Tech & Product Forum - Do Chief Product Officers have a Product/Market Fit Problem in Europe?

Do Chief Product Officers have a Product/Market Fit Problem in Europe?

Tech & Product Forum

I honestly don’t know what my job is any more. Every time I take on a role, it’s a totally different job. Maybe a CPO is just there to fill the millions of holes executive teams have that nobody else is willing to cover.

- T&P Forum Member

There’s an old adage: “if you can see it, you can be it”.

On the back of taking tens of candidate briefs from clients and interviewing thousands of candidates, sources and T&P Forum members, it appears clear that, in many, many cases across Europe, the “it” that is “Chief Product Officer” is often difficult to see and, by extension, be.

Even amongst successful CPOs, there is a palpable frustration at Product’s lack of clear definition, relevance and mandate:

Non Product people think they could take over Product in a day and not miss Product teams in the slightest. Everyone has a view and thinks they know what to do.

- T&P Forum Member

Why is this, and why is it so pervasive a reality in Europe?

The definitions of CPO, CTO and founder/CEO are considerably less loosely defined in the US and, one would hope, will become more established in Europe over time. However, at the moment, the best advice, frequently raised by the T&P Forum membership, is to ensure deep due diligence on both sides before hiring/joining a business:

On the employer side:

We constantly mismatch the Product/Tech person with the job they’re being hired for. Founders, investors, boards and executive search firms need to do a better job of testing this before they go to market.

- T&P Forum Member

On the employee side:

As a Product leader, you have to do the job you’ve been given, not the job you want to do. You really have to do your homework as a CPO/CTO candidate before taking a role.

You need to go in knowing your role and goals. But, equally important, you need to deeply understand your founder/CEO/exec team’s fluency in Tech and Product, and their vision for where you will be able to contribute.

- T&P Forum Member

Earlier stage companies face a unique challenge here. Every founder was, and will always be, the true Chief Product Officer of their company. Stripped back to its essentials, the “product” is the unique piece of innovation - be it a tech widget, application or physical product - a founder tirelessly took to rooms of investors in search of the “yes” that then allowed them the right to graft to build into a company requiring a Product leader.

With that level of relentless physical, monetary and emotional investment (founders often call their businesses their “babies”), Chief Product Officers regularly find themselves coming up against the challenge of a founder who can’t let go.

Without a clear, uniform definition of what “product leadership” means to a business, CPOs risk finding themselves caught between the founder and/or CEO on one side and the CTO on the other, with no clear autonomy.

Product guys need to get their heads out of their asses. I was speaking with a founder who has grown a $4bn business. He interviewed and then declined a CPO candidate, who then wrote him a 5000 word letter explaining how the founder didn’t ‘get’ Product.

This guy’s built a $4bn product! We’re an embarrassment to all CPOs and we should all be fired!!

- T&P Network Member

What have Europe’s top Product leaders and companies done to mitigate this challenge, and how can companies optimise their product functions around outstanding leaders set up for success? These are billion dollar questions, and likely the making or breaking of truly successful companies.


Stephen Rosenthal and Hannah French are Partners at Founders Keepers and the facilitators of the FK Tech & Product Forum.

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