The Fetch Blog

The best events and reads for professionals

Coffee talk: Ellen Chisa, product person and adventurer — August 29, 2015

Coffee talk: Ellen Chisa, product person and adventurer

Ellen Chisa is never bored. Currently helping build a covert Boston-based startup after dropping out of Harvard Business School, she’s on a constant mission to learn more, expand her overlaps and live a life full of rich experiences. Here, she shares what she loves about working on product and how she connects the dots on her journey to date.

How did you get to where you are today?

People joke that my resume is funny because you can make it look very conventional or really wacky, depending on what you highlight.

I grew up in Michigan. I moved to Boston the first time to go to tiny, then-unaccredited Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. I took a year off to try to have a startup with five friends that didn’t work out. After graduation, I ended up in Seattle to work at Microsoft as a PM, then in NYC to work at Kickstarter. Along the way I also worked with the Awesome Foundation and the World Economic Forum Global Shapers. Last year, I moved back to Boston to start at Harvard Business School. I’m relieved to report that it’s a lot easier to move “back” somewhere than it is to move somewhere the first time.

The final step is that I just dropped out to be the first employee at Blade Travel.

From startups and business school to teaching and living life in different cities, you’ve truly expanded your overlaps. Which experience has pushed you the furthest outside of your comfort zone?

Definitely HBS. It was a huge shock. Somehow I knew it was going to be hard going in (I even wrote it down publicly!) and yet I was still surprised by how exhausted I was all the time.

I’m an introvert, but people often don’t realize because I do spend a lot of time with people. I’ve adapted rules to help me cope — I do most things 1:1, I do background research so I’ll feel comfortable, and I have go-to topics. HBS wasn’t conducive to those things – it was small talk on the fly with extreme extroverts.

Ellen Chisa

I’m glad I did it, but wow, that was hard.

Has your incredible variety of personal and professional experiences been spontaneous or carefully calculated? When you look back on the path you’ve taken so far, can you ‘connect the dots’?

I can connect them in reverse, but they definitely didn’t line up so nicely at the time. It’s fun to craft the story of how your career came to be.

For instance, not a ton of people know this, my manager at Microsoft threatened to fire me. It looks super logical that I combined my Microsoft skills & Awesome Foundation interest and found myself at Kickstarter. It also makes a nice story. The truth is, at the time it was much more fraught.

On the whole everything I do is about working with great people and learning new things so that I can make cool stuff.

Kickstarter offers an amazing discovery experience, which you helped create. What advice can you offer for building tools that people will find useful and love?

Talk to people!

It’s not about a quick survey or a “would you..?” it’s about deeper ethnography. When you first start making something, sit down with 10 people and talk to each of them for an hour. Learn all the weird things about how they think about your space. You’ll be amazed at the variation you get. After about 10 people, most of the things you hear overlap. It’s a great way to map a space quickly.

You can also do it casually. Since I’m working on travel, when I meet up with friends I ask about recent and upcoming trips. It’s fun to hear what they’re doing, and it’s covert product research! Win-win.

You left Kickstarter to attend Harvard Business School, which you recently left to work on a new startup project, Blade. Is there a difference in the way you approach your work now, as opposed to before your time at HBS?

Definitely. I see things through another lens. It used to be that I could see “does this fit with what I know of the user?” and “is this technically feasible?” when I was thinking about a Product. I now have a third angle, which is “could this viably make money? how much?”

It’s neat because I didn’t used to have any intuition for that. If I wanted to think about it, I had to explicitly plan. Now I have a better idea off the bat, and I can ask better questions to make sure I’m right.

It’s new, and I’m still surprised when those thoughts pop up. Every time it happens I’m like “who is saying that?” and then I realize it’s me.

Blade is a travel company. What interests you about the space and what you’re working on now?

Ellen Chisa, BladeOne piece of it is that I’ve always loved to travel. My family traveled growing up, and that’s definitely continued. It’s personally important to me. To give you an idea of how much I travel – I’ve been on 10 trips so far this year, ranging from three weeks in Indonesia and Cambodia to a day in NYC. It’s fun to work on something that’s such a big part of my life.

The other half is that I try to work on things that I think make the world better. I loved helping people build projects at Kickstarter because it was all about helping creators realize their vision. With travel, it’s about helping people have new experiences, get outside of their comfort zones, and build empathy. I want to live in a world with more of that. :)

What qualities and experience/s make someone a great product manager?

In terms of qualities, thoughtfulness! I’m always looking for why people made the choices they did – and how reflective they are about them.

