Virtual Reality: The Catalyst to Making Money in Many Realities

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Here’s a fun question.

With virtual reality getting to the point where it hijacks our reality, is it possible to live in one reality but make money in a different “reality”?

There’s a ton of great Youtube videos online showing how immersive virtual reality can be. People fall over, get vertigo on virtual rollercoasters, and get really scared when they turn around to face a fictitious demon. As the hardware starts to push on the software to help drive the innovation, as consumers we’re now reaping the benefits of truly immersive gaming through virtual reality. But this begs the question: how far can we go with this? If individuals are now able to make a livable income streaming their gaming sessions, could we take it a step further? If we’re able to exchange virtual items for real money (Eve Online, World of Warcraft, etc.), aren’t we a few steps away?

Let’s take a step back so that I can tell a somewhat sad story about my childhood. Like many other kids my age, I was obsessed with video games. Specifically MMORPGs. The day I discovered Runescape was the day that a new world opened up to me. I had always played games like Halo and what not but they were a guided gameplay. Scripted. Runescape was different. It was open, had no script to follow, had a new world to explore. Probably most importantly, I could be something totally different than what I could be in my current reality. There was a point where it was more fun to be in the reality of Runescape than my real reality.

As nerdy as that sounds, I knew I wasn’t the only one. In fact, there are millions of people who feel similar. There’s tons of people who get home from their real life, sit down at their computer, and log into a world where the constants of physics are changed, where magic is actually magic, and the limitations of exploration are far more grand than our single planet we live on. It became incredibly appealing to log into a different reality when times were tough. Parents fighting? At least I could escape the yelling. Girlfriend breaks up with me? Log into a vast world of exploration to take my mind off it.

I would say the first time I had the thought about making a living (actual cash) was when I first exchanged a virtual item in Runescape for cash via Paypal back in 2007. While I laughed about it at the time it sort of struck me that the value of something that is virtual is all about perspective. What I felt as totally useless, someone felt it was valuable enough to pay cash for. My hours spent gathering, crafting, and building something virtually was worth actual cash. Said a different way: I was able to exchange my time for cash. Now, how different are these realities again?

Back to today and the virtual economy space is growing. In just the social network space, the virtual currency economy is estimated at roughly $11.3B in 2016. Even with individual game title launches that come with the ability to trade virtual items for cash there is a huge economy driver. While many video games have tried to stay away from the virtual to physical purchasing of items, many have failed. For example, you can purchase characters, gold, items, and many other items for your virtual experience through different forums. There are troves of websites dedicated to this effort, such as Player Auctions.

If we’re willing to purchase items in a 2D experience, what happens when they become close to “3D” with big leaps in virtual reality? I think there’s a couple outcomes that I alluded to in the title of this post. I think that in the next couple decades or so we may see a shift in money making. This isn’t to say that our sole source of income will be done from a virtual world, but rather that there is the potential for a substantial amount of income to be made simply from logging into a different virtual reality. Hence the title of this post. There are a couple of reasons for this: automation of jobs, basic income, and further virtual reality immersion. Let’s walk through each of these.

Automation of Jobs

It’s no secret that software is eating the world. Furthermore, with massive progression being made in software automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robotics, there’s a good chance that many jobs will disappear over the next 50 years (or less!). As humans start to dominate many aspects of life here on Earth through software, we’ll be creating a way for us to free up time. What will we do with all our free time? I think we’ll travel, see a creative boom, and see a big movement into exploring other worlds – virtually. The web could become a place that we actually go to. Experience it. And to further that point, there’s a chance that the next “huge” idea is that developers will engineer new worlds that we can virtually live in for entertainment, for work, for adventure, for whatever. As individuals living in a real world where our jobs have been automated away, we could use our free time to log into many different virtual worlds shared by others. There would be a boom of many different potential realities but, in the end, there would only be a handful of virtual reality worlds that the general population lives in (much like the dominant sites we interact with each other in today). This isn’t too different than how humans currently operate where large populations aggregate into small areas, such as New York city, where the economy is thriving or where opportunity is made.

Basic Income

With the automation of our jobs, what will we do for money? As I mentioned in the last section, there could definitely be a renaissance boom with creatives driving the new world. But if we’ve automated many of our jobs, how will the population at mass make money? I believe this will be accomplished through basic income. Call me a socialist or whatever but I believe that this is inevitable. The other option is to have massive overthrow of the rich and redistribute wealth forcefully. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Basic Income is a thing we have in this new future. With Basic Income, it frees us up to not have to worry about the staples we need in our physical reality. We can easily purchase food, get around, and live an easy life here. If basic income happens and people have a lot of free time, I think we’ll see an explosion of a new type of entrepreneurship – a virtual one. If we’ve automated many of the innovations here in current reality, the next obvious step is to dive into a new reality and be an entrepreneur there. That all said, I don’t this Basic Income is a requirement for this to happen however I think it would help usher it in much faster from an adoption rate perspective. Again, we’re talking 30-50+ years from now.

