Managing Expectations: Product Management in a Startup

Namrata Rao

Senior Manager, Product Management at Salesforce.com


Conflicting Demands in Product Vision

Generally, co-founders at a startup have their own vision, perspective around how they wish the product to be. When a product lead joins in, it’s both collaborative and challenging for them at the same time. In my case, the challenge fell somewhat under managing up, where I had to work directly with the founder of the company to be able to draft a product vision together. It was done in a way whereby it had one perspective and a combined perspective from both product management and founder viewpoint. Because I was the only product lead in the company, there were many questions about my role and how we could efficiently work together? This was a whole new playground altogether, which made the circumstances exhilarating.

Build Teams That Work Together to Drive Strategy

The holy grail to address this situation was clear communication and transparency. Sitting down with the founder and understanding where they come from versus laying out my plans is the key. This cleared the air and promoted more structured thinking and insights into building the product vision, which was very important for both parties.

Moving forward, the following action for me was to collect data before coming up with my opinion on what the vision should be. Something that’s not surprising to product folks is that data is supreme. I worked on saying that instead of doing opinions versus opinions, we should proceed with the data. It was both qualitative and quantitative data. Qualitative in terms of getting some quality talking to our customers, while quantitative was around how the market was trending and the products.

On the other hand, the founder of the company brought similar yet broader exposure of data from executives of other companies and competitors. It was specifically grounded on the quantitative and qualitative data 一 when we talked; we were always more specific around the data that we brought into the table and how we would make decisions based on that.

This was not only the founder or my job, so I made sure that the voices from internally within the company were not lost. Everyone in the company has a stake in what the product needs to be, which would make them bring their perspective based on their function. Being genuinely collaborative and connecting with all the functions to get their perspective was another action I took.

Communication is The Key

  • Communicate and get everyone involved and aligned early on so that there are no surprises. Specifically, at startups, where employees are less than 100 to 50, it’s even easier to do so.
  • Another important lesson in managing up was always being forthright. Being proactive about your intentions and listening to the other parties is essential. Make it like a real conversation, rather than telling them what to do.
  • Communicating the vision and tailoring the content according to the audience should be on the map. For instance, speaking to an executive of a company should be very different from talking to a customer. A golden tip to communicating with the customers is adding in some factors of how you took their perspectives while crafting your company’s vision.

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Namrata Rao

Senior Manager, Product Management at Salesforce.com

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