Great Product Managers Take Risks

As product managers, it’s important for us to take a step back and think about the biggest impacts we’ve made in our careers. Specifically, you want to focus on the defining qualities of what made these new products or features so compelling or innovative. For the most part, you’ll come up with adjectives like these.

Controversial. Uncomfortable. Unfamiliar

Simply put, big ideas are unsettling when they first emerge on the scene. For example, any disruptive concept or solution is going to rattle a few cages. Furthermore, these shifts will seem confusing or unwise before they are proven out. Over time, there’s a tendency for product managers to shy away from taking these risks. In my experience, it’s always best to keep pushing for breakthrough opportunities. Ultimately, it’s harder than ever to stand out from the crowd. As a result, you don’t want to get stuck doing the same thing as everyone else.

Most importantly, the payoff (both for your career and your bank account) is well worth it. I would like to share some examples of companies that started with huge question marks. Today, they are all regarded as leading innovators in their categories.

AirBed & Breakfast (Airbnb).

Similar to “The Facebook,” it’s funny to see Airbnb’s original name as it appeared on its original web site! Earlier in my career, I remember hearing the early reactions about what Airbnb represented. As you can imagine, the original feedback was not positive. For example, “who would stay in a stranger’s house?” or “who would rent their place to a stranger?” were common concerns that came up.

Fast forward to present day, Airbnb continues to prove the doubters wrong. Most importantly, they haven’t strayed away from their original model. As product managers, we should all appreciate their willingness to introduce something uncomfortable and their commitment to making it a successful reality.


If you remember Tesla’s early days, no one thought that anyone would buy an electric sports car. For example, the popular belief was that sports car owners wanted loud engines and the “feeling” of gasoline power. Instead, Tesla continues to be one of the most popular high-performance cars in the world. Furthermore, they represent one of the most innovative brands in the automotive industry – branching out into new consumer categories to enhance their popularity.


Hard to believe, but there was a time when Netflix was a DVD delivery service. Today, we access virtually all of our content via their streaming service. However, can you imagine being one of the product managers working on the streaming product when it first launched? At the time, Netflix was already popular – and the streaming service product was expected to cannibalize its existing DVD business. While this decision was probably met with plenty of doubts, it proved to be the driver for the platform’s explosion as the ubiquitous content provider that it is today.

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Yasi Baiani University of California, Lecturer - Product Management Member
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