Learning by Shipping

products, development, management…

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steven @ a16z

As a reader of this blog, you probably notice the two big themes of learning (by shipping): (1) learning about new technologies, new ways to do things, and new products and (2) improving how products are made from an engineering and management perspective.  

I’m especially excited to learn by spending more time with entrepreneurs and those creating new technologies and products. Andreessen Horowitz is a VC firm that believes deeply in helping entrepreneurs and helping change the product and business landscape, which is why I am thrilled to join the firm as a board partner.

Board partners are unique at a16z. In this position I will represent the firm on the boards of portfolio companies when the opportunities present themselves, but will not be a full-time member of the firm.

I’m relatively new to the VC world and have a lot of learning to do—and I am very excited to do that. I can’t think of a better place to do this than a16z, as they share the commitment to learning and sharing that learning, for example through all the blog posts the GPs write. I first got to know Ben, Marc, and some of the over 70 people at the firm starting late last year. What was so cool to see was the commitment to fostering innovation, product creation, and working with product-focused entrepreneurs.

More than anything, what I find so cool about a16z are the values clearly articulated and lived day to day by everyone at the firm. From the very first time I got to hang out with folks I saw things that reminded me of the values that contribute to all great product (and company) efforts:

  1. Team effort – Scalable work that “goes big” requires a lot of people. Being part of a team that works to let each person contribute at their highest level is how the resulting whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  2. Long term – Sustainable efforts take more than one turn of the crank. The commitment to the long term that starts from building strong relationships through supporting entrepreneurs as they create sustainable products and businesses truly differentiates the a16z approach.

My own experience in product development has been focused on learning and changing from within an organization as part of teams—scaling teams, building the first professional GUI dev tools for Windows, marshaling the company around the “InterNet”, bringing together disparate apps to create Office, creating the first collaboration servers, and shifting to the tablet era. Each was decidedly a new effort working to change the rules of the product game while learning along the way. Bringing this relevant experience to new companies is something I’m excited to do.

Among other activities, I will maintain my EIR with Harvard Business School and will continue to pursue other business and product development opportunities that arise.  

As folks following me on Twitter or Facebook know, we’ve been splitting our time between coasts and will do so for a bit more time before transitioning to the Bay Area full time. I will still definitely explore companies out East, but maintain a strong focus on the Bay Area.

Of course I will continue blogging here on learning by shipping (and on LinkedIn Influencers) and you can follow me @stevesi or email me.

–Steven Sinofsky

Written by Steven Sinofsky

August 22, 2013 at 7:15 am

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Welcome to “Learning by Shipping”

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Welcome to the Learning by Shipping blog—thoughts and perspectives on product development, management, and the process of bringing new products to market.

This blog is a continuation of writing on these topics through several different blogs, some internet and some intranet.  For me, blogging started in the summer of 2005 with Techtalk, a blog focused on the college hiring process at Microsoft.  When I changed jobs and moved to Windows, there were many questions inside Microsoft about how we would do things (in what was often referred to as a post-Vista recovery), but not just with Windows but with Windows Services (called Windows Live back then), Internet Explorer, and even Search (not yet Bing) which was part of our team for a while.  The size of the team and the pace we needed to change required a different approach to communication.  The Office Hours intranet blog was started in an effort modernize the communication channels.

Office Hours was a blog that discussed the challenges and choices in creating and managing large scale products and services.  It was a candid view of what was going on in real-time and was read by many across teams inside of Microsoft.  There were hundreds of posts (roughly weekly), some of which can be found in various places on the internet, unintentionally, and some of which can be found, intentionally, in a book co-authored with Marco Iansiti at Harvard Business School.  The posts tried to take on the topics of building complex products used by many types of customers, by a team made up of diverse skills, in a company made up of a lot of people and a lot of other products.

Along the way, there were several product-focused blogs that influenced this style and approach.  We wrote about Office 2007 through a number of folks on the team.  With Windows 7 and Windows 8 the team and I blogged quite a bit, and often at great length :-), about the design choices, implementation, and features of those products.

Learning by Shipping picks up where these blogs leave off.  The title comes from something impressed upon me early in my career, which is that learning as an engineer comes from the process of starting, then finishing, and iterating on products–getting products to market and putting the broad feedback loop to work.  The teams and processes used to create products are critically important and fun to talk about relative to shipping and learning as we search for the best approaches to use at a given time.

The most fascinating aspect, for me, of technology product development is the intersection of engineering and social science.  As engineers we are trained to find the right solution(s) given a set of constraints.  Product development is about the inherent uncertainty of business and customer needs and desires, and those change depending on the context.  There are no right answers, only varying success in the marketplace at a given time.  The pendulum of ideas swings back and forth depending on the context–the availability of underlying technologies, the acceptance of different business models, or the solutions most valued by potential customers.  The same holds for approaches used by organizations building products–the right answer depends on the context and can change over time.  These choices and the pros and cons of different approaches are interesting topics that occupy many of us as we search for the right path for our development efforts.

The focus on this blog won’t be about specifics or the past regarding Microsoft, of course.  Some topics might come from current events as the basis of more general posts. In previous blogs, most all of the topics came about through interactions across the team.  In this new blog, I am hopeful that there can be a rich dialog about the “how” and “why” of building products in our industry and that serves as springboard for posts.

I’m not sure yet how often I will post–this is a bit of an experiment.  I will work to keep posts free of snark and ad hoc criticisms in hopes that the comments and back and forth will be the same.  Comments are not moderated and only the hosting site’s spam filtering is in use.  As a reminder, I will make mistakes in this blog in both form (typos) and substance (facts) and will take responsibility for those when called out.

I’m super excited to see how this experiment goes.

Please feel free to subscribe to the feed on the sidebar or follow on twitter for alerts on posts.

Steven Sinofsky
steven@learningbyshipping.com, @stevesi

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Written by Steven Sinofsky

January 3, 2013 at 9:00 am

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