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What is the difference between a 'director of product management' role and a 'vice president of product management' role in the context of startups?


Robert Rochester
Title: VP & CFO
Company: Edcor Data Services LLC
(VP & CFO, Edcor Data Services LLC) |

There could be a big difference, or maybe no difference at all. Titles themselves are not necessarily indicitative of job duties, so it is difficult to try and answer such a question without knowing more.

Gurpreet Banwait
Title: Product Manager
Company: FINCAD
(Product Manager, FINCAD) |

Some organizations have multiple product lines (business unit) which can each have a director managing multiple product managers. The directors of each product line would then report into a VP.

Topic Expert
Ken Kaufman
Title: CFO
Company: Community Dental Partners
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Community Dental Partners) |

In the context of a startup, who knows what those titles actually represent. Startups are notorious for breaking traditional "protocol" with titles. You'll really need to get a copy of the job description, if they even have one that is current, to answer your question.

Topic Expert
Lee Andrews
Title: P/T CFO, Business Consultant
Company: Pacific Bag, Inc./Other Clients
(P/T CFO, Business Consultant, Pacific Bag, Inc./Other Clients) |

Short, flip answer -- the difference is "title ego". Some people push to be called a VP -- sounds better on later resumes. At some of the supposedly more innovative startups, they come up with hip titles like "Minister of Sales Growth", or "HR Advocate"; OK, I made those up, but you get the idea. Titles should not matter much at this stage, other than maybe the top 2-3 leaders.

You asked about the roles. I would agree with Gurpreet's good summary -- he nailed it. If this is a small start up, I am surprised to see such high'ish role(s) identified so early on -- usually because there are few employees and people wear many hats. "Product Development" could also encompass QC, product scheduling, some of Op's, etc. If an identified hire prospect is really important to the company's product development, give him/her whatever title they want -- short of a "C" role. At the next company growth point or funding round, you can always reorganize many titles under the context of that growth.


Topic Expert
Randy Miller
Title: Partner
Company: CFO Edge
(Partner, CFO Edge) |

I agree with the above, that internally titles may have little to do with responsibilities. However, in presenting to the outside world, VP is going to care more weight. A person with the VP title is going to be presumed to have the power to bind the company to contracts and will probably have more pull with vendors and bankers.

But, another issue to consider is that as the company grows it may need strategic expertise beyond what is required at start-up stage. To that end, it is easier to add a VP over a Director than it is to find a way to squeeze in a level above a VP who had the title based on first-in rather the strategic skills.

The person and title need to be weighed not only based on what the company needs now, but also on what will be needed as the company grows.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Start-ups have such a high failure rate. If you make it past year five and your company is cash flow positive with visions of an IPO --- just call them "Product Genius." What this means is that your product manager has provided consumers with what they want and what they are willing to purchase.

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

I concur with comment and would add that generally at the VP level the incumbent is expected to have an impact more broadly as that of a business manager where the director level incumbent will manage cross-functionally yet have more focus on the product development and management responsibilities.


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