Virtual Reality Immersion

The progression of virtual reality hardware has been quite impressive just in the past couple years. With Oculous Rift being the first the really make the push forward with a product that was promising, many others started to jump on the band wagon – from Google to Microsoft to Sony. Probably the furthest along in both the hardware and software front is Magic Leap. With Magic Leap, they’re marrying the two worlds (base reality and virtual reality) into one optic. These progressions have been primarily focused on the visual aspect of virtual reality however there are big strides being made in deeper full body immersion. The two best examples of this are PrioVR and Virtuix. PrioVR allows you to strap in with different sensors on your body in order to interact with the game. As their demo shows, your TV sits as sort of the main stage with you having the ability to hide behind trees to peek out into the main stage. With Virtuix, you actually stand inside of a component that allows you to run around, “physically” interacting with the game versus on a controller. This, paired with the headset immersion, provides a good glimpse into the kind of full body immersion needed in order to satisfy the potential to “work” in a different reality.

This is really just a theory of one potential outcome for virtual reality. As I said before, I believe that if we get to this point that there will really only be a couple companies that end up creating different realities that are so good that they naturally attract people to log into them. Much like people love New York or Los Angeles because of it’s appeal and their personal taste, I think people will have the same affinity with worlds that share their taste for reality.

To me, I think the really unique concept behind different worlds is that the “makers” of these worlds get to choose the boundaries of the environment (or lack of). Meaning, if we want to change the laws of physics to to allow for things like time warp drives or magic or floating houses, we can. This is especially interesting because it opens up an entirely new way of looking at crafting things. For example, if you look at games like Minecraft, there’s a lot of potential to build economies within the game. The game has it’s own set of rules for crafting different items that require more or less materials, more or less time, and are more or less valuable.

At the end of the day, what I’ve basically been talking about this entire time is really the vision the Wachowski siblings had in their movie “The Matrix” – minus the crazy evil killing machines. Call it crazy or call it far out there. But I actually really start to question it – how far off are we? I don’t envision a world where we’d plug devices into the back of our heads to immerse ourselves. However, I think the concept is definitely interesting and maybe they aren’t that far off from what we’ll be able to experience in the next 30-50 years. With the rate of innovation in virtual reality hardware and software, computing, and video game graphics, is it really that farfetched to think that something like “The Matrix” could happen?

Whose to say we’re not actually in on of many realities? Elon Musk said it best.

Virtual reality is quite transformative. You really feel like you’re there, and then when you come out of it, it feels like reality isn’t real. I think we’ll see less physical movement in the future, as a result of virtual reality stuff, and as the technology improves it becomes, beyond a certain resolution, indistinguishable from reality. There are likely to be millions, maybe billions, of such simulations, so then, what are the odds that we’re actually in base reality? Isn’t it one in billions?

If there’s anything that physics can teach us about reality it’s that if you want to experience it different than your peers, all you need to do is just change your perspective.

Best Product Management Interview Questions I’ve Been Asked

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If I’m counting correctly, I’ve interviewed in the ball park of 30-35 different companies for different roles, often times doing multiple rounds of interviews. Of these, around 26 of them have been for product manager roles in varying capacities, from typical product manager roles to director or principle product positions. I’ve been asked some god awful questions (such as stupid challenge/trick questions) to exceptionally great and hard questions. I’ve done extremely well in some and felt great about the outcome, others I’ve felt like shit and totally bombed.

Over the years, these are the questions that have stood out to me the most as great questions to ask at each of the different interview stages. Note that this isn’t meant to be a full comprehensive list, just the ones I personally felt to be the right questions to be asking.

Phone Screening/1st Round

Why our company? What caught your eye? I like this questions specifically because it shows why a candidate is interviewing there in the first place. Are they here for a paycheck or do they actually have some passion about the problem space?

What do you see as a challenge in this industry? Even if the candidate doesn’t have a great grasp on the industry just yet, what you’re looking for here is if they have opinions about what may be hard. For example, a candidate might say that data collection for a certain vertical is hard and follow up with why they believe that. This shows that they did some research, can hold an opinion, and are genuinely curious about the problem space.


Describe to me a product you love and how you would improve it. For me, the best results of this have been when the candidate whiteboards this out. I find this question interesting because you get to see how they generate solutions on the fly to things they see problematic.

Let’s say you have a Kindle. You buy a book and then read it. Draw what that process looks like. There are no right answers to this question but very wrong ones. This is best captured on a whiteboard. As an interviewer, the best results is to sit back for 5-7 minutes and just let the candidate go at it without any help from you. Be silent. This questions helps show how a candidate views problems, maps them out, and works through different scenarios.

