Institute of Product Leadership
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Does Product Management Prepare You for a CEO Role?

Being responsible for strategy, roadmap, marketing, forecasting, profit and loss (P&L) of a product or product line makes a product manager one of the most important roles in any organization. It is also a product manager’s main responsibility to lead cross-functional teams from a product’s conception through its launch. Maybe that is why a product manager is often referred to as a CEO of their product.

“When am I going to become a CEO?” - a question that all product leaders/managers have at some point in their careers. So what does it take to don the CEO hat of a startup?

Who better than Sagar Apte, CEO, CarIQ to talk about what it takes to become a CEO. There is a lot to learn from his career journal of being a product manager to becoming a CEO of a flourishing startup. Sagar has over 20 years of experience across diverse domains such as product management, sales, support, operations and marketing.

“ I thought I was ready to become a CEO. I wondered what was more to learn or know? But there was a lot more to come and a lot more learning to happen”, says Sagar, thinking back to the time he decided to begin his own company.

In an attempt to share his experience in transitioning from a product manager to a startup founder, he lays down ten learnings to imbibe in order to ease into the CEO chair.

Multiple Constraints

While product management has limited constraints, as a CEO you should be ready to face multiple constraints from multiple fronts. A simple tip to go forward is to observe and follow the money/user trail.

No Down-time

As a product leader, you are allowed down-time. But as a startup founder, down-time is almost nil. You are required to be on your toes always and bounce back quicker than before. Amidst all the chaos, you should learn to have some ‘me’ time. List down your worst anxieties and when compared to problems that you haven't faced yet, your worries may seem too trivial.

People Focus

As opposed to a product manager having to influence teams centered around the product, a CEO’s influence spans across the entire organization to align to the organizations mission and get work done seamlessly.

Gain Traction

Product managers do have the luxury to hold off half-baked releases. As a startup founder, that luxury is out of bounds for you. What a startup founder needs to focus on is activities that can help the organization and teams build traction. In Sagar’s words, “You have to be extremely paranoid in getting users to use your product. That's the only way forward for your product!”

360 Degree View

As a product manager, you do have an option of ‘outsourcing’ responsibilities. As a startup founder, responsibility starts and ends with you. You will have to be prepared to juggle multiple roles.


A startup founder needs to make sure the communication extends beyond the product vision and keeping in loop teams, investors and customers. You will have to consider several tough questions and situations to face and also be thick-skinned to take a stand on your decisions.

Build Teams

Sagar believes that the greatest weakness among product managers is their inability to build strong teams. As a startup founder, building teams is a skill that you will need to pick up and work diligently on. It is your responsibility as a founder to create scenarios for people to bond.

Finance is Key

The role of a product manager entails putting numbers together, but not managing it. A startup founder, on the other hand, putsa strong finance process in place.

Mind and Body

In all the day-to-day challenges of running a startup, the most neglected aspect is your health. Prepare yourself to become fitter and take challenges head on when tomorrow comes. As a startup founder, you also need to be extremely confident about yourself and the work you do.

Have Fun

Amidst all the chaos, be sure to have your share of fun. As a startup founder, you are embarking on a journey filled with immense learning and self-discovery. Make the most of it!

The webinar concluded with a Q&A session and with the book “What the CEO wants you to know” by Ram Charan being given away to the best question asked.


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