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Think Big. Move Fast.

Who is the Product person? When we talk about early stage venture capital at Lightspeed, this is the single most important question we can ask when making an investment.

Why?

Because the product person is the artist with the vision who sees a masterpiece where the rest of us see clay. After 10+ years of venture capital experience and two startup experiences of my own I’ve learned to appreciate how rare it is to find a truly stellar product person, and also that startups without a product person as a founder are much more likely to fail.

My belief is that great entrepreneurs are able to marry innovative technologies with macro changes in order to build disruptive products we love to use at the right time.  They see the opportunity and leap when the rest of us only see obstacles.  The world is calling them crazy, but its because they have the vision to see what the rest of us don’t that they have the conviction to try.

When I make a seed or Series A investment, it’s because I am excited about the market opportunity and the chance to be a concierge for a world class team (yes, that is the true job of a VC); and that team must have the product person.

The Product Person does four fundamental things:

  1. At a high level, they understand the macro forces (I call it the tail winds) that are driving the industry to change and allow for a new product to disrupt incumbents.
  2. They have the ability to understand technology at a level that enables them to see the flaws in existing products (in light of the macro changes occurring), and also appreciate the power of innovative technology for new products.
  3. Incredibly passionate about the customer experience.  Maniacal about features and detail.
  4. Ability to tell the story.  Great product people can succinctly explain the reason the company and product should exist.  And stories are what sell potential hires, investors and customers.

When teams come into pitch and they talk about hiring a Chief Product Officer or a VP of Product during the Series A timeline, that’s a signal to me that they may not have the complete DNA.  At the heart of the company is the product vision.  Trying to hire a person to be the product visionary, to obsess about the customer experience, to drive the right feature prioritization and strategy — well, I think that has to come from a Founder.  Because only founders have the gravity in a company to make those choices and tradeoffs that a startup must in order to succeed.

If you are thinking of starting a company, or are currently working at a startup, ask yourself – Who is THE Product Person?  If the answer isnt obvious, perhaps you should think a little more about your decision.