Read: Telling a good story is everything and 25 other lessons I learned as GM of Vine

I love lists.  Making them, completing them, deleting them and now thanks to The List App, reading other peoples' lists.  While this article was originally published on Medium, I've filed it under: Things I need to remember.  



Telling a good story is everything And 25 other lessons I learned as GM of Vine

For the past two years I worked at Vine, first as Head of Product, then as General Manager, overseeing the ~50-person NY-based company within Twitter. During the course of my time there, I learned a lot. On the advice of my former colleague, Adam Feldman, I’ve written up some of the lessons I’ve learned to be true:

On leading a team

  • Having and telling a compelling story is the most important thing you do as a leader. Be it sharing your vision, motivating a team, getting resources, whatever — this is everything. It’s not enough to share a list of good ideas. You need to make people understand and feel what you’re telling them.
  • Repeating that story again and again is just about as important. If you’re not sick of hearing yourself repeat the story then you probably haven’t said it enough.
  • Focus is toughAt Vine, two tricks I used to try to ensure focus were 1) writing our top three priorities on the walls and 2) asking every person on the team to write their three priorities each quarter, in < 140 chr, in a shared spreadsheet.
  • A weekly team-wide meeting is a good way to make sure that your team is on the same page — but it’s critical to make sure it’s something people actually want to attend. At Vine, we watched Vines together, had snacks, etc.
  • A weekly email to your team is another good practice. At Vine I’d share my top three weekly priorities with the team every Monday so that they knew what I was focused on.
  • “Make sure you’re doing the maximally impactful thing at all times,”dick costolo told me early on. This seems obvious, but it’s very easy to get sucked into a vortex of other people’s requests or your past habits. Better to delegate tasks that you specifically do not have to do, or to just politely say no.
  • Team culture is critically important in a world where engineers are in such short supply and high demand. I strived to make Vine feel more like a family than a company. We prioritized the obvious things (hire and retain the best people) but also did lots of smaller things that I think made a difference (e.g. plenty of swag + unforgettable off-sites).

On product development

  • Stories > Priorities. It’s not enough to have a list of product priorities. How do they fit together? How does one build on the last? What’s your product’s story?
  • People default to building things for themselves. This works out great when your users match the demographic of your employees. But when they’re very different, you need to put in effort to ensure that your employees understand your users’ needs. At Vine, we opened up user studies to the entire team, cycling in employees to shadow our user researcher.
  • Embed experts on your team to stay close to their needs. At Vine, one group that was critically important to us was top Viners. So on the guidance of karyn spencer, we hired Vine star Chris Melberger. It was enormously helpful getting his frequent input — so much better than user studies. If I could go back, I would have done this earlier — and would have hired teenagers (as many Vine users are), as Facebook has donewith the ever-inspiring Michael Sayman.
  • Appoint a directly responsible individual for each product/feature to not only ensure that someone is driving it forward, but that there is someone proud of the outcome. Without this, you risk a series of compromises and no one proud of the end result.
  • Don’t test on millions when you can test on thousands — or dozens. Try new features out with small groups of users. You can learn a surprising amount from super low-fidelity mocks.
  • Have your engineers show off what they’re working on regularlyWe did this with demos at our weekly all hands. It motivates them, excites the rest of the team, and ensures that everyone knows what’s happening.

On management

  • Appreciation is your best tool for getting people motivated and bringing the best version of themselves. At Vine, I’d try to send at least one note each week focused on expressing my appreciation. We also let anyone send anyone else on the team “shmoney” — aka props that the entire team would see, along with a $100 gift card.
  • Your team is watching you more closely than you realize. So be aware of how you appear. If you’re stressed, your team will pick up on that. Someone once told me that being a strong leader requires good acting.
  • Your reports think about you much more than you think about them.This one is from matt derella. The basic idea is that if you have 10 reports, it’s nearly impossible for you to spend as much time thinking about them as they spend on you. Be aware of this, and make sure you’re maximizing your limited time with them.
  • Firing people is a necessary evil. It’s the worst thing you have to do as a manager. It’s painful. It has ripple effects on the team. But sometimes it’s necessary. And when it’s necessary, do it quickly! It’s in everybody’s best interest.
  • Don’t bug your team at weird hours. It’s rude. Schedule messages withBoomerang or add items to a shared 1:1 doc instead.
  • Top performers are most likely to think they’re at risk of being fired.This is strange but true. Make sure they know how much you value them!

