Cohort Spotlight: Product Management
Taking products from vision to market disruption
Building innovative ventures with the world’s leading companies takes a wide spectrum of skills, along with a spirit of collaboration and experimentation. At BCG Digital Ventures we cover all bases of venture building, from the initial idea to testing and validation to building the product, finding users, and launching it into the world.
This takes experts from all fields. In this series, we’re introducing you to each of our 8 venture-building cohorts, showcasing their approach, the role they play in building a venture, how they work together, and the skills that are required to succeed as we build businesses with groundbreaking impact. For this edition of the cohort series, we’re looking at Product Management.
Building a venture at BCG Digital Ventures (BCGDV) requires collaboration between many different teams, all working in sync towards a common goal. When it comes to the product, it’s important to look beyond the present state and consider the potential lifespan and journey for the business down the road. As the owner of the product vision during the business building process, the Product Manager (PM) acts as the organizational mastermind. Working in collaboration with design and engineering teams (to name a couple), they drive a lean and agile development process, ensuring seamless delivery of a product vision that fits the needs of the corporate partners. With a dual focus on the immediate and long-term challenges and opportunities, product managers must consider the big picture outcomes while also managing the process step by step.
All that to say, PMs are often tasked with some big questions. For example: “What are the main levers that this product should be actually supporting? How can we make sure that we have maximum impact with this product? PMs are there to focus that effort and translate it into something that is narrowed down and eventually doable,” shares Vuk Trifkovic, Partner and Director of Product, BCG Digital Ventures, Berlin.
On a venture, PMs will be looking at the whole roadmap, while also navigating the bumps in the road. “We might be making sure that the team delivers a good presentation to the corporate partner, for instance, but equally, it could mean identifying an MVP or creating a proof of concept,” says Vuk.
Michelle Ikediobi, Product Manager at BCG Digital Ventures, New York, describes this dual perspective as something like an “action-oriented philosopher.” “We connect theory to practicality by providing direction and vision, as well as a tangible path forward,” says Michelle.
Product Managers at BCGDV are often ruthless prioritizers, always balancing the needs of the moment with what is necessary down the line.
“There’s an element of making sure that you’re flexible, and not just laser focused on what’s coming in the near-term, but also able to set the vision and look far into the future.” — Michelle Ikediobi, Product Manager at BCG Digital Ventures, New York
The Product Management cohort at BCGDV works closely with other cohorts, including design and engineering, to identify problems that need to be solved in order to build a successful product — and in a timely fashion. As the venture progresses, PMs may also end up in a leadership role at the venture: many PMs become General Managers (GMs) of our launched ventures. But being a good PM also requires listening at the same time as leading, connecting the dots in the product narrative so that everyone stays on the same page.
“We need to be able to create a level of alignment, under intense scrutiny in a short amount of time, with a lot of strong opinions coming from many different angles,” says Vuk. “We are focused on making sure that the team understands what the right story is, and how to tell it.” This is particularly important when it comes to communicating between the different teams at BCGDV. “It’s making sure that you have that one-to-one relationship in terms of what they need to hear and know, and what you’re telling them,” agrees Michelle. After all, product management is about getting the best out of others, too: “If you motivate your team to follow you, you will go tremendously far,” says Vuk.
While BCGDV is full of people who have started their own businesses, the Product Management cohort in particular is a magnet for those with a founder mentality. Michelle, for example, had already developed a mental health & wellness app called Bare Chats, before she joined the company. Product Management serves as a strong foundation builder for those who want to go on to create their own business in the future: “This cohort is probably the best founder school, because you actually learn how to move products from zero to launch, and as a PM, you are forced into strategic discussions and decisions from product vision to viability,” says Vuk.
There is no one traditional career path to Product Management at BCGDV, although variety is always useful. There are many PMs on the global team whose work in product has touched a variety of industries and business models, enabling them to pivot to different ventures, from high-volume transactional marketplace ventures to direct-to-consumer or lead generation platforms. It also helps, Vuk explains, for a PM to have worked on both winning and losing ideas:
“I think you need to understand as a PM that not everything is going to be successful. But it’s also important to have succeeded so that you know what success looks and feels like, and what the potential early indicators are.” — Vuk Trifkovic, Partner and Director of Product, BCG Digital Ventures, Berlin.
At BCGDV, there is a strong culture of open communication across Centers, whether that’s international teams learning from one another, or the various cohorts sharing processes to make their work more transparent. PMs make full use of this collaboration between different teams, starting with the creation of a compelling vision and culminating with delivery of a disruptive product to market.