Advice for a startup hiring a PM

Hey everyone, I have founded a startup 2 years ago that’s now one of the biggest communities for ballroom dancing in the county and we’re focused on online education for dancers, launched our first online course, did about 35k in sales in 3-4 months, now looking to raise a seed round and build a team and grow a membership product.

One of the key people we’re looking for is the product manager.

So I would like to ask your advice as PM’s, specifically:

  • We are based in Rockford, Illinois now. Will a person from anywhere work well to build with us? Or it should be exclusively from our city, as I’m afraid the supply of top-notch PM’s here might not be that high.
  • If it could be from outside of Rockford, how would that work in your opinion? Would the person need to come frequently to Rockford? Could it be exclusively remote?

Thank you so much, really appreciate your advice!

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Where’s your developers based? It’s more important that the PM is in constant communication with the dev team, rather than yourself. Now that doesn’t mean the PM has to be sitting with the dev team, but he does need to have access to them (meaning if he’s remote, should at least be in the same time-zone).

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I’d disagree a little here. It’s a super nice benefit to have the PM in the same time zone, but for the last two years my developers have been +15 and +10 hours from me. We’ve been doing well.

Open lines of communication are super important to make this work. The only hang ups involve the sprint handoff meeting, where someone (usually me) takes the meeting at an unusual hour.

I would agree, however, that the PM needs to be in the same time zone as the executives. I’ve only ever been in the same building as the executive staff, and I couldn’t count number of times in a day where I pop over to someone’s office to casually discuss something.

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Congrats on your growth! And yes, this is the right stage to hire a PM.

Is your whole team based in Rockford? Or are you mostly remote? A PM should ideally sit with the team, especially if everyone is mostly colocated.

Also, how diverse is your team? Is the company language English? I’ve been in a situation before where I didn’t speak the team’s language and it was very frustrating since it is not realistic to expect people to communicate in a second language all the time if it’s difficult for them.

I’d say recruit someone local. As far as I heard, Illinois should have decent tech talent.

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Why do you want to hire a product manager? What outcome are you hoping for?

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If they’re not going to be located in the same city, you should make sure they are in the same time zone. I’ve seen studies that suggest the biggest productivity hit would be if your PM and dev team are in different time zones.

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What skills would you look for in a remote Product Manager in general? A PM needs to have some of the most varied soft and hard skills in a team. Honestly, besides exceptionally good communication and organization skills, the traits and abilities he needs to develop are roughly the same as for any office job.

Here are some of the most commonly mentioned skills that you can expect for from your remote product manager:

  • Strong leadership skills
  • Organization and prioritization capabilities
  • Critical thinking
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Strong client management abilities
  • Ability to manage multiple, simultaneous projects
  • Time management and budgeting skills
  • Command of diverse product development frameworks, strategies, and/or rapid prototyping solutions
  • Ability to troubleshoot customer issues and create detailed bug reports
  • Ability to work autonomously
  • Passion for working cross-functionally
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Strong technical understanding of how software products are built
  • Ability to collect and structure qualitative and quantitative research that will be used for making product and design decisions
  • A clear understanding of key metrics and ways of measuring a product’s success

All in all, the requirements depend on your company. Some employers will prefer a strong communicator who is able to work cross-functionally and bring the entire team together. Others will have specific needs such as programming language knowledge or stronger experience when it comes to user interviews or focus on a specific stage of a product’s life cycle.

What you’ll need to look for, above any of the above skills is product sense. This means he’ll first have to become a subject matter expert and learn all the ins and outs of the product. He’ll then own the entire creative process around generating new ideas, spotting challenges, and creating the whole roadmap along with doing user research, keeping track of metrics, and prioritizing tickets.

Simply, he needs to have a complete product-oriented skillset along with dependable traits that will allow you to trust him with your product’s evolution and fixing potential problems.

Hope this helps!