Archive for category Business

Space: Investing in the Final Frontier

In a bit of good news from the WH administration, Trump signed on Tuesday a bill authorizing $19.5 billion in NASA spending for 2017 and updating their mission to include the human exploration of Mars.

I’ve been following space news for decades since I dreamed of being an astronaut when I was a boy.

Throughout that time, seeing the ups and downs in the industry (mainly driven by politics and economics), I hoped that we as a species would not lose sight of the long-term benefits of space exploration and would continue to invest. I’m glad to see that has happened at least for the foreseeable future.

Those that have worked in a corporate setting may know the difficulty of advocating for long-term investments with the pressure to deliver short-term results. Without either a visionary leader or large cash reserves, the short-term generally tends to take precedent. I see space travel as the ultimate long-term investment for humankind.

In high school, I did my research and discovered my best shot of being an astronaut was to become an engineer and a pilot. I received my Mechanical Engineering degree from the Cooper Union in NYC. However, my attempt to get into the Air Force was stalled due to less than perfect vision, and my dream took a detour.

I began my career designing cars for Honda & Porsche instead of designing space vehicles. I began to fly paragliders and hang-gliders instead of jet fighters.

Yet, my passion for space exploration never subsided, and the reason to invest in human exploration of space hasn’t changed much in all that time. I see three main reasons for investing in the final frontier, all of which have a long time horizon:

  1. Human survival and the propagation of the species:  The death of our Sun in a few billion years will mean our entire solar system would not be habitable. In the meantime, there are more pressing concerns for life on our planet. Whether it be the destruction of our environment through climate change, a new ice age based on the tilt of the earth, or a massive asteroid strike, our planet may not always be suitable for human life well before the Sun becomes an issue. The only way to guarantee the survival of the human species for the very long term is through space exploration and interplanetary colonization. Updating NASA’s mission to formally include human travel to Mars is a major step in this direction.
  2. Exhaustion of natural resources:  as a closed ecosystem, the resources on our small planet are finite. We are already on a path to exhaust staples such as helium, and industrial metals (zinc, silver, gold, and copper) by 2050. Mining other planets, comets, or asteroids, when feasible, would be lucrative and in demand, making up for inevitable shortages on Earth. For the resources listed, we have just over 3 decades to create an action plan for finding an alternate supply off-planet. If we consider that SpaceX, for example, in just 15 years went from a concept to several families of launch vehicles with successful trips from and to Earth, that seems like an achievable target. As a matter of fact, two companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, have already been founded to do just this, and their prediction is this will happen by 2025.
  3. First Contact: – given the sheer size of the universe, the odds that our planet harbors the only intelligent species are exceedingly small. The potential for great advancement of human knowledge in areas of science, technology, health and medicine, agriculture,  etc. that comes from the discovery and communications with our interstellar neighbors, is in and of itself worthy of the cost of exploration.  This may be the longest of the long shots, but fortunately, it’s only one of the many reasons to continue exploring the cosmos.



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New Product Development: How Twitter was like Ice-Cream

In a recent New Product Development lecture I gave at Tec de Monterrey, I expanded on my previous examples about consumer-centric innovation. In past lectures I’ve emphasized how most successful new products address a consumer need, pain-point, or desire, whether articulated or unarticulated.  I also discuss how engineers (the field that kicked-off my career) have a tendency to innovate or design for the sake of invention vs. with consumer or market needs in mind.  A question arose in the past – is that always a bad thing (to create something just because you can).  My response was no (with a caveat), and I used Twitter as an example.

The first time I met Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, was at a tech conference at my alma mater, UC Berkeley in 2009.  During his keynote address, he talked about some of the criticisms of Twitter when it first launched. The main criticism he faced was that Twitter served no useful purpose.  Mr. Stone’s response (quoted loosely from memory) was “Ice-cream has no useful purpose either – does that mean we shouldn’t have created ice-cream?”.


Needless to say, Twitter has been tremendously successful since it’s founding in 2006 with roughly 271 million active users (out of over 500 million total worldwide users) today. The reason for Twitter’s success is that it satisfied latent and mostly unarticulated needs of most of its users. Companies and brands discovered an almost costless tool for marketing compared to other media. They could now directly communicate with consumers about their products, services, and brand offerings, while also hearing directly from them to address consumer issues and continue driving innovation through new and improved products that leverage the voice of the consumer. The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were largely coordinated through Twitter, as organizers and protesters didn’t start off with a direct connection to each other. In the case of disaster relief, Twitter was used to provide information to emergency response teams, find lost loved ones, and provide real-time situational updates. Politicians use Twitter to speak and hear directly from their constituents and launch/promote their election campaigns. Music artists announce music and concert information directly to their fans.  And celebrities, of course, continue to build and promote their own personal brands through Twitter, with a direct line of communication to their fans.


One of the best definitions I’ve seen of true innovation is perfectly captured in the Venn Diagram below; true innovation comes at the intersection of consumer desirability, market viability, and technological feasibility.  So while Twitter may have just started as an exercise in showcasing what could be possible, the reason for its success is that it also satisfied the consumer and market variables as well.  This is, of course, far easier to accomplish when the product in question is a platform and its ultimate utility will be determined by developers and users over time.  It’s much harder to accomplish as a stand-alone product. (For this reason I predict the “Yo” app, which has received similar criticism to what Twitter received in the beginning, will not be much of a success).  So while certainly feasible to have a success just by focusing on technology, it’s certainly not the most efficient way of innovating.


I also talked about the Pet Rock as a separate example, which I’ll expound on in a separate post.

