The Lessons of Cain and Abel: product management lessons

omamuzo Samson
7 min readJul 26, 2021

There’s the story of two brothers — Cain and Abel, who in their tradition, at certain times of the year, bring offerings to God. Now, the offering brought is dependent on the time of the year it’s being offered.

Cain and Abel were the first and second sons of Adam and Eve.

At this particular time, a type of offering was required. Abel understood and brought it but Cain didn’t; he offered what he thought was right — confident that his goodwill was good enough. His offering was rejected.

I have read this story in the bible since I was a child but as a product guy, seeing things in a ‘productized’ manner, I found a new pattern.

In this piece, I tried to use the story of Cain and Abel to stage a scenario of what could happen when you don’t listen/not listening to the customer. And what could happen when you are not paying attention to your competitor — you could get killed.

For me: data about your customers and competitors should never leave your sight.

Let’s dive in!

First, know your customer.

I’ve read many pieces about building the Amazon way — working backwards.

The idea is simple — who is the ideal customer? You must know who this person is before you can build a product that can benefit them. As a product manager, it is very easy to fall into user bias when building a product. Snap out of it!

This is creating your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Read this article to learn how to create an ICP.

After you know the ideal customer, it is your duty to do the hard work of finding out what they want. And in finding out what they want, you must treat it as a job to be done. Your customer just wants to solve their pain or increase their joy — this is what your product must do for them.

Abel and Cain know who their ideal customer is — God. They know the customer has a need and they wanted to satisfy that need. Abel did better because his product/feature was well accepted while Cain’s was rejected. You already know what happened — Cain does not know what God wants at that particular time.

So, find that ideal customer and find out what job they need to get done at this time so you can satisfy it.

This article is quite helpful when you are trying to understand how to find that ideal customer, what they want and create an ideal customer profile.

“The customer's perception is your reality. What they think about your products, MATTER. If you don't put your customers' perception first, THE GAME IS OVER.”
Sharfaraz Ahmed

Delighting your customers

As a product manager, you’re no orphan to launching a feature that you know — from data, that customers really want. But, it gets to the market, and the market corrected your assumptions otherwise — Customers are not willing to pay for it!

And that’s not the painful bit of it — customers adopted your competitors own with their whole opened wallet. They opened up their wallet and willingly give your competitor their money as a way of saying — thank you for curing our pain.

Was it not the same pain you’re trying to cure that made you released that new feature or product?

“Create wow moments for your prospects and watch your online sentiment increase.”
Stacey Kehoe

When you have a comprehensive understanding of your customer, you should do whatever it takes to delight him/her. A very good example in this article is that the CEO of Printivo — Oluyomi Ojo wrote a while back.

You can’t afford to miss the opportunity to delight your customer. For example, at what pain point can you deliver a service that will wow them? Dig dip into this. Find it and squeeze every value you can from it.

Imagine you are an auto insurance and your customer was able to submit a claim at the point of accident and the claim was settled at that spot — how do you think this will make him/her feel?

Keep your eyes on the competitor — be aware!

Product Managers need to spend more time watching their backs and looking at what their competitors are up to, according to market research expert Stephen Phillips.

Your competitor is not waiting for you before he will execute a winning strategy — he is already executing; you are the one late to the party.

As a product manager, it is part of our make-up to spot things that are commonly blind to many. In this case, I read the passage in the Bible about Cain and Abel — how both presented their offerings to God and one of the brothers was declined. Cain!

Knowing what your competitors are doing is an important part of running a successful business. But it’s an area that many product managers ignore.

“Number one, cash is king; number two, communicate; number three, buy or bury the competition.” — Jack Welch, General Electric

Competitor analysis can throw up some interesting facts. And one of those facts is that you may find that your competitors are not who you thought they were. When you start taking a critical look at them, you often find who you think your competitors are not your main competitors.

There are various tools to give you a better insight into understanding your competitor.

What am I even saying?

Back to our Cain and Abel analogy.

Building a product is hard. Building the right product is even harder. Then finding that cohorts of users willing to use the product and pay for it are another challenge on their own.

Cain’s offering wasn’t accepted and ‘e get why’. The customer didn’t accept it.

Familiar? He didn’t get his customer research right. He had a good product but not what his customer wanted. He assumed, if I serve it, He will eat it. Akin to ‘build it and they will come’ mentality.

Again. Looking at the whole product failure from Cain’s failure can be quite blurry because Cain wasn’t the one that died — Abel did.

That brings me to the next point — Don’t get killed.

The job of a product manager is pretty cut out — build a product that customers will gladly use and pay for. Anything else is activity.

The word here — ‘pay for’, is the only way your company can stay alive and keep delighting its customer. As a product manager, it is part of your responsibility to ensure your product won't get killed by your competitor’s. Even if your product is not performing as expected, it is your responsibility to shelf it.

Kodak got killed. Nokia got killed. Iflix left Nigeria. Kwese Tv couldn’t live. The list can go on and on.

None of these companies built their products to get killed. At some point, they were the toast of the town. They didn’t need to do anything — they stopped paying attention to the customer and competitor. (Competitor can even mean government and their policies)

You’ve heard about the Lion and the Gazelle — when both wake up in the morning, each must decide to outrun the other. If not, the Lion could go hungry or the Gazelle could be eaten. That’s just life — a jungle.

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Your competitor wants a slice of what you are eating

Don’t assume that your competitor will fold its hands and cross its legs while all the customers are flocking to your product. Don’t assume that breakfast is for you alone — gbogbowa lama je breakfast (It is all of us that will eat breakfast).

They want a slice of that customer — a percentage of it. And if you lose guard, they’ll take all your customers, and when you have no paying customer, you’re in a disadvantaged position. At this point, you’ll be hustling to stay alive. You’re agitated. But because you’ve lost the advantage ground, your competitor will keep edging you in.

To put things in a better perspective, your competitor doesn’t need a better product than you to get you out of the market — think Glo and Etisalat.

Don’t lose guard

All you need to do to get sidelined is to lose guard.

Going back to where we started from, Cain went on to live more years and enjoy life while Abel was long dead even though he was the one with the right product that customers loved and adopted. He didn’t live long enough to provide more value through its product neither did he obtain more value from its customer. He was killed! He loses guard!


As a product manager, just as your work is not done simply because you’ve shipped. So also your work is not done just because you have a leading product. You should be constant and consistent in innovation. You should make your team and encourage your organization to be a progressive innovative one.

Your competitor is not the bad guy, the two of you just want the same thing — the customer. The whole idea of this article is for you not to lose guard. Be on your feet steadily. You should keep an eye on what your competitor is doing and see how it affects your market position.

Your mantra should be — ‘all I do is win-win no matter what.

Be like Abel. But, wiser!

Be like Cain. Stay Alive!

Image: pexels



omamuzo Samson

I’m a product manager and marketer helping to scale startup and technology products — driving demand, leads, growth and revenue.