Abra adds twenty cryptocurrencies to its wallet app

Abra, a global currency wallet that was the belle of the early Bitcoin ball, has just added twenty cryptocurrencies and fifty fiat currencies, a feature that allows you to top up and send cash and cryptocurrencies from inside the wallet.

“Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum Classic, Dash, Zcash, Bitcoin Gold, Stellar Lumens, DigiByte, Dogecoin, Golem, OmiseGO, Qtum, Augur, Status, Stratis, Vertcoin and 0x are the initial 20 cryptocurrencies,” the company wrote.

“Abra developed a first-of-its kind smart contract investing platform that uses bitcoin technology to allow users to hold exposure to cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies on a smartphone much the same way Fidelity allows you to buy an ETF in the old world,” said founder Bill Barhydt. “With this model, we can enable exposure to any asset – Abra has only started with crypto and fiat.”

The system allows you to convert between currencies with “no transaction fees, at any time with no limitations.” It seems to work similarly to Shapeshift, another solution that allows nearly instant conversions between currencies.

There are also a few tricks up Abra’s sleeve including the clever use of smart contracts to reduce the volatility associated with currency trades. They write:

Consumers can add money to their wallets using a bank account, an American Express credit card in the United States or using bitcoin purchased outside Abra from anywhere in the world. They can then invest in any of the 20 cryptocurrencies offered on the Abra app, quickly, easily and safely. To develop the new wallet and integrated exchange, Abra built a first-of-its-kind platform using price-stabilized crypto tokens, called stablecoins, that facilitates holding both fiat coins as well as cryptocurrencies through a combination of litecoin and bitcoin based smart contracts. This unique multi-sig smart contract based investment platform uses Pay To Script Hash scripts on the litecoin and bitcoin blockchains that simulate investment contracts the way a gold ETF is a contract based on USD. Abra acts as the counter-party (i.e. the other signatory) to the P2SH scripts, enabling the company to now run a market making operation that hedges away its counter-party risk on these scripts.

In short, Abra is trying mightily to ensure that buys and sells won’t drastically change due to volatility.

Abra has raised $40 million in funding to date following its Series B round at $16 million in October 2017. Investors include Foxconn Technology Group, Silver8 Capital, Ignia, Arbor Ventures, American Express Ventures, Jungle Ventures, Lerer Hippeau, and RRE Ventures.

“In addition to the 50 fiat currencies, Abra previously supported Bitcoin and Etherium, but found that their users wanted the ability to invest in alternate cryptocurrencies in an easy and quick manner – without the hassle of multiple transactions and fees,” said Barhydt.

Ford is changing the way it builds vehicles

Ford is a 115-year-old company and has changed much over the years. The car maker seems ready to change again.

Today, Ford gathered several hundred journalists in a theater deep in its Dearborn, MI development center. The building is surrounded by engineering labs and test facilities. A Ford proving ground is across the street, the HQ is down the road and the parking lot overlooks The Henry Ford Museum. We were in Ford country.

During the briefing, half of which was on the record and half of which was off, the company laid out its product strategy, including revealing never-before-seen concepts (that was the off-the-record part). CEO Jim Hackett sat in front of the journalists and laid out the company’s evolving plan since he took over for Mark Fields, which includes embracing a shorter development cycle to partnerships with foreign auto makers.

Ford is moving away from talking about vehicle platforms. Traditionally, automakers build vehicle platforms, which can support several different models. Some platforms underpin everything from small sedans to SUVs. By talking about platforms, automakers can show their flexibility by building more than one model on top of similar parts. Going forward, Ford intends on building off different vehicle architectures.

This is a small, but important change in language and methodology, which Ford says will cut development time from sketch to showroom by 20 percent.

There will be five flexible vehicle architectures: body-on-frame, front-wheel-drive unibody, rear-wheel-
drive unibody, commercial van unibody and BEV. These will be paired with electric or internal combustion packages to complete the configurations.

Ford said today it’s aiming to deliver $4 billion in engineering efficiencies and this approach will go a long way in achieving that goal. Auto makers have always shared parts and engines and structures across vehicles, but this approach seems to set up Ford with more flexibility, which should result in more unique models, including the Ford Explorer ST shown above.