There should have been a “why” in every decision, and there should also be a “this is how I’ll do the same thing next time” that incorporates learning.

For experiences, I think it’s just about making things over and over. Try a bunch of stuff, see what sticks. Don’t make only one type of thing – try woodworking, knitting, painting – any type of making will help you be better.

What do you enjoy most about working on product?

Everything. I love doing Product. I love getting to make things that will help make peoples’ lives better.

A big factor for why Product instead of Design or Engineering or Strategy is that I like getting to see the entire process of building from start to end. PM is one of the few roles that has a substantial part every step of the way.

Where can we find you in Boston?

On the Red Line somewhere between Davis and Fort Point. I actually prefer to be at home or in my office — I get a lot more work done if I’m in a consistent location. If I’m meeting people, I enjoy Drink for cocktails (and the grilled cheese!) or Crema for coffee.

Last, how do you like your coffee?

It varies. Sometimes different types of milk, never with sugar. Right now, I drink a lot of Grady’s cold brew (diluted with water, no milk) with my breakfast.

Web performance is everyone’s problem: why it matters and how to help fix it — August 28, 2015

Web performance is everyone’s problem: why it matters and how to help fix it

Not long ago, websites were usually simple affairs. Some text, a few images, a little interaction, the odd form and some quick audio or video. Over the last five years, however, even the simplest site has become bigger. A lot bigger. According to the HTTP Archive, which has been tracking this sort of thing for half a decade or more, the average ‘page’ at a major website is now heading towards 2MB. And well-known websites can have pages weighing in as much as 14MB in size.

As a bit of background, page load performance isn’t just about how many bytes a browser needs to download, it’s also about how many individual files go into making up that page. As the typical high profile website approaches 200 individual files, this has become a particularly costly problem over even the shiniest 4G mobile network. 

More than a developer’s dilemma

While there are things that developers and DevOps professionals are doing to tackle page load times, this problem is more than a developer’s dilemma. Reason being that it’s often the strategic and design decisions as team makes that contribute to increased load time.

Think of it like this: just as building new roads increases the amount of traffic on them (ironically increasing overall trip times), increased network performance has encouraged bigger, slower sites.

Why is this a problem? In addition to providing a poor user experience on any large site, research shows that slow page load can be incredibly costly for retailers. Walmart, for instance, has seen the impact of a page that loads a second slower at 2% of their total e-commerce sales. Additionally, other e-tailers have measured and reported far worse outcomes. With these learnings, we’ve proven that even the slightest page load increase can contribute to a noticeable decrease in earnings, along with other key engagement metrics.

However, there’s a surprising upside to such great losses. A company’s ability to decrease page load time not only offers a very competitive advantage, but isn’t as difficult to execute as one may think.

You are part of the solution

To begin solving today’s page load problem, we need to first stop ignoring our role as designers and decision makers. We must make a mental shift to begin seeing performance as everyone’s problem. 

As a new rule, remember that every single image, font and font weight will incur a performance cost. Social media buttons can add 10 seconds or more per page load. Third party ads, analytics, and user trackers will also incur considerable costs, depending on how they’re implemented. 

Moving forward, take a few extra minutes to choose the right format and optimize images before handing them in. Make it a point to help your developers to the best of your ability. Invest in learning about what different aspects of a web page cost in terms of performance. Talk with members of the Development and DevOps teams to decide what’s necessary and what’s extraneous. Together, be mindful of all costs.

Website performance is one area where there are clear, measurable returns on investment, and where most sites really aren’t yet paying enough attention. But that will change — so you can get onboard now and get ahead of your competitors, or wait and play catch up.

Recommended reading

  • While more for designers and developers, Etsy’s Lara Hogan has literally written the book on designing for performance.
  • The performance team at Etsy also brought together some thoughts on performance for that company, with some good rules of thumb.
  • Some real world numbers to convince your client, team or boss about the real cost of website performance that focuses on the bigger picture.

About our writer // John Allsopp, co-founder of the Web Directions conferences, is widely recognized as the originator of the concepts behind Responsive Web Design, and his ideas helped form the foundations for Typekit. Find him on Twitter @johnallsopp.

Coffee talk: Danny Fiorentini, music-making creative and founder of Muzeek — August 21, 2015

Coffee talk: Danny Fiorentini, music-making creative and founder of Muzeek

A gut-follower and passionate creative, Danny Fiorentini chased his dream to Sydney where he co-founded Muzeek, beautiful software that’s changing the way artists and venues book live shows. Here, we talk with Danny about his journey, making music, and what it takes to build a great product.

