I have accepted a position as Product Manager for Poken. The company is based here in Lausanne and has created a small, key-chain-like hardware product that connects people on online social networks (facebook, linkedin, etc.) after they have “connected” (touched their hardware devices together) in real life. The goal is to bring a physical, real-world interface to online social networking. The current marketing strategy is aimed at teens with the prospect of moving to professionals (replacing the business card) soon. The company has three ways to make money: 1. Sell the devices at a margin directly to the users, 2. Let major companies purchase the devices and give them away to users as branded “toys,” and 3. Online advertising at the website that users use to manage their connections. The company has $2M of funding and is launching the product in stores in Switzerland right now.
I will be the Product Manager (collecting information from the target audience, creating a coherent product development roadmap, and managing the software and hardware development teams to implement it) at first, evolving in 6 months to either a COO role or a general manager of North America as the product expands to markets outside of Europe.
As many of you know, I agonized over this decision because–as with most decisions–there are both pros and cons.
International – the position is based in Lausanne, will require travel around the world, and involves managing global operations (manufacturing in China, software developers in Switzerland and Romania, sales and marketing throughout Europe initially and soon elsewhere)
Hardware – this will be a chance for me to broaden my software-only experience to include hardware as well
Growth – The company has a lot of momentum (Evidence: Poken made the front page of digg.com this morning) and I will have the opportunity to participate in its growth
Challenge – Developing an innovation/development process and prioritization methodology that is responsive enough to market feedback that will come very quickly once the product is being used by thousands or millions of people is an exciting order
Social Value – I came to IMD to prepare myself better to help change the world; I’m not sure this company really satisfies that criterion
Risk – Companies at this stage statistically usually fail and I would be accepting below-market-value compensation along with that risk–after a year of paying tuition and not earning a salary
Distance – This would keep me thousands of miles away from friends and family in the US. I would own all of the US business partner relationships, which should create many opportunities for travel, but I would still be based far away
After much soul searching I decided that this was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. I should have a chance to practice a lot of what I have learned at IMD and gain experience in ways that will prepare me to contribute even more to addressing the global energy challenge. Will Poken make me feel like I am somehow making the world a better place for the needy kids I held in Kenya? No, not directly. But will I continue to keep them in mind as I work and network and keep my ear to the ground for opportunities that will? Absolutely.
Thankyou to EVERYone who has supported me throughout my career search. It isn’t over–it will be an ongoing process of course–but you have all helped me through a significant career milestone. I won’t let you down and I’ll prove that to you immediately–I start work tomorrow!