John Chen to stay on as BlackBerry CEO through 2023

BlackBerry today announced it reached an agreement to keep CEO John Chen in his current position through 2023. Chen joined the company in 2013 and is responsible for leading the company’s recovery as it left smartphones and embraced services.

When Chen took over the company, the company was struggling on all fronts. Its time as the smartphone leader was done but it still had a strong brand in key markets. Chen lead the company to a modest turn around and has seemingly found its footing. The company stock is up 89.9% over the last 12 months and nearly level with the stock price when Chen took over during its decline five years ago.

“The BlackBerry Board of Directors has tremendous confidence in John Chen . John engineered a successful turnaround and has the company repositioned to apply its strengths and assets to the Enterprise of Things, an emerging category with massive potential,” said Prem Watsa, Lead Director and Chair of the Compensation, Nomination and Governance Committee of the BlackBerry Board, in a released statement. “John’s leadership is critical and the Board has determined that it is in the best of interests of BlackBerry and its shareholders to continue his service through November 2023.”

Going forward Chen’s compensation is weighted towards longterm goals. His salary will stay the same. He will be award 5 million restricted share units vested over five years if and when the company’s share price amounts from USD $16 to $20. A performance-based cash award will vest and become available if the company’s share price hits $30, resulting in BlackBerry’s market capitalization hitting $16.1 billion, an increase of 134% from current levels.

It’s painful to watch iconic companies die. BlackBerry was dying and Chen managed to keep the boat afloat through cuts and redirection. If there’s anyone who’s able to keep the company moving forward, it’s John Chen and BlackBerry’s board clearly felt he was the right person for the job.

YouTube to add Wikipedia background info on conspiracy videos

YouTube is taking action on the proliferation of conspiracy videos found on its platform: YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told an SXSW panel Tuesday that the company would be introducing so-called “information cues” sourced from relevant Wikipedia articles on videos that talk about popular conspiracy theories. These will appear as text boxes that can prevent alternative […]

Elon Musk expects to do coast-to-coast autonomous Tesla drive in 3 to 6 months

 Tesla had aimed to do a cross-country U.S. drive in one of its vehicles using fully autonomous driving capabilities by the end of last year, but obviously it didn’t make that goal, or you’d have heard about it. Instead, Tesla CEO Elon Musk now says that he anticipates being able to make the trip within three months, or six months at the long end. Specifically, Musk said on an… Read More

4 Challenges That Get in the Way of Effective Product Leadership

I recently had the opportunity to attend a roundtable discussion for product leaders in London. Under strict observation of the Chatham House rule, the group picked out a host of themes for discussion, and I’ve chosen the four topics which seemed to resonate universally, along with a selection of the considerations mentioned and the approaches people are taking to tackle them.

Decision Making: Data vs Gut Feeling

There’s an increasing number of research tools, analytics providers and general reading material available, all pointing to the need for more evidence-based decision making. But many product leaders at the roundtable reported that their teams struggle to make decisions when they feel the data is either inconclusive or not available in sufficient quantities.

One attendee strongly recommended The Effective Executive by business legend Peter Drucker as a solid read – understanding the differences between type one (permanent) and type two (reversible) decisions can be remarkably empowering.

We discussed a number of coaching and development opportunities associated with this difficulty. Below are the main conclusions we drew about decision making, as well as aspects of the process we felt would warrant further investigation and action:

  • We should recognise that personal experience and gut feel both are valid inputs and have value
  • There are occasions when a gut-feel decision might be justified. Open discussion is the best way to explore this. Is it possible to create a framework for non-data decision making to increase psychological safety?
  • If gut feel is the only guidance available, then we should return to classic Lean experimentation – looking at the smallest thing that can be tested in order to prove/disprove that gut feel.
  • As the daily news attests, data can be (and often is) inaccurate. But it is only one of many signals that product people should be attuned to. It should not be trusted with blind faith and gut feeling can be a valid reason to challenge data.
  • In team review sessions, the senior person should share at least one recent failing each time, alongside the learning – this normalises openness, uncertainty, curiosity.

