Product Management Tidbits

Product Management, Start-ups and Founders

Posted by Barry Paquet on Mon, Oct 19, 2009 @ 07:50 PM

In start-ups, it's not uncommon for the initial idea to come from the founders own industry or domain experience. This works well at the beginning --- when start-ups need leadership and credibility. However, one of the biggest mistakes early start-ups can make is wait too long to formalize product management and for the founder to manage product with an iron fist. This moment in the life of a start-up can be very difficult for founders. They have a tendency to believe they "know it all" and are therefore reluctant to secede responsibility to a new hirer or someone "junior".  After all, with X years of experience --- who could possibly do a better job?

There are at least three dangers with this scenario --- competency, market dynamics and human nature.

  1. Most CEOs/founders have no product management training. In fact, very few actually understand product management (role, responsibility, strategic value etc.). Sure they talk a good game (reads lip service) --- only to dismiss product management as "academic".
  2. Founders are notorious for assuming the role far too long. One, two or three years into the start-up the market has evolved considerably --- yet many founders remain stuck in their old ways, failing to recognize the speed of change or the new market dynamics. As time goes on, founders increasingly become disconnected with reality. Failing to react to this (before it's too late) creates an increasing credibility gap and dampens moral (two poisons that can kill a start-up). The perception among the rank and file is that management (i.e., the founder) is just not "listening". Let the revolution begin...
  3. Somewhere between day 1 and early market success, founders need to formalize the role and delegate product responsibility. During this period, founders become engulfed with building their business (as they should be), the only problem is unless they create a product management position and allocate responsibility the role of product management will remain unfulfilled --- eventually creating a product vacuum. In reaction, Development, Marketing or Sales, albeit consciously or unconsciously, will vie to assume the product management role (if you don't do it --- someone else will!). Each armed with their own recipe for disaster, the department that wins the product management sweepstakes will own it and set a course influenced by what they evidently know best --- development, marketing, and sales respectively (none of which is a good substitute for product management). These troublesome issues undoubtedly call for dedicated posts...

To conclude, founders should focus on building a sound company, talking care of people and driving the company vision to fruition. They neither have time to visit customers nor the skill to articulate requirements, and the market insight to conceive positioning etc. The sooner they embrace product management and entrust the responsibility --- the better. Failing to address this before it becomes a problem causes start-ups to stagnate or worse yet --- fizzle away.

Topics: startup, Founders, Product Management

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