Hiring your first Product Manager?

Back in 2018, I was writing about the necessity of the Product Manager role in startup tech companies around the world and introduced seven key virtues this person must/ should have.  Two years later, picking up on the subject and the relevant discussion, I’m trying to answer the key questions about when, why, what and who, concerning the first hire for a Product Manager role in your startup.

When should you hire?

Startup founders should hire a Product Manager at a stage where a) they have raised / are raising a seed round and can afford to hire and b) after they have quantitative signals of their product being in Product Market Fit stage. At that stage a Product Manager addition to the team can be a key success factor to assist in accelerating the growth trajectory and helping the company make it to the next stage (Series A’).

Why hire your first PM?

At the initial stages,  founders  are responsible for almost everything in their startup from building product, to hiring engineers and closing Customers. Also they tend to have strong insights and views about the problem that they’re solving, thus playing Product Manager from Day 0.

The challenge and complexity usually arises at the Product Market Fit stage where the number of Customers grows and together the size of the team (e.g. engineering, sales). In this context, there are many more feature requests to prioritize and more development resources that need to be allocated optimally. This happens when the product starts changing shape from the initial vision of the founders to one which fits more to what the market actually wants. Moreover, as founders become busy with more things (e.g. sales, hiring), they often struggle to dedicate time and to the product.

What will the first PM do?

Put simply the goal is to do everything necessary to take the product to the next stage, by optimizing the execution of the product through the introduction of key processes and skills sets inside the startup. A few key highlights are the following:

  • Setup basic product management processes (e.g. backlog, user stories, reports)
  • Setup product priorities roadmaps for the next 1–3–6 months
  • Manage the product team and the existing backlog.
  • Setup the product analytics stack and be responsible for hiring new PMs
  • Meet with Customers on a regular basis to keep them at the center of product discussions
  • Find the best solutions to build a product that resonates with Customers
  • Develop a product marketing strategy and communicate product updates to Customers
  • Communicate about product delivery to all internal stakeholders (next week’s plans, sprint demos, release notes) so that everyone is aligned
  • Build a Product culture in the startup based on Customers’ pains
  • Free up some of the founders’ time on strategic topics (e.g. competitive analysis, customers’ insights or creative product ideas)
Who is a typical profile of this first PM?

A few common traits and prior experiences for a solid first Product Manager hire are:

  • Have between 2–5 years of experience in Product Management in at least 1–3 startups before.
  • Have worked with experienced PMs in their prior engagements and have learned the tools and the methodology while working with a growing business and team (may not have been a lead PM before)
  • Have worked in startups that have scaled from a few employees (<10) to tens of employees (>100).
  • Are entrepreneurial in their approach and not afraid to build everything from scratch.
  • Don’t have industry specific prior experience often and will learn on-the- job.
  • Some have prior work experience as engineers (in more technical startups), and some as UX/UI designers (in less technical).

Want to learn more on how-to-do, drop us an email and we will be happy to share our knowledge and insights with you!

For Hippocampus.io,

Christos Lytras – Managing Partner

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