Yes, Product Manager, you too can (help) acquire companies

Let's say that you're a junior-ish Product Manager. Your product is NOT killing it (not yet, anyway). You have stiff competition. Your product is missing key capabilities that the market demands -- perhaps because this technology looks to fundamentally disrupt your product's market or because a competitor already (or imminently) has it.

RESULT: you are feeling enormous pressure to develop all this functionality YESTERDAY.

But PROBLEM -- your team needs several man-years to develop it from scratch.

As a Product Manager, no doubt, your reflex is to BUILD the new functionality into your product. To put it in the roadmap, to write the requirements and user stories, to develop the mockups, to negotiate with engineering and your deity of choice to de-prioritize all existing projects and somehow deliver everything in half the required time.

But given the time criticality of these missing product capabilities, you should ALSO be thinking PARTNER WITH or ACQUIRE a third-party company that already has the needed technology. Perhaps BUY instead of BUILD.

HOWEVER, in my extensive travels, I've found that PMs below the Sr. Director level rarely think this way. They hardly ever consider buying instead of building.

Why not?

  1. They are entrenched in a "build it" thought pattern that forgets there are other alternatives. (The more you hang out with Engineers, the more likely you are to suffer from this.)
  2. They dismiss the idea of an acquisition or partnership early on because they don't know how to pursue it. (Let's face it. It's easier to just write requirements and user stories, plus you already know how to do it.)
  3. They assume that such matters are well above their pay grade, the domain of VPs, Biz Dev, and Finance types.

Alas, I know of what I speak, having made these mistakes myself, and missed out on potential "buy" opportunities for my product.

So, junior-ish (or senior-ish) Product Management professional, here's my advice to you.

Considering how potential acquisitions or partnerships could help your product is part of YOUR job.

If you've been doing your job, and not just being a Requirements-Writing Monkey, then you have a good handle on your product's strategy. So, you know what the market needs, what your product offers, the gaps between the two, and how you are positioned against the competition.

For your product, you know all this better than ANYONE else at your company. And thus YOU likely know better than anyone else which technology partnerships and acquisitions could help your product leapfrog ahead.

So that you don't "just forget" to consider the possibility of potential partnerships and acquisitions, make doing so a checklist item in your product strategy process. (And you're refreshing your product strategy on a regular basis, right?)

You can do it!

Yes, YOU can kickstart a major technology partnership. YOU can instigate a corporate acquisition.

Don't worry, you won't have to do it alone. You basically just have to make a case for:

  1. WHY your product needs the technology.
  2. WHAT specific types of products/technologies would be a good match (or bad match) for your product.
  3. Some suggestions of companies/products to start investigating. You don't have to exhaustively research this, because other people will soon help flesh out the list.

Do this little bit of legwork and summarize your thoughts in WRITING via a (brief) Powerpoint or email. You'll have to figure out who to pitch it to -- probably your boss and Product Council (if you have one), maybe your company's alliances or business development people.

But if your business case is solid, you will usually find that A LOT of people want to help you out at this point. In fact, given the high visibility and corporate-ladder-climbing potential of acquisitions and major partnerships, it is VERY likely that other people will attempt to take credit for your idea or even completely cut you out of the process. For your product's sake, you MUST fight to stay involved in the due diligence process; you must ensure the target technology/product/company actually meets your product's needs.

Alas, I can't offer much advice about making sure YOU get credit and get to elevate YOUR career as a result of YOUR idea and initial investigation. I kind of suck at being political, which is why I typically work at early-stage startups as a hired gun. (Alas, I read Lean In twice but I still don't know how to properly self-promote.)

PS - Perhaps someone more politically savvy than I can offer sage counsel to readers. If so, I'll link this post to your advice. Let me know via Twitter.

Sue Raisty

Product management geek, born-again engineer, adoptive mother of boys, coach & mentor, mountain trail runner, tinkerer, no-bull communicator, wannabe writer, room mother & compulsive researcher.

Silicon Valley, California http://blog.sueraisty.com