How to vet a startup for a PM role?

What can I ask a startup in order to assess its health, future, founder competency, and so on?

I found some good questions like asking about Runway, and I have a lot of specific questions that are relevant to the role. But what’s the other “must know” info you need before working at a very early stage startup?


Few thoughts… Understand the founder/founders’ or CEO’s knowledge or experience of product management in general. eg - have they worked with someone in this function before?

Ask about traction and whether they have trials or paying customers etc - the numbers could look great but it’s useful to understand where the revenue is coming from at a certain stage.

Suss out their level of bullshit eg are they focused on chasing awards more than building a great product? You could also ask about team processes in the org to date and how they’re used day to day - some startups never get past messy undocumented chaos and that’s going to make your job even tougher.

I see you mentioned “very early stage” - if there is more than one founder ask how they resolve conflict. I’ve found out too late in previous roles that the founders weren’t on the same page regularly and it can get ugly.

Be honest with yourself on your risk tolerance for different stages of a startup, and some of my above thoughts will depend on where they’re at. Good luck!

1 Like

I normally ask:

  • Desired exit strategy and what are their plans to get there
  • How involved are users/customers in the feedback loop currently
  • Do they have paying customers yet? What is their CAC and cost of delivering per customer? Are they bootstrapping some funding or is it all external money?
  • Who is currently involved in deciding the roadmap (this one is a good clue for a lot of things)
  • Ask them of their definition of product-market fit and whether they have hit it yet
  • I also stalk the whole leadership team on LinkedIn and their history.

I used to ask how much runway they had, but everywhere I asked would either lie or not answer properly unless they were Series B or beyond. So I look for external news about their funding/etc, and compare to staff numbers.

I’ve gone through this a couple of times. Some things to dig into:

  • Vision, Strategy, Roadmap: can the founder walk up and down this “triangle”
  • Unit Economics: Is there a solid, defensible plan on how the biz will make money
  • Role of Product: In most early-stage companies, the founder is the product guy/girl. Are they willing and ready to hand over the product reigns (assuming you’re the first product hire)?
  • Headcount: How much budget will you have to hire/get the right resources to succeed in your role?

Extremely relevant thread recently posted by Shreyas Doshi

PS: Highly recommend him a follow

This guy is a freaking gold mine. I wish he wrote a blog or something easier to follow.

1 Like

He’s smart actually. He knows the value of Twitter distribution and how it works. Blogs people follow but don’t have that level of distribution.

Also, blogs take much more commitment/time than a thread.

This topic was automatically closed 180 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.