On hiring

  • A personal touch can be hugely impactful. When you’re competing for engineers with offers from Google, Facebook, etc., hiring can be tough. But it’s so incredibly important to get right. One tactic we found to be quite successful was to provide a personal touch. We’d same-day deliver gifts for candidates we wanted to close and bombard them with congratulation emails from interviewers.
  • Bring them back to close them. Once you decide you want someone, the best method I’ve found to closing them is bringing them back on-site to meet with people casually. The vibe is totally different. If they are still not interested after this, there may not be a good match.
  • Speed is the name of the game. We’d strive to get offers out within a couple of days. As they say, time kills deals.
  • Send short notes from the hiring manager to maximize response rates.We found (unsurprisingly) that really short emails from me had a much higher response rate than regular emails from our recruiter.


  • Not all feedback is equal. Make sure you’re getting feedback from people whose opinions matter most. Sometimes the most vocal people are also the ones with the best feedback; sometimes they aren’t :).
  • Good speeches require practice (for most of us, anyway). There’s nothing shameful about rehearsing!
  • Give yourself space to be creative. Back-to-back meetings make this difficult. Thirty-minute breaks in between might be even worse. Control your calendar; don’t let it control you.

To be sure, I’m nowhere near an expert on these things. And while some may seem obvious, actually doing them is much easier said than done. But I’ve learned these lessons to be true, and I hope they’re useful to you!

Discovered: Klari Reis

Jupiter//February 15th, 2013

Absinthe on the Rocks//January 26, 2013

Umbrellas in a Noir Film//January 7, 2013

Sea Shell in Love//February 13, 2013


I'm loving Klari Reis' once a day petri dish project.  Stirring pigments into plastic-epoxy polymer, Reis creates this unique  and highly interpretive works of art.  Reis did a similar project back in 2009 and decided to embark upon the journey again.  It is interesting to see how her creations from 2009 differ from those in 2013.  I've picked a few from 2013 that I'm particularly fond of; I love that each one tells its own story that is provoked by Reis' titles.  You can see the whole collection thus far here.


*via Fast Co Design

Interview: Nicholas Felton

"Being able to play a part in how this technology evolves is thrilling, and it's why I am working at Facebook."


I'm a big fan of Nicholas Felton, the man who many refer to as the inforgraphic guru.  He has managed to make data look good and I give him credit, in part, for making me a data junkie.  For a number of years, he has created his own personal annual/bi-annual reports that weave numerous measurements into a beautiful display of graphs, maps and statistics that reflect the year’s activities.  I've been checking his site often waiting for the 2012/2013 to come out.  It made me realize that I've never actually written about him here, so I decided to share one of my favorites.  There have been a slew of articles and interviews with him, particularly since he has become a part of the Facebook team and because he is responsible for Facebook's "Timeline" feature.   However, this interview Thomas Houston did last year on The Verge is one of my favorites.  Enjoy.

5 Minutes on The Verge: Nicholas Felton

Even five years ago, personal data tracking was mostly a fringe activity, something you'd read about in Wired articles profiling lifeloggers that were forever coming up with new ways to gather and analyze data about their own lives. As those sensors shrank and came together in modern smartphones and sports gadgets like Nike+ and mixed with a flood of new, easy-to-use apps, data tracking has become increasingly mainstream. You've probably seen Nicholas Felton's gorgeous Personal Annual Reports that break down a year's worth of personal data into graphs, maps, and statistics (e.g. weddings attended, movies watched, cups of coffee consumed), and he just published his 2010/2011 Biennial Report. Named one of the 50 most influential designers in America by Fast Company, Felton recently joined the Facebook team and was instrumental in building Timeline. He took some time out of his busy schedule for 5 Minutes on The Verge, and you can follow him at @feltron and

Mac or PC (and all-time favorite computer, make and model)?

