Owning Customer Problems

“I am here NOT to sell what I produce but I am here to solve a set of customer problems that I want to own.” – Ranjay Gurati, Harvard Business School

This is a great way of looking at product management. Our goal isn’t to build something and sell it. Our goal isn’t even to build what customers want. Our goal is to take ownership of a certain set of problems for a certain set of people and then solve them in the best way possible. Ideally in doing so, you create enough value for them that they can afford to then pay you for your services, which is how you put bread on your table.

I read a quote from a former Googler recently that explained how their job in search was to solve every customer problem. If the customer couldn’t spell, it was the product managers problem, if the customer couldn’t remember what they were looking for, it was the product managers problem. This is accurate with my experience as a product manager.

I’ve talked to a handful of people lately that want to be product managers and came to me looking for advice. The number one thing I tell them is to decide on the company and product they want to work for based on who it is they would be helping and what problem they would be helping with.

It doesn’t matter how exciting the company is, how cutting edge the technology is or how high the valuation can be. As a product manager you live and dream about your customer and their problems. If those don’t align with what you’re passionate about, that role isn’t a good fit for you.

Figure out who you want to spend all of your time helping. Figure out what problems they have that are underserved. Then you become a product manager and have the long task of solving them and executing better than anyone else.

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