Junior PM at a startup

Just got hired at a startup as a Junior PM and I really want to put my best efforts to make it work.

I worked previously in an irrelevant industry as a junior PM briefly. Got this one both thanks to previous experience but also a lot of self-study.

Do you have any tips for a new Junior PM to start on the right foot in a small startup?

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  • Keep up with your learning. Landing a PM role is just the tip of the iceberg and all told its truly a marathon, not a sprint. Be resourceful, ask lots of questions, and keep learning. You’ll level up much quicker.

  • Make sure you and your manager are aligned on their expectations of your work and work hard to exceed them. Early on you’re likely to feel a lot of imposter syndrome so focusing on the key things that matter and crushing them is going to give you the momentum to carry you through some of the harder times when self-doubt is rampant. Most importantly you will have a sense of security because you know your boss values the work you’re doing.

  • Treat your teammates like your customers and focus on providing good “customer service”. Another way to put that is be the teammate you want others to be. Be accessible, respond to messages quickly, show interest in people, look for opportunities to help out, show up prepared. Your teammates will grow to like and trust you and that will be the foundation upon which the majority of your influence will come.

  • Take really good notes while onboarding and make specific mention of the things that were difficult or lacking. Then look for ways to make the process better for the next person. It’s a great way to add value right out of the gate in an area that everyone knows is important, but no one has time to devote any energy too.

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@DhirajMehta, Hijacking the top reply: build a customer pipeline for conversation and data gathering. Depending on how far along the startup is their customer research is probably not built out in any reasonable capacity simply because the startup runs on the founder’s vision. But as the product grows beyond the first narrow customer base, you need to recognize the other segments and decide if the company wants to go after them. By highlighting this when appropriate you can bring perspective as a PM.

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Great advice there. Thanks a lot. Are there any resources you recommend for keeping on learning?

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Sure! Here’s a list of resources I have found more valuable to my career growth than most:

  • Books
    • “Continuous Discovery Habits” by Teresa Torres
      • Thee book on how to define your problem space, work on the most impactful opportunities, and automate your discovery. Should be required reading in my opinion.
    • The Strategyzer Series by Alex Osterwalder
      • 5 separate books that cover things like creating business models, running experiments, aligning your team, and generating value propositions. What makes these books special is how accessible they make the content. You can crack open the appropriate book and within 10 mins you will have great insights.
    • “Designing Data Intensive Applications” by Martin Kleppman
      • As a person with a non-technical background, this is the book that empowered me and gave me confidence that I could go deep into technical conversations with my devs/architects. Not an easy read, but accessible to the lay person, highly theoretical (you don’t have to code), and, like I said, empowering to the person that wants to build their technical chops.
    • “The Design of Web APIs” by Arnaud Laurent
      • Great book that breaks REST APIs down to into simple metaphors early (APIs are like ATMs) and slowly ramps up in technicality and complexity. If you get through the first 40% you will know all you really need to about REST APIs to be a PM.
    • “Pitch Anything” by Oren Klaff
      • Taught me how to sell my ideas to people and how I could get what I wanted out of a situation with little to no conflict. Has become a life skill.
    • “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt
      • Most PMs/teams/companies have neither a good nor bad strategy: they have no strategy at all. This book helps you conceptualize and define what strategy is so that you won’t be one of those people.
    • “Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
      • Very simple, actionable techniques that help you build your ability to influence. Good to read once a year.
    • “The Missing Readme” by Riccomini
      • Intended for brand new software engineers to cover the things they don’t teach you in school/bootcamp. Things like the “why” and “how” of logging, unit testing, code reviews, traces, managing dependencies, branching strategies, code deployment etc. Might be a little far into the dev world for some, but I never wanted to be one of those PMs that logged off because the conversation got technical. In fact, one of the best things I have done for my career is putting in the effort to understand and empathize with my devs. This book allowed me to take that to the next level.
    • “The Innovators Dilemma” by Christensen
      • Explores how success can be a company’s own worst enemy and keep it from executing on fresh ideas.
  • Workshops
    • Discovery Masterclass with Teresa Torres ($1500)
      • Walks you through the same methods contained in her book, but with an emphasis on application over theory. Totally worth it and the ability to interact with Teresa as a part of her community is invaluable.
    • PM Fundamentals with Lenny Rachitsky($1250)
      • Lenny shares the techniques that served him best while a growth PM at AirBnB. In addition to these insights, Lenny brings in a great collection of PM thought leaders to speak to the cohort (Jackie Bavaro, Ken Norton, Shreyas Doshi, Teresa Torres)
    • Pragmatic Marketing: Foundations with the Pragmatic Institute ($1200)
      • If you’re new to PM and still trying to wrap you head around the scope of your purview, PMI does a great job of providing that context through the Pragmatic framework. From ideation to market, strategy to execution, everything is mapped to clearly defined segments and each segment has its associated templates you can use to address it. Not everything will apply to your role or your product (you might have other business functions in your org that cover those things), but it will give you valuable awareness of everything that goes into the process.
  • Miscellaneous
    • Diego Granados Newsletter (PM at Microsoft)
    • Lenny Rachitsky Newsletter (former PM at AirBnB)
      • Lenny understands what is valuable to PMs trying to do their job and delivers on it in spades. I can spend hours digging deeper into his recommended resources and newsletter backlog. Knowledgable and helpful online community as well.
    • Shreyas Doshi’s twitter (former PM at Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Airtable, Stripe)
      • Provides the kind of insights you can only get from someone that has been delivering world class products for over a decade. I find his thoughts on product strategy incredibly intriguing.
    • Jae Taylors MentorMesh community (Current Senior Director of Product at Peloton, former Microsoft, Twitter, Salesforce, Expedia)
      • Very supportive community for those trying to break into tech. Jae’s message emphasizes optimizing your career for growth, striving to be impactful, and being entrepreneurial in your mindset. Often introduces the community to hiring managers from Facebook, Twitter, Peloton, and other top companies. Has a career accelerator starting in January that will teach you how to “Be in Demand” and illustrates how he was able to go from an office worker without a college degree (and having a paper route for extra income) to being constantly pursued by the biggest brands in tech.

