Why Startups, Founders, and Entrepreneurs Don’t Need a Full-Time PM

The art of Product Management has exploded in the last decade. Google Trends reports a 300% increase in searches since 2010, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 10% growth from 2016 to 2026 for job titles related to Product Management. Anecdotally, I fell into the profession after undergrad and came up essentially empty when reviewing the market. Today, Glassdoor returns 70,615 openings for Product Manager.

But with that level of growth, so many of us still aren’t exactly – or even generally – sure what Product Management is.
“So… you’re a Project Manager for products?”
“No no, he’s more of a Program Manager, right?”
“Still wrong, idiots. He’s the guy that runs that meeting, the one where they stand up and talk for no more than five minutes.”

You can all feel it when I slap my hand to my forehead, because you know they’re all wrong. But what’s really important to note here is that while most of us in relevant industries know that none of that is exactly correct, we also aren’t exactly sure how to correct it.

As entrepreneurs with a budding business, founders with a team of developers, or startups with a full complement of folks and your newly-gifted-from-the-heavens Angelic Funds, you have investors, friends, employees, and partners coming at you saying you need a damned Product Manager. Things are falling through the cracks, the engineers have no idea what’s being sold, the sales guys are at a loss as to what the engineers are building, and you have a team of people going in every direction but yours. Suddenly you’re also not sure what your direction really is. Are you following your Sales guy? You Chief Technical Officer (if you’re lucky enough to have one)? Are you setting the direction on your own but you’re not sure if it’s actually the right one to take?

The art of Product Management has exploded in the last decade. But we don’t know what it is, we don’t know what they do, and, perhaps worst of all, we don’t know how to hire for it. Someone that matters told us to get one, so we did. We went out and we bought one so we could succeed.

Here’s the sad truth about Product Management: Startups Don’t Need It.

I’ve worked with full-time startups looking for that $1M revenue mark. I’ve worked with startups looking for their very first dollar. I’ve worked with corporations tasked with $1B by their stakeholders. I’ve been part of organizations that have hit all three, and I’ve been part of corporations that, to date, haven’t hit any.

Startups don’t need a full-time product guy. Product Managers are often called the “CEO of a Product.” I have yet to meet a Product Manger that agrees with this definition. I’ve also heard “Want to be a good CEO? Be a good Product Manager first.” Product Managers and CEOs, by trade, share a lot of similarities. The differences, however, are glaring (and not necessarily discussed here…).

You, Mr. Founder, CEO, or Entrepreneur, are your own Product Manager. Stop looking to the outside. You founded your company, decided on a product, identified a market. You, Mr. Founder Guy, are the Product Manager. You absolutely do not need an independent entity to come in and tell you what your product is. You picked it. You built it. You’re doing it. You’re literally doing it already. I mean – maybe even more importantly – do you even want to be a Product-Driven Company?

Are you willing to allow discovery, to be told you’re wrong, to listen to an industry, market, or personnel expert when they simply say “no”? Career Product Managers excel in a variety of fields, a variety of positions, and with a whole host of data analytics, but at the end of the day we all focus on a few things – Product Definition, Product-Market Fit, and Market Identification. So, you don’t need a “CEO for your product”, you don’t need someone to decide what you’ll build, what industry you’ll be in, or who you’ll need for engineering.

What you do need, however, is an expert in those fields: Product Definition, Product-Market Fit, and Product Identification. Someone that can detail what you have and, more importantly, what you don’t have. Someone who understands how to build something people need, how to sell something people want, and how to design something people like. Product-Market Fit, for startups, founders, and entrepreneurs should be its own book. FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) Career Product Managers will be a hell of a lot different day-to-day than “I-Started-A-Company.jpeg” Product Managers.

And what you need, candidly, isn’t a full-time job. You’re already doing half of the work, why pay someone to do all of it?

Product Management Consultants aren’t a full salary position. We’ll help you with the parts you’re struggling with, whichever they may be. Many of us have our own full-time jobs, our own side business, our own next big thing. We’ve built products for the masses, we’ve built products for the biggest in our industries, and we’ve built products for the conscientious consumer. Having owned the entire process, we can sit down and help you understand which parts of it you’re missing. We can help you with those parts of Product. You don’t need $150,000 for a full-time guy; you need someone to do $75,000 worth of work for $40,000. You need an expert to narrow in on what you’re missing and to help you cover it, then pass it off to you and your team, saying “you’re prepped for success. Go.”

March 17, 2020