For example, to answer part of the question the candidate would probably think about things such as handling authentication, book delivery, book recommendations, email confirmation, etc. The candidate then may question how exactly do you deliver that book. Where does the book come from? When we deliver it to the Kindle, what other information are we passing down? Where does that information come from? It’s an exercise that shows how someone goes about problem solving, what their logic process is, and where they are strong/weak at.

What do you do in your spare time? What sort of personal projects are you working on? It’s good to know whether or not a candidate has outside interests and if they have a drive to continually learn.

What books are you reading right now? What do you enjoy reading about? More of a personality question but, much like the previous question, this is a good way to understand who the candidate really is. What interests them? Do they like to learn? What areas of personal growth are they focusing on?

Second/Final Rounds

We have this problem in our company. How would you solve it? One of my favorite things to do is whiteboard with people. I enjoy problem solving and find this question to be great for both parties to get a feel for how each other work.

As a candidate, I want to see what you’re like when I challenge your opinions, suggest new ideas, and how we would work together to solve problems. As an interview, I receive the same benefits but also get to see how you problem solve on your feet.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Where do you think you want to end up? Lots of companies look for ambitious product managers who want to learn, grow, and progress their career.

Take a walk with the candidate. This isn’t really a question but more of a personality filter. Get them out of the office, have them relax a little bit, and see what they’re all about. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time with someone, make sure it’s someone who you can be comfortable with.

There isn’t one way to interview candidates and every company or person has their own flavor for figuring out whether or not they fit. Some require presenting a roadmap, others weigh personal history and background.

What questions were you asked that you felt to be the “right ones?”


The Commoditization of Data: Where real value is moving to

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I’ve been doing a lot of consulting lately for large groups around the personalization and analytics space. There seems to be a common trend amongst many of the questions I’m getting asked: How do all of these providers differentiate? Where is the value for enterprises looking to deploy these new softwares coming onto the space?

In all fairness, it’s not an easy question to answer. There’s a lot of moving parts and competitive pressures forcing enterprises (and software vendors) to think different about how true value is delivered to the end user. On one hand, you have a highly competitive marketing landscape at the very top who are all competing for the same business. These are analytics providers that typically collect torrents of data about your users. Often times these software providers are channel focused. On the other hand, you have IaaS providers, primarily Amazon AWS, who are completely commoditizing this space. Amazon allows users in house to easily create and deploy custom analytics applications. To further it, they’re starting to offer Business Intelligence tools and Machine Learning capabilities that are simple to deploy. This is putting big pressure on the software vendors to differentiate themselves.

With the marketing software market to increase between 17% by 2019 to over $56B in total market cap, the need to provide real value will come much more rapidly than many vendors expect. Data collection, management, and querying is basically table stakes for enterprises evaluating these vendors. The real shift has moved towards actionable insight, predictive analytics, and utilizing machine learning to understand users at an implicit behavior level.

To get a better perspective on where value is shift, let’s break down the following image.

At the very bottom, we have “Data Collection & Management“. What data encompasses is data collection, management, transformation, etc. I’m using it as a catch all term for anything around database systems. While there are many criteria for having a solid data practice, we can safely say that this space is very commoditized at this point. Many analytical vendors are all collecting the same or very similar data and enterprises are no longer wanting to wait until after the fact to make decisions on what to do next (especially with digital marketing strategies). With Amazon making this layer of the stack so easy, this is no longer a competitive advantage or a value proposition for these software providers. Up the stack we go.

Pure Analytics providers are getting eaten away by Amazon or startup disruptors. Vendors like Mixpanel or Swrve are pushing heavily against incumbents like Omniture to price more competitively and offer better differentiated value. Since Google Analytics is a robust offering for free, there’s pressure to provide a differentiated offering. Additionally, current software technology makes it easy to do graph visualizations (think d3.js), translate data, or pull data in from different sources thus making this part of the stack and the former commoditized. This isn’t to say that you can get by without the Analytics or Data part of the stack. You absolutely have to have both in order to move into the areas where real value is built. Up the chain we go.

Segmentation and User Targeting is getting closer to the point of commoditization but not there yet. We’re still seeing new forms of targeting driving value and decision making when enterprises are evaluating vendors. Often times, these new vendors are giving enterprises the true ability to track and target customers across channel versus a single channel. This has been a big push by many of the leading research firms, such as Forrest and Gartner, that they’ve termed “Unified Customer View”. In my opinion, this is most of the market today and many of the vendors in this space are, in some form or fashion, able to accomplish this. There are additional features that help add value proposition such as CMS integrations, triggering events, and automated segmentation. However, the challenge is that the brunt of the work is still put onto the marketer. The reality is that marketers are having to do more with less and time is not on their side. This portion of the tech stack is where the current focus of commoditization is at with the movement of machine learning into being able understand and react to user behavior.

