What is it like to be a product manager at a start-up? What are the skills needed to be a product manager?
Being a Product Manager at a startup comes with great responsibility. a startup product manager has the exact same responsibilities as a typical PM working at a well-established company. They’re responsible for creating and owning product strategies, rallying internal teams towards a common goal, managing people, and leading discussions and initiatives to move things forward. The only difference is that a PM at a startup needs to apply a more hands-on approach and work closely with the founders.
Startup PMs, also known as “first product managers,” are responsible for setting up the very foundations of product management at a newly established company. Since they’re a crucial part of their company’s foundational team, there’s a lot of pressure involved. That being said, the job comes with many attractive intrinsic and financial perks.
Most startups do need product managers. This is especially true for startups that have grown beyond the pre-seed stage and are moving fast towards creating and launching something tangible, all while wanting to scale. However, keep in mind that startups at the pre-seed stage can also benefit from hiring PMs. Here are a few reasons why: A startup product manager can take a major chunk of PM workload off the founder’s shoulders. They can serve as the bridge that aligns all business teams and removes organizational silos. Using their years of experience, they can set a clear roadmap for the startup product. At the end of the day, the decision to hire a startup PM completely depends on its founders, since they know where they stand better than anyone else.
The job of a Startup Product Manager from a regular product management role is the amount of individual contributions they have to make. A typical startup doesn’t have much resources to spend. As a result, the product manager there is expected to wear many hats and directly execute some of the product strategies themselves (in addition to managing team members). In other words, they have to assume the role of a generalist.
For that reason, a great product manager should have sufficient know-how of: Product marketing (product life cycles, market/user research, GTM, etc.)
Business in general (finances, strategy, etc.)
Product development (user stories, design, engineering, etc.)
Hence, startup product managers are expected to do everything – from influencing decision-making to taking initiatives that result from those decisions.
Considering all that, if you’re interested in building a career on the individual contributor (IC) track, working as a startup product manager can prepare you for the quick-thinking approach it requires.
The startup PM is expected to create and execute the go-to-market (GTM) strategy.
Determining a Pricing Strategy – the startup PM works with the founder (or a finance specialist, if there is one) to opt for a pricing strategy that aligns with the business goals.
Determining a Distribution Strategy – another critical component of a GTM strategy is determining a strategy to reach the end-customers.
Behind every successful product, there’s a high-level GTM strategy that helps bring it to the world. For that reason, the startup PM has a lot of pressure to get it right.
Becoming a first product manager requires a certain skill set (especially interpersonal, communication, and leadership skills) and some level of hands-on product management experience.
Here’s a quick roadmap that anyone can take to land a role as the first PM at a startup:
Invest in Building Your Credentials – first and foremost, you need to build a list of credentials that validate your skills. A bachelor’s degree isn’t necessary, but can give you a significant competitive edge. Instead, focus on investing in different product certifications.
Invest in the Right Skill Sets – work on your soft skills. In addition, building business development, management, and marketing skills can also go a long way in helping you stand out from your peers.
Gain Ample Experience – unless you’re aiming for an internship, if you’re completely fresh, you shouldn’t apply as a first product manager at a startup.
Build relevant work experience first by working someplace else, under the tutelage of other experienced product managers.