The thing I want to stress is that you set aside 5-10 hour every week and just dig into something that helps you grow. Ideally it will be in an area that helps you work through a current challenge or guides you towards a career goal, but ultimately it should be something you enjoy learning.

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@MichaelYoffe, You are on fire. Either that, or Ritalin. You really are a helpful person. Thank you!

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@RisaButler, Thanks for the kind words. It was only a little over three years ago I was a career bartender looking for an escape out of the service industry, so I have a deep empathy for people trying to make their way into the role.

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That’s an incredible list. Thank you so much!

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The list is good and solid. I recommend giving recommendations always with reasons on to why to read the book and what you got out of it. It’s impossible for a junior to navigate all these resources just by title or why they helped you specifically.

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This should be carved into diamonds, so those wise and very well-articulated words are never forgotten. Really powerful advice. I will stalk you from now on. Lol. :grin:

@CathrynCui, If i could do it over, after learning from the best “manager” (just a friend who organizes events for us) I know, my tips would be:

  1. Be the most organized person there is.
  2. Be an amazing relationship builder. build a great relationship with literally everyone. be incredibly thoughtful/helpful to people. always.
  3. Be an incredible negotiator (get what you want and be able to "fight’ for you or your team while still having amazing relationships with everyone).

If you do those three things, you will be great at PM or management or anything else at work, I have no doubt.

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Can’t express this one enough: pick up the shit that nobody else wants to do. Be proactive about it, don’t wait for things to be handed to you. Literally the simplest way to make a name for yourself.

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@MariaWilson, Great advice. I do always ask my team members how I can help and can confirm that this is a great way to connect with people at work, to build trust and proper team spirit.

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Main role of a PM in a startup is to focus the team on what will actually move the needle for the company. Talk to customers, a lot, otherwise you will have no clue what will move the needle, and, instead, you will be a glorified spokesperson for the founders.

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@AhmadBashir, I’d like to add more detail on what “move the needle means”

You need to work with the execs and team to validate your market assumptions and your value proposition.

You need to build a friendly customer base of early evangelists to get feedback.

I’d suggest starting with a fake door and try to get customers if you can.

Use clickable wireframes to validate the lean product pyramid in single feature slices.

FIND VALUE FAST.

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I was in the same position in my early days, it’s not going to be easy. Here’s the biggest key to this situation: Not a single soul in your organization or single customer has the answer. Your job is to collect as much information as possible from as many places as possible to make the best guess. Your job is to be clear with your stakeholders about the guesses you’re making, and why you’re making them. Keep this mindset and work hard to guess the best, and pivot fast when you’re wrong - and you’ll do great.

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Find mentors and learn. Ask for feedback all the time.

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@HeatherKurtz, I’m joining a very small team and will basically be the only PM supporting the product lead. Do you think it would be a good idea to look for mentors outside of the company? Do you know any good resources where I can find PM mentors?

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Congratulations!

The most important thing as you’re new is to stick to someone that you trust to be better than you. No one will be better than you in everything but having some people to ask and challenge directly is a huge asset. Product management is an incredibly diverse field and learning everything at the same time will end you up nowhere.

Being a junior, bears a huge advantage:

  • Nobody expects you to know better. Ask questions. Ask until you understand. **Do not pretend to know if you don’t. ** Only gets you into hot water sooner or later
  • Try to figure out whether someone can teach you on a regular basis. Outside or inside the company (your company might even pay for it)
  • Your challenges will be unique and having someone to guide you can help you manage this exciting opportunity as you will probably apply some advice wrong without knowing it.
  • Don’t overload yourself with too many goals. What’s important to you? What would you like to learn first? Focus on that and get insights from people who are excellent at it. Reach out. Whether on LinkedIn, in the company or wherever. You’d be surprised how much you will get an answer if you show that you want to learn. (Like here). A targeted book recommendation is more worth than a list with 100 if it matches with what you want to learn or are passionate about.
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