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Thor–The Goddess of Thunder; Why Marvel’s Change is Brilliant and Lazy

Thor Goddess of ThunderToday I read that Marvel plans to completely reboot the Thor franchise and transform the son of Odin into the daughter of Odin, a hammer-wielding Goddess of Thunder. One of my first thoughts when I read this was that this is a brilliant but lazy business decision.

How is it brilliant and how is it lazy? Well, the reasons are intertwined in the decision itself.

[[UPDATE: After reading the Time article about Marvel’s decision that describes more elements about the story, I’ll backtrack somewhat on the lazy part.  This is not a reboot as some of the articles online have described, but a continuation of the story with a female who now wields Mjolnir, with the original son of Odin no longer wielding the hammer and calling himself Thor.  With respect to the creation of new female heroes and hiring female creators as outlined below, I would still say it’s somewhat lazy, but the decision actually goes into more of a creative direction than I originally thought.]]

Marvel understands the growing purchasing power and influence of females in geek culture. Ticket sales to comic-based movies and comic conventions and video game sales are ever increasingly coming from women. Thor - Lady Thor Cosplay Toni DarlingGoing even further, female cosplayers acting out their favorite comic characters have millions of followers on social media and are a marketer’s dream (as a matter of fact, the artists at Marvel can simply use popular female cosplayer Toni Darling’s interpretation of Thor as the basis for their concept sketches). Marvel has stated that the purpose for the change is to bring new readers and to appeal to women and girls whom have long been ignored in comics. Thus, they’ve properly identified this audience as a target for expanding their business.

So, to tap this audience, they have multiple avenues they can pursue. They can hire more female staff writers and artists and invest in creating powerful female characters with their own unique back stories, powers, and story arcs. However, developing new heroes takes significant time and marketing dollars to build awareness, interest, and fans. It also takes a greater commitment to follow through. The other option is simply to turn a popular male superhero with a pre-existing fan base into a female. The awareness is already built in with both the fans and, if the character is popular enough, general audiences with some pop culture knowledge. The marketing is also far less expensive, as the likely controversial decision will garner significant news coverage and discussions on internet forums, being buzzed about until at least the launch of the first comic. Additionally, they are likely using the same team members so they don’t have to hire anyone new for a completely new line (I noticed in the Marvel announcement that the writer, artist, and editor are all male – Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Wil Moss, respectively).

Having worked in the video game industry and participated in marketing and business meetings to identify strategies for expanding to the female audience (many times in rooms filled only with men), I can almost envision what happened in the corporate meeting rooms at Marvel before they came to this decision (note: the dialogue below is pure speculation based on experience):


Marvel Exec: “Team, we’ve all already identified that we need to appeal more to women and girls. I want suggestions and I want a plan coming out of this meeting.”

Pat in Marketing: “We’ve developed a ton of conceptual ideas for a new line of female superheroes, powerful characters that can be great role models as well. We’ll weave their story arcs into pre-existing franchises like Spider-Man and X-men to build credibility and awareness. We’ve also got several job openings for artists, inkers, and writers and we’ll target hiring as many women as we can for these positions to further build the credibility of the characters and stories. The headcount will cost about half a million dollars a year and we’ll need at least three million dollars in marketing for the first year to build awareness and promote these new characters throughout different channels”.

Marvel Exec: “Whoa, that’s steep. Any other ideas?”

Bob in Marketing: “We can add ‘Woman’ to the end of an existing character and we won’t have to spend as much on marketing. Say, ‘Iron-Woman’?”

Marvel Exec: “No, it’s been done and we know those franchises don’t even come close to the sales of the main character’s franchise. Look at She-Hulk and Spider-Woman. Even our friends at DC haven’t had much success with Super-Girl. Is that all you folks have?”

Jesse in Marketing: “Well, we can just change an existing male character into a woman. You know the forums are already blazing with misogynistic guards of the old order battling women and their male supporters, so the change will add fuel to the flame, generating lots of potential stories and social media references. We’d require very little if any marketing dollars. ”

Marvel Exec: “Hmm, we won’t have to hire anyone new since we’ll just convert the existing team to work on the new character. The controversy will be good for building positive PR, buzz, and awareness. We’ll probably lose a portion of the fan base, but we’ll make up for it on that portion that is curious about the change as well as the new readers, plus we’ll be darlings in the industry for promoting positive change. Excellent, excellent!! ”

Jesse in Marketing: “It would have to be a character whose name doesn’t end in ‘-man’ or already have a female counterpart. So, Ironman is out. Preferably a character that we’ve already developed into a movie franchise to get the halo effect of general public awareness. Someone like Daredevil? No, no, wait, that movie was a miserable failure, we can’t tie it to that. Maybe one of the Avengers? They already have huge mainstream popularity from the movie, so a ton of people outside of comics already know about them. Hulk is out, so maybe Captain America or Thor?”

Marvel Exec: “Great thinking. Captain America outsells Thor, plus he’s the First Avenger, so we can’t take too much of a risk there. Additionally, he’s based on a Captain in the US military during the second World War. More people know about that than they know about Norse mythology, so Thor is the better bet here. Alright team, we’ve got our plan! Jesse, go tell the creative team about our decision and have them sketch up a concept so we can draft a press release. Let’s GO GO GO!”


When I was a kid, I mostly knew Thor because I was a fan of ancient mythologies, including Greek and Norse. I had very little money and had to make trade-offs on buying small indulgences, so I split my purchases between comic-books and D&D books. Thus, I only bought comics about my favorite heroes including Spiderman and the X-men and I probably only have one or two Thor comics in my entire comic collection. While I’m not yet a fan of this change to the character, I will likely go out and buy a few copies of the first comic-book of the new female Thor out of both curiosity and because it may be valuable in the distant future – making this the first Thor comic book I’ll purchase in about 30 years.

