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CEO, Entrepreneur & Product Manager Conundrum

CEO, Entrepreneur & Product Manager Conundrum

Vision, Leverage and Alignment

Recently, a very good friend shutdown his startup after 5 years long journey and joined a large SaaS company as the Head of Product. He was offered great salary and was excited about the opportunity.

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One day, he called me to share how he wasn’t aligned with the way company was run, the CEO was focused on just making money and the company lacked DNA to scale to become world’s largest company in their domain. He was confused and asked me how would I manage this situation.

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I could sense his dilemma, and he was likely facing the typical challenge that an experienced entrepreneur faces while joining a factory that’s run by several heads. His conversation reminded me of my own transition from being a Chief at RouteGuru to being one of the many heads at Eko.

I shared some anecdotes from my experience and learnings that I drew from my own transition over past 5 years. He sounded excited and suggested that I document them. I thought it may be helpful to few people if at all.

Let’s dive into some fundamentals

Who owns the vision?

Before I joined Eko, I was asked to accompany Abhinav (one of the co-founders) on a trip to Punjab to meet with the senior team of the largest Public sector bank in India. It was seven hours long drive, Abhinav and I were chatting casually when he asked me a really simple question:

“Piyush you’ve run a company and led a vision like your life’s mission, how would you make Eko’s vision as your’s?”

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While the question is really simple, but it carries huge depth. Eko’s vision was still not mine although I liked everything else about the company. I don’t remember how I answered, but that question was really the tough one for me. Over next 5 years at the company, what I concluded that the founders undoubtedly own the vision, the CEO’s job is to execute it and Product Head is the biggest support to CEO in execution.

Founder(s) own the vision, CEO executes it and Product Head supports the CEO

That does’t mean that Product Head has to support the CEO every time. In fact, a healthy difference in opinion between the CEO and the Product Head is beneficial for the company. The art lies in giving sufficient time to understand each other’s point-of-views and priorities. It is unlikely that path to this understanding will come easy, but it has to be manouvered.

Have you worked enough to earn the leverage?

There were numerous instances when I had serious differences in opinions with my CEO — at times 180 degrees opposite. Those were emotionally harassing moments. Entrepreneur within me always challenged that I override the CEO’s direction to follow mine to prove myself right. But I can tell you that it neither feels nor means right.

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Over 5 years long journey, I got lot more comfortable in such situations because the trust level enhanced significantly between both of us. We understood each other’s weaknesses and strengths lot better. Sometimes supporting the CEO by letting go of your personal ego goes a long way and earns you leverage. It’s probably applicable to any decision maker in the company. If you feel misaligned, ask yourself a simple question,

“Have you worked enough to earn the leverage on your team & the boss?”

If the answer is yes and you’re still confused, then it’s definitely the time to leave the company, else you know …

Who’s the CEO of the Product after all? Product Manager, Product Head, or the CEO?

Ben Horowitz, Ken Norton, Josh Elman and many more great product leaders have documented their opinions on this subject. A simple Google search can point you to lots of rich opinions.

This is how I summarised my understanding to my friend. I told him that if such a conflict has already creeped in then all it means that you and the CEO need to find time to talk, talk and talk. At times, CEOs need inputs repeatedly and time to chew those inputs and align other stakeholders to change the direction. They look at things from a different lens than others in the company. It’s important to align yourself to CEO’s frame of thinking. This is an invisible “frame of alignment”.

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CEO is the CEO of the company, who drives the business strategy, Product Head aligns product strategy to the business strategy, while product managers align short term product’s goals to the product strategy. Unless everyone is aligned to the CEO’s frame of thinking, the company will never produce amazing results.

Two important things to remember

  1. It’s important to understand our stand. CEO has to consult Product Head on business strategy. Similarly, Product Head has to consult Product Managers on Product Strategy. If they do, they are doing a good job. It doesn’t mean anything beyond that, period.
  2. When people step into other’s territories, friction arises. CEOs, Product Heads and Product Managers all have to learn to maintain themselves within the boundary.

So, in short, it takes time to own the vision, earn the leverage, and align the frame of understanding. So giving time to such situations helps.

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.

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Co-founder, CEO at Request.to | Product Guy | Hustler

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