Do early stage startups need a product manager?

I think a really good product manager, specially someone who has prior startup experience and has successfully built a product from scratch can be one of the best hires for an early stage startup.

A good product manager –

  • Defines product vision and constantly iterates upon it based on feedback and a better understanding of the customers problems. This is arguably more important for an early startup than a larger company with more established product that has achieved product-market fit.
  • Aligns product development (engineering+design) with customer needs and changing market.
  • Becomes an expert in the domain, so a product manager for Airbnb would know everything there is to know about the short term rental market, competitors, potential market sizing, opportunity to scale globally, possible partnerships with other apps to improve user experience and much more. They could talk for hours about every aspect of Airbnb.
  • Is in charge of product communication, be it internal product specs and requirements or external communication about feature launches, user guides or media coverage.
  • Keeps a steady cadence. Cadence is critical for any team working on any type of product. A product manager can help establish and maintain cadence for cross functional teams working on different parts of the product.
  • Manages overall product UX. Ensures that the entire experience a user goes through right from the point that they sign up, the welcome email that they receive, when they user your product on the web vs in an app, when the contact you through a support channel, when they communicate with you using social media and everything in between is consistent and pleasant.

Most startups fail not because their software didn’t scale or they had fewer engineers than needed. They fail because of their inability to build something unique and valuable for their customers. This is the responsibility of a PM – to ensure that the team is solving the right problems.

For most startups, the founders are in charge of managing product.
However, good product managers inculcate in themselves the vision that the founders have for the product and can execute on their behalf while bringing their own perspective.
They can allow to scale the most non-scalable aspect of any startup – the founders themselves.

This was originally my answer to a Quora post – How can product managers add value in an early stage company?

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