As I said, lazy, but brilliant.

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12 Ways Dungeons and Dragons Prepared Me to be a Corporate Executive

Image Courtesy of Alex Velazquez at brutecg.comLong before I was an executive at one of the world’s largest companies, I was a blue-collar kid in Brooklyn playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the basement with my siblings and friends. Many decades would pass before it became chic to be geek – Comic-Con, Dragon Con, Marvel, and even The Lord of the Rings have become mainstream hits, television shows around gaming and nerd culture have been developed, The Geekie Awards received a BILLION media impressions in its inaugural year, and so on. My two younger brothers, Alex and Jiovanie, parlayed our D&D experiences directly into careers in video game and fantasy art (Jiovanie’s work can be seen here, Alex’s work here). I went a more traditional route through Engineering and Business degrees to work for large corporations, including Honda, Porsche, P&G, Microsoft (Xbox), and PepsiCo.

After watching the superb “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” episode of the hit TV show ‘Community’ and the D&D segment from VH1’s ‘I Love the 80s’, I looked back fondly and began to contemplate the impact that playing D&D has had on my career. Dungeons & Dragons is the one single game from my childhood I feel can build multiple skills that can be leveraged in the “real” world, whether that’s corporate America, creative disciplines, or anything in between. So, with a nod to my childhood heroes (including Gary Gygax, R.A. Salvatore, TSR, and many of the folks at Wizards of the Coast), below are lessons I learned as a D&D Dungeon Master (DM) that have helped me climb the corporate ladder from a stock clerk in a Brooklyn supermarket into the executive ranks of a Fortune 50 global company:

Alex Velazquez - The Chess Project - The Black Hearts1) Focus on strategy – Before the start of any D&D campaign, as the Dungeon Master, I would come up with the overall concept and objectives, then I would build the world around it  (this was before the Forgotten Realms came out).  While TSR provided some pre-packaged campaigns, I always preferred to create my own (mainly to fulfill my own vision, but also due to cost, discussed later).   With the vision and objectives in mind, I would start building up the pieces to realize the overall fulfillment of the campaign.  Key milestones and plot points, major character and monster encounters, etc. As the players played the game and the campaign progressed, the tactics would have to change to accommodate the changing variables and unexpected events that would occur, but the overall theme and purpose, what we were all ultimately driving towards, would remain constant.

As an executive in the business world, the main focus is on developing strategy and aligning your resources to execute the strategy.  Strategy development begins with the vision and mission and must take into account a wide range of variables.  Once the strategy is set, the tactics that will be used to fulfill the strategy can be developed.  A sound business strategy will rarely change within its timeframe once it is set, although the tactics and execution plan may be altered to address consumer response, competitive pressures, economic changes, etc.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net2) Build a story and present it well – I fully agree with the common saying that “Content is King” and I would add that “Delivery is Queen”.  The content created is just as important as how the content is delivered.  A mediocre presentation of great content is still mediocre, and the same is true for a great presentation of mediocre information.  The presentations I learned to give in the corporate world were directly influenced by how I learned to DM.  The story is indeed king; it will keep your players interested and committed to the campaign. How you deliver the story will heavily influence the engagement of your players.  Not only must you weave a good story, you need to embellish all the details during a game.  Compare two versions of the same encounter.  First – “You chose to attack.  Roll your D20.  OK, you scored a critical hit. The orc is dead”.  Alternate version – “Your sword is at the ready, roll your D20.  You swing your sword in a deadly arc towards your opponent.  The orc tries to step back to avoid the fury of your blade, but to no avail.  His backwards momentum causes his severed head to roll off of his back, his now lifeless body falling limply to the ground”.  These are accurate examples of when I first starting DM’ing and when I learned to deliver more entertaining and engaging encounters for my players.  Needless to say, they were more deeply immersed in the latter example.  Pacing, timing, and delivery can make all the difference as evidenced by Abed’s enactment of a gnome NPC (non-player character) in the “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” episode of Community (see here).

One of the best presentations I ever gave was for the Xbox Marketing group for a new special edition Xbox 360 console I had proposed. Leveraging compelling content with audio and the theatrics I first developed as a DM, I gave a presentation that I was told set a new bar for future presentations and kept the group enthralled on a normally tame post lunch group gathering.  Not every presentation has to be a theatrical production, but the core concepts focusing on both content and delivery always apply.

Blade Scholar - Wizards of the Coast3) Do your homework – not many things are worse for a DM than when a player calls you out on a mistake in the campaign. “A Succubus(?) can’t drain my constitution three times in one encounter… they can only use this ability once per day”.  Fenris was correct, but we had already completed the entire encounter by the time he found out this information in the Monster’s Manual.  A small detail I missed, but it had a big impact as I had to break continuity to figure out how to fix the error.  While you can’t be expected to be the expert in all matters (hence the importance of cross-functional teams), in my experience it’s always better to be over-prepared than to be caught off guard.  From then on I made an extra effort to fully study each monster I planned to use in encounters, made better use of maps to be prepared with the different types of terrain that would be traversed, learned the limitations and effects of magic spells, and so on.

I carried this lesson over into the business world.  You should know all the details pertinent to the issue at hand in the context of your overall goal, presentation, or meeting.  In general, my presentation decks had expansive appendices with back up information for most conceivable questions and important data.  All stats that I leverage in a presentation have appropriate references.  I strive to minimize the number of times I have to say “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you on that”.  And now as I lead larger teams, I appreciate it when others come to a meeting equally prepared.

