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I did not set out to be a product manager. That seems strange for me to write, considering I have led product and strategy at six companies now. When I started my career, though, I was happy just finding great market opportunities and build products that served customers well.
However, early in my career I noticed that product managers set the strategic direction for the company. They were the group with the highest concentration of top performers and leaders. So, I became a product manager.
My passion for product management found its natural progression to entrepreneurship. Today, as the CEO of Aha!, I speak with product managers every week at many of the world’s leading software and technology companies.
That passion also became the inspiration for Roadmap.com, an online community of innovators and product managers. The conversations that take place there reinforce the reality that for most companies, the product is the business.
Technology is at the center of every product and service today. Every business is now a software business — that is true for emerging companies as well as multinational behemoths. That means entrepreneurs and founders must operate like product managers to succeed.
Of course, making the jump from employee to company founder is a big transition. But, my experience as a product manager prepared me for that leap — more than I could have imagined. It also gave me the confidence that I could do it well. I find success every day as an entrepreneur by calling on my experiences as a product manager.
These are the product management traits that I lean on most:
Before you can take the helm as a company founder, you need a clear vision. Product managers also need to understand and define the “why” for their product decisions and how those decisions will support the overall business. Defining a strong vision takes commitment. But, once you do, your vision will be your true north as you move ahead and build your company.
Product managers help each person on their team — and cross-functional teams — see how they make unique contributions to building what matters. This is an essential skill for any entrepreneur. Success is incremental, and gaining momentum requires being able to motivate yourself and others around a shared goal.
Smart product managers guard their time by cutting through endless requests to prioritize what must get done now. Successful entrepreneurs know how to prioritize what matters most by aligning each new request against their vision. Tackle today’s problems and reserve the rest for later.
Working well with diverse teams and business partners is a requirement for product managers. Transparent communication is integral to ensuring alignment and buy-in from others. At every step of the entrepreneurial journey, communication will be key. You need to be able to succinctly sway others, deftly share plans, and inspire confidence through your words and actions.
There are two careers best suited for those who continually seek great business adventure: managing products and building companies. Product managers are always the greatest champions of their products — that fortitude makes it possible to weather challenges along the way.
Leading products to market is not for those afraid of change, but neither is starting your own business. That is why those who thrive as product managers are so well prepared for the entrepreneurial ride.