How did you get to where you are today?

A whole lot of hard work, instant coffee, and ramen noodles. My team today is the hardest-working group of people I’ve ever been around, so it’s really a pleasure to come to “work” every day.

You followed your gut and moved from the United States to Australia to chase a dream. What advice do you give to people looking to do the same?

Well, the initial move to Sydney was for some personal inspiration, growth and a need to explore a bit more. Australia’s creative talent is through the roof, so I was initially looking to expand our indie-record label (that we dumped all of our student loans into) while going to graduate school on the side. I didn’t really know what I was looking for at the time, but knew I wanted to step away from my comfort zone and figure out what dream I was actually chasing within the industry.

I had been on the artist side, then production side, eventually followed by the label/manager side. Meanwhile, I found myself just wanting to go back to creating cool stuff behind the scenes – like when my brother and I first started making music. Moving to Sydney made me realize I needed to focus and go back to building & creating again, rather than just managing people. 

My personal advice for anyone chasing anything is to step away from your current perspective and try to see things from the outside-in. Focus on what you’re truly great at doing; if it’s something you love, you’ll never need any other reason to get up in the morning and make it happen.

What inspired you to create Muzeek?

Several things went into it, but mostly the idea of creating something valuable for the industry as a whole. I’ve used so many music-related platforms, but I felt like the industry was missing an integral component to live tech. Obviously the idea of technology and booking isn’t a new one, but I certainly felt the way it was approached was never done correctly. I really wanted to help contribute to the industry in a meaningful way.

Admittedly, the Internet’s evolution in general probably wouldn’t have permitted this platform to exist 10, even 5 years ago. I think it’s a combination of luck, timing and opportunity.

The biggest inspiration now is our user feedback. The team stays motivated just knowing we’re solving a real problem that’s gone unnoticed for so long. 

Why should someone opt to use Muzeek?

The platform will drastically reduce operational costs, automate a lot of the tedious stuff that bogs a booker down, surface valuable data that people currently miss out on, and above all, create a sense of transparency within a team that allows everyone to work much more efficiently.

We want to become the operating system someone has always wanted, but never knew was possible. We’ve focused meticulously on the details. We’ve approached this platform with an entirely fresh set of ideas about what live music booking needs, what it’s been missing, and how technology can remove 75% of the unnecessary manual tasks that take so much valuable time.

How do you attract attention from venues, bookers, and artists? What’s been your biggest challenge while building Muzeek?

Our users really attract the attention for us; as they all send out booking confirmations to new people, and those actions introduce Muzeek to new users. Because of this, we focus on making our existing users incredibly happy. We want each new person who comes into contact with Muzeek to be equally stoked.

The biggest challenge, by far, has been keeping up with customer demand — a good problem to have. Our team was absolutely blindsided by the amount of feedback from customers, so we tripled our development team to keep up. Luckily, most of the feature requests were already on our roadmap — we just needed to work faster.

You clearly love and live music, having previously co-founded Outbox Records. Which artists do you have on repeat now?

MuzeekI’m a big Tame Impala fan, so I’ve been on that new Currents album for a bit. Plus the Mark Ronson stuff is awesome — I was lucky enough to catch them live last month. I also think ODESZA is the best electronic music out right now. Their originality blows me away with every release. Other recent plays include Pond, Joey Bada$$, 20syl, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, The Walking Who, and our very own Prof3ssor Blue.

Where can we find you in Sydney?

Usually in Bondi avoiding sharks, or our offices in Surry Hills. Wherever it is, there’s a laptop in front of me!

Last, how do you like your coffee?

I don’t know how she does it, but my girlfriend makes the best instant coffee on Earth. She gets that milk-to-coffee ratio perfect every time. It’s definitely an art!

Featured job: Frontend developer at Macropod, Melbourne —

Featured job: Frontend developer at Macropod, Melbourne

Macropod is a software development company based in Yarraville, Melbourne. Macropod is a business built on trust, diversity and openness with the single-minded goal to deliver great software to people who build the web.

Macropod Software is seeking Frontend Developers to work within a close-knit dev team in Melbourne! The business was originally known as Bugherd, the name of their simple point and click bug tracker.

Founded in 2011 by Alan Downie and Matt Milosavljevic, Macropod is currently a team of 13. To learn more about Macropod and what the team holds important, read Alan’s post about ‘Trust, above all else‘.

About you:

  • A strong desire to make world-class single page web apps
  • Cares about UX
  • Experience (or strong interest) in React and Javascript
  • Highly experienced with HTML/CSS
  • Interested in participating in product discussions

How to apply?

