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The Power of the Product Owner

Quick Left's Managing Director, Bing Chou, wrote about the difficulties of finding a Technical Co-Founder.

Finding the right co-founding team is a difficult task for the entrepreneur. While there are community driven events to help folks meet each other, finding someone highly technical who is willing to start a company with you is going to be difficult, no matter what. This becomes even more difficult if you are bootstrapping, because technical people who are capable of handling a founder role can command a good salary these days.

One problem with starting a company with someone just because they are technical is that writing code may be the only skill they bring to the table. These technical folks may end up being ill-equipped to handle the demands of running a company or shifting with the changing demands that come up as the company grows. Further, there's no such thing as a "Webmaster" anymore. The technology stack is broad and complex, and having what I call the "lone wolf" programmer with no one to collaborate with can lead to technical disappointment and poor execution.

How are small startups and companies coping with this dilemma? One trend I'm seeing more often is the integration of the strong Product Owner with relevant technical product experience rather than the Technical Co-Founder in the early stages of a company. My definition of a strong Product Owner in this context is someone who has experience building a technical product, whether it be at a startup or agency. They could even have experience in technical project management, but the key ingredient is that whether the development team is internal or external, this person understands how to communicate goals and focus to the engineering team and keep the product roadmap on track.

Consider some of the tasks at hand for a couple of startup co-founders–raising money, acquiring customers, building a product, not getting distracted (not necessarily in that order). A strong Product Owner is someone who can keep the product vision moving forward and on track, while the founding team is raising money, etc. For most consumer products, the technology itself is not so difficult that it requires a CTO to succeed in the early stages, giving the company some runway to get to a place where they might be able to attract the right technical lead.

The Product Owner doesn't get bogged down by the shiny technical implementation objects or distractions, but can keep the essence of the product moving forward. Whether the execution of the technical build is done with an internal team, external team or both, the product owner can keep focused on the vision.