The ideal product manager

It took me several years in the Startup World to fully appreciate the importance of a good product manager. In the Web World especially, product and user experience drive distribution. It’s not about marketing a crap product that no one uses (that was the old PC, desktop software era). Today, if you build an amazing product it does the marketing for you.

At the earliest stages, product should be led by the founder and CEO. That person should set the vision, translate that into product requirements and stay really close to users and their usage patterns. For this reason, I have a strong bias towards technical / product founders.

As CEO however, as soon as you’re beyond say 10 people, you should not be in the critical path of any deliverable anymore (that’s a post for another time). Instead you need to be managing, leading and enabling a team. So, that means you need to hire someone to drive product. This is one of the most important hires you can make.

I’ve been involved in a few PM hires over the years. When people ask me what the profile of an ideal product manager should be, I have always have the same answer:

The idea product manager candidate is one that you know some day will start her own company. Look for someone you know will be a founder and CEO. Someone who’s not there yet, but has all the raw materials.

Why? As Product Manager you need to have 360 degree view of the business. You need to understand the high level vision and feature level usage. You need to work across departments, motivate dev teams, speak with customers and partners. In short, you need to do many of the things a CEO does. And the actual CEO needs to have complete faith in you in order to entrust you with one of the most important roles in the company. That’s easier to do when the PM is clearly on the path to being a CEO herself.

My friends at GoInstant (which provides co-browsing technology) offer a great and recent example of this.  After Jevon (the CEO) and his team raised financing, he brought on Ben to drive product. Now Ben is not just a future CEO, he’s an actual one – having previously co-founded and led a VC-backed startup. He’s been through the lifecycle and sat in Jevon’s shoes. He has the 360 view and is in an ideal position to drive product.

When you’re ready to hand over the reigns of your baby and hire a PM don’t settle for anything less than a future founder and CEO. Set the bar that high and your product will rise to it.