Why isn't Bucharest more like Silicon Valley? It's a loaded question that I get asked under many forms. The reality is I don't have an answer. And I don't think there is a simple one. There are many contributing factors but there is one that I think Romania (and Europe in general) misses the most: product people.
What is a product guy?
A product guy is a sort of pink unicorn. A highly driven, methodical geek with strong business skills and a very developed eye for design. They have to be very technical but they are not the ones who code. They need to understand the market and the competition but they are not the people selling the product. They understand what good UX is and can guide a design team but .... they are not the ones placing the pixels on the screen.
Product people are those who manage every movement of the product’s lifecycle, from ideation to development and to deployment and iteration. Fred Brooks famously said (in his book "The Mythical Man-Month") that "The hardest single part of building a software system is deciding precisely what to build". And it's the job of these mini-CEOs to make these decisions every day.
Product management also combines elements of lots of other specialties - engineering, design, marketing, sales, business development. Product management is "a weird discipline full of oddballs and rejects that never quite fit in anywhere else".
The product manager isn’t the one that’s just sitting around making sure the various teams are on track to meet the scheduled delivery or launch date. (S)he is the one who need to understand the market and that means knowing who the competitors are, what consumers want, and being able to help the marketing and sales teams better target them.
What about entrepreneurs?
Most tech entrepreneurs are (or should be) first of all product people. And some of them don't even know it. When I started uberVU (and all the other projects I was involved in) I was the product guy but I also did all the design work. I loved the technical challenges of engineering but was not a big fan of the coding. One of my cofounders was doing the coding but also doing some sales.
You see ... most entrepreneurs have to be product guys/gals. I've rarely seen a business founder who succeeded with his amazingly detailed Excel. There is a reason people idolatrise Steve Jobs way more than Steve Balmer (although I think Balmer was a bit miss-understood).
Why are they important
I think product managers (either as entrepreneurs or driving product inside a bigger company) are the one of the catalysts for innovation. Clearly technology innovation also requires capital, engineers, designers etc ... but it's the product people who put all the things together and gave it a form people want to pay for.
The problem is there is no formal training for product people. There are plenty of options to learn programming, design, marketing or sells. But there are very few options to put all these together and learn product management and product design.
That's because product management is usually something you’ve “fallen” into, not a profession you studied for. And to some extent it's not a bad thing because some have the product gene and some don't. But because there are few training opportunities it does not mean there are not a lot of best practices and well-tested methods to build useful products.
Bucharest does not have a way where all product people can come together, mingle, share experiences and grow this profession. I want to change all that.
I am avid reader of Mind The Product, one of the best product blogs out there. The people behind it are also the organizers of a very cool meetup called ProductTank. I've been to a few events in London and was deeply impressed. So instead of re-inventing the wheel I reached out to Martin and Janna, who were kind enough to let us organize one in Bucharest.
So the Inaugural Bucharest ProductTank will happen at the end of April. All people who work in product management, entrepreneurs, tech people who care about what they build or product designers are invited.
Please RSVP to save your seat. And see you there.