I've been using Macs since I was in 7th grade, when my mother brought home our first computer... a Mac Plus with a 30mb external hard drive. My favorite computer is whichever model is helping me get my work done today, but this Mac Plus may survive as the one I am fondest of.

What's the story behind you getting involved in Facebook? Did you take "the walk" with Mark Zuckerberg?

I received a message from Mark at the beginning of last year and began a conversation with him. A few months later, my Daytum partner and I came out to San Francisco for a couple of meetings including a trip to Facebook. The more we talked, the more we saw that our desire to make a platform for quantitative expression was aligned with what Facebook was building, and that we could have a much greater impact by joining their efforts.

What did you learn about yourself from your Annual Reports? Have they made a difference in your daily life?

The Annual Reports teach me something new each year. I have explored my habits and routines, how I am perceived by those around me and last year I learned much more about my father than I had ever known. For the 2010/2011 Report, I have investigated my habits with new levels of detail, but ultimately the macro behaviors are what amaze me. By tracking the same metrics across two years, I was able to measure very small changes in my life. For instance, I learned that while I am spending much more time in California now, my total time with friends and family has stayed fairly constant (a complete surprise).

The Reports once inspired me to be more adventurous and to say "yes" to activities that I would naturally decline as it might make for an interesting story at the end of the year. Now that they have become so ingrained in my behavior, I am far less likely to be swayed by their influence.

In general, I think the Reports have made me a much more aware of my routines and grateful when I can break from them.

What kind of gadgets / tools / habits do you use for the tracking?

My iPhone is my best tracking tool. I relied on iCal on the phone and my Mac for recording everything over the past two years. I currently have a custom iPhone app that is helping me record the year. I also rely on my Fitbit and have been using a Wifit scale.

Where is Facebook's design most lacking? Where does it work best?

One of the most difficult things about working on Facebook is that it needs to work for so many people on such a range of devices, screens, and browsers. These requirements can restrain what is possible. Thankfully, mobile devices today are powerful (enough) and unemcumbered by legacy browsers. This has had a liberating effect on the creativity of our designers, and is allowing for imaginative new interactions like Joey Flynn's integration of a live-view camera mode within the cover photo in the iOS app.

"In 2008 I was the only person I knew wearing a pedometer. Today half my friends are wearing FitBits. "

Personal data tracking, once relegated to a fringe group of people documenting their lives, is increasingly becoming mainstream. Do you still feel like an outlier with your yearly reports?

Less and less... in 2008 I was the only person I knew wearing a pedometer. Today half my friends are wearing FitBits. Whenever I have uncovered a new metric in my life I've always wanted to be able to give it context. It tickles my curiosity to quantify a habit of mine, but I would really love to see how I differ from or resemble my friends. This wish seems to be materializing more and more quickly each day.

Do you feel a need to disconnect?

I love a good break from the internet, but checking out from my data collection has not been the sort of break that I have wanted to take. Fortunately, I have found a way this year to significantly reduce my manual tracking, while maintaining a satisfactory degree of data-completeness.

What's the best book you've read lately?

I enjoyed "The Information" by James Gleick, but the last book I couldn't put down was "Blind Descent" by James M. Tabor about exploring the world's deepest cave systems.

What was the last time you were really stunned by a development in technology (e.g. launching Spotify for the first time, using the original iPhone, seeing sports in HD)?

I completely take it for granted now, but the screen on the iPhone 4 remains phenomenal. It was a given that over time our displays would approach the resolution of paper, but I never expected to see resolution quadruple overnight for the same price.

Who (or what) are you most excited about on the web these days?

I am truly excited about the Facebook Open Graph... this is the system by which song listens (and any other action) can be recorded, aggregated and shared. Being able to play a part in how this technology evolves is thrilling, and it's why I am working at Facebook.

Who's doing the most interesting work in the mobile app space?

