Thursday, October 15, 2009

Product Management for Startups in Los Angeles – Steve Gilison

imageIt was great to hear from a long, lost colleague the other day.  Steve Gilison worked as a market researcher and product manager at a startup where my company, TechEmpower, did the software / web development.  

Of course, I immediately gave him the whole spiel on Visible Networking and Steve was totally game to make our networking visible.

Remind me about your background Steve?

I have about 11 years in the technology sector including roles doing market research, sales and product development. My focus has been marketing strategy and product development. You can see more on my LinkedIn profile:  I also blog at and you can find me on twitter: @gilbola.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working with several startups, helping them launch new web businesses. Basically everything from initial feasibility analysis and business plans through defining the product (PRDs) and project managing the development of the project. My clients are typically entrepreneurs who have other jobs and are looking for help to get their side projects going but don’t have the time or skill set to launch it themselves. One interesting project, a bit different, is helping a paper-based collections agency implement a CRM/workflow software package and also select and integrate an eDocument Management Solution including scanning the paper-based backfile and putting in a go-forward process for capturing digital documents.

What keeps you up at night?

It’s very difficult to communicate the value of my services and it’s even harder to find people/companies looking to outsource their product development to a business guy like myself. Getting new projects is tough.

I can see that.  Most people think they can do product design.  But there's often a gap between what a technical group like ours is looking for and what an entrepreneur is able to define.  I'm curious how you've tried to define that?  Maybe we can get someone like Cliff Allen to weigh in on what would be a good way to position and market yourself?

We just reconnected and so far, what is it we would have talked about if we got together in person?

I’ve always respected your work and perspective on internet businesses and social media so I wanted to pick your brain about opportunities in this space for consulting and full-time employment; how do I position myself? Where are some interesting areas or companies in LA that you think are doing good things? If I were to pick a niche what would it be? And do you know anyone that I should speak with who might be able to help me find more work?

Wow, great questions.  You face a bit of the challenge that I face.  How do I find entrepreneurs who have a great idea that can get or has got funding who need a CTO and/or development team?  In your case, they need to be someone with a great idea who needs help fleshing it out into a product vision.  Or they need to be going into a scaling up mode.

I think that most first time entrepreneurs won't necessarily get the gap between their idea and what you could do.  More likely it would be people with more experience.  They want to do their second or third but need someone to do the real work/lifting.  Of course, it's probably harder to find these folks.  Or maybe not.  Likely any successful web entrepreneur has more ideas than time.

I personally think that your background with entertainment would mean that you could do something interesting around product management for hybrid online and entertainment plays.  I'm not sure how to find these and have wondered that myself. 

I'm hoping that other people can chime in on this:

Where do you find opportunities as a product manager?  Advice for Steve?

What networking events in Los Angeles or Southern California do you go to?  What was the best one you’ve been to recently?

Tony, it's great you'd ask since I've got a blog with a post about different networking events in the LA area.  These are one-offs that I mention in the blog rather than make the master list too cluttered. I have shied away from taking favorites in my blog or anywhere public.  But I typically go to the Docstoc, Dealmaker LA, and Digital LA events.

That surprises me because I either haven't been going to those or have been missing you there.  Your list is great BTW.  We should keep comparing notes on your list and my Networking Events in Los Angeles and Southern California.

So what do you think about the concept of Visible Networking?

How about you send some questions ahead of time like you proposed but then have the Q/A on IM so they can potentially paste in prepared statements/links, etc. and you can still get the real-time interaction going. It’s the follow-up questions to the responses that really create the dialogue and valuable nuggets beyond the information. Anyway, that’s my initial reaction.

I like the idea.  I didn't execute this time.  Maybe twitter as the channel for the follow-up?  And I can capture that and post it?

Besides Tony Karrer for technology, who are some of your go to people in Los Angeles?

I think that Tom Elliott at CKMG and Erlend Wilhemsen at Fabric Interactive do good stuff.


Bryan Jones said...

Steve- send me a message on Twitter (elearningart). It looks like you have direct messages blocked.

I'm an entrepreneur in Los Angeles and am connected to many LA startups through that and UCLA Anderson (the business school).


Tony Karrer said...

Bryan - it's a small world. It appears you are in the eLearning space - which I know a bit about. Let's connect as well. I'll go ping you on twitter.

Cliff Allen said...

The challenges in generating new business are similar to what we faced when I had my high-tech advertising and PR firm in an entrepreneurial community on the East Coast.

I did a lot of public speaking about how marketing high-tech products was different from consumer marketing, which generated inquiries about our services.

I then helped some of those entrepreneurs by providing long-term mentoring and introductions to attorneys, CPAs, other service providers, and investors.

Many entrepreneurs understood that working with someone with years of experience reduced their risk and time to market. On several occasions I was able to point out dead-ends in their plan, which saved them time and money -- and demonstrated that we were more valuable to them than a typical ad agency.

Fortunately, most of these entrepreneurs were loyal to the service providers who mentored them before funding -- and we were able to help them professionally as paying clients.