3 New Year's Resolutions Of A Startup Product Manager

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By Katie Corner (Product Manager, BOKU) There is no doubt about it: 2011 has been quite a whirlwind. About a year ago today, I was feverishly packing up my life in Colorado to move out to San Francisco and begin work at a mobile payments startup called BOKU.

It’s been a fantastic year of growth for not only BOKU, but for myself professionally. As I lean into the new year, I am also taking pause to reflect on any new year’s resolutions for 2012.

Here’s my shortlist:

Embrace effective process.

One of the most exciting aspects of my first year with BOKU was watching our incredible growth. Growth in every category: employees, lines in the code base, customer usage statistics and more. Growing teams seems to follow a similar, standard path. In the beginning, the turnaround of ideas to prototypes is lightning fast. Communication is easy and the code base is small.

As the team continues to grow, both in number of people and product maturity, the entropy also begins to increase. I have found that when at least two people on your team have brought up the same workflow issue, it is a good time to step back and see if there is an effective process to put in place.

When first joining the startup scene, I had shied away from process, remembering it as often being a destructive, life-sucking force from my days at big companies. However, it did not take long to see that a little bit of effective process goes a long way for the team’s effectiveness.

My resolution for 2012 is to be more agile at introducing and adopting good processes and gutting the ones that do not work anymore.

Take meaningful breaks.

Seems obvious, right? We have all been hearing this nugget of advice since we first cram studied for hours in high school, only to find that taking breaks while studying increases the material’s conversion to long-term memory.

So why is it that I still occasionally get into that rut where I work through lunches or power through a long afternoon without a breather? Because life in a growing startup can sure seem busy and it feels more productive. There is no shortage of interesting problems to work on.

Luckily, I was recently reminded about the Law of Diminishing Returns in a Harvard Business Review article. It walked through some basic math (I have always been a sucker for math-based arguments!) to remind me that I will not necessarily be at 100% of my capacity when I am “powering through” long hours.

In fact, taking breaks to refuel throughout the day will generate a increased average output and higher quality results. Best of all, I will leave work feeling more refreshed and ready to enjoy some yoga or a trip to the food trucks in Golden Gate Park.

My resolution for 2012 is to always take time for a dedicated lunch, and to enjoy a mid morning and late afternoon break of ping pong, a coffee run, or even just a walk by the San Francisco bay.

Cut out the noise. Follow your path with conviction.

It is both invigorating and intimidating to be innovating and competing in a space as busy as mobile payments. As I am sure anyone else with a startup can attest to, it seems like products from companies big and small pop up daily. One could spend their entire workday absorbing the media fire hose of articles, blogs, predictions, projections and opinions on the web. While it may be tempting to spend hours reading to stay on top of the current industry pulse, I much prefer to spend my time and energy building out the future with my team.

At the end of the day, the strategic leadership and direction of BOKU does not result from what we read online. It comes from my talented coworkers investing hours of hard work, whether that is meeting with partners and customers, analyzing data, or observing a customer need that has yet to be filled.

My resolution for 2012 is to ignore the excess industry noise, and to work harder than ever to deliver awesome products that we believe in.

I am extremely grateful to have spent 2011 at a startup, and I am excited and optimistic for the many lessons and experiences ahead in 2012.

Happy New Year!

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Katie Corner is a product manager at BOKU, a mobile payments startup. Prior to BOKU, Katie interned with Qualcomm, Microsoft and Google. She writes about design, technology and product management on her blog, Sprucing It Up. Katie holds B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter at @katherinecorner.