The apps that interest me most are repurposing the hardware of mobile devices to make them work in ways that were never intended. I am thinking about the heartrate monitor app that uses the camera and flash to read the pulse in my finger or the wikisense app that uses the camera to measure radiation after you've covered the lens.

What were some of the biggest design hurdles with creating Timeline, a product for nearly a billion users across a huge range of languages and ages?

The most contested and complicated dimension of Timeline's design was determining how time compression would work. Understanding the distinctions between various models of expansion on posts, aggregates and highlights took an enormous amount of concentration. At one point we designed a prototype that could mimic all 16 options we were considering. This exercise helped to remove many options, but the mechanics remained in flux until we could get real data into our models.

Similarly, what kind of design concerns start to appear at that kind of scale and user involvement?

Yes, the scale is enormous, but I believe that designing a successful product for an audience this size is very similar to designing a successful product at any scale. Our goals include clarity, performance, and ease of use. These goals will help a new product be adopted by a broader audience and serve our existing users well.

What's your primary browser?


How do you stay focused?

Music, caffeine, anxiety and an ability to find places and times to work when no one is around.

What movie are you most looking forward to in 2012?

I have a poor sense of what is being released, but if there's a Batman movie coming out, I will be there.

Wrapping it Up: 2012

  Recently Updated3

Last year I did a recap of all the things that made 2011 a spectacular year.  It was a great exercise for me to reflect upon all of the experiences that impacted, influenced and inspired me. And regardless of the fact that I am months late pulling this together, I realized that it still matters and feels good to get it all down.

When I thought about the past year and what it embodied, one word kept bubbling up:  boldness.  I tried new things, pushed and pulled myself in new directions, got both comfortable and uncomfortable and jumped all the way in.  It wasn't the prettiest or ugliest of years.  And when I really sat down and thought about it, I learned more about myself this year than I did last year, and just that realization feels pretty darn good.   So here's to all the things that helped 2012 be the year that it was.

My Top Ten: One:  Joining POSSIBLE, a digital agency that has given me the opportunity to work with some really talented people and that has taught me a lot about the importance of bending and flexing.

Two:  Traveling to Paris on eight separate occasions and finally being able to declare what I consider the world’s best chocolate croissant at Gerard Mulot

Three: Road Trips.  We bought a Volvo in May, affectionately named her Stella and cruised our way up and down the east coast.  Sometimes we drove an hour out of the city to spend the day at Storm King and other times we found ourselves adventuring up to northern Maine or down to Charlottesville.

Four:  Celebrating four years of marriage to my kick-ass husband who inspires me every day but genuinely blows my mind with everything he and the team create at their amazing company, StudioBooth.

Five: Music.  I had the opportunity to see some pretty incredible shows this year.  Whether it was Bon Iver at Radio City, my first Phish show in nearly 10 years,  or seeing Mia Moretti and Caitlin Moe perform at amfAR’s Miami benefit, I found myself giddy with excitement and appreciative of the fact that there are so many talented musicians out there expressing themselves and that just by listening I am able to be a part of that.

Six:  Weddings.  We celebrated some of our nearest and dearest friends making it official.   These were some of the best weekends of the whole year.  I mean, what can be better than dancing till the wee hours of the morning, drinking a bit too much and being surrounded by people that are all celebrating this thing we call love?

Seven: Argentina, an amazing country that we were able to spend a few weeks in.  Yes, the steaks and wine were amazing but what inspired me most was the street art.  I’d turn a corner and would be confronted and surprised with beautiful works of art.

Eight:  Running.  I’ve never been much of a runner and still don’t necessarily consider myself one, but in 2012 I started running.  It started with a 5k and now I’m signed up for a half marathon in 2013.  Eek!

Nine: Sunsets.  I know I said this last year and I hope to say it again next year.  The sunsets in 2012 continued to blow my mind.  I love that moment when the sun dips and the sky and clouds light up with various colors and shapes.  Sometimes they seem like they last for just a moment and sometimes I sit there for an hour watching it all change until it finally disappears.

