by mikekarnj on February 7, 2011
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” – Steve Jobs, Apple
Everyone talks about the ‘talent drought’ with engineers and designers but I would argue that talented product visionaries are very rare to come across these days. A recent article about Facebook highlighted, “while it has no problem hiring brilliant engineers out of top schools like Harvard and Standford, it’s found it difficult to find product people who can be “mini-CEOs” and get things done.”
I agree 110%. A good product person will be one of the biggest value adds to any company. What would Apple be without Steve Jobs? Or Facebook without Chris Cox? Or Foursquare without Alex Rainert? Or Kickstarter without Charles Adler? Or Airbnb without Joe Gebbia? The list can go on forever.
Much like Fred Wilson’s post on “what a CEO does“, the Head of Product for any company is responsible for three major things:
1) Setting the overall product strategy and vision.
2) Coming up with simple and creative solutions to the most complex problems.
3) Getting things done and shipping product by saying no to 99% of feature ideas.
Each team is setup differently, so your head of product can have a great design, technology, or product management background, but at the end of the day, his/her main focus is to make sure the ship is steering in the right direction. (Keep in mind that your Head of Product is NOT your Product Manager. Product management is one small snippet of the overall responsibility.)
For our team at Skillshare, I lead the product on the design side, and Malcolm (our CTO) leads the product on the technology side. We meet in the middle when it comes to higher level product strategy and vision. I can’t stress how much time & money we’ve saved by laying down a solid foundation for our product. You can have the best developers/engineers/designers/marketers/biz dev gurus/operations folks in the world but if your product sucks, none of that matters.
The biggest cost to a startup is time, not money. Most start-ups fail not because the technology doesn’t work, but because they are creating the wrong product for the wrong market.
Like Frank Lucas says, “I sell a product that’s better than the competition at a price that’s less than the competition.” The same holds true for startups. Who can argue with a good product? A good product will always sell regardless of the environment. And for that reason, I will always take a valuable product person that can act as a mini-CEO and gets things done over 5 engineers any day of the week.
You can also view this article on Hacker News