Startup PM vs Enterprise PM

Hello all. I’ve been a product manager at a startup for almost two years now and have an aggregate experience of more than 5 years in PMing. No issues with being that. But, recently I got an offer for a bigger role as an Enterprise PM at a larger organization. My question is, how is the work of a startup product manager different from that of an enterprise product manager?

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The work of a startup product manager differs from that of an enterprise product manager in several key ways. Firstly, a startup product manager often has to wear multiple hats and be involved in various aspects of the business, including marketing, sales, and operations. This is because startups typically have limited resources and require their product managers to be versatile and adaptable. Additionally, startup product managers often work in a fast-paced and dynamic environment where they need to make quick decisions and pivot their strategies based on market feedback. On the other hand, an enterprise product manager usually operates within a larger organization with established processes and teams dedicated to specific functions. They may have more resources at their disposal and can focus primarily on strategic planning and long-term product roadmaps.

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True @JesusRojas. I’d like to add here that Enterprise product managers may also have the advantage of a more stable customer base and established market presence, allowing them to focus on optimizing existing products and expanding into new markets. They may have more time to conduct comprehensive market research and gather customer feedback before making decisions. However, enterprise product managers may face challenges in navigating bureaucratic processes and hierarchies within the organization, which can slow down decision-making and hinder innovation. Ultimately, the role of a product manager can vary greatly depending on the size and nature of the company they work for.

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Wearing many hats and participating in different facets of the product development process, like practical execution and quick decision-making, are common tasks for a startup product manager. On the other hand, an enterprise product manager typically focuses on managing a larger team, navigating complex organizational structures, and aligning the product strategy with long-term business goals. Transitioning to an enterprise PM role can provide opportunities for working on more established products with a wider customer base and greater resources. However, it may also require adapting to a slower decision-making process and dealing with more bureaucratic challenges.

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We do everything. From whiteboard to sales. In short, in a start-up, a product manager is a mini-CEO and is responsible for driving the success of the product. In a start-up, a product manager is not only responsible for the success of the product but also for overseeing its entire lifecycle, from ideation to sales. They are often involved in every aspect of the business, including marketing, development, and customer support. Additionally, being a mini-CEO means they must possess strong leadership skills and the ability to make quick decisions in a fast-paced and ever-changing environment. In addition to their responsibilities in driving the success of the product, product managers in start-ups often have to wear multiple hats and take on various roles. They may need to be involved in everything, from product development and marketing strategies to sales and customer support. This level of involvement allows them to have a holistic understanding of the product and its market, enabling them to make informed decisions and adapt quickly to changes.

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Startup PMs, relative to enterprise PMs, are more likely to:

  • have less defined processes (more chaos, but ability to move faster)
  • own larger parts of a single product (vs. a specific part of a product suite)
  • experience pressure to ship work quickly and learn fast

to name just a few.

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Taking this further from @cathryncui, PMs at a startup must wear many hats and be involved in all aspects of the product’s development, from ideation to execution. This includes conducting market research, defining product requirements, collaborating with cross-functional teams, managing the product roadmap, and even handling customer support. In a start-up environment where resources may be limited, the product manager must be adaptable and able to pivot quickly in response to market changes or customer feedback. They must also be comfortable taking risks and making tough decisions to ensure the product’s success. In addition, the product manager should possess excellent communication and problem-solving skills. They must be able to clearly communicate their vision and goals to the team, as well as listen to and understand the needs and concerns of customers. Problem-solving skills are essential for identifying and addressing any challenges or obstacles that may arise during the product development process. Overall, the role of a product manager is multifaceted and requires a combination of strategic thinking, creativity, and adaptability to bring a successful product to market.

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Enterprise: more specialist PM. Ability to fine-tune your specialty of choice. There’s someone who does something for a specific area; e.g., a product manager can be responsible for just a small, minute part of the entire product. Also, you have teams that start-ups don’t have, like a specific UX research team, which is a luxury for start-ups.

