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The Product Guy Myth

January 15, 2010


Lots of us consumer internet VCs like to spout off about the importance of a great “product guy” (which, by the way, is meant to include gals).  I am as much of a “product guy” bigot as anyone I know. And for good reason: for my money, the strength of a founding team’s product chops is the single biggest determinant of an early stage consumer web business’s success.

That said, every once in a while we product guy bigots need to be reminded that sometimes great product guys come in unexpected packages.  Sure, the Stanford grad who was a rising PM star at Google is one flavor, but sometimes entrepreneurs with no formal product training at all are great product oriented entrepreneurs.

I was reminded of this just a couple days ago. I met with a social web startup founded by a young entrepreneur whose only experience was a late night food company he started (and made quite successful) during college.  Virtually no web experience or formal product training. When I heard about the guy I wasn’t exactly blown away. But then I spent a couple hours with him yesterday and got an extensive tour of his current product and view into his vision for future products.  And I was blown away.  It was a great product, fantastically well conceived and implemented.

Which led me to conclude the guy is as good a product guy as they get.

Just another reminder to be open minded.


Post a comment
  1. January 15, 2010

    Hey Mike
    I think you misunderstand the product person thing. Its pretty much never someone with a harvard or stanford degree. The absolute worst thing to invest in is a Google PM with a stanford degree who is leaving to do some high concept startup. I am a strong believer in the product person “‘myth” – I just don’t think it has anything to do with “pedigree.” The only way to discover it is to see the person’s work.
    ps. you need disqus on here!

    • January 21, 2010

      (+1 for Disqus)

      Absolutely. As an exercise, make a list of the most successful product guys you know. Not guys who’ve wowed you necessarily, but guys who’ve made people rich being a product guy. Are there a disproportionate number of ivy league degrees there? There certainly aren’t on MY list. Are there Google guys on the list? There are a few, but generally they are guys who ran screaming from the place too quickly to become a rising star.

  2. January 15, 2010


    The “ideal” profile u described is almost always a train crash in the making. Great product people need a lot more humility than those places breed.

    Having said that, you can always identify great product ppl early and I’d say they generally come from predictable places

  3. jonsteinberg #
    January 15, 2010

    My favorite post of yours yet. I think people often have rigid views of others skills sets. The best way to judge someone is to look at the products/ventures they have produced as you describe with this individual. Also, I think there are many more hybrids out there such as bizdev/product or sale/product etc

  4. January 15, 2010

    Chris, Antonio, great comments, thanks for the clarificaction which I think is dead on. You guys both know what you speak of; no question, the proof is in the pudding with product people.

  5. January 15, 2010

    The trick of great product development is that old sports metaphor of driving to where the ball is going to be. Markets and technology never stand still. The challenge of product and start up company strategy is that it has to be both visionary and detail-oriented. That’s best as a healthy team dynamic. We’ve all seen way too much vision or way too much technology.

    I’ve worked with great Product Managers from Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, Fresno State, Bunker Hill Community College, … as well as terrible ones from a range of academic altitudes. Does the team have the vision, grok the technology, ship on time, care enough to test with customers and follow-up on what they see? That’s usually pretty easy to observe in one dev cycle, but tough to see in an hour. I don’t envy you!

  6. January 17, 2010

    Nice manuscript. It deals about business as what I’ve did and failed after all.

  7. May 5, 2011

    I am very happy I came across this post. I am always looking for this kind of information. I appreciate it and I will be back!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Strategy in Lieu of Business Development | Jon Steinberg
  2. What does it mean to be a “product guy”? | THE DREAM IN ACTION

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