One of the most common questions I get from junior product folks, friends and colleagues in product is how to prepare themselves for product at a small startup. I have worked in product at two small to medium sized companies and saw them grow into larger companies and now obviously product (among other things) at Diem. There are a few things I always tell people to keep in mind.
Connect with your users
One of the most important things I think for product managers at a small company or any company really is to make sure that you are in tune with your customers. Often times I think especially in larger companies, it's so important to not just see your users as data points or connect with them through a metrics dashboard, you have to actually connect to fully understand your users. It’s important to do this through feedback portals, hanging out or hopping in to help with customer service or of course through user research. I think this is critical. I think this is especially critical at a smaller company because those moments with users can help uncover major issues in the platform that your data is not picking up.
One of the toughest things about working in product at a small start-up is creating a future roadmap. Things move so incredibly fast you have to be extremely strategic in how you build the roadmap because it is likely changing a lot. The best way to build a roadmap at a small startup is to build the base of your roadmap out of features you know that you need no matter what. We don’t try and pad or fill up the roadmap with a ton of exciting features that we think we want, we build stuff off of data and need and plan for that. We try to focus our planning to 6 months max as anything beyond that is too volatile.
Moving fast at a small startup seems like a given but it is critical in product. If there is a feature that can have an impact on engagement or conversion, you can’t just find room on the roadmap for it in this quarter, you have to find the time to do it now because as a start-up you cannot afford to wait. This means that all of your discovery time has to be condensed so that you are able to move as fast as possible.
Remember the basics
While it’s important to move fast and be flexible at a start-up, it’s important to remember the basics, especially if you are using an agile process. Following a sprint, estimating things out and planning is still important for success. While we can’t be too rigid in planning, it’s important to follow the process because it works.
Connect across the team
It’s always important to cross communicate but especially in a small start-up. You need to make sure you are regularly connecting with leadership, design, customer service and even the interns. As a PM, you need to make sure you have your pulse on what is happening at the company and it will make you a better PM if you are always the first to know what is coming up.
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