Life long student of technology. Heads pre-sales & Product Management at an IOT Startup for a living
Start-ups are super exciting, fun and challenging. You have a notch above of all these when you join as a product leader/manager in start-ups where the product offering is unique yet interesting, the potential is high but the road ahead is less travelled and undiscovered.
Your discussions with the founders give you an insight into the current status and what is the expectation going forward:
- Understand the current successful rollout for few clients but quickly adapt to what can be done better.
- Discover the road less travelled and unleash the potential of what the product has to offer.
- Help rationalise the product discovery and delivery lifecycle.
- Lastly and most importantly, build and lead product management.
Additionally, there will be inherent expectations like setting up the process for product management, improve the product line, reduce customer churn rates (attributed to products) and scale the process to build newer products.
I have tried putting together a small check-list of things a product manager/leader should do when they join an early-stage startup.
The first few weeks/months are going to be tough, but this is when the product manager can help lay down strong foundations from a product management perspective. Below is the checklist which I recommend, in no particular order:
An understanding of the strategy is the first step, as it helps understand the philosophy of the startup, the founders and the people.
- Know the product, strategy and the vision behind building the product.
- Understand the Total Addressable Market (TAM) and the business problem the product is trying to solve.
- If a product(s) roadmap exists, understand the product plan and release strategy
- Go To Market Strategy, Competition, Product led Vs Revenue Led strategy.
Knowing the customer and the target market provides insights into the type of customers and how the sales team articulates the value of the product to the customer
- Work with the Sales / Growth team to understand the customer acquisition strategy and the sales pipeline
- List of key customers, their high-level requirements and the stage of the relationship (Pilot, Implementation, BAU)
- Review the feedback on the product from the customers who have implemented and also who had decided not to implement
The process is going to be one of the most important aspects which the Product Manager will define and manage as part of his role. As a start, he/she should review
- Each of the elements within the product discovery process like how the discovery workshops are conducted, wireframes & prototypes are created and feedback is captured
- The approach followed for converting high-level requirements (epics) into features (backlogs
- Current processes followed by the product team, product marketing team and engineering teams covering the entire product lifecycle right from Product discovery to product implementation & management.
- How features are captured from various teams (support, sales /presales, marketing etc.) and stakeholders (customers, partners etc.)
- Prioritisation models/approaches followed
- Product documentation standards (PRDs, User stories etc.)
- Product release and implementation process followed
- Tools used by the product team for various activities of product management
- Metrics currently tracked right at a product level down to a feature level and how is it leveraged to improve the product
- Metrics framework if any exists and how they align with business’ KPIs
By leveraging the right content strategy, it is easier to attract potential customers, empower them, thereby converting them to customers. As a first step, to review the content strategy, the PM must understand:
- Existing product marketing strategy covering customer segments, value proposition, channels etc.
- Content creation (blogs, videos, presentations etc.) including messaging and how it is used across various channels and the pipeline
- How demos are conducted for prospective buyers and their conversion
This will be a vital element of the entire product management discipline. Product strategy and roadmap will provide necessary inputs for the people element of product management.
- Based on this, a people plan can be created on the levels, type of skills required and the number of people required to scale and build a full-fledged product management practice.
- People’s plan should also take into account the possible product lines the organisation may look to launch.
Though the above list is not completely sacrosanct, these are some of the aspects of product management, I believe every product manager should look into when they join an early-stage startup.
One of the things that need to be borne in mind is that many of the above elements may not be in place or maybe implemented partially / incorrectly.
So, the onus is on the product leader to build many of these elements ground up. This would be an amazing learning experience for the upcoming product leader.
Hope this list is of help for product managers and leaders starting up at an early stage startup! Let me know your thoughts in the comments.