Quickonnect – a handy personal assistant

As a Product Guy and Technologist, I keep meeting lot of people at conferences, meetups, train stations and on hikes. It’s pretty fun when I meet like minded people and the ideas that ignite the next conversation or to hangout with a cup of coffee. Many times it becomes overwhelming to keep up with all the people that I meet.

All this while, I had hoped for a little tool that makes my life easier and helps me get in touch with my contacts with some intelligence. The problem is two fold. First, I need to get the right contact information when i meet someone with my horrible handwriting or I don’t often have the pen and paper to share my contact. I have lost so many contacts because i wrote a wrong email address or  wrong phone number. Second, I need to store the contacts in an easy-to-retrieve place and organize them the right way. Clearly, I want to make sure that different categories of contacts are grouped together. e.g. I don’t want to share my social profile unless I know that person for a good time. or I don’t want to share my birthday unless he is a close friend.

Quickonnect is the answer to alleviate the contact and collaboration pains. Quickonnect is an easy-to-use mobile focused App that gives you the power of simple Contact Management. It’s as simple as Open the App -> Select the Profile -> Share.  Yes, its that simple 1-2-3 seconds for electronic contact to be on your mobile. You can review and choose the contact to be in a specific group that you want. I have used this App for a while and see a great potential as a contact management App. As a technologist, QR Code usage was super cool. Your profile is built into the QR Codes.

As per the latest KPCB analysis, there are 3 billion people in this world who are on internet and 2.5 billion people have smart phones. Doesn’t it look like a great global opportunity to maintain your contacts on your smart phone? 🙂

Download the App and try it out.

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Product Management at Startups vs Enterprises

I am a mentor at a product manager’s mentoring program called “TheProductMentor“. I had the opportunity to share my experience with the product managers all around the world. Here is the full recorded session….

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Pricing the companion hardware isn’t easy – Apple Watch is an example

Managing expectations on products isn’t easy! I am thoroughly excited about the future of wearables and next couple of iterations for the Apple Watch.

This could become a great Pricing case for many MBA students and ProductManagers.

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The battle between improving existing features vs. creating new features

The picture says it all. We all start creating products with good intentions with all smart people in the room. As the time goes by, the minimalist ideas and frictionless design ideas would somehow get cornered and the product starts bloating. The bloating could be because of two reasons, we are improving the existing features or introducing new features. While it might be the same man month effort to introduce or improve a feature, the former has a ripple effect on the product.

So, why is introducing NEW features a problem at all?  Let’s imagine that the rate of new feature introduction is more than that of improving the exciting features. In time, the product has several NEW features that sales can talk about but the biggest concern from customers would be that the features don’t work together. By definition, when the rate of new feature introduction is higher, product designers and engineers are less likely to think through all the scenarios and how the other modules or use cases work together. The result is twofold with confused sales engineers and frustrated customers. Combine this with the how companies practice agile methodologies and frequent releases, this problem soon becomes quite complex.

This is not to say, that the individual features and functions are not useful. They are all master pieces on their own, but just does not fit together or even if they fit they are less than ideal to work with.

Let us see some of the reason why this would happen. As silly as they sound, it is true that we give way to our behavioral comfort zone and yield to external pressures.

  • Introducing new features are EASY
  • Introducing new features makes you feel GOOD
  • Dealing with existing features is relatively COMPLEX
  • Stakeholders pressurize
  • Customer demands

Not only that introducing more New features has the side effect on the internal and external organizations.

  • Educating Pre-sales, Sales and Consulting organizations on the NEW features is costly and time taking.
  • With the frequent releases (>=2 releases an year), marketing team has to catch-up with all NEW and have to create all new material to create the awareness.
  • Multiple New features without thinking through leads to dead code and duplicate code across modules.
  • Customer have a hard time catching up with all NEW features that you are releasing. In the enterprise scenario, user education and training is a pain.
  • Dissatisfied and non-reference-able customers from the confused and frustrated user experience.

But how can we avoid getting into the NEW feature spiral? Answer below questions together with Dev, Sales, Marketing.