All expressions of interest to email with CV and cover letter. 

Coffee talk: Brianna Haag, San Francisco events extraordinaire and Mr. Marina founder — August 17, 2015

Coffee talk: Brianna Haag, San Francisco events extraordinaire and Mr. Marina founder

Brianna Haag knows events! Not only was she Eventbrite’s first City Marketing Manager, but she created Mr. Marina, a philanthropic event that’s raised more than $500k for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in the last four years.

Today, she shares her favorite networking icebreakers along with tips for organizing an event that people will love and remember.

How did you get to where you are today?

Raised in San Diego, I first became a Northern California convert when I went to school at UC Davis. I spent a year post-college as a traveling consultant for my sorority, so I lived out of my suitcase while visiting a variety of college campuses. Once that wrapped up, I unpacked my bags and made the move to San Francisco.

Seven and a half years later, I still call San Francisco home. I’ve been fortunate to work at some innovative startups in sales and marketing focused roles. I spent two years at Yelp as an early employee, four years at Eventbrite as the first city marketing manager, and have been at Tilt for the last year and a half. I’m a member of the Growth team where we’re currently focused on expanding our college community. Everything has come full circle!

Your work at Eventbrite helped many San Francisco organizers host incredible events. What makes attending valuable for guests?

Three things:

  1. The guest list. A room full of interesting people is valuable for everyone.
  2. An experience as promised. To attract a great crowd, an organizer must secure ticket sales or RSVPs and factor value into ticket pricing. All details should be communicated to potential guests to set event expectations. I once attended an event that promised unlimited cupcake tastings, but they oversold the tickets and therefore ran out of food in the first 20 minutes. The majority of the attendees were upset that they didn’t get what they paid for, and the vendors were upset that the amount of food they were told to prepare wasn’t nearly enough. 
  3. Flawless execution. Whether it’s a small bachelorette party weekend or a huge tech conference, details can determine how often (and in what context) the event is remembered and discussed. 

What’s your best icebreaker/networking tip for someone who hasn’t been to many events?

If you can peak at the guest list prior to attending, that can be really helpful for preparing. Striking up a conversation at the bar or the food table can be an easier way to approach someone, as is mentioning something you notice on a guest’s name tag.

Another networking tip is to set a goal (how many business cards to hand out or collect, or number of quality conversations to have), and to be comfortable taking off if you feel you’ve talked to everyone you wanted to connect with. There’s no reason to waste time if it’s a bust! 

You created the Mr. Marina Pageant, a well-known philanthropic event that’s been featured everywhere from the Marina Times to E! and raised $525k for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society since 2012. What’s the toughest part of pulling it off every year?

Mr. Marina isn’t an easy event to pull off. I’d say the toughest part is recruiting the contestants, which allows us to scale our fundraising efforts in a massive way.

It’s a unique person who can not only commit to 10 weeks of fundraising, but is also willing to get onstage in front of an audience of 1,200+ people. Each year the group of contestants continues to raise the bar, and we’ve been so lucky to have so many awesome, passionate, and truly impressive people involved.

What other San Francisco events are you looking most forward to this year?

Right now, I’m really looking forward to the San Francisco Symphony’s Opening Night Gala on 9/24. The San Francisco Symphony sets the standard for excellence in musical performance and shapes cultural life throughout the spectrum of Bay Area communities — and opening night is the biggest event of the year, toasting to the new season.

Brianna Haag

Opening Night is also my favorite San Francisco black tie event, and this year I’m lucky to be co-chair for the Symphonix Dinner Party. Tickets are almost sold out, so I know we’re going to have a great crowd!

So many events, so little time. What’s the best way to handpick and prioritize which ones to attend?

There certainly isn’t time to go to everything, so I try to prioritize events where I’m confident there are attendees I’ll want to spend time with — whether that’s friends, people I’ve been wanting to meet, or an experience I’ve been meaning to try. I used to scoot around San Francisco on my Vespa, trying to squeeze in two or three events in a single night — but that’s exhausting! I’m much more selective now.

Where can we find you in San Francisco?

Barry’s Bootcamp. The SOMA location is right by my office, but the team is opening a new location in the Marina this fall which I know everyone in the 94123 is excited about! When I’m not working out at Barry’s (or various studios in the ClassPass network) you can find me sharing apps at Delarosa or sipping wine at California Wine Merchant.

Last, how do you take your coffee?

Usually with unsweetened almond milk (or a delectable treat is the house-made almond+macadamia milk from Saint Frank!)


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