This brings us up to current day and the future which is the meat of where I believe the value is moving to.

The future is always unclear but here is my prediction. Software that automatically surfaces up general insights, unique insights, predictive insights, and autonomous reactions is going to be king. To break it down, let’s look at each one of these items.

General Insights

In my eyes, general insights are insights into the audience that users of a software vendor would perform on a daily basis. This might be something like audience health (DAU:MAU or audience return frequency) which helps keep a pulse on audiences. In the future, I anticipate that vendors will automatically surface up a suite of insights, based on vertical, that users get as more of a “state of the union” dashboard with the obvious ability to add their own automated metrics via a nice query builder of sorts.

Unique Insights

Users don’t always know where to look for insights. Nor do they always know the right questions to be asking. Since marketers can’t constantly look at all of the crazy data points they’re collecting and correlations between these data points, future software vendors will have to move here in order to meet these demands. These types of insights would be the machine crunching very sophisticated machine learning models each night in order to surface up insights that the model believes the user should know about. You can think of this as “Show me what I don’t know”. An example of this might something like “Your broadcast marketing campaign to all users had 20% higher engagement with French Male users in the Active segment of your audience”. The software will surface up the things the marketers doesn’t even know to think about.

Predictive Insights

As the name suggests, these are insights that are based off predictive modeling. Since these vendors are required to collect troves of data on user activity and behavior, there’s a world where machine learning models can predict the performance of campaigns, when to send them, when a user may be churning, etc. These are insights that help the marketer be proactive about their approach when engaging with users or handling changes within their digital ecosystem. There are lots of vendors playing in this space right now as point solutions but very few (if any) have a buttoned up product that is making a significant difference yet. The reason for this is that it is hard to build a generalized machine learning model that can find covariance between the different data points collected in a way that works for different verticals. This isn’t to say that it’s impossible but it will take more time to get to a really good spot here. This is where the marketer gets exceptionally high value because it moves them from the reactive analytics world to the proactive “autonomous” world.

Autonomous Reactions

Building on the previous item, autonomous reactions are predominately around automating many of the mundane tasks the marketer has to do today. For example, setting up an automated trigger to email a user when they perform a specific event on a channel. In the future, high value world software vendors will build machine learning models that are similar to developments in artificial intelligence. The system will know when to reach out to users with what type of messaging based on variable inputs at each point of the user lifecycle. The user can pinpoint where positive or negative behaviors may be at and assign value weightings to these data points, however it is the machine learning model that is optimizing the user journey. This is along the lines of Factorial Experimentation with machine learning models that build off of notions such as Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) simulations. This helps the marketer focus heavily on things that are much harder to automate, such as their acquisition and churn reduction/retention strategies.

With the above points in play, the only way that this is possible is the ability for these sophisticated machine learning models to understand explicit and implicit user behavior. Today, we have a lot of explicit behavior since this is easily tracked (session count, time on page, etc.). The real value is in understanding explicit user behavior. Implicit behavior is extremely valuable because you can tie in personas which help dictate how you market this personas. For example, I’m an unknown user on a travel site looking for a vacation that has sandy beaches, is sunny, and warm. I start looking at different beach destinations that are in tropical regions, search for different locations, input different fields about what temperature range I want, etc. I interact with the site on a more intimate basis. In the background, a model is crunching an analysis on who I am which can inform the broader system, specifically the CMS, what types of content I may like.

The reason why this is so fundamentally important is that we can understand who our users are without known explicitly who they are on an authenticated basis. Additionally, we can serve up very specific content based on a granular understanding of what the user is interested in. This is exceptionally powerful because you’re able to achieve a deep personalized connection with your user. A great example of this is Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” engine. People have described this weekly curated list of songs based on who you are as “creepy awesome”. What is effectively happening is that Spotify is crunching 100’s of intimate data points on your listening habits and building a playlist each week customized for you, and you only. An example of some of these data points are:

  • Genres of songs frequently played
  • Sub-Genres of songs frequently played
  • Did user skip within first 30 seconds?
  • What type of track is it? (high energy, relaxing, etc.)

It’s a beautiful example of personalization that is damn near perfect. Much like the Discover Weekly engine, software vendors in the marketing space are going to need to get to this level where they can curate and deliver content at an extremely granular and personal level. As the stack moves upwards in value due to commoditization, the next battle will be fought in the insights, personalization, and proactive engagement world. It’s an exciting time to be watching and building products for this line of work. I welcome the day when brands know me well enough to know when to engage with me, how to engage, in what form, in what frequency, in what context, with what content and so much more.

Agree? Disagree? Let us hear your thoughts on the next generation of marketing software!