Why Product Managers Are the Co-Founders, Not CEOs, of Their Products

In 2012, Ben Horowitz wrote this article about Good versus Bad Product Managers using an analogy that “A good product manager is the CEO of the product”.

I stand by everything Ben Horowitz wrote in his article. But, the issue with the "CEO of the product" analogy is that it implies product managers are the team's boss, which they're not – and by all means they shouldn't act like they are.

As an ex-PM turned co-founder/CEO, I think the analogy with a co-founder is much more speaking.

The problem is not the article's content, it's the "CEO" analogy. In my opinion, the traits Ben Horowitz describes in his article are the traits of a co-founder, not a CEO. Obviously, great CEOs act like co-founders (and they often are) so there's overlap. But as far as the PM analogy goes, "co-founder" makes more sense than "CEO".

When we think of the CEO title, the main trait that comes to mind is authority: CEOs are the company’s final decision-makers – PMs are not. On the other hand, when I think about a co-founder, I picture someone that:

1/ gets shit done (even the boring stuff)

2/ is focused on impact (not optics)

3/ takes responsibility (no excuses)

Here's my advice to all product folks out there: put your ego aside, you're not the CEO of anything but by all means consider yourself a co-founder and act like it 💪

Do whatever it takes to help your product succeed, which often means:

  • answer support tickets
  • write the spec for that GraphQL mutation
  • spend time doing QA
  • write the API docs
  • hop on calls with users to help them get stuff done
  • iterate on that sales pitch
  • write those boring marketing collaterals
  • go build a no-code prototype to flesh out your latest idea
  • iterate on that AI prompt

That's where the magic happens ✨ Embrace the grind. Get the boring stuff done. Zoom in, zoom out, and zoom in again. Repeat over and over, like a true co-founder.

A great PM acts like the product's co-founder – be that PM!