Redigi has come up with Redigi v2.0 -using the pace of tech to its advantage – and will try to appeal this ruling. I think they’ll burn out of capital and engineers before they see a favorable ruling.

If this intrigues you, listen to this podcast from NPR’s planet money that does a great job of explaining the issue and see Redigi


Typical travel

Travel is a key part of a product managers job. Especially if you have worldwide responsibility for your product.

So why do we travel so much:

The biggest bucket is to meet with customers to

  • Understand how they use the product, which is normally different from how you envisioned it 🙂
  • Bounce of new product and feature ideas
  • Idea discovery

The other bucket is office visits for

  • Discussing and presenting product roadmaps
  • Politicking or gathering support for your ideas
  • Building relationships with folks with influence in the office

Final bucket is outward facing product management function that require you to travel to:

  • Train sales team
  • Ensure marketing messaging is consistent with product features
  • Meet with press, bloggers and influencers


As much as I enjoy traveling, here’s how travel can get taxing. I spent almost 16/52 weeks outside India last year. I’ve already traveled almost once a month in the first quarter of 2013. Here is my travel calendar for the last 15 months and the coming 3

Date Country Duration
Jan-12 US & UK & Ireland 2 weeks
Mar-12 NZ 2 weeks
Apr-12 US & Malaysia 3 week
May-12 UK & Germany 1 week
Jun-12 France & US 2 weeks
Aug-12 US 1 week
Sep-12 US & Netherlands 2 weeks
Dec-12 US 1 week
Jan-13 Japan 1 week
Mar-13 Thailand & Maldives 10 days
Apr-13 US 1 week
May-13 US 1 week
Jun-13 US 1 week

eCommerce Trends India – eBay

Really cool stats from eBay India in their 2012 census.


Here is what stood out for me:

Delhi, Mumbai were followed by Jaipur as the 3rd ranked city. This beat Bangalore, which was 3rd in 2011.

Top ranked states had Maharashtra followed by Delhi

Maharashtra is selling

  1. Men’s Fragrances
  2. Tablets
  3. Laptop Skins
  4. Sewing Machines
  5. Headphones

And, Exporting:

  1. Gemstone Pendants
  2. Decorative Crystals
  3. Skirts
  4. Razor Blades
  5. Wrist Watch Straps

Weird that razor blades are ranked so high.

Finally, they are buying

  1. Tablets
  2. Data Cables
  3. Men’s Fragrances
  4. Indian Stamps Miniatures
  5. Smart Phones

Which is consistent with every other big market. Most folks in India seem to be interested in buying smartphones

Bunch of other really interesting data here:





2012 Internet Trends Update

Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers published their 2012 Internet Trends report in December 2012

Here are some highlights for India and the world.

Internet usage

  • #3 rank in terms of total number of Internet users by country but still only 11% penetration
    • 137 Million Internet users with 50% added in the last 4 years
    • 26% YoY growth
    • India has approx 25% of the total number of internet users in China and 60% of the US’ connected population
  • Global mobile traffic is 13% of total traffic
  • In India mobile internet traffic is higher than desktops since May 2012

Mobile ecosystem

  • 44M smartphone subscribers in India with this being only 4% of total mobile subscribers!
    • #5 in country rankings behind China, US, Japan & Brazil
  • iPad growth is 3x iPhone Android phone growth is 6x iPhone – clear leader
  • Only 1B smartphone users out of 5B total mobile phone users
  • 29%+ of US adults own a tablet or eReader
  • Mobile Apps and Ad Spending growing
    • 67% – Mobile app spend
    • 33% – Ad spend
  • 24% of online shopping in US on Black Friday on mobiles and tablets
    • iOS devices dominate this segment with 4:1 ratio over android for purchasing on mobile devices

Computing platform OS share

  • iOS + Android now at 45%
  • Windows – 35%
  • Tablet shipments exceed PC shipments in Q4:2010
  • This report is predicting stagnation of PC sales and continued increase in tablet sales until 2015. I dont agree with this entirely
  • Tablet install base to overtake PC is Q2:13
  • Encyclopedia Brittanica went out of print in 2012
  • Clouds…
  • Many kinds Inspiration sources – Pinterest
  • This one I absolutely dont agree with. To me pinterest has no appeal and I’m not sure creative professionals (designers) get all their inspiration from there. See: Behance and many others

Reimagination – Useful sites and new ideas

  • Gumroad – selling digital goods
  • Quirky – Collaborative product design
  • Smart devices – smartthings, lockitron
  • Coursera – I love it. Amazing courses.
  • Read slide 58 and then read it again.
  • Still shocks me that US residents spend 3hrs+ in front of a TV
  • US Debt is very high at 97% of GDP making it the 10th most indebted country in the world

Great presentation overall.


Hugh Howes – Lean book writing

Read a really inspiring article today on lean writing and self publishing in the New York Times on Hugh Howes.

I see that the CrankyPM is also using a similar methodology to write her book and has already raised 50% above her modest goal. Seems like lean is the way to go.

Lean is the new buzzword in product management. I’ve been hearing about this consistently since the launch of three great books that inspire you to quit your job and build something of value. I list these books later in the post.

The Lean approach to startups and product development, learning launches are not new. Enough books have been written about this since at least 2008 and even before then, we had been trying to write software incrementally. They have become a bit of a fad and have developed a cult following.

While lean methods are great for $100 startups and small ideas, I agree with multiple product managers that its not “it”. Here are arguments on both sides of this method:

This said, its clear that as a PM you now have to demonstrate you have lean skills for product development and validation. I think this is a good skill to develop if you aspire to be the best in your field. If you play the “lean” beer bingo during a GM all hands today, you will be drunk in no time.


Here are the books I referred to at the beginning of this post.

  1. The Lean Startup
  2. $100 Startup
  3. 4 hour work week

These are great reads and provide a great primer on how to go about building your business. I have to warn you that its much easier to read the book than to build a business. And,