Understanding Product Management in a Startup
By A.T. Gimbel
I attended a great presentation at the recent Simply SaaS event on Product Management. A product manager is central to any organization as they are the key leader that sets the product strategy, partners with the sales and marketing teams on go-to-market execution, works with engineering to build the product, and supports customers to deliver value. In an early stage startup, there may not actually be anyone with a Product Manager title … yet the role needs to be played! Here are a few areas where good product management is critical.
Customers are always a top priority. Whether it is the initial customer discovery to understand the workflow and pain points, early development partners to build the product, implementing a new customer, or upselling/retaining a current customer, this is a role that the entire team needs to play. Even if some team members spend more time with customers than others , everyone on the team benefits from hearing/seeing the customer challenges firsthand and that will lead to better product management. Alignment on the customer problem also provides tremendous focus on the strategy: vision, ideal customer, value proposition, etc.
It is very easy for a great product to fail because the go-to-market process is off. Sales processes aren’t defined, value proposition is not easily understood, market is not aware, pricing and packaging miss the mark and are inflexible, the list goes on. An advantage for a startup is rather than having multiple departments to coordinate each segment of the GTM process, you can bring the team together for quick decisions, alignment, and pivots as required. In a larger company, this takes much longer (think speed boat vs. yacht). A closely integrated GTM plan also provides better continuous feedback between your customers and your team.
While a startup may need actual cash for fundraising, growing companies that have several market/product lines are constantly “fundraising” within their company to get resources. A CEO/CFO may lead fundraising from outside investors, but everyone else within the company is “fundraising” to get money/resources allocated from the CEO. Regardless, make sure you have a simple story with a clear vision, problem statement, proposed solution, and call-to-action.
Actually developing software and building an MVP is an iterative process. When there is strong alignment on the problem to be solved, the team can better brainstorm different paths/alternatives to solving the problem. Be careful of just building what customers ask for around more features, but rather consider the “jobs to done.” Helping the team truly understand the why of what you are building really drives creativity and lowers the risk of the product release missing the mark.
A product manager role is critical in any organization. While the person playing that quarterback role in a startup may not have the title, the ability to communicate and align the various groups on the customer, the GTM strategy, fundraising, and engineering is imperative.