Fantasy Improv4) Learn to improvise  – When creating my D&D campaigns, I made my world’s large enough and the campaign broad enough to deal with multiple contingencies.  What if the players didn’t believe the lonely adventurer in the tavern with tales of treasure?  What other ways could I devise to spur them to take on the campaign in the game world?  However, no matter how thoroughly I prepared my campaigns and how many alternate story versions I developed, the players would always find a way to get into an area or situation that could not be anticipated.  Thus, as a DM, you must learn not to become flustered when something unexpected happens and to improvise in a quick manner.

In the business world, projects will rarely go exactly as planned.  Getting flustered and losing focus in these situations is counter-productive.  You have to learn to be adaptable and use your knowledge and experience to manage unexpected changes effectively.  You’ll also come to be viewed as more stable and dependable when you can manage unexpected situations quickly and decisively, leveraging your experience and knowledge to improvise as needed.

220px-Dungeons_and_Dragons_DVD_boxset_art5) Teamwork is critical – most of the challenges brought to a group of D&D players in a campaign could not be overcome unless they all worked collaboratively.  A single elf, no matter how highly leveled, can rarely take down a dragon.

As a general rule, a single individual can rarely produce as much as a group of people.  Additionally, it’s generally impossible in a corporate setting to get anything done on your own, even if you are considered an “individual contributor”.  Being a good team player and effectively collaborating with others is an important skill.  As you advance in your career, being able to form and lead high performing teams that can work well with cross-functional groups will allow you to have a much bigger impact on your organization than sitting at your desk with your head down pumping out as much work as you can.

D&DCharacters6) Embrace diversity – a D&D campaign would be quite boring if every player was a human fighter.  In addition to making a campaign more interesting, a diversity of characters (classes and races) introduces many more ways to overcome challenges and obstacles.  For example, the Halfling thief can find the way into a secret corridor, the Elven ranger can dispatch enemies from afar, the Human wizard can do massive damage in large areas against multiple adversaries, and the Half-Orc fighter can protect the others and pick off enemies in close quarters.  Whenever I started a campaign, I would work with all the players to make sure there was sufficient diversity in the characters to make the adventure both enjoyable and successful.

In the business world, diversity is equally important.  I still vividly recall a meeting with the Xbox team a couple of years before the launch of Kinect when Nintendo Wii was eating everyone’s lunch.  The meeting was a brainstorming session to identify what we could do to get more women and younger children interested in Xbox 360.  Looking around the room at the dozen or so men pondering the issue, the one thought I had was “Perhaps we should start by including some women in these discussions”.  Ensuring that your team is as diverse as the markets they’re meant to serve is not a moral imperative, it’s a business imperative.  Studies have shown that diverse teams are more innovative and successful than homogeneous teams.  Additionally, while many people focus on racial/ethnic and gender diversity in the workforce, there are many different forms of diversity, including age and experience.  One of the best managers I knew at Microsoft created a high-performing market research team with professionals from multiple fields not directly related to market research.  It takes courage to make that kind of move, but I believe the results are usually exceptional.

DND TV Unicorn7) Deal quickly with disruptive team members – a campaign that I spent months planning on the Moonshae Islands of the Forgotten Realms was pretty much derailed by the antics of the human barbarian Fenris the Ferocious and the High Elf rouge Zandelle, as well as the human cleric Penelope Fenelope.  The real players of the characters of Fenris and Zandelle simply couldn’t get along in real life, leading to antagonistic situations in the game (such as Fenris carving an “F” across Zandelle’s face and keeping him hostage on a wagon).  And then there was Penelope, my high school girlfriend’s character, who was added so she could feel included as part of my group of siblings and friends.  She couldn’t take the game seriously and detracted greatly from the fantasy world we tried to create.

At some point, you have to make the determination whether a player needs to leave the team for the good of the collective.  This is always last resort, and forces you to think about finding ways for them to realize their mutual goals can only be achieved through cooperation.  In business you will often come across disruptive individuals, naysayers, apathetic workers, and generally unpleasant folks who can quickly sap team morale and hinder the group’s progress (not to be confused with individuals whom dissent with good cause).  Addressing these individuals right way is the best course of action, determining the root cause of their issues, emphasizing collaboration, and sometimes transferring or removing them from the team.  You can’t let it get to the point where it’s disrupting the work of the entire team.  Swift and appropriate action is necessary for the good of all.

tavern-brawl8) Build your networks – In D&D, players need to network constantly with NPCs to advance in the campaign.  You must talk to the local tavern owner to hear about strange happenings; meet with the local peasants for information that will lead you to the source of the local scourge; seek out  the reclusive mage who’ll provide the key spells to your victory or lead you to artifacts of great power; visit the local healer to tend your wounded; etc.  Every good D&D campaign involves interacting with individuals and groups beyond the core players to accomplish your main objective.

Throughout my career, networking has led to new funding for multiple projects, new business opportunities, and even new career opportunities. My jobs at Porsche in Germany, P&G in Puerto Rico and Xbox at Microsoft in Seattle all came about as a result of networking with my peers.  Within corporate America, the value of internal networking leads many companies to adopt open floor plans and central community areas where random, serendipitous encounters with other employees leads to new innovations, new product concepts, and overall workplace efficiencies.  A major global marketing campaign using technology my team designs will be launching for PepsiCo this year thanks to this type of internal networking.

treasure_dragon_by_lordhannu-d4e4jr59) Effectively manage your budget – I manage a multi-million dollar budget at work.  My first childhood examples for managing finances and building a budget came from D&D.

