Posted by: Ivan lybbert | October 23, 2009

Part 1: A Product Manager is an Entrepreneur

I’ve decided to take a bold step, and add my small voice to the others who have taken the task of defining the character traits of great product managers.  I hope you’ll join me in this three part series and add your voice of consent or dissent as both are equally valued!


What in tarnation is a product manager?  I know what we do.  I know what we solve.  But WHO are we? WHAT are we?  I suspect if you ask ten product managers this question, you’ll get ten different answers.  If you ask me, you’ll get three!  Today, I’ll talk about one of them.

We are Entrepreneurs!

If you take an entrepreneur and a product manager, boil them down in a crucible (ok, that might hurt), you’ll end up with four shared characteristics that drive both of these individuals.  These are deep rooted characteristics that are visible in these people all of the time.

We see problems – Great product managers see problems everywhere!  Not that our glass is always half empty, but rather we see opportunities to solve problems.  No matter where we are, whether we’re talking to customers, reviewing software, or just shopping at the store, we always look for problems waiting to be solved.  We try to create a better mouse trap because we’re always looking.  We look for ways to add value!

We are creative – We don’t want to catch up to the competition, we want to pass the competition!  Why?  Because we don’t want to paint another Mona Lisa by numbers!  We want to create something new that can stand on its own.  Granted, there are plenty of people that make a lot of money copying other company’s brilliant ideas, but I call them good business owners, not entrepreneurs.  Great product managers, like entrepreneurs, have a creative muscle in their genetic make-up that is always flexing.

We are passionate – Once we’ve found a problem, and have a solid way of solving it, and can prove that people want it (don’t overlook that last one), we’re in!  Hook, line and sinker!   Great product managers strongly believe in the cause.  It’s the kind of passion that makes us work smarter and harder.  The kind of passion that has us keep a notepad next to the bed to write down our “Eureka!” moment from the middle of the night.  The kind of passion that causes us to overshoot our exit on the highway because we’re deep in thought.

We are courageous – This is the defining moment of every great product manager (and entrepreneur).  This is the moment when we decide to DO something, to put ourselves out on a limb and risk falling off.  It takes courage to tell everyone “this way is the right way”.  You know why?  Because we might be wrong!  We might get half way there and discover problems that potentially change everything.  And for reasons that (should) have nothing to do with ego, we figure out ways around those problems to keep the fight alive.  We have such a clear picture of the future, we can paint it with absolute clarity to those around us.

What other entrepreneur character traits are shared with product managers?  Comment welcome!

Next week – Part II: A Product Manager is a Leader



  1. Great product managers see patterns. Instead of responding to one incident, product managers gather enough information to see the trend. If a problem happens once, you just deal with it; if it happens again and again, you adapt your processes or create a feature.

    Sales people and support people are expediters–they solve problems for one customer at a time. Development and product management should be about solving problems for markets of customers.

    • As always, thanks for the comment Steve, and I completely agree.

      Whenever I think of product managers seeing patterns, I remember the movie “Contact” where Jodie Foster is accused of listening to her dryer at night so she can look for patterns in otherwise random noise. Don’t we do the same thing?

      If product managers aren’t careful, they can miss these important patterns because they don’t take time to “stop, collaborate and listen” (a la Vanilla Ice). Walking away from the trees to see the forest is an important part of our roles!

  2. Finding patterns in the marketplace that signal opportunities is a great product management trait that can be characterized as entrepreneurial. But are PMs entrepreneurs? Do they deal with investors? Do they have budgets? Can they direct staff? The answer I think is no – so they are not entrepreneurs, even if they are entrepreneurial.

    The sad reality of PM-hood is that they are influencers, organizers, recommenders, but they are not operators or LOB executives. Unless they own P&L, they are facilitators of the business plan, not creators.

    All that said, since there is no well-defined template of what a PM is and isn’t, it is *entirely possible* for a PM to be an entrepreneur inside a company. It’s just that I’ve rarely found one.

  3. perhaps then we are entrepreneurial vs entrepreneurs per se.

  4. Scott – I would agree.

  5. I like your post. I would say that you definitely have an entrepreneurial spirit.. and in my mind YES you are an entrerpreneur.(see my definition). Of course there are many people who will get caught up on rigid labels and might say that you are an intrapreneur, and not an entrepreneur.

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