Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Product Manager as CEO

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Many product managers have begun their tenure with an up-and-coming company by hearing the phrase, “We want you to be the CEO of the product.” While many have argued the validity of this statement, it is something that every product manager should aspire to become, and that is what the market wants.

So how does one achieve this admirable and lofty goal? A startup company CTO explained this best: a product manager is someone who will stop at nothing, accept no excuses, take no prisoners, and make the product successful. The PM owns the product and is completely responsible for its success.


The CEO parallel is clear. The CEO is the completely responsible for the success of a company. There are no excuses for whether you make payroll or not. There are no excuses to a board of directors or to investors.  If you fail to generate a return on their investment, you have failed, and likely will not get additional investment.

But there is one key to the success of a CEO that a product manager should also consider. Capital! If a CEO starts a company but does not have the capital necessary to build that company, he must report this to their board of directors. He must help them see the futility of building a company with no capital. Sure, one can bootstrap, but that is a long and difficult road. Usually that road does not have the time necessary to generate a return that a board of directors expects. In return for the capital investment, the board or investors will require a pitch, a business plan, something to prove the vision of the company and convince them the company can be successful.

Similarly, the product manager CEO, if not given the appropriate resources, and if the product idea is a good one, starts building an effective pitch book quickly so that company executives (the investors) can give that product manager the capital they need. Either that, or discontinue that product line quickly, and go pursue a product that can and does have the backing needed (i.e. the capital investment).

Product managers can be CEO of their product, and can do whatever it takes to make them successful. However, they must take measure of the capital already expended, and the capital needed. If those resources are not present, it is their responsibility to tell superiors, executives, and even the board of directors that the product will not generate a return in a timely manner. That is what is expected of a CEO, and that is what is expected of you.

My former product manager colleague and long-time friend John Epeneter contributed this article. John has years of experience in software product, marketing and sales management and leadership. John knows what it means to be the CEO of his products.


Questions: How important are products to your organization? Are you the CEO of your products? Please leave a comment in the space below.

The Product Management Perspective: To make your products excel, become the CEO and get the funding and other capital in place as described above.

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