Within the imaginary world of the D&D campaign, managing one’s finances is a critical game play element.  When you start a character from scratch, you’re provided a small allotment of gold.  A key factor in your ultimate success or failure in the game is how well you can manage your allotment and future cash flows.  Key questions I needed to ask:  Should I spend all my gold up front or save a portion for future contingencies?  If I save, what proportion of my allotment should be spent?  How should I prioritize my expenditures between supplies, provisions, armor, weapons, horses, spellbooks, etc?  Throughout the game you find opportunities to earn more money, either through employment (i.e. join an adventuring group with associated payment) or through battle (monster and NPC encounters lead to good booty).  In addition, there were real world lessons gained from running a campaign.  With limited real money, I had to make decisions on which AD&D assets to buy – for example, should I get the Monster Manual 2, Unearthed Arcana, or Forgotten Realms Atlas?  Which asset would give me the highest ROI in terms of game play?  A Dungeon Master’s Screen would be a great productivity asset, but at $20, could I build it myself and allocate resources elsewhere (the classic build vs. buy analysis)?

It goes without saying that building and managing budgets, setting priorities, and asset allocation is also a key element of operating in the business world, as well as the real world which we all grow into.

220px-MazesMonstersVHSCover10) Learn the fine art of PR – when I was in grade school my half-sister, in a bout of religious zealotry, tried to convince my mother that D&D was the devil’s playground and she was a bad mother if she let us continue playing.  It didn’t help that the TV movie ‘Mazes and Monsters’ came out at the same time, where the young Tom Hanks goes insane by playing a D&D style role-playing game, and eventually is unable to tell reality from fantasy.  I had to get a story and arguments together to counter these attacks and had to recruit my friends and siblings to make sure we all had the same talking points and could deliver them convincingly and consistently.  Much of this happens in the business world as well.  Whether good or bad, you cannot control the news, so you have to be prepared to respond and get your organization on board to deliver consistent and compelling messaging.

knighting11) Give others an opportunity to lead – one of the most successful tactics for creating team harmony is showing a willingness to relinquish power.  Give up the Dungeon Master reins to someone else so that they can see what you go through and how difficult it is to create and manage a campaign.  It’ll teach your teammates to approach problems in a more productive manner and offer solutions instead of just identifying problems or complaining. 

In the business world, many people want to jump straight into the leadership role and feel that empowering others on the team with significant responsibilities or leadership will compromise their own position or their standing in the eyes of upper management.  Those attitudes generally lead to a road of dysfunction.  As a people manager, I want my employees to be the leaders of their respective projects, and the go-to people for key decisions that need to be made.  I feel my role, aside from the overall strategic vision and direction of our programs, is to break down barriers impeding progress and to ensure they have the resources they need to succeed.  Entrusting someone with leadership responsibilities generally leads to greater confidence on their part and their desire to rise to the challenge.

Alignment Chart12) Get to know your people/players – Your players are all unique and are generally motivated and compelled differently.  Not everyone seeks the same rewards – some people campaign for the experience and to level their characters, others for the opportunity to amass a dragon’s hoard of gold, and others lust after magical items like the +3 Sword of Flames, etc.  The same applies to your teams in the corporate world.  Some people seek recognition and awareness of their efforts, others are focused on their bonus award or base salary, others are happy with a new title.  Understanding these motivations allows you to plan projects and rewards accordingly to maintain and build morale and keep the team and projects on track.


When I first started this list, I had only seven items, but it started to expand the more I went back and thought about what I learned from playing D&D.  While I retired my Dungeon Master cloak many moons ago, I still hold a great deal of respect for the game and its many players and leaders around the world.

I still recall my first internship interview over 21 years ago.  When asked what my greatest accomplishment was, I told the interviewer how I created an entire D&D world from scratch, including terrain, cartographer maps at multiple zoom levels, history and lore, and much more  (mind you my only work experience at the time was being a stock boy in several supermarkets, working a deli counter, and being a butcher).  I didn’t get that job, but at least he referred me to another, better fitting job in the company focused on truck design which kicked off my career.  Looking back, I realized he probably didn’t appreciate the example I provided as my greatest accomplishment.  For you D&D players and DMs out there, the world may still not be ready to learn how you’ve come to be so capable.  You may not want to disclose where your great power comes from, but know that if harnessed correctly, you can accomplish anything!

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2013 Summer Internship Opportunities on my team at PepsiCo

Last year I created a summer internship program for the Equipment Innovations team at PepsiCo.  The program was so successful that it’s back by popular demand for 2013.  The job description stays pretty much the same from last year (click the link below to see details).  Those interested can apply by emailing our talent acquisition manager. 

Most of the work will focus on the Pepsi Interactive Vending Machine ( which was launched into limited test markets earlier this year.  There is a great deal of flexibility for ideation and innovation, so I’m looking forward to interviewing some great college candidates in Computer Science for these positions.

Pictured below are the 2012 Summer Interns that made the program such a huge success with a much talked about final presentation to our Senior VP and VP of Innovations (along with a host of other cross-functional executive members at PepsiCo) based on outstanding work done throughout the summer.  Many thanks to these interns for the great job they did and for showcasing the value of this summer internship program.

Picture from left to right (I’m in the center), Fernanda and Claudia from Tec de Monterrey in Mexico, Igor from The Cooper Union in New York City, and Cory from Carnegie Mellon, at our final team event at The View in New York City.


