Perspectives

Are Product Managers Like the Cobbler’s Kids?

I come from a long line of shoemakers. Really. My father and my father’s father, my uncles, my cousins–pretty much everyone on the paternal side of my family was or is a bonafide shoe dog.

Not like cobblers, exactly; more like designers, makers, and peddlers of all types of footwear. As a child, it felt like a birthright, this familiar association with something so otherwise foreign.

Because, well, let me tell you how much I care about shoes. Yes, I do wear them from time to time, but that’s where it begins and ends for me. I have literally zero passion for footwear.

So I am, in a sense, the cobbler’s kid. Almost literally. All this access, completely lost on me.

You’re probably familiar with the idea. The cobbler, for all his skills in the trade, doesn’t have the time to furnish his own kids’ feet. His kids, meanwhile, make do with what they’ve got.

This random, perhaps inconsequential paradox has pretty much defined my life. But it has also attuned me to the plight of every other long-suffering scion of the (literal or proverbial) cobbler.

Like product managers, for example.

Product Managers Go Barefoot

If you think about it, product managers are the ultimate cobbler’s kids. They solve for every problem but their own. So driven to deliver and perfect the products they look after, they’re rarely inclined to step back to consider their own requirements in their craft.

When met with a need, they’ve famously made do with whatever they’ve had lying around. PowerPoint and spreadsheets were the go-to tools of choice for prototypes and roadmaps. Janky, yes, but who has time–much less budget–to find better alternatives?

As if they existed! There was a time–not too long ago, really–when product managers were virtually ignored by vendors who never quite considered their problems worth solving. Maybe it was this reputation for making do, this spartan ethos of self-sufficiency that kept vendors at bay. Maybe it was just a lack of imagination. Sure, there were a small handful of specialized tools product managers could draw from if they were so inclined, but it was a precious few.

Compare this to Scott Brinker’s most recent capture of the martech landscape, which places the number of different purpose-built tools marketers can use at a staggering 6829.

Building a Product Workshop

Times are surely changing. While the product stack can’t quite rival Brinker’s martech monstrosity, there are now dozens if not hundreds of purpose-built tools product people use.

And the vendors serving these product managers aren’t just sleepy lifestyle companies and passion projects; they’re very real businesses with impressive growth. Venture capitalists, of course, have taken notice. The total venture capital raised by the product stack companies is upward of $4.6 billion, making product one of the new “it” categories of our moment.

Which makes good sense, if you think about it.

Product managers are guiding the product design and innovation that drives category leadership. The best products attract the sort of passionate loyalty, advocacy, and word of mouth that reminds us why product is the new marketing.

Does this mean that the product stack is on track to rival Scott Brinker’s eye chart? God, I hope not. But product is undoubtedly on the rise–and vendors seem to have gotten that message.

Last April, ProductCraft published the product stack as a definitive look at the tools product people use, cataloging them as part of a mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive taxonomy.

We’ve heard from many of you about the tools you use that aren’t in the first edition of the Stack, and we’ve heard you. In September, we’ll publish the second edition. So if you haven’t already, let us know what we’ve missed. Vendors, categories, etc.

Leave comments below, or here, Tweet at us with #productstack, or send email to editor@productcraft.com.

About the Author

Jake Sorofman is CMO of Pendo. Most recently, he spent five years as a VP and Chief of Research at Gartner, Inc., before returning to his startup roots. His writing has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, CMO.com and other business and industry publications.