Back to resources

Succeeding as the First Product Hire in a Startup

Alignment
Goal Setting
Product
Deadlines
Roadmap

2 November, 2021

Priyanka Naik
Priyanka Naik

AVP - Product and Technology at JP Morgan

Priyanka Naik, AVP of Product and Technology at J.P. Morgan, shares her plan to bring a product to execution as the first product hire in a startup.

Problem

Previously in my career history, I worked as the first product manager at a startup. Usually, startup founders start with a business idea, but they do not know how to execute it. I’ve found startup founders to be knowledgeable about their business domain but not about building a technology platform to accomplish their goals. The founders are domain specialists and are looking for a product team that will implement processes and structure. When I was hired at a startup, this was the case. I was given the founder’s ideas and I had to build it up from scratch. Since I was the first hire, I had nobody to guide me. I needed to be a self-learner and utilize my previous knowledge. Secondly, many responsibilities fell onto my shoulders. Product management encompasses many different functions such as customer service, engineering, and aligning with leadership. Each of these outlets encompassed its own problems, and I struggled to expand and develop the product individually.

Actions taken

Before creating a plan or framework, I began my process by understanding my role and the situation. The startup had a lack of structure, and I concluded that I needed to build a concrete plan to work out the project. I settled on a 30/60/90 day plan, incorporating each action I would focus on within these periods. In addition, I added each step required for me to execute this project -- including product processes. When coming up with a new product, I set a product vision, execute a strategy, build a roadmap, and finally execute. By understanding my process, I decided that my first 30 days would be spent planning.

I conveyed my plan to my manager and, at the same time, asked for any resources that would be essential for me to execute my plan. For example, I asked for the opportunity to hire other product managers to share my bandwidth. Another step I took was to meet with the engineering lead to discuss their views regarding the engineering side of things. After bringing my manager up to speed with my plan, I validated and revalidated my ideas as well as ensured my vision was aligned with the founders. Once our company had a single aligned vision for the product, I created a roadmap that would lead us to success.

In the next 30 days, I immersed myself in the details of the roadmap and each outlet. I decided what my MVP will be; which details will be developed first, how the product will scale up, and what marketing strategy I will use. The next 60 days were used to finalize and flesh out my roadmap before the final stage of execution.

In the next 30 days, I began execution. I aimed to ship the MVP as quickly as possible using the bare minimum resources. I tried to get early feedback from customers, founders, and stakeholders regarding the product. After that, I rolled out new features, to see how it could be monetized, and overcome any roadblocks.

Lessons learned

  • If you have less than five years of experience, I would advise you against joining a startup with no prior product experience. In the initial years, learning the ropes formally from a mentor or multinational company is always desirable.
  • If you do end in a startup, try to actively network internally and externally. Join slack and Facebook groups of Product managers, share your problems to receive help from others because there is a high possibility that someone has been in your position. YouTube is also a good source for getting informed content.
  • When overwhelmed in a startup, ask for help as soon as possible. Do not think * you are supposed to know everything, as it is okay to clarify and inquire. Ask the founders to give you initial help with their domain expertise.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

The Art of Asking Why: Narrowing the Gap Between Customers and Users

24 May

Jord Sips, Senior Product Manager at Mews, shares his expertise on a common challenge for product managers – finding root causes and solutions.

Customers
Innovation / Experiment
Product
Personal Growth
Leadership
Stakeholders
Users
Jord Sips

Jord Sips

Senior Product Manager at Mews

Streamlining Product Processes After a Reorganization

16 May

Snehal Shaha, Lead Technical Program Manager at Momentive (fka SurveyMonkey), details her short-term technical strategy to unify processes among teams following an acquisition.

Acquisition / Integration
Product Team
Product
Building A Team
Leadership
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Reorganization
Strategy
Team Processes
Cross-Functional Collaboration
Snehal Shaha

Snehal Shaha

Senior EPM/TPM at Apple Inc.

Navigating Disagreements When It Comes to Priorities

9 May

Pavel Safarik, Head of Product at ROI Hunter, shares his insights on how to deal with disagreements about prioritization when building a product.

Innovation / Experiment
Product Team
Product
Dev Processes
Conflict Solving
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Convincing
Strategy
Prioritization
Pavel Safarik

Pavel Safarik

Head of Product at ROI Hunter

A Look Into the Hiring Pipeline: How to Fine Tune the Interviewing Process

9 May

Sourabh Sahay, Engineering Manager at Meta, discusses how talent acquisition can be made more efficient by refining the hiring processes.

Alignment
Different Skillsets
Building A Team
Hiring
Fairness
Sourabh Sahay

Sourabh Sahay

Engineering Manager at Meta (Facebook, Oculus, & Family of Apps)

Balancing Technical Debt Innovation: How Roadmaps for Development Help Your Company Succeed

4 May

Brad Jayakody outlines the roadmap to maintaining a healthy balance between technical debt and team growth. However, just as balancing acts go it is important to have a strong foundation.

Alignment
Leadership
Impact
Roadmap
Tech Debt
Career Path
Brad Jayakody

Brad Jayakody

Director of Engineering at Motorway

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.