So I have been a proper PM for the last 3 years. Prior to that I had my own startup and and did a little bit of everything, PM included (although i didn’t realize then that that was what I was doing at the time).
I’ve recently accepted an offer for a Head of Product position at a growing startup (60+ people)
I’m suddenly beginning to feel a little bit overwhelmed. I’m already starting to have imposter syndrome and want to come as prepared as possible. I am pretty confident in my delivery skills, but I feel this position requires vision, implementing processes and having a clear method of prioritization. Things that I feel I do very instinctively and never really learned from anyone.
What can I do to prepare as much as possible? Any suggested lectures, books, or knowledge sources I can consume? Any other general suggestions about starting off on the right foot and how to onboard myself would be greatly appreciated.
How old is the startup?
Coming is as head of product in a startup situation can be dicey. You are likely to be the first executive hire who is not a founder. They decided they need a head of product because some need is going unfulfilled. Make sure you know what that is.
Establish the scope of your responsibility clearly. It is likely that the founders will have a hard time letting go, or expect you to read their mind, or blame the new Exec when the problems that caused them to hire you don’t magically vanish on day 90.
Someone else asked how many PMs you will be leading. It’s an excellent question. Do they want you focused on vision and strategy, or tactics and execution? If you do not have a team reporting to you, be especially precise about how much time you expect to spend in either realm.
Read “The First 90 Days”. It will give you a structured way to think about getting the lay of the land and then making the transition to taking action.
My advice is always, just listen and learn for the first few days and weeks. From there any challenges that you can’t handle you can google or research. Be positive, you got this!
+1 to listen & learning. As head of product you’ll want to continue listening and learning forever.
You don’t have to have the best opinion or product idea. You don’t have to be a product sense god. Don’t feel pressure to be the smartest person in the room because you don’t have to be. Don’t feel like you have to give an answer or enlightened opinion if you don’t have a good one. The soft skills you’ve been honing in your PM career are now one of your most important tools. You have to guide your product team to make progress to achieving company goals.
I made a similar transition fairly recently and had similar feelings. You’ll do great!
How many PMs do you have in your team?
@Ahmad 0 to start, but the CEO has mentioned that I will definitely need to recruit a team of 2-3 PMs that will be under me.
You got this dude. Listen, observe, learn and build rapport with your team and coworkers. Then focus on the customers, and it’ll all come back together. You starting your own company is just as relevant if not more than your 3 years of product manager experience.
Do you have a similar management approach? How is that working for you?
@Ahmad Yeah I would say I implement 90%+ of this and it has worked great for me. This is how great PMs want to work and are developed. If you join and find you have PMs who have too much scope for their capabilities, or who do not have the (rare and expensive) skills and preparation needed to develop in a system like this, then you additionally have a people problem you need to solve.
Recently moved into the same role at a similar stage company.
My favorite reads so far have been from substack
- “Ask Gib” on forming a product strategy
- Deb Liu on 30/60/90 days in a new role
- Lenny’s newsletter on all things product
All 3 were worth the subscriptions for the first few months.
Read “Empowered” by Marty Cagan. It’s for product leaders.
Based on your description, it’s going to be very important to communicate your methodology consistently and repeatedly so that your vision and process is not only understood but also acted upon by the team.
Do you know how many product team members there are at that startup? Are you going to be the first? I ask this because your team might have very low expectations of you. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do well or they expect you to suck, but that if this is the first member, the team might just be happy to have anyone in any capacity. Just as much as you may need to grow into the role the team may need to grow into having a product manager there to guide them along the way. It’s a much different story when you have product people designing features and user journeys as opposed to engineering just writing code and not thinking about the experience.
As others have said, spend the first few weeks getting to know the team, the organization, and what they want from you.
You wouldn’t have been offered the job if you weren’t qualified. Learn the org. Learn the product. Learn the vision. Do that before anything else.
If you want to buddy up, we can share learnings. I was a PM for 1.5 before taking the same role at a 60 person startup 1 year ago. I’ve obsessed headcount by 50%, shifted to a product driven org, moved to a data driven culture, etc. Lots to do and not to do.
Answers to these questions depend a lot on who your leadership team and the team under you are.
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