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Interview Myths – The Tricky Interviewer

Friendly Interview Panel There seems to be a big conspiracy theory on the job-hunting circuit that interviewers are out to trick you and thwart your every attempt to land your dream job.


Here’s an article, just one of many examples I’ve seen, entitled “Watch Out! Ten Interview Questions Designed to Trick You!” on the reputable, which starts off with the following ominous warning “…once you’re in the door, interviewers often put you through an obstacle course of deceptive questions with double meanings or hidden agendas.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.  As a hiring manager, I would love nothing more than to find the best-qualified candidate for an open position on my team on the first shot, and I am not an exception to the rule.  By the time a candidate gets to me, human resources talent acquisition has spent a lot of time filtering through résumés and potential candidates to line up the individuals they feel are the best fit based on the job description provided, and they usually do a great job of this.  At this stage, I’m looking for the best fit for the team, for the position at hand, a person who is passionate about working for this company and group, someone who has a proven track record of delivering results, and someone with the potential to grow into a larger role.  What I don’t want is to start my search from scratch and have to extend this recruiting process longer than necessary.

Most hiring managers and HR representatives are extremely busy people with lots of demands at work, and playing games or tricking candidates does nothing to advance our business goals.  Of course there are unscrupulous interviewers in the world, just as there are those few candidates who brazenly exaggerate their experience, but as a matter of course, the point of an interview is not to trick anyone, but to get to know them better and assess them for a fit for an open position (as well as an opportunity for the candidate to evaluate whether or not it is a company/job they want).  Sure, when I was on the job hunt I’ve had those interviewers who asked me brain-teasers (and there are still companies that do so), but I understood even then that they were not trying to trick me, but trying to see how I approach a problem and use logic to resolve it, and how that would translate into problem-solving on the job.

Many of the questions pointed out in the article referenced above are indeed asked in most interviews, and the feedback is sound, but the questions aren’t meant to be “deceptive”.  Think of it as dating.  If you are out seeking a long-term relationship (and most hiring managers are looking for candidates for the long-term), you want to get to know the other person to see if there is a fit and the potential for many days of excitement and happiness together.  It’s a two-way street.  You’re not trying to trick them into messing up so you can send them packing.

As I write this, I’m on a flight from New York to Orlando to attend the NSHBMA National Career Conference.  Hundreds of individuals will be interviewing at this conference.  If you are one of them, or have any upcoming interview anywhere else, I would recommend that you ignore the hype about the interviewers being out to get you.  Just be prepared, courteous, ask good questions, answer honestly, and feel good about the process.  Even if you are qualified for the position, you still might not get it because there may be many equally (or more highly) qualified candidates competing for the same opportunity, but at the very least you should know that more likely than not, the person on the other end of the interview has been in your position before and is rooting for you to succeed.

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SHPE Region 1 Leadership Development Conference 2011

The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Region 1 Leadership Development Conference held in San Francisco, CA at Stanford University and Sheraton Palo Alto just ended a few hours ago.  I must say that I was very impressed with the entire event, which was the first SHPE conference I’ve attended in over a decade.  Attending the conference brought back a lot of fond memories of SHPE.

SHPE provided many first time experiences for me.  I was one of the original members of the SHPE Cooper Union Student Chapter in 1991, serving as the Student Treasurer in 1993.  That was the first professional organization I had ever joined and my first true leadership role.  SHPE was also responsible for kicking off my career upon graduation from the Mechanical Engineering program at the Cooper Union in New York City. I received three job offers from the SHPE National Technical Career Conference (NTCC) in 1995.  The offers were from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Rhode Island, Raytheon Missile Systems near Boston, and Honda R&D in Ohio.  When I chose Honda, that set the path for my career as an Automotive Design Engineer that would eventually lead to working in Germany for Porsche AG on the Carrera, Boxster, and Cayenne.  While at Honda, I served as a Vice-Chair of the SHPE National Student Affairs Committee (NSAC) and later founded the Columbus Ohio Chapter of SHPE (which unfortunately didn’t survive after I moved to Germany).  Finally, it was the SHPE parties that inspired me to want to learn Salsa dancing – which would eventually lead me to my future wife 🙂

Based on all of this, when I found out that there was a regional conference in San Francisco at the same time that I was going to be in the area for business, I made it a point to attend.  I reached out to the event organizers to see how I could participate, especially after reading that for the first time, there would be a Business Plan competition as part of the conference.  Fidel Hernandez and Edgar Roman were in need of a main prize sponsor for the competition, so I was able to sign up Microsoft as an event sponsor.

IMG_1319 I was impressed by so many things at this event.  First was the speed and flexibility in which the event organizers were able to add Microsoft as a sponsor and update the full program.  Additionally, having three separate tracks for Undergraduate Students, Graduate Students, and Professionals, along with all of the high caliber presenters for each of these workshops was nothing short of amazing. The keynote lunch speech by Raul Vazquez, Executive VP of Walmart was one of the best executive keynotes I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.  Meeting and hearing from the first Latina in Space, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Deputy Director of NASA Johnson Space Center was a special treat for me given my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut.  The Business Plan competitors certainly did a great job of bridging the engineering and business disciplines and I was honored to have been asked to serve as a judge for the competition.  And finally, the finalists for the Xbox prize at the Regional Breakout Meeting this morning (Sunday, 4/3/2011) shared some truly inspirational and moving stories of what this conference meant to them and how they are going to apply what they learned going forward.

I’m glad to see that SHPE has grown and flourished in the two decades since I originally joined the organization.  Thanks to everyone who takes the time to be leaders and to make events like this happen.  Until next time!


