The plight of product managing myself

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By Peter Hanschke

For many years now I’ve been writing blogs about all things product management. I’m not sure that there is a subject I haven’t talked about. I found that the majority of topics came from my interactions with software companies — large, small, new — as well as conversations with people who have ideas, but are not sure where to begin.

As a product manager, I routinely asked myself what gives me the right to advise companies and individuals on what they should do. It boils down to having been through so many product management experiences in the past 20+ years of being a product manager that there really isn’t anything I haven’t seen.

There is, however, one scenario that I have not experienced. That is, me advising me on building an app – a mobile app, to be exact. I’ve always advised others as they plan and build out their software applications. I’ve talked to some people who have an idea of what they want to do; some who have a full-fledged idea and are well on their way; and some who have been at it a while and need some help on their next product move.

But I have never advised myself as I go through the planning, building and commercialization of an idea for a mobile app. It kind of feels like I’ll be eating my own dog food!

I will be contributing to this blog a series of posts talking about the interaction between the actual development of the app and product managing myself along the way. Every month I will share what I’ve learned and what I’ve gone through. I hope that you stick with me through this journey. If you have questions or need clarification or want more info, please add comments and I will reply. I will not reveal the nature of the app until the last post. That’s because this journey is not so much about the app than it is about the process.

So why would I want to do this? Why would I want to take on the task of building an app? I realized that I was getting eight hours of sleep a night and really only needed five and a half,  so the other two and a half could be devoted to something else, like building an app.

Just kidding!

I do actually have an idea and my preliminary research showed me that there isn’t an app on the market for my idea. The app market moves quickly. It seems new apps arrive daily. In fact, apps are being placed in generations, where first generation apps were not very sophisticated and today’s apps do incredible things and look out of this world. So it seems that we are getting multiple generations of the same type of app.

Take apps that identify constellations in the sky. I bought one for my iPad two years ago and I bought another one last week. A world of difference between the two. So don’t be afraid if there is an old app available that is similar to your idea. That shouldn’t stop you — it’s not stopping me.

I decided in the summer to write an app that realizes my idea. Did money motivate me? Not really. But if the commercialization is successful, then that’s a bonus. So what really motivated me? The frustration of not having an app to do what I want it to do.

To me it seemed odd given the number of apps on the market, but, sure enough, an app that realizes my idea does not exist. Also, the challenge of learning to write software with today’s technology intrigued me — with so many apps on the market it must be easy, right?

My background is in software design and programming; the last piece of software I wrote was a program written in C for an embedded military system, so writing an app with today’s tools will most likely be a challenge, but I think the challenge will come more from the tools perspective and not the design and programming perspective.

I ask the question again; Why would I do this? Why wouldn’t I hire someone to build it and I be the product manager? First off, like most entrepreneurs who have an idea, my financial options are very limited. I could hire someone in exchange for shares in the company or on royalty from sales. The problem is that you need to work on a business plan in order to show what the potential revenue may be so that whoever you hire can make an informed decision. As you work on the business plan, the market moves forward.

Second, there’s this whole agreeing to the same vision. If they agree to taking shares or a royalty and if you can’t agree on the vision or steps to take, then you’re in a world of hurt. But the other side of the coin is that if you do not know how to write software, you have no choice but to hire a software developer and unless you have access to lots of money, the time it will take to develop your app will be long. Again, the market continues to move forward. I finally understood why most entrepreneurs that branch out on their own have some kind of background in development.

Early on in this journey, I have already learned a few things:

  1. Keep your idea to yourself (I made the mistake of telling a friend that I’m writing an app. Immediately out of their mouth was, “What are you building?” Oops.)
  2. Don’t be discouraged with all the apps on the market, even if some are similar. Just find a significant twist that is unique.
  3. Having some software development skills is a huge advantage.
  4. You need to stay lean. Count on spending some money, but be prepared to do most everything by yourself.

I’m off and running — I have an idea, I have some early information on possible competition, and I have some software design and programming skills.

My next post will explore decisions around which mobile platform to support. I’ll also wade into the Native app vs. HTML5 debate and why I chose the direction I did. And I’ll briefly touch on naming and a logo. Trust me … they’re all related!

Image: AIPMM


  • Phil Green

    November 21, 2012 4:43 pm

    Hi Peter,
    Looking forward to your next post on this, very interesting. Dovetails nicely with some thoughts I’ve been having on scaling organizations and with respect to product management and development coming to a shared understanding of problem and solution domains. Single person team is the ultimate in efficiency with respect to that! Also interested in your take on native vs HTML5.
    Phil Green

  • Peter Hanschke

    November 22, 2012 9:43 am

    Thanks Phil.

    I’m enjoying this journey …learning lots about iOS development, design and their relationship to product management. The next post will be out soon, so stay tuned.


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