As I ran this morning I was imagining a conversation with a good friend of mine about us investing in his next startup. He has a technical background, but like many great techies has taken commercial roles to broaden his knowledge base. I think he’s also pretty good at product.
It’s this last point that I want to unpack a bit this morning. It’s important to Forward Partners because helping founders build the right product, including making the right choices for the MVP, is a big part of what we’re about.
Specifically, I was wondering what it means to be ‘good at product’ and how much value we add to founders who have this capability.
To set the scene generally for those not too familiar with Forward Partners, we work with companies from concept to Series A with a combination of investment, proven methodologies, support from our in-house team and office space. Our team is there to help as required, sharing any of the challenges of building a business that the founder wants to share. Most founders are strong in one or two areas and lean on us in others so they can get moving quickly. For example, I’m looking at one across the office right now who is super strong on marketing and is leaning on us for product, design and dev and recruitment.
To address the product question I turned to the internet and found a 2011 post on Mind the Product that does a great job of describing the role of a product manager. The whole post is worth a read, but in summary it encompasses setting a vision for the product, defining product releases, and then optimising and requires an understanding of business, the customer (including UX), and of technical feasibility.
Interestingly the subject of understanding the customer doesn’t get much coverage. That is perhaps the difference between being a product manager and good at product per se. In other words product managers are sometimes good at managing products but don’t understand their customers well enough to build products people will love.
That’s where we can help. If a founder has good product management skills but isn’t experienced in really connecting with customers to find the emotional hotspots that can generate real resonance and super fast growth then our product team can fill the gap. We are now helping our sixth and seventh companies with this part of their journey and have developed a range of tools that help find the strong buckets of feeling a product can tap into. It sounds simple, but there’s a lot that goes into working out what it is about a product that will make people love it.