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Giorgia Rossini
Giorgia Rossini 5 March 2015
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Does Your Startup Need A Product Manager?

A blog piece on whether or not startups need a product manager, and how to find the right person for the job.

I’ve been the Product Management recruitment consultant at Futureheads for the last five months, having previously recruited for a year and a half in UX. I work across all levels and with a variety of clients, including startups. Two things I come across time and time again are product managers who have come into the profession by founding their own startups, and startups who are trying to define what product management means to them. So what do product managers look like in the startup environment, and how should startups recruit for this sort of talent?

What is Product Management? That is the million dollar question! Product Management isn’t a degree you can get at university and come out ready to go. In my experience, product people come from all sorts of backgrounds - Marketing, UX, or Tech – to name a few. What makes them good product managers is that unique mix of understanding a business, being tech savvy and analytical, and also being able to understand user requirements.

A product manager holds the overall vision of the product and how it will be made, delivered and marketed, balancing both what stakeholders want and what users want. A startup has the unique advantage of being all about the product, and is born out of the need and desire to build something specific, with people who are passionate about it and know it inside and out. So isn’t the founder of the startup the product manager? I come across this a lot.

When someone founds a startup, they define the overall strategy and vision for what they’re trying to do. So technically, aren’t they the managers of their product? The difference is that a startup founder will inevitably be either a technical CTO or a business-focussed CEO, therefore lacking that understanding of all the elements that make a product manager key to the success of a product. A PM needs to ensure the team is focused on the right things, and that means both the founder’s vision and what their customers want. The top three reasons a startup fails are because the marketplace is ignored, there isn’t a market need, or it doesn’t have the right team.

A PM is key to validating a founder’s vision and translating that vision into something that is feasible. Sometimes a founder might feel that the product vision will be taken from them, and that’s when there is resistance to creating a product function - but it couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, think of a product manager as a facilitator for your vision. Who doesn’t want that?

Creating a product management function in your startup: Moving from an idea to an actual real business is hard enough, and establishing teams and functions needs to be done carefully and in the right order. Some of the issues around hiring product managers come from the misconceptions around what a PM actually does. As a recruiter, I find product management means different things to different people.

My role is as much about understanding the business objectives as it is matching the right people to the right environments. What I have observed, is that startups that bring in a strong product management leader early in their lifecycle will have a higher probability of success, and that’s because a PM is the CEO of the product. They’ll focus on it and be involved with everything to do with the success of it, including development, design, implementation, marketing and customer service. So, do you need a product manager for your startup?

If your startup is focused on a digital product, then yes! Because ultimately, the PM is the link between the top level strategy and the user, and it’s the PM that can ensure the success of that product.

If you’d like to know more about recruiting for startups or have stories and opinions you’d like to share, please get in touch with me at giorgia@wearefutureheads.co.uk, or connect on Twitter at @FutureheadsProd and on LinkedIn.

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