  • Why do we need this NEW feature for this release?
  • What is the (development + sales + marketing ) cost of this NEW feature ?
  • Can we finish this NEW feature for this release? Can it be released partially?
  • What is the interaction with other modules in the system? Can this interaction be achieved in this released?
  • If we don’t do this NEW feature, are there any other current features that need to be improved?
  • Does this NEW feature has the potential to generate revenue? Or is this a cool feature

Make no mistake, I am not suggesting to avoid new features but to weigh in the benefits carefully and understand the priorities. Sometimes new features may be cool but can’t be introduced at the expense of starving the existing features.

And the battle continues…

Cross posted on LinkedIn : https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/battle-between-improving-existing-vs-creating-new-madhuvarsu

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Where do product managers get their business requirements from?

What should I built for the next release of the product? Which features yield more revenue? Is this product roadmap in line with company goals? These are some questions that Product Manager keeps thinking about every day. Most companies that have agile engineering and product management teams are challenged with this continuous and conflicting priorities. traditionally, you planned the roadmap/feature bucket once in a year and then development executed it. In the last 5 years or so more companies started to adopt the Agile methodologies and 2 weeks to 3 months releases cycles became the norm. This article provides an overview of the requirement sources that every product manager should be thinking about when working with the development leadership for the roadmap execution. Remember that the more you focus on one source and ignore the other, the more is the gap between what market needs and what product provides.

To make it simple, I believe that Product Managers should get business requirements from internal and external resources, document and prioritize them appropriately on the cost vs. value scale. It does not have to be a science project but a simple spreadsheet with major requirement themes and simple tagging would do. Below is some quick overview on what and why of each source of requirement.

External Sources

  • Customer Visits : If Product Managers are not doing this then there is a serious problem. Once the market-fit stage is done, there is no substitute to visiting customers (buyers, influencers, users) on-site. If possible, spend time with them on how they do the work and try to document the pain points in the most generic way. Many companies become sloppy on the customer visits and highly prescribe the telephone conversations and web conference. But they are less useful and will not yield optimal results. Just get out of the building and meet your customers. Don’t look for a short cut. If you are working for a startup, you may not have real customers but talking to the early adopters, focus groups or at least some similar users (B2B or B2C) would help a lot. It is just the matter of meeting more users and getting more data points to make sure that your assumptions and direction are correct.
  • Customer Advisory Boards : Whether it is a startup or enterprise, it is super important to create and nurture the customer advisory boards. They are the continuous source of the truth from beta or existing customers. Due to the nature of the group, the group could provide feedback once in a year and need to be clearly crafted. It is better to provide some feedback templates to customers instead of everyone filling their own way.
  • User Meetups : Irrespective of the B2B to B2C, the end users always have good input on the tools that they use and how the UX is working for them. This could be developer or partner meetups to get in depth analysis on what’s relevant.
  • Industry Meetups : Your startup or company sponsors the industry veterans so folks can talk and share their future direction. This results in insights from domain and technical challenges.
  • Analysts : Should Analysts view be part of the requirements ? In my view, they work with huge numbers of the customers (current and future) and their view is a good validation point. Remember that working with analysts helps you to get the word out there in their reports and conferences. Make sure it’s a two-way communication.

Internal Sources

  • Your Expertise : Product Manager is bestowed with the good decision capability on the product. Trust your instinct and validate them thoroughly. Sometime the product or service is one of its kind. No one has ever did something similar. So, in that case you set the baseline with your own technical and domain expertise.
  • Development : Development teams are the product partners and don’t ignore the innovation coming from the development. Empower the development teams to innovate on the technology, process and execution. They know it the best and listen to what strengths and constraints they have in product development. In hi-tech industry, technology and architecture pretty much dictates the agility and flexibility of product development. Make sure that development can factor in all the infrastructure and operations requirements.
  • Sales (Win/Loss) : Every sale that happens in the organization should yield the feedback on what went well and what can we improve. Companies may not exactly say they conduct win/loss analysis as prescribed by Product Management literature but rather have an informal way to document the deal highlights. Even worse, the sales feedback may not even come to PMs unless it’s a “Loss”. This makes it extremely difficult to understand what we are doing well and what can be improved. Win/Loss provides a great insight into the unfulfilled business requirements and their criticality.
  • Operations Team : This could be the feedback from consulting or service teams. Consulting provides a great feedback on scalability (solution) pain points and service teams provide the ultimate usage pain points. Both teams provide very valuable feedback on the product strategy and product design. Never ever ignore to include and prioritize the requirements from these teams. Remember these teams bring recurring “happy and referenceable customers”.

