First job as a Junior Product Manager

Some background: I have a wide experience in project management and cyber professional services, and I am currently in the journey to make a move to Product Management.

I received the opportunity to get an interview in an early stage cyber startup where they are looking for a Junior Product Manager with technical experience (but no PM experience is required), while I will be the first Product Manager in the company reporting to the CEO.

I find the situation above a bit weird because I don’t understand how do they expect me to be a Product Manager all by myself while I am not 100% exactly sure how things work, isn’t it a bit risky?

Did anyone been in similar situation and could tell me how it went?

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Yes it’s risky, but that’s the reality when you’re the first PM at a startup appointed as a Junior Product Manager. You’ll be working directly with the CEO and your ability to turn her vision into a reality will be what determines your success.

In order for this to work, you need to make sure you can communicate effectively with the CEO and she’ll give you room to think on your own as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s just looking for someone to do the “dirty” work of implementing her ideas, for this to be successful you need to be able to work WITH the CEO not just take orders or your role will never progress.

Interview the CEO, your relationship with her/him will determine your future success in the position.

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Run. You want to start with a senior PM as a mentor. The fact that they even entertain the idea of hiring a Junior Product Manager when they have no processes in place is a red flag. Sounds like they have no clue what they’re doing.

Even if you read good books, you’ll lack the practical experience to know how to apply that knowledge.

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@RichardsonEva, I only agree with the above if you’re not willing to risk stuff. I have been the first PM in two occasions and the first PM job was the first time I ever did it. Was it hard? Damn yeah. But I learned a lot and it was fun. That said, it could have blown up in my face too.

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Someone please award this comment. I have literally been in this place and I can’t vouch this comment enough.

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It sounds risky, but not for you. For the startup. The first PM in the team is a crucial role and will play a big part in the scaling/survival of the startup.

Do they have customers already? Are they trying to get more customers? Are they going to raise money soon? If you are the first PM, you are acting like a mini CEO for the product and will require some very tricky decisions. So there is a risk there, of spending time in a startup that might fail.

Now on the good side, they know your background and what you are good at. Maybe this is why they want you. (Big assumption alert) Possibly the CEO has a specific plan in mind and wants someone to get it done and not challenge it too much.

Doing is 10 times better than studying. If you are in a position to take the risk, you will learn a lot for sure.

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@MichaelYoffe, Thank you this was very helpful. I am mostly worried they will expect from me to know PM work methods but without nobody to guide me and then I will be fired very quickly.

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Read books, watch videos, Product management is not that difficult conceptually. You can figure out how it works out practically as you go.

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Ask them what they expect and what success in 3 months and 6 months look like to them. See if it’s a fit with what you want. I’ve currently had to make that transition at our company and it takes a lot to make your company be truly “product-led”.

Likely they are reaching a point where they are just building and no one is properly managing a true product strategy or vision. People are mostly acting on intuition based on feedback they receive. And they want someone who can keep the engineering team accountable, activate real problem discovery and prioritization, and start building something powerful. Unlike other PM positions you’re going to have to be a moderator for lots of necessary meetings that haven’t happened yet with the founders and other key influencers at the company.

If you do take it I recommend 1) you prioritize becoming the Go-to guy for both marketing (operations in general) and engineering/development. Foster super strong relationships there and you will always be providing value. 2) know the customer better than anyone else.

Some people here are saying you’ll be in charge of more than you will. But the reality is, you’re really being put in an interesting position as there are people who have been here from the beginning and know much more than you. They won’t hand over the reigns to their baby easily, and they shouldn’t necessarily make you a “CEO” of the product. You’ll be largely an informal leader who leads by influence. Sure you have a bit of authority to influence, but many people will be skeptical of what you say (and they’re justified in this), but you will be a powerful leader if you lead by knowledge and relationship. It’s a cliché from the influence triangle (knowledge, authority, relationships) but it’s true.

I personally have loved this opportunity. It stretches you, but it will position you for more leadership if you take it on with humility and confidence.

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@RichardsonEva, I get what you are saying, the Product industry itself is new to me so it’ll take me a while to influence (Cyber security is a wide industry) I would like that for the first year at least, someone else would lead me till I feel confident.

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This is your chance to shine. Negotiate for your success and bring home the win. This seems like a make or break moment but be sure that you do your competitive red ocean strategy. There are trillions going into cyber security right now. Tons of competition.

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I think the biggest thing to get a feel for is if the rest of the team is on board with it. You can have great leadership and vision, but if it does it doesn’t translate down to the team who needs to execute the work, it’ll be a huge struggle.

I think there is a huge overlap with product and project management. The main thing you’ll need to learn is how to create the roadmap to meet customers needs and translating that to work for the engineering team.

Also, many people have different ideas of what their product manager will do. I would definitely be asking them of their expectations (who’s creating requirements for engineering, is there an agile coach or does that fall on you, is the roadmap already created, are you coming up with it….).

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@NathanEndicott, Great questions, I have them noted, thanks!

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Being a PM with no additional guidance and no previous experience is definitely a very very VERY tough situation. Not to say it can’t be done, if you have a strong external support system perhaps…or if you are an industry expert with strong marketing, project management, and strategic skills.

However I would anticipate a lot of “lessons learned” in your future. I think one of the best qualities of a product manager is asking the right questions at the right time…. But how are you going to be set up to do that??

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I would reframe this as most super early stage startups have the founder(s) playing the primary PM role. It’s their “baby”. It’ll be hard so why the risk/reward.