Zero To One Product Management

Dive into the exciting world of Zero to One Product Management and discover how it differs from Product Management in other areas, its benefits as well as some tips for the aspiring Zero to One Product Manager.

Tiwatayo Kunle
November 16, 2022

Pivoting to Product Management means learning the ropes of a new industry, learning about a new product, asking questions and figuring things out as you go along. Zero to One Product Management, however, is a slightly different ball game as it involves building something out of absolutely nothing, not iterating on something that already exists or adding new features to an application - nothing.

What Is Zero to One Product Management?

In his book Zero to One, Peter Thiel helps us understand Zero to One Product Management as the process of building something unique, that completely changes the market and does not yet exist; as opposed to building something based on an existing solution. 

When people say Zero to One in tech, they’re talking about a company that is creating new things. For example, computers existed but Bill Gates’ building an operating system was going from Zero to One.

Your brand new idea does not necessarily have to be profound in the way that people might imagine. Sometimes, opportunities for Zero to One companies can hide in plain sight. See, for example, Uber and other private ride-sharing apps taking advantage of the internet to connect people who had places to go, with people to drive them, filling a gap that taxi cabs and car rental companies could not. 

What Does a Zero To One Product Manager do?

In a chat with Co.Lab, Tochi Nwachukwu, Group Product Manager at LinkedIn, explains that working as a Zero to One Product Manager, the onus is on him to define the path of the product and make strategic decisions around unclear areas.

Watch the entire event here

The foundational aspect of doing Zero- to-One work is understanding that it is okay for you not to understand and not to have the answers. Embrace the challenge and work on creating excitement amongst your team – you’re all going to need it as this is one of those roles that will drain you if you don’t enjoy doing it.

Zero to One PM is definitely unique because you’re pretty much driving blind. There is often no data or metrics or guidelines to let you know whether or not you’re doing the right thing. That’s why it’s a role best suited for people who enjoy working with unclarity and are comfortable with failing. If you’re fine with iterating and iterating and possibly still not finding the answer, then you possess a major requisite skill to serve as a Product Manager in the Zero to One space.

If you’re considering Zero to One Product Management, you must be a great cross-functional partner and an executionist. The ability to be a great partner and leader when nothing exists except a goal and you’re tasked with the responsibility to create a clearly defined vision and carry the rest of the team along each step of the way until you produce results, is a non-negotiable skill in this field.

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The Zero To One Process

When you identify a gap, first try to figure out whether the problem you’re trying to solve actually exists. To do this, you’ll need multiple streams of data, with metrics. Then you should carry out a sort of ‘If…else’ loop to yourself i.e. ‘If this happens, then this should happen, else this’. If you're ending with the same return statements, then there is, indeed, a problem for you to solve. 

On certain occasions, there will be no data readily available for use to determine whether or not a problem exists. In such cases, you’ll need to conduct qualitative research and use the result of that research to coin a research statement which you can present to the team to explain the problem you wish to address.

Simply embrace the learning process and be transparent with yourself about your abilities and your career goals. Communicate with your managers and let them know your vision for yourself and your career so that they can give you assignments that align with these goals. If you find that a manager is not responsive to your vision, you should find a more receptive environment at the earliest possible time.

Tochi attempts to summarize the process of building in Zero-to-One into five simple steps:

  1. Alignment
  2. Vision Setting
  3. Strategic definition 
  4. Pre-Development 
  5. Development

Sometimes, even after following these steps as closely as you can, you encounter roadblocks. When this happens, the way out is to try understanding ‘the why’. You might realize that perhaps it’s just not time to work on that product. Or you might discover that the issues are organizational complexity issues such as insufficient number of Engineers or Designers. Whatever it is, as long as you're following the right flowcharts things will fall in place.

How do you define success in this field?

The truth is that as you set out to solve a problem and create a product, you have what you’re looking out for. Meeting these goals is definitely a sign of success. Additionally, the top line metric should be clear from the start and some secondary metrics will start to pop up along the way that prove success. 

What is the Benefit of Zero To One Product Management?

In Tochi’s case, one of the major benefits of working as a Zero to One Product Manager is the patience and poise it has taught him. Zero to One stuff takes time, we’re talking years. You have to have patience in the face of your Product Management colleagues in other areas releasing products every week.

This patience is evident not only in the way that he executes his work, but in the way he now carefully evaluates potential opportunities instead of jumping on trends and using certain methods simply because they worked for someone else. He does not make rash decisions and this is because of building in Zero to One.

Tips for Aspiring Zero to One Product Managers

Tochi has observed that many aspiring Product Managers are having conversations about how much they want to be Product Managers but they are not doing the work to ensure that they’re ready for any opportunity that comes their way.

If you’re interested in Product Management, you must be found ready because it’s a challenging space. Network far and wide, stay in touch and be prepared to show up at a moment’s notice if an opportunity presents itself. In fact, Tochi advises interested persons to take any opportunity that even remotely resembles Product Management.

Like him, you might even decide to take matters into your own hands and create a startup to help yourself learn more about project management. Always be willing to bet on yourself.

Co.Lab specializes in building from Zero to One. If you’re interested in this Product Management opportunity, apply here. And to listen to the entire discussion with Tochi and other awesome Product Managers, visit our YouTube channel.

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