I also spend time with students at different technology programs—it’s becoming more common for many of them to want to embark on a product management career. Many of them also one day want to start their own company.
It makes sense. Product managers are usually high-performing people who have a variety of skills in different areas. Many of them are natural risk-takers. I believe that product management is a great training ground for entrepreneurship.
I’m not claiming it was easy leaping into entrepreneurship. Being an entrepreneur and running a new company is hard work. Startups fail more often than not. But the experience I gained through my product management career lowered my risk and made it “easier” to find success.
While there are plenty of examples of product managers becoming founders, it’s not the only path. Many CEOs of well-known companies have had product management experience during their careers. For example, Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, was the first product manager for Google’s AdSense.
Here are the reasons I think a career in product management makes you especially prepared to start your own company or perhaps lead as a CEO.
4 Ways Product Managers Make Better Entrepreneurs
1. We have a holistic view of a business and markets.
Few jobs have as much exposure to other roles and departments within a company as product management. Because we need to work with so many stakeholders and understand markets, we have a more holistic view of a business.
Think of everyone you need to interact with to go to market with a new product or feature. You might need to engage with product development, sales, customer service, finance, department heads, key customers, strategic partners, and more in many organizations.
As a product manager at early-stage startups, my prior experience taught me that a business is more than a product or a set of features. It’s the entire business model that requires collaboration and effort from many different departments. For example, your outstanding product won’t get far without understanding the customer acquisition and sales model.
In my case, there were many areas of our business model I understood well. Through my previous careers, I understood finance, marketing, and of course, how to launch a product. However, because of my limited sales experience, I had to educate myself to become our first salesperson and sales leader. My prior experience (and belief) taught me that I could learn it.
2. We can talk with customers and find pain.
The best product managers and entrepreneurs think of themselves as finders of pain. It’s this skill that I believe leads both to the most successful products.
Before starting ProductPlan, I used the customer discovery techniques I learned validating several prior products, including GoToMeeting. Greg, my Co-founder, and I talked with potential customers to identify their pain and validate that the problem we’d detected was significant enough for them to want to solve.
My experience as a product manager gave me the awareness to ask the right questions and dig in and understand customer pain well enough to design a solution that customers would want to buy. This experience allowed me to spot repeatable problems to solve – not simply for a few customers but for a market. We also discovered underlying needs and desires that helped us craft a value proposition that really resonated with our market.
Ultimately, I believe our product management experience helped us get an innovative product to market quickly, on a budget, without significant pivots, and with paying customers immediately. Without that experience, we may have made a few more missteps.