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Product Management Certification Proposal

With roughly 15 years of experience in New Product Development, including over 5 years as a Global Product Planner and Product Manager in the Xbox group at Microsoft, I spent some time thinking about whether I should pursue formal certification in Product Management.  Here’s a proposal I put together for my management team to evaluate.  Any Product Managers interested in proposing something similar at their companies can feel free to leverage this proposal and modify it for your own purposes, as long as you share some stories about the process and your results in the comments below 🙂  For others who have already gone through the process, some questions include (1) did you get support from your company to pursue certification? (2) what was your process to get approval?  (3) have you seen a clear benefit in your role/company after going through the certification process?

Proposal ——————————-

Hello [Insert Manager’s Name Here] –

Here is a proposal for the Product Management Certification Training that we discussed during our most recent career planning discussions.


Obtain formal training for Product Management certification to learn best practices in the field across industries, enhance Product Management skills, develop professionally, leverage enhanced skillset in our business group, and share best practices with the rest of the team.


I’m involved in several organizations that promote the sharing of best practices and professional development of Product Managers, such as the Product Management Council.  Some of these organizations, such as the Association of International Product Marketers and Managers (AIPMM, ) offer formal training courses and certification in Product Management that leverages knowledge across several different industries.   I have done an internal search on Learning Central (http://learningcentral) for Product Management and have not found any formal Microsoft training programs that offer the depth of knowledge and breadth across industries offered by these external organizations.  Most of what I’ve found in learning central is software development focused, and mainly around Project management.

The certification process for Product Management focuses on some of the following areas  (list taken directly from AIPMM Certified Product Manager exam website):

· Building case studies
· Writing business plans segmented for each major function
· Market planning
· Competitive analysis
· Project plans for each major activity
· Product specifications
· Develop product launch plans
· Product Life Cycle Project modeling
· Phase-Gate Process modeling
· Product/Market Data modeling

Additionally, other levels of Product Management training that I’ve found further develop skills and the ability to (list taken directly from UC Berkeley Product Management website):

· Appropriately allocate resources among products
· Prepare a meaningful business case
· Price products to optimize product and product-line profitability
· Determine the most effective methods for obtaining and integrating market feedback to drive product decisions
· Effectively manage your product team, even without direct authority
· Influence all stake-holders in your products
· Develop a top-notch launch plan
· Optimize the marketing mix
· Develop profitable products customers will love

Programs and Fees:

There are several programs that I’ve found that fit within the career development plan I’m proposing to achieve the objective stated above.  My proposal would be to take one or two of these courses/conferences, not all of them, to help control costs.  The programs include (costs vary and are highlighted below):

· UC Berkeley Product Management Executive Education; May 9-13, 2011 ($6,300) –

· Product Management Education and Certification Conference, ~ May 2011 ($1,590)  –

· Product Management Certification through Pragmatic Marketing ($2,590) –

· AIPMM Certified Product Manager Self-Study and Certification through 280 Group ($1,295) –

· Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) New Product Development Professional (NPDP) Certification, April 5-6, 2011 ($1,689) –


After getting a thorough understanding of the best practices and tools across industries in the field of product management, some of the benefits for me and Microsoft include:

· Develop professionally in my role within IEB

· Gain the ability to improve the tools and processes we use on a regular basis at Microsoft

· Enhance interaction with other groups, including hardware development team

· Share the training and best practices with others in the team to support the commitment of building a world class Product Management/Marketing culture.

I look forward to hearing how I can proceed to add this to my career development plan.


Richard Velazquez

Sr. Global Product Manager – Xbox


Kinect and Xbox 360 Setting Records

250GB-Kinect-Bundle As the Product Planner for both the Xbox 360 Kinect (originally called Project Natal) and the complete redesign of the Xbox 360, I was thrilled to read the latest news about these two amazing products:

1) Kinect sets the Guinness World Record for the fastest selling consumer electronics device in history, selling 8 million units in its first 60 days and over 10 million units to date, beating out Apple’s iPhone and iPad (read the source material directly from Guinness World Records here and The Hollywood Reporter here).

2) Xbox 360 has its biggest non-holiday month ever in February 2011, up 27% from last year, ahead of both Nintendo Wii and Sony PS3 (read the source material from cnet News here and from Joystiq here).

As a business case study for New Product Development and Product Management, this is a great example of the results achievable when two things happen.  First, the overall Corporate Strategy, in this case, to broaden the appeal of interactive entertainment, drove the Product Strategy. Second, aligning all of the internal resources to execute on the Product Strategy to create a holistic and compelling consumer experience (in this case, the hardware, the games, the user interface, and the services all align to bring together the “magic” that is Kinect).  A great piece that captures this is available from Wired Magazine’s article – Kinect for Xbox 360: The inside story of Microsoft’s secret ‘Project Natal’.

To further share this story, I’ve organized an event entitled “Microsoft Presents: The Engineering Behind Kinect and the New Xbox 360” scheduled for this Wednesday, March 16, 2011.  Full details are available at the registration link (  The General Managers for both the Xbox Hardware Division and the NUI (Natural User Interface) HW team will be presenting the technical development of these products to local engineering students and members of professional organizations in the Puget Sound, including:

  • ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers)
  • SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers)
  • SWE (Society of Women Engineers)
  • NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers)
  • CIE (Chinese Institute of Engineers)
  • NSHMBA (National Society of Hispanic MBAs)

Congratulations to the full team on the success of both Kinect and the new Xbox 360!  It’s been an honor to work with a great team of outstanding individuals to develop these products that are being enthusiastically embraced by millions of happy consumers around the world.