Make sure that you don’t keep thinking that “I know everything about users”. This attitude shuts all requirements coming from multiple sources even if requirements are obvious. Involve all the parties and make them feel they are part of the process.

Do you have any other source that you collect requirements from ?

<cross posted from my LinkedIn posting>

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Do you still think about the features and functions?

The one thing that a Product Manager must do is to build and maintain the product roadmap. In the simplest sense, the roadmap is consumed by the internal teams to build, market and sell the product. The external teams like current and potential customers, analysts and partners use the product roadmap to understand the direction and decide if they need to invest in this company and product.

Traditionally the roadmap is filled with set of releases and each release has features and functions. Internally and externally, everyone got used to this format and while there is nothing wrong with this, good product managers make this content better with more context. Let me explain what I mean by this.

Good product managers always study the industry trends, opportunities and present it along with the roadmap. Sometimes they may not even call it a roadmap but this is part of their business strategy. When they plan for the next product iterations, they consider below topics. This is not to say that Product Managers dont think about this, but bringing it explicitly on the roadmap makes it more interesting for its consumers.

Industry Play : What industry does this product serve? or is this product a horizontal play – that can be used by many industries. Don’t solve the problem for the wrong industry. Many times, its just the matter of identifying the industry and appropriately managing the messaging. Force fitting into an industry is the dangerous part.

What’s the problem : What problem does this product solve? One pitfall with the problem statement is NOT to be generic enough. Every company when it starts, resources are limited and this means we need to focus on a specific problem to get customers and build the cash flow.

Release Themes : Once we understand the full or partial problem, the solution must be divided into smaller chunks that are easy to deliver and get validated from the market (customers, users and partners). The biggest challenge is should this theme be fully developed or do we need all themes semi-baked. As an example, If you are making first release of smartphone (and you don’t know how market would respond), would you spend all your resources on making the best of phone, camera, GPS Maps, flash, radio, media player, storage,…? or would you just focus on phone and camera? with an incremental plan. Sometimes, companies get into this illusion that they *can* create all the themes and they spend so much time in created half-baked product, in the end the product serves no one.

Buyers vs. Users : People who gives you the check may not be the end user. There are several nuances based on the B2B and B2C scenario but very important to understand who are the buyers, influencers and users. e.g. A company’s IT Director buys a Business Intelligence software and a IT analyst is the user. I paid for my smartphone and I am the user. Your sales play, marketing lingo and product design has a big impact on what you know.

There are many other topics that I can mention, but above four are important to consider as a part of the roadmap. Instead of thinking about just features and functions, think about after i release this product “The <user> in the <industry> will be able to better manager or solve his <problem>. This will help him save <X%> of time and that could translate to <$Y>.” It is the time to think more than features and functions. Your product, sales, marketing and customers needs a better language to understand your company’s and product’s vision.

<cross posted from LinkedIn post>

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Quit focusing on “what not to do”

As a father of two young kids, I realized that I have been doing one thing wrong till now. Which is to instruct my kids “what not to do” rather than telling them “what to do”. With all the good intentions, I would always tell them “don’t do this” and “don’t do that”. Better late than never. It is natural to ask what’s wrong with focusing on the “what not to do” ?

This situation is very relevant at home and at work. We keep talking about the “What not to do” or “Lessons Learned” or infamously bring in the checklists to highlight what is NOT done.

The more I observed people’s behavior (including that of my own), the more determined was I to stop focusing on the “What not to do”.

Why we focus on “What not to do”

When interacting with kids at home or with colleagues at work, we are working with people who have different knowledge and understanding levels. This creates a knowledge gap on what they know and what you want to convey. The shortcut to bridge the gap is to instruct people saying “don’t do this” and stop that specific behavior.

We all have busy lives and convincing someone to do right thing and educating them takes a lot of patience and time. This means, even if we know what is right, we focus on what we don’t expect or appreciated.

