At early-stage companies like Weaviate, teams are still small, so it’s often difficult to justify both a dedicated Product Manager and a formal engineering team lead. However, early-stage companies also set a high engineering tempo, so strategic product decisions can often only be made by someone with a strong technical background. That’s why in Weaviate case, a single person often takes the lead in both product and engineering decisions. This is not a compromise, it’s a strategic choice.
Combining both roles into one—we call it “Product Engineering”—is the best way we’ve found to develop and iterate new ideas, and to quickly get from a “lightbulb” moment to product-market fit.
Before co-founding Weaviate, I worked at companies with more traditional structures, in which product managers and engineers were different people, from different backgrounds, doing their own things. In some places, PMs and engineers fostered good communications, and made decisions together without regard for hierarchy or seniority. The barriers between those roles were lowered and the natural conflict that sometimes exists between business interests and engineering performance was healthy.
I also saw companies where product managers and engineers could not get out of each other’s way. This was especially a problem in companies where PMs could not understand use cases, because the users were, themselves, also engineers. (This, incidentally, is true here at Weaviate.) Likewise, engineers failed to think about the big picture while they scrambled to achieve arbitrary deadlines or create poorly conceived products. So, I knew what I wanted to achieve and what I wanted to avoid as Weaviate CTO.