The Product Manager

In the tech startup world there’s a consistent theme that software engineers and sales reps are two of the hardest positions to fill as the company scales. Well, there’s an even harder position to fill and that’s the role of the product manager (thankfully, a larger number of them aren’t required for each startup). Here’s a blurb about the product manager’s role from this LinkedIn ad for a VP of Product Management at Pardot:

As VP of Product Management, you will be one of the most public faces of the Pardot platform and help shape, direct and execute our product vision. You’ll be challenged to blend customer-centric principles with industry-changing innovation. You will work directly with the head of product, as well as the rest of the product and engineering teams, to create experiences that reinforce the Pardot brand by delighting and wowing our customers.

How many people do you know that are a combination evangelist, visionary, technically adept, and customer-focused? The “technically adept” piece is especially difficult depending on the type and style of product manager desired. Often, the CEO, in conjunction with the head of engineering, act as the defacto product managers in the early years of a startup due limited resources and the difficulty in finding the right person.

Here are a few thoughts on the product manager role:

  • Software engineers or technical project managers often transition well to product managers
  • Strong opinions on the future of the product are critical as input and feedback will come from all directions
  • True empathy for the customer is a must-have (we’ve all used products that didn’t feel like they had the customer in mind)
  • Extroversion is often found with product managers due to the nature of constant interaction with engineering, sales, marketing, support, customers, prospects, and analysts
  • Attention to detail and planning skills are crucial due to all the moving parts

The product manager role is one of the toughest positions to fill. A great product manager, while hard to find, is incredibly valuable and important to the long-term success of the company.

What else? What are some more thoughts on product managers in a startup?


2 thoughts on “The Product Manager

  1. I agree with most of this post, but I’m not sure “Software engineers or technical project managers often transition well to product managers” – there’s a lot of business, finance, sales & marketing that doesn’t come as naturally to engineers as backlog management and engineering-facing product work. (Typically engineers are very smart and know how to think/learn, but sales & marketing in particular can be a big change of context and mindset.)

    In my experience, Sales / marketing / product alignment is a big part of the role and becomes more challenging as a company grows (which is when the de facto product managers are becoming more and more distracted).

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