Ok, so I am pretty impressed with the kind of comments I have been getting on the blog. It is certainly inspiring me to write more and respond to the comments through my posts. Appreciate the commentators and their interest.
@Singh, yes, I am definitely enjoying my job a lot. It is super challenging, and a lot of fun, and plays to one of my biggest strengths - Managing Complexity. So I love what I am doing, and what more can one ask for, right?
It is hard for me to give a % or a number to the number who are as passionate. If it's an Individual, its easy to give an opinion (wrong or right). A group? You have to be a bit more circumspect I think. There is a good chance of falling on my your face.
Having said that, Google PMs (the ones that I have interacted with) are typically pretty smart, very organized and ambitious. A smaller percentage are very very good, very bright, understand the industry in and out, very aggressive, and have been some of the strongest people that I have worked with. Doesn't make them easy to work with :), but then their job is not easy by any means.
The industry works on reputation. Reputation is built by your body of work (and by luck). In Google, the hierarchy is reasonably flat still, and very senior folks are still called "Product Managers". My argument is that yes, if you become a VP, you rock and you must be very good. But there are tons of PMs in Google, who are rockstars and have a legacy of success behind them. I can bet that any of those could easily go to any other company and become Directors or even VPs. Don't get hung up on the title. Yes, title matters no doubt. But what do you say to a guy who is titled "Product Manager" and manages a multi-million dollar business with millions of views?
Now about the challenge...
About building the user-base versus building on user-base. What's the difference in terms of people adoption? In either case, you are adding numbers to the bottomline and thats what matters most. Granted, there is a huge edge for a Google PM. We start off based on numbers that impossible for many companies. That is a huge advantage. But do keep in mind, other companies had that advantage too, and squandered it. Maybe one day Google will too, its not that day yet.
You cant beat up someone up for having a strong advantage. You still need a huge sizzle to build on that advantage. However, I don't think you are wrong in saying there is an edge.
Is it as challenging as organically building a product from scratch with no Google behind you?
I think building a product from bottom up and organically drawing millions to it is amazing. You have to be a very strong, passionate person and really really lucky. That is a very hard task, and I will never underplay that.
I just think you are comparing apples to oranges.
Who is more brilliant? The guy who invented the Telephone or the guy who led the mapping of human Genome (backed by some of the foremost research labs of the world)? I know who is more famous :)