Ten: Matilda Uni Rose, our 5 year old pug, who is quite honestly, the. best. dog. ever.

So thanks 2012 for all of this amazingness.  2013, I’m ready for more.  Bring it.

Read: Has Innovation Lost its Meaning?

Noah Brier, one of the founders of Percolate, was recently interview in Fast Company where he addressed the meaning of innovation.

After reading Josef Schumpeter, who is known as one of the first people in our industry to really talk about innovation, Brier came up with his own interpretation of what innovation in today's world needs to mean.

"Innovation is part of a process that involves creating something new (invention), figuring out how to commercialize it (innovation) and then actually getting to adopt it (marketing)."

The interview also asked Brier, "How do you go about creating a culture of innovation?"

"If you buy my definition above then creating that culture involves both committing to inventing (or at least watching the market very closely) and then having a group of people in place with a keen understanding of the market dynamics and the ability to understand how to take an idea that is often half-baked and turn it into something the market will buy into.”

I love how Brier connects the dots here. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the work that comes flying our way but it's important to take a step back and really assess if we've pushed the ideas far enough. It’s about making the time and creating the space so that we have the ability to truly innovate for our clients.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Where I've Been: Paris

Last week my husband and I headed to Paris to celebrate his birthday.  It was a quick four day trip but we managed to pack in the right amount of everything.  From picnics in Jardin Luxembourg to seeking out the best pain au chocolat to drinking plenty of champagne to taking full advantage of their amazing bicycle sharing program, we had the most incredible time exploring the city of lights.

Here is a list of our favorites discoveries:

Pain au chocolat from Gerard Mulot

Dinner at Spring- where we indulged in a six course meal with one of the best wine parings we've ever had

The organic farmer's market on Sunday at Marché Raspail where we picked up gorgeous radishes, two kinds of amazing cheese, a baguette and a variety of charcuterie for a perfect picnic

Drinks at Prescription, and Le Ballroom du Beef Club.  The masterminds behind the newly open Experimental Cocktail Club in NYC.

Baguettes from Au Levain du Marais



Read: The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time

I admit it.  I'm often distracted.  It is not uncommon for me to find myself surrounded by multiple electronic devices.  In fact, just 20 minutes ago I had the TV on, two cellphones, a laptop and an iPad all by my side.  Sometimes I laugh at this reality.  But most of the time, I'm fully aware that it completely wears me out; somehow, these devices have won.

So when I read this article by Tony Schwartz, I was reminded that we all need to focus.  We need to take time to think, process, absorb and then respond.  It's hard to do.  But as Tony stresses, it's not only critical for us to disconnect, it's actually more productive.

As I gear up for the fact that I'm going on vacation for a few days next week, I'm keeping this quote from Tony in mind:  "when you're engaged at work, fully engage, for defined periods of time. When you're renewing, truly renew."

The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time

Why is it that between 25 and 50 per cent of people report feeling overwhelmed or burned out at work?

It's not just the number of hours we're working, but also the fact that we spend too many continuous hours juggling too many things at the same time.

What we've lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. Technology has blurred them beyond recognition. Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It's like an itch we can't resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse.

Tell the truth: Do you answer email during conference calls (and sometimes even during calls with one other person)? Do you bring your laptop to meetings and then pretend you're taking notes while you surf the net? Do you eat lunch at your desk? Do you make calls while you're driving, and even send the occasional text, even though you know you shouldn't?

The biggest cost — assuming you don't crash — is to your productivity. In part, that's a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you're partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it's because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you're increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 per cent.

But most insidiously, it's because if you're always doing something, you're relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.

I know this from my own experience. I get two to three times as much writing accomplished when I focus without interruption for a designated period of time and then take a real break, away from my desk. The best way for an organization to fuel higher productivity and more innovative thinking is to strongly encourage finite periods of absorbed focus, as well as shorter periods of real renewal.

