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Product Management

From Uber to iPhone apps, the inside story behind 5 cool projects: Who was involved, what happened, and what I learned.

Jim talking with Ruzuku Co-founder Abe Crystal about a project
Jim talking with Ruzuku Co-founder Abe Crystal about a project


5 Mini Product Management Case Studies


I recall once taking on a particularly ambitious project:

  • There was a hard deadline and a list of requirements a mile long

  • I had to deal with lots of "adults in the room" and national committees

  • I was (literally) putting out a lot of fires

  • The project had a 96% failure rate historically

On top of all this, I was only 16 years old.

The project was becoming an Eagle Scout, and in retrospect it makes sense that I would later excel in this area of my professional life. Only 4% of those who join the Boy Scouts will go beyond the fun parts of campfires, canoeing, and tying knots, but those who do are probably just a bit more comfortable taking on big tasks.

Here are a few that I was a part of. Scout's Honor.

1. That time I invented Uber

Elements of ESPN's Uber Game
Elements of ESPN's Uber Game

Project: ESPN's Uber Game and Community

Company: ESPN

Stakeholders: 1.5 million end users, engineering, design, marketing, legal

Project Summary:

OK, so I didn't invent that Uber, but more than 5 years before the ubiquitous ride-sharing company became a household name, my ESPN colleagues and I had a question:

"What if we could determine who the best overall fantasy sports player in the world was?"

As it turns out, once we went beyond simple bragging, our engineering team discovered that yes, we had access to all the data to find the best of the best, both historically and moving forward. All we had to do was set the parameters and make it happen:

  1. We settled on a 5-level ranking system, from Prospect to MVP

  2. Prioritized which database elements impacted the rankings

  3. Names were suggested, and I pushed for Uber (from the German meaning "over and above") and created a marketing plan to build launch buzz

  4. We got to know our best users in intimate detail

What I learned:

Sure, there were a lot of casual fans that didn't take fantasy sports that seriously (go figure), and that was fine. But boy oh boy, the ones that DID take it seriously? They were hooked.

“Uber is going to become the most sought after trophy on ESPN. Only the true players will win ... I love this idea!”
“Well I've never wanted to pay for games for the simple reason that I didn't have to. Now to do well, I will have to play pay-for-play games and so I will. "
”This is just ESPN's way of ensuring that us fantasy owners (the puppets that we are) will join every game possible for the shot of winning this mystery title. It's a gimmick and we're all gonna fall hook, line and sinker!”

The result was that we had identified our power users. They played more, they paid more, and they were rock stars. Looks at the bio above -- he is literally a rocket scientist.

2. Launching WIRED's first iPhone app

Elements from WIRED's first iPhone app
Elements from WIRED's first iPhone app

Project: WIRED's First iPhone App

Company: WIRED

Stakeholders: Millions of End Users, Apple, Design, Editorial, Marketing, Sales

Project Summary:

The momentous launch of the iPhone was followed a year later by the launch of the App Store in July of 2008. Just two months later in September, there were 3,000 apps and 200,000,000 downloads. Once again, a challenging question was posed:

Can we produce a WIRED app before the holiday season?

Key stakeholders from the company held our first meeting on October 23, we mapped out our goals, and decided to go for it.

  1. Wireframes were sketched out to determine product scope

  2. I created a landing page with a tutorial video and download information

  3. We synced our launch with WIRED's live pop-up store; shown are street decals used around Manhattan to drive traffic to the store, with visitors up 33% that weekend

  4. The end product let users drill down into 12 gadget categories

Key Results and Learning:

  • The product went live on December 11, just 7 weeks after the initial kickoff meeting, including Apple's arduous approval process

  • More than 15,000 downloads and 50,000 ad impressions in week 1

  • Keeping the product focused for version one by limiting the scope to just Product Reviews vs. trying to replicate WIRED's site right out of the gate was key

3. Course Builder's Laboratory

Elements from Mirasee's Course Builder's Laboratory
Elements from Mirasee's Course Builder's Laboratory

Project: Course Builder's Laboratory Flagship Online Course

Company: Mirasee

Stakeholders: Thousands of students, Operations, Engineering, Production, Sales, Marketing, Design, Copywriters, Video Editors, Coaches, Education Team

Project Summary:

Course Builder's Laboratory (CBL) is Mirasee's $3,000 flagship program and what I like to call the meta "course on how to build a course." Essentially it's an online video course paired with a personal business coach that allows experts in their field to leverage and share their knowledge with their audience at scale.

CEO Danny Iny and his team had built a pilot and two iterations of this very successful course, and my role was to take it to even higher levels in terms of structure, organization, production quality, and knowledge transfer. Images:

  1. Early stage Zoom meetings with Production, Operations, Content, and Coaching team to discuss timing and deliverables

  2. Plotting out the updated content structure after interviewing stakeholders

  3. Sketching out wireframes for new menu structure and navigation

  4. Final product roadmap for students ... will they iterate, pivot, or scale their MVP?

Key Results and Learning:

  • This was an 8-month project with a 112,000 word script and 10 hours of finished video that brought in 7 figures of revenue and continues to this day

  • It was an immensely satisfying project due to continual communication with an amazing cross-functional team built on solid culture and values

  • The real payoff is the success of our students (as in, 80+ video testimonials)

4. ESPN Fantasy Football League Manager

Project: ESPN Fantasy Football League Manager

Company: ESPN

Stakeholders: 100,000+ end users, Sales, Marketing, Advertising, Engineering, Editorial, Production, Customer Service, Legal, Talent, Sponsors

Project Summary:

Fantasy sports is big business, and "The Worldwide Leader in Sports" made a big splash when introducing it's new Fantasy Football product.

The cornerstone of the ad above was the "draft board," a product I sourced and brought to market as an upsell to the online game which, along with high end championship trophies, had a 36% purchase rate and $75,000 in profit.

Key Results and Learning:

  • Amazing things happen when you combine something you love, hard work, and the weight of a worldwide brand with talented employees

  • LM debuted with 130,000 players, $1.5m in revenue, and $1.35m in sponsors

  • As Product Marketing Manager, I worked with stakeholders across online, offline, TV, print, radio, and wireless to champion the brand worldwide and acquire new users

  • Internally, I worked with engineers, designers, and editors to launch the product

5. Course Builder's Bootcamp

Flowcharting multiple customer paths through our bootcamp funnel.
Flowcharting multiple customer paths through our bootcamp funnel.

Project: Course Builder's Bootcamp Online Course

Company: Mirasee

Stakeholders: Thousands of students, Operations, Engineering, Sales Strategists, Copywriters, Video Editors

Project Summary:

Mirasee's Course Builder's Bootcamp (CBB) began it's life as an instructional course, but morphed into a sales funnel that captured new users through paid media, introduced them to our brand, and directed them to appropriate products to help them grow their business.

Key Results and Learning:

  • OKRs achieved while building the course: Reduce scripting cost by 55%, reduce editing cost by 27%, cut production time from 12 weeks to 6 in version 1, and in half again to 3 weeks in version 2 through optimized storyboards and processes

  • Our team used agile development to continually iterate on the core product, tracking video engagement, mobile/desktop/tablet sources, homework completion, and sales calls, as well as testing video length, bonus modules, and live chat

  • Even meeting agendas, frequency, format, and collaboration methods were tested


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