Why we should focus on “What to do”

This does couple of things to us. First, this makes us consciously think and realize what is the right thing to do. For every action that you dont want others to do, you would think of the expected behavior. Two, a positive affirmation always have progressive effect compared to the negative instruction. Behaviorally people are stuck when you talk about “what not to do”. i.e. The question remains the same for them, if what I did is wrong then what is right?

Alternative approach is to talk about what to do and the side effects (negative or unintended) of their action. e.g. If your kid is not walking on the walkway then say “Please comeback on the walkway for you to be safer” instead of “don’t go there”. If you observe, it’s simple and easy to provide the negative feedback (short words or sentences) and affirmations than the positive feedback (typically long sentences). Same philosophy applies at work too.

In summary, we are hardwired to do things that people tell us not to do. We find it more challenge to do things that are not meant to be. One way to induce the good/expected behavior is to always reiterate what one should do to bring in the positive effect.

<cross posted from my LinkedIn post>

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How do you choose your Mentor?

One of my business school professor advised me that mentors are like board of directors for a companyThey only assist the CEO but cannot(and should not) take decisions on CEO’s behalf. That stuck with me ever after. The good thing is, in your personal life mentors can’t fire you. You need them in personal and professional life to advice, assist and bring in some sanity. Without them you are a lone wanderer with no one to share your ideas or have intelligent discussions with. After working with many of my mentors, I have realized top 5 attributes you should look in a mentor.

  1. Honesty and Trustworthiness : If there is only one attribute that you can chose in your mentor, that would be Trustworthiness. You are essentially exposing all your strengths and weaknesses to your mentor so that he can guide you in the right direction. If you cannot trust your mentor, then there is a lot of hide and seek happens and the results may not be optimal. In addition, if your mentor is not honest enough, then he or she will not be effective in guiding your career. You do not want to have your mentor sugarcoat the message and decrease the impact of a conversation rather you want your mentor to bring in the right message even if it is painful.
  2. Time Commitment : In general, you would want to meet with your mentor every quarter with your progress report so he can guide your based on your pace. This requires good amount of time from your as well as from your mentor. If your mentor is missing the meetups constantly or requesting to have a phone conversation, then there is an issue. While everything is possible virtually, you are decreasing the effectiveness. There is absolutely no substitute for a face to face meetings with mentor. Remember that often times your mentor is also your promoter. If you cannot have a face time with him, its difficult to manage the relationship.
  3. Industry Connections : If you are an engineer, it’s not effective to have a doctor as the mentor. While there are some exceptions, generally speaking, you need the mentor to be within the same industry and possibly have inside industry connections. This helps you to nurture the right connections and advise to move ahead.
  4. Bridge the gap : The difference between a good mentor and name-sake mentor is that a good one takes time to understand your personality, skills, achievements, and your aspirations. This helps them build your profile and then draw some steps to bridge that gap from point A to point B. Even if you are self-critical, there is a need for the mentor to look at it from outside and provide good feedback (may not always be positive).
  5. Role model : Select a mentor who has seen the success and who you aspire to be. Mentor should be that role model in the professional life who you always wanted to be. This brings in enthusiasm and respect for that person. Also, there is a higher chance that you listen to that person rather than randomly selecting someone because they agreed to be your mentor. One of the common mistake people do is to consider this mentor as the role model for all aspects of life. Absolutely avoid not to mix up a role model in professional life with role model in personal life. They may or may not match.

Of course, having a mentor does not guarantee success. But that’s only a one important piece of the puzzle. We need to take advise from mentors, analyze and decide on what we want to execute. There are many times I did exactly opposite to what my mentors advised me. That’s not because I did’t like their advise, but because that’s the right thing for me to do. I never regretted that decision. Each time I do that, I do explain to my mentors why I did that. Remember always, you are the one who has to decide and walk the talk.

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Top 10 things as a Product Manager.

Most agree that a Product Manager has a critical role in a product’s success. Simply put a Product Manager “Increases the chances of product success and adoption rates in the market place while generating reasonable revenue”. Many ask me what tasks fill a workday and most importantly what does a product manager do. Based on the industry and maturity of the product, a product manager does different things. However, If there are ONLY 10 things that I as a PM can do to create an impact, below are the items that I would focus on (the list is in no particular order).

