What's the Deal With the Donuts?

I believe the best product managers are willing to do whatever it takes to help their teams succeed. An important aspect of that is recognizing that PMs often have to do the work that would fall through the cracks otherwise. By definition that can be grimy, un-fun work: cleaning the bug queue, organizing a document repository, replying to a customer support email. No job should be beneath a product manager. PMs are more humble servants than “CEOs of the product.” They put their teams first, they do what needs to be done, and they demonstrate that every day.

In 2005 I was preparing to give a talk at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business about product management. I was looking for a rhetorical device to convey this and I settled on “bring the donuts.” If PMs don’t bring donuts for the team on launch day, who else will? I’m not sure why I picked donuts. At the time my competitive cycling career was still flourishing and bagels were more my style. But donuts it was, and the concept stuck.

Since then, product management and donuts have sort of become synonymous. People tweet me with photos of the donuts they’re bringing1, PM meetups and conferences serve donuts, and when I meet an early career PM, there’s a good chance they’ll bring donuts too (a practice my officemates wholeheartedly endorse.)

One of my favorite quotes comes from this Buzzfeed interview with Jason Goldman:

“Startups are run by people who do what’s necessary at the time it’s needed. A lot of time that’s unglamorous work. A lot of times that’s not heroic work. Is that heroic? Is that standing on a stage in a black turtleneck, in front of 20,000 people talking about the future of phones? No. But that’s how companies are built. That person who did that for the iPhone launch at Apple, we don’t know who he is. All we know is that Steve Jobs came up with the iPhone. But he didn’t ship it. The person who bought the donuts did.

So, keep bringing those donuts.

  1. The photos aren’t always of donuts: the best PMs will bring what the team actually wants, even if that’s Sour Patch Kids


Ken is a partner at GV where he provides product and engineering support to more than 300 portfolio companies including Uber, Nest, Slack, Foundation Medicine, and Flatiron Health. Prior to joining GV, Ken was a group product manager at Google. In his years as a PM at Google, Ken led product initiatives for Docs, Calendar, and Google Mobile Maps.

@kennethn   
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