Product Manager and CTO

Startups have a million things that they could be focusing on, and most of the challenge is figuring out which pieces actually moved the business forward. One of those pieces is your product.  Are you making your product a top 3 priority? And if not then why?  Which co-founder is taking on the role of product manager? It doesn’t have to be a completely formal process but as I’m about to go into it is probably one of the most important roles your company has.


  • The product is your business
  • The product is a differentiation against competition
  • The product is a rally point for everyone in the company
  • The product is something your employees can be proud of

How important is your product to you, your investors, and your success?



Product managers have a varied role.  They must be able to combine a number of disciplines and focus often overwhelming information into directed actions.

  • Translate company vision to something tangible
  • Customer advocate: ensuring customer feedback is brought to the table
  • Fully understand and coordinate all product considerations(code, hosting, users, employees, relationships, dependencies, decisions, customers)
  • Metrics, metrics, metrics. (key business drivers, eliminating vanity metrics, trends)
  • Understand technology



For software companies the most effective product manager is the CTO. Obviously many different companies structure their product management in different ways and even do not formalizing it, however here’s why the CTO in an early stage start up should be the product manager.  The largest risk in most startups is product/market fit.  You’ll need everyone in the organization working towards achieving that goal and thinking along those lines. Very few companies actually have technological risk.  With that being said do you need a technologist or business guy who can code well?


  • Most familiarity: The CTO has his or her hands in in on the products all day long. They often know what’s going to happen before it does. They see the data flowing through their console, they know the weaknesses and bugs, and they have perfect understanding of the technology that is being used.
  • Huge Buy-in: Often the CTO was there from the start just like any other co-founder. They are invested and interested to not only build something cool but also to see people use it.
  • Understanding: Because they were there from the beginning the CTO understands where the product started, where it is now, and where it’s going.  The early conversations of a group of co-founders helps to clarify ultimate vision.
  • Analytical Nature: A technical person deals with ones and zeros on a daily basis. That they understand the core of tracking data. With a little guidance they can be applying those skill sets to the user behavior.

Possible Problem Areas

  • Wrong Role: Often early stage startups choose a CTO based on their technical ability.  The startup then expects that person to manage the product as well as the technology.  If you only need a developer then bring on a lead developer.  Do not fill the CTO / product manager position trivially.
  • Mindset and Interest: It is a different mindset to build something that is cool vs. building something that customers really want and need.
  • Understanding Product/Market Fit: Is as it says.
  • Management: The CTO should be management material.  Lead developers often don’t want to be.

Hopefully this article gives you a few things to think about in regards to a product manager role, the current CTO, and how to win.  Consider formalizing the product manager role immediately and figuring out exactly what the rule will do.  Hopefully the CTO will step up to the plate and make it happen. They have a lot of responsibilities already with ensuring the creation of the product, but there’s no one better to ensure the success of the product.

Author: Adam Perkins

Startup Entrepreneur from Madison Wisconsin.