1) Prioritize, Prioritize and Prioritize: If there is only one thing that a product manager can do, then it would be the prioritization. Determining what problem to solve, what products to make, which features to put in that first release, who do you want to make happy and who is OK to get upset, when to release and many more are the decisions that a product manager takes everyday. Remember that sales or consulting organizations looks at a specific customer or industry whereas a product manager looks at a generic solution and broad reach.

As an example, when Apple first made their iPad, think about all the decisions that must have gone in. Some of the decisions like hardware partners, App partners, target markets, target users, product features (like screen size, button size, processor, kind of screen, accessories) are extremely important that bring in a make or break situation for product success. Even though there are multiple experts that knows the best about each topic, there should be a or group of people who prioritize and make a product happen.

2) Talk to customers: Duh… this seems to be too simple to even mention in this list. But gets into complicated situation based on the size of the organization. Be it prospects or current customers, both understand the market and have a problem to solve. It makes absolute sense to talk to the users who is going through the pain everyday. As the product matures and sales organization increases, make sure that sales also understands this need for direct communication with customer. Always maintain a direct communication with customers, influencers and users. Often this is sidelined thinking that “we know everything that customer wants“. This is a death spiral. Not every company is Apple and Tesla.

3) Win/Loss Analysis: When you are a tiny startup, it is easy to comprehend a sales call and use it directly to strategize the next moves. When sales processes grows big and complex, it is important to catch up with every success and failure and feed that back into the organization and product. Win analysis provides equally important feedback as the Loss analysis as to the product direction, most liked features, least appreciated features, industry specific insights and many more.

4) Competitive analysis: Irrespective of size of organization, there is always a competitor. If not, there is a problem with the industry segment or someone will soon enter. Competition should never be understood in a negative way. It provides the industry validation and brings in more innovation to the customers. Small or big, do have a competitive portfolio. In the simplest case, have a SWOT for each competitor that you have. As a product manager this is one of the core competencies to understand the external factors that influence the product direction, feature set and pricing.

5) Product Innovation: Innovation comes from many stakeholders. The inspiration could be a combination of your customers, partners, competitors, industry insights, academic research, internal development organization and many more. It is extremely important for a product manager to shed the “ego” and let the innovation flow seamlessly into the product. Many times product and customers suffer for the lack of innovation because there is a invisible roadblock from departments and individuals. Let the innovation and product shine.

6) Be the leader: If you don’t believe in your product and evangelize it, nobody will. Industry conference, tech conferences and local meetups are some of the venues to show what your product is up to. Bring in a social presence (LinkedIn, FB, twitter, G+) and talk about the industry challenges, innovation and your solutions. Even if your marketing team goes big on the social media, a product manager should still have a social presence.

Most things that a product manager does is through influence. Clearly, there is no direct authority on others and this calls for lot more skills than just being intelligent. How well you understand others and how you deal with other’s agenda is very critical. It is mostly give and take and moving in the right direction.

7) Know the organization goals: The product you are building is in the context of organizational goals and make sure that the goals are aligned and understood. E.g. if yours is a hardware organization and you are building mobile Apps, make sure that there is a clear value proposition for your Apps. If not, soon you will get in to countless arguments within the team and may lead to disappointment. You would see so many business units getting closed in big organizations as they don’t fall in the new strategic direction that company has taken. This is especially critical when a organization has multiple product lines and each product either compliments or replaces others.

8) Build the roadmap: Roadmap does not mean set of feature definition for the next 6 months. What is a clear definition of your vision for the product in the coming 5 years at the very least. Clearly, you may not know about specific features but you should know about the major themes and direction. This is a complex, essential and intimidating process to bring senior management, development and sales organization agree. This longer term roadmap (and execution) helps investors, analysts and customers to trust your company and products.

9) Partner with Development and Sales teams: As much as the product management is a well known role in the industry, people still work in silos. This means, preparing the MRDs, PRDs and then sharing these across the fence with development thinking that the job is done. While the development teams can still deliver in such a disconnected model, the output is often a surprise to the organization and then then blame game starts. Instead, partner with the development and understand their strengths, concerns to better slice the product and releases.