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2010 play Digital Media Conference at UC Berkeley

image I just attended another wonderful >play Conference at the University of California – Berkeley, Haas School of Business.  This annual event is completely organized and executed by the MBA students and has been growing and improving every year.  Microsoft is an annual sponsor and I attend both as a Microsoft exhibitor and to meet with potential candidates for internships and full-time positions at Microsoft.  I brought a demo of Xbox 360 Kinect, which launches just a few days after the conference.  There was a lot of enthusiasm and big crowds at the Kinect booth, so this bodes well for our launch on November 4, 2010.

The conference organizers made a few changes from last year that I thought were excellent.  First was the Rocket Pitch, wherein the sponsors of the >play Conference each had two minutes to pitch their products.  I was up second to showcase Kinect, where I showed the new Kinect TV 60 second spot and announced the raffle of an Xbox 360.  The most memorable pitches for me were SnapShop, Qwiki, and GameCrush.  SnapShop allows you to virtually place new furniture items over the real world using an iPhone to see how it would look before making a purchase.  No more imagining what something will look like and then taking it home to find it doesn’t work.  GameCrush is a service that charges men to play videogames online with women.  While I’m not sure how financially successful this could become given the massive adoption of videogames by women recently, the reason it was so memorable was due to the delivery of the Rocket Pitch.  Delivered in essentially 2 sentences and in under a minute, it was quite easily the most memorable presentation.  Also, some of the shocked faces in the audience made it more amusing and memorable.  Qwiki was absolutely brilliant.  Take generic internet content and create a video from the information automatically, including voice.  The most fun part was turning someone’s Facebook profile into an automatic video biography.  Very cool.

The second thing the conference organizers did was provide what they called the “>playlists”, a sheet that gathered the sources of inspirations of the keynotes and panelists at the conference in one highly useful and valuable document.  It includes everything from the blogs and websites they read to the people they follow.  A handy resource for all attendees.

Since I was running the Kinect demo, I could not go to the panels, but I was able to attend the keynotes.  The morning keynote was delivered by Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine.  Mr. Anderson discussed how tablets will transform the future of media based on his experience with creating the Wired iPad application.  Some interesting takeaways from his keynote was that he considers the iPad “the most trackable media format in history”, and can tell advertisers how long someone reads their application and what areas are used most.  Other interesting statistics included the length of time people spend on the iPad app for Wired versus other media formats (online, print).  According to their data, they spend more than an hour at a time on their content.  As Mr. Anderson stated, “there’s no better measure of success than people giving you their time”.

One claim Mr. Anderson made that I completely do not agree with is that the tablet will replace traditional laptops.  He believes this so strongly that he claims that his current laptop is that last laptop he will ever purchase.  While I have have been using the tablet for evaluation purposes and see many significant uses for the device, its functionality and feature set is too limited for the many user scenarios that laptops enable.  It has been extremely useful in the following situations: one-day business trips, checking and updating email/social-media sites on the go, keeping up with the news, casual gaming, and taking notes.  However, unless every business in the world is going to shift their operating paradigm, laptops/desktops are not dead.  The tablet will not be useful or productive in an 8-hour workday filled with spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, video and image production and manipulation, data storage, etc.  That scenario of tablets completely replacing laptops is as likely as smartphones completely replacing laptops… which is to say, not very likely.  They each have their purpose and the usage scenarios are sufficiently different to keep them in separate product categories, in my humble opinion.

Back to the conference, I was even more excited about the final keynote by Dr. Michael B. Johnson, Moving Pictures Group Lead at Pixar Animation Studios.  This was a 45 minute talk and easily one of the best presentations/keynotes I’ve ever attended.  Of course, I’m slightly biased as I am a huge Pixar fan and love all of their movies.  After the talk Dr. Johnson shared with me that Pixar is the only movie studio in history to have commercial success on all of their films, eleven in total.  During the keynote, Dr. Johnson shared with the audience the original storyboarded opening for UP, which was distinctly different from the final opening that we all saw and loved.  It was still an emotionally moving sequence and the attendees of >play are only the 3rd audience ever to have seen this sequence, according to Dr. Johnson.  He also had a great set of quotes from various Pixar colleagues, including my personal favorite about product quality from Jason Deamer, Pixar Creative Art Lead – “Pain is temporary. ‘Suck’ is forever”.  Joe Ranft – “Storyboarding is the art of story RE-boarding”, which talks about how frequently and extensively storyboards need to be changed.  Ronnie del Carmen – “People all want for the story to start. Let’s give it to them already”, which refers to shortening the opening sequence of UP to dive into the story going forward, instead of the backstory of Carl and Ellie and how they fell in love.  Andrew Stanton – “I want to fail as quickly as possible”, referring to the desire to identify mistakes and problems as quickly as possible to move on to the final, quality product.  Overall, I soaked up a lot of great and memorable information at this keynote.  And afterwards, it was great hearing from Dr. Johnson on the upcoming sequels for Cars and Monsters, Inc.

The evening ended with the reception and the Microsoft raffle.  My colleague from Bing raffled off a Zune HD.  I raffled off an Xbox 360.  Given the theme of the conference, I added a twist to the raffle process.  People entered a chance to win using Twitter.  Those that tweeted their entries were then placed in a pool and two finalists were selected. With the popularity of the Kinect demos, several tweets suggested a dance competition to pick the final winner, so that’s what we did.  The two finalists squared away against each other on the Kinect dancing title, and the highest score won the Xbox.  The winner of the dance-off just happened to be a huge Halo fan, so it was a well deserved victory.

All-in-all a great conference and I’m looking forward to participating in 2011.


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