Startups: more generalist PM. Ability to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Short of being a plumber, you are a little bit of everything to the company: from playing receptionist to product marketing to dealing with external AND internal user problems (and their products), you are like a single general practitioner in a small town.

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Hey @BobbyDuncan, here’s my two cents. Enterprise product managers often have access to a larger budget and resources compared to those in start-ups. This allows them to invest in advanced technologies and tools that can enhance the product development process and improve the overall customer experience. Furthermore, enterprise product managers may also have the opportunity to collaborate with cross-functional teams across different departments, such as engineering, finance, and legal, which can provide valuable insights and support for their decision-making process.

In the startup world, product managers often have to wear multiple hats and take on a wide range of responsibilities. They not only work closely with the engineering team to develop and launch new products but also collaborate with departments such as finance and legal to ensure compliance and financial viability. Additionally, startup product managers are expected to handle both external and internal user problems, acting as the go-to person for any product-related issues. This requires them to be versatile and adaptable, taking on various roles within the company like jacks of all trades.

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I find the primary difference is in attitudes. Attitudes towards the consumer, each other, and the work.

Startups

  1. People at startups are more eager to “go out of scope” to help where needed. When something needs to be done, individuals are much more willing to help.
  2. There is often a sense of “we’re in this together” that everyone is contributing to a certain vision. Everyone knows the goals of the startup and how we may contribute to its purpose.
  3. The Product Manager goes above and above to keep things moving. If nobody on the team has the right skills to do something, the PM usually has to figure it out (or hire someone who can do it).
  4. In a startup, there’s usually a sense of urgency to get things to customers quickly.
  5. Customer feedback is straightforward. Everyone in the company can usually reach customers as needed.

Corporations & Enterprise

  1. Assume you work for a company with over 1,000 employees. With success comes more people wanting to get involved, to “have their name in the credits” and be part of your project. As a Product Manager, your time is valuable and you may not have time to meet many people per week. A corporation’s stakeholders must be carefully chosen. It’s easy to end up with 20+ stakeholders if you don’t say no.
  2. Many individuals will not be willing to meaningfully collaborate with you. Each PM has their own work stream and KPIs. People won’t help you if your requests don’t correspond with their own goals and KPIs. Being blocked by another team due to misaligned KPIs can be quite irritating.
  3. In corporations, hierarchy and politics play a far greater role. Everything can turn political if you are not careful and the actual work on product development can be affected. You can sometimes do nothing but play the political games, but I would recommend that you attempt to avoid it.
  4. In a corporation, many people work because it is a “steady job” or a step in their career path. Large firms often offer superior perks than startups.
  5. People join big corporations to hide; they are lazy and waste time. I’ve worked at organizations where I’d estimate 80% of people didn’t contribute meaningfully. There would be no major issues if these people left.

One thing I frequently hear is that startups lack work-life balance, that employees work 12-14 hour days, and that everyone is constantly in “crazy mode” and there’s a culture of “move fast and break things.” In fact, I’ve discovered the reverse to be true. I’ve spent significantly more time working long hours at corporations than I have in a startup environment. You are a replaceable resource in a corporation, and if you are not meeting aggressive KPIs, there may be grounds for concern.

But like I said at the beginning, it is all about people’s mindsets with which you have to work in my experience. I believe that being a Product Manager in any kind of company is achievable if you discover people who have the proper frame of mind and attitude.

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@Pankaj-Jain, Many thanks for this! One of the choices I’m currently considering is at a startup. Everything you stated struck a chord with me. I’m leaning even more in the direction of the start-up and skill-set expansion it provides.

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Lack of testing in startup. You kind of throw it out there and fix it in production. Enterprise has greater risk, so lots more QA. I miss the thoroughness of enterprise QA. However, working at a startup can provide a unique opportunity for rapid learning and growth. The fast-paced environment often requires quick problem-solving and adaptability, which can enhance your skills as a product manager. Additionally, being involved in the early stages of a startup allows you to have a direct impact on the product’s development and shape its future direction.