A partnership with the sales is equally important as they are the agents for the revenue generation. They know the customer best and bring in a lot of value to the organization. Remember that sales teams want a product that they can sell and solve the real needs.

“We all are in the same boat and we have the same destination”.

10) Clear Revenue Strategy: What’s the fun, if your products don’t make money? Product sexiness and geekiness does not count if you don’t make enough money for the team to survive. Not only that, it is important to have a clear strategy on how do you plan to generate revenue out of the product (or suite of products in case of compliments). In essence, define business model and revenue stream(s).

Of course there are many more things that a product manager does and should do. But, above 10 items will take care of internal, external stakeholders satisfaction while providing the value to the product and all cross-functional teams.

<Cross posted from my Linkedin post>

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Top 10 lessons learned on the job.

Learning is a journey and no matter which university you attend, the learning opportunity “on the job” is unique for each of us. I am lucky enough to work with leaders who provided a great deal of learning opportunities directly and indirectly. The working experience may not have always been pleasant, but I learned anyway.

Many professionals asks the question “What would you do differently looking at the past?”. While I am not sure if I can answer that, I definitely know what I learned during my career. Here are my top 10 that I still remember and carry forward.

  1. Go to your boss with solutions: Personally, I would rate this advise as the best in my career. That was a time when I was not motivated do the job and I took only problems to my boss. After some time, my boss and I were frustrated and finally one day he advised, “Don’t come to your boss with problems; Always come with multiple viable solutions”.
  2. Always do your homework: Very often, we get caught up in the emotional arguments and decisions. When we follow through the decision making process, you always benefit when you did your homework way more than what others expected. Especially, when you are working with multiple stakeholders, everyone have a different view point and its important to present the case to everyone involved. Not doing homework leads to rush judgement and decisions and results in frustration and re-work.
  3. Build a community and not a hierarchy: Each employee, partner and customer that you interact with is very important in your life. Especially, technology world is so small that the relationships change pretty often. It is in the best long-term interest to build this community of people who back you up all the time and provide good support to grow. You do not want to just create hierarchies and manage people but you are really leading their lives, careers and aspirations. Be nice with EVERYONE.
  4. Know when to control and when not to: One size does not fit all. Every project and situation warrants a different kind of leadership. In the situation where you are transforming situations and projects, you need to have a better control of situation. When you need a lot of creative energy and design thinking, you need more of hands-off leadership style. Know what to do when.
  5. Don’t work for an asshole, never (except the first time): Life is too short and you want to make best use of your skill and talent. Work for the leaders who recognize your skill and acknowledges your hard work. While you can always earn money, some leaders just suck your energy and make you feel sad. Never, ever, work for such boss, except for that very first time, even if it means you have to move on.
  6. Make everyone in your team look good: Anything of significant can not be done alone. There is always a team of extraordinary people that make something work. Make everyone proud of working and credit appropriately. Especially, for the people in leadership positions, you are more judged by the influence you have on the team to do good work rather than your own ability to do work.
  7. Always do the right thing: There are always instances where you could take short-cuts to achieve something. However, short-cuts often has a hidden cost associated to it. Weigh in the costs of NOT doing the right thing and make sure people understand. Even if they don’t, do the right thing anyway. We don’t want Worldcom or Enron situation repeated.
  8. Always have a mentor: Having a mentor is the best investment in your career. Choosing one could be a lot time consuming but the effort is all worth it. You always need people with an independent view on your career and who always acts in your best interest. Usually problem with friends and family members is that they could be emotional and judgmental. A third person – mentor is not.
  9. Know “what” and “why” of your job: When I observe successful people, the only way that happened was to understand “what” and “why” of the job. This has a profound impact on your passion and how you do the job.
  10. Always network: It will always be an intellectual stimulation to meet professionals who are exceeding their potential. You always need to know how others are doing and you are doing comparatively. Networking helps you improve industry knowledge and do a “reality check”.

What’s your list? Leave a trace for others to learn and get educated.

<Cross posted from my LinkedIn post>

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