If you're a manager, here are three policies worth promoting:

1. Maintain meeting discipline. Schedule meetings for 45 minutes, rather than an hour or longer, so participants can stay focused, take time afterward to reflect on what's been discussed, and recover before the next obligation. Start all meetings at a precise time, end at a precise time, and insist that all digital devices be turned off throughout the meeting.

2. Stop demanding or expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day. It forces your people into reactive mode, fractures their attention, and makes it difficult for them to sustain attention on their priorities. Let them turn off their email at certain times. If it's urgent, you can call them — but that won't happen very often.

3. Encourage renewal. Create at least one time during the day when you encourage your people to stop working and take a break. Offer a midafternoon class in yoga, or meditation, organize a group walk or workout, or consider creating a renewal room where people can relax, or take a nap.

It's also up to individuals to set their own boundaries. Consider these three behaviors for yourself:

1. Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. If possible, work in a private space during this period, or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you'll be. When you're done, take at least a few minutes to renew.

2. Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long term, creatively, or strategically. If you don't, you'll constantly succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. Also, find a different environment in which to do this activity — preferably one that's relaxed and conducive to open-ended thinking.

3. Take real and regular vacations. Real means that when you're off, you're truly disconnecting from work. Regular means several times a year if possible, even if some are only two or three days added to a weekend. The research strongly suggests that you'll be far healthier if you take all of your vacation time, and more productive overall.

A single principle lies at the heart of all these suggestions. When you're engaged at work, fully engage, for defined periods of time. When you're renewing, truly renew. Make waves. Stop living your life in the gray zone.

*Image via Tattly

Monday Morning Inspiration: Cristiana Couceiro


I have fallen in love with the work of Cristiana Couceiro.  She is an illustrator/graphic design/collector extraordinaire based out of Lisbon who uses anything from newspaper, vintage photos, pieces of paper, books create her works of art.  These are just a few of my favorites.  Some of them were done for her clients like the NYTimes, Wired, Nike and Audi.  Others are from her personal portfolio.  You can see more of her work here.


Where I'm at: ZAAZ

It's been pretty quiet over here on the blog since 2012 kicked in. There is a good excuse for that.

Just a month ago, I joined ZAAZ (pronounced z•ah•z) a digital ad agency that prides itself on not only the work they do for clients like Audi, Microsoft, Coca- Cola and Nokia but also on their core values.  Values like passion, kindness, perspective, integrity and results.  Values that many people and companies talk about embracing but don't.

There is something different about ZAAZ.  Something real and genuine that made me jump in and say yes.  I am so fortunate to be a part of a team of incredibly smart and engaged people who I've already been able to collaborate, build and stretch with.  There is a reason why Ad Age named us one of the best places to work.  We have lots of exciting things in store.  Stay tuned.



Watch: Waste Land

This weekend I watched Waste Land, a documentary about the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz.  The film documents the creation of a series entitled “Pictures of Garbage,” which are portraits of garbage collectors called “catadores” in Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest  landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.  The film follows the three year project from start to finish as Muniz and the catadores collaborate on the process of creating these works of art.  It’s an incredibly inspiring film and one that gives a voice to a community of people few know exist.  One of the most inspiring aspects of the film is that Muniz donates 100% of the proceeds to the catadores so they can educate, protect and improve the living conditions of Jardim Gramacho. To date, the project has contributed nearly $300k.   You can read more about the film here.

Good Work: Sabi

寂 SABI [/sab-i/] noun - A Japanese cultural aesthetic inspired by the notion of life’s transitory and evanescent nature. Deliberate or cultivated simplicity in daily living. Artistic representation that strives toward refined understatement.

Created by Assaf Wand and Yves Béhar, Sabi brings "design, functionality, and aesthetic to the most basic day-to-day things."  Inspired by companies like OXO and Simple Human, Wand and Béhar tackled medication and pill management products as their first challenge.  From a 3-compartment clip-on travel pill box to a pill splitter, Sabi's "Vitality" line aims to make the task of taking daily vitamin and pills more enjoyable.  In addition to be ergonomically friendly, the line is price friendly raning from $8.99 to $29.99.  You can buy the products directly from the Sabi site here.

*via psfk