From a Product Manager to an Entrepreneur

The role of product manager is one of the most challenging in the modern business environment. PMs must be experts on their products from all angles, design to packaging, at the same time constantly reassessing customer input and satisfaction and a changing marketplace. Experienced PMs seeking an even greater challenge have probably given some thought to transferring exceptional product management skills to that most storied of positions: entrepreneur. At first blush, it’s not the most obvious jump – entrepreneurial genius is still a pretty specialized and rare commodity – until you start to break it down. That’s because there are a number of qualities and skills that product managers typically develop that are directly translatable to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

What Makes a Great Product Manager

“Be stubborn on the vision; flexible on the details,” said Jeff Bezos, one of the most successful entrepreneurs the world has ever known. Great product managers are also required to see the big picture, how and why their products exist, where they came from, where they’re going and how everyone who touches them feels about them. They must run their portfolio of products almost as if it were a standalone business.

Great product managers are decisive, resourceful when problem-solving, and can assess risks on the fly. With full spectrum knowledge of processes and the needs of stakeholders – from engineers to salespeople to customers – product managers can act with informed authority.

What Makes a Great Entrepreneur

While having a stomach for risks and failure are oft-cited traits that successful entrepreneurs share, there are other qualities that are helpful. And many of them can be forged on the job as a product manager. Among them: an awareness of the market and how to think outside the box when it comes to innovative products, tenacity, and attention to detail.

How To Make the Move

There are a few questions you should ask yourself if you are thinking about making the big leap.

If you have successfully managed a product or product line, is there a new product in your area of expertise that is a natural progression? In other words, could you somehow satisfy your entrepreneurial urge within your current situation?

If not, are you emotionally equipped to go it alone? Entrepreneurs often have to. This can mean extremely long hours and rigorous focus without team support. However, it can also be exhilarating to have complete autonomy while developing a product.

How do you feel about risk? And, more importantly, failure? “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” said the great entrepreneur Thomas Edison. No entrepreneur will get anywhere without experiencing risk and failure in abundance. But not everyone wants to or can handle the stress.

Many successful entrepreneurs began their careers as product managers. If you’re thinking of a similar professional transition, you probably already have the requisite skills – creativity, persistence, an ability to see the big picture. But don’t neglect to ask yourself the tough questions about risk aversion, solitude, and failure before taking steps to make it happen.

Let me know what you think!