CEO vs Product Management

As you might expect, a reasonable contingent attending the roundtable work in startups, businesses where the founder/CEO is still very much involved with the product. Difficult though it may be, a founder needs to step away from the product and relinquish more control to the product function; there were three approaches to easing this process that resonated most strongly with product leaders:

  • Make it a communication and focus exercise. The CEO needs to focus on the vision, then agree with the product leadership what the key areas of focus will be in order to deliver that vision – or at least move the needle significantly towards it. By picking a handful (three to six) key things, alignment of teams becomes easier, distractions can be more swiftly dealt with, and goals become clearer.
  • Your job is to “make the CEO win”.  Product leaders are hired for their experience and expertise, and to release the CEO from their current duties so they can take the next steps towards the organisation’s growth.  The CEO doesn’t necessarily want to lose touch with the product – so as a product leader, make that aspect of their role easier/better, allowing them to build the trust to step slowly further back, affording the team more freedom. Commit to the CEO’s goal, but be running small experiments constantly so that you’re ahead of the discussion. This allows you to remain informed and influential on what should come next, not just deep in the execution of “now”.
  • Work to align measurement. In a number of firms, it seemed that product management teams were measured primarily on features shipped, whereas engineering teams were held accountable on reducing tech debt. It was felt this misalignment is probably exacerbated by neither metric even being aligned with the CEO’s bottom line or with customer outcomes.

Diversity and Retention

Diversity in hiring has been a hot topic for some years and is finally being recognised as not just politically and socially important, but also as crucial for creative thinking. Different backgrounds, upbringing, philosophy, education and so on, all have an impact on the approach we take when solving problems. Since problem solving is the fundamental goal of most product people, diversity is something the roundtable attendees took very seriously. Indeed, Mind the Product co-founder Martin Eriksson took a closer look at some of these aspects in this recent post.

At the roundtable, we looked at some of the more immediate aspects of diversity, such as writing gender-neutral job adverts (this tool is a handy checkpoint – imperfect, but a step in the right direction).  We also debated whether computer science degrees are really necessary for product manager hires, and whether this discriminates against female applicants or those from less privileged backgrounds.  We also looked at where else in the business suitable hires might be found. Interestingly it emerged that our discussion chair, ProdPad’s Janna Bastow, was originally plucked from a customer success team – she was chosen for her insatiable curiosity, and because she liked solving problems, and knew exactly where the users were experiencing pain.

We also discussed how to support people moving into product management.  We agreed that this could be done by:

  • Creating informal mentoring networks
  • Giving an expectation of where time and effort should be focused in the first 100 days in any new role
  • Changing the language (“Let’s go learn about this next” implicitly acknowledges experiments and potential failure, but doesn’t call it out directly, building on psychological safety).

There was some interest in the potential of sales people for product management roles – they’re focused on outcomes, used to taking risks, iterating on their approach, passionate and committed to their work…

We also looked at stakeholder management and influencing. No one willingly identifies these softer skills as weaknesses, but many will ask for support on developing them. Conversely, at Mind the Product we know that our workshops on “hard skill” subjects tend to book up faster than those on softer skills.  Perhaps the tangible nature of hard skills makes them more rewarding to learn and complete?

Commercial Product Management

Finally, as we work to develop future Mind the Product content for both workshops and conference programmes, I asked the roundtable what people thought of the commercial strengths of product managers.

There was wide agreement that product people (especially those in Europe) are weak commercially.  Depending on the firm, “commercial strength” was interpreted variously as operational complexity, supply chain management, cost of development, cost of support and ownership, pricing models, business models, and upsell/cross-sell potential. I doubt we covered half of it!

We agreed that this commercial weakness can lead to bad assumptions, particularly in more complex environments. And while there’s no ideal solution to this, there were some interesting ideas put forward:

  • Rotating product managers through different departments so that they gain the understanding they currently lack. This had some support.
  • Hiring a product manager with an MBA – just one on the team, enough to bring knowledge where others were lacking. One attendee had done this. The product manager in question didn’t have a Computer Science background, so mutual support within the team proved to be an excellent approach. This led to the suggestion that a “mini or internal MBA” could be developed for all product managers, provided the right support and rotation could be achieved. This would be similar to the Associate Product Manager programs more common in California.

My thanks to Nick Charalambous  for arranging and hosting the session, and to Janna Bastow of ProdPad, who did a great job chairing the discussion using the Lean Coffee approach.

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