The Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Product Manager for Your Startup

Paolo Dotta

3 March 2023

Since me and my co-founders launched Altar in 2015, we’ve helped over 80 entrepreneurs bring their startup visions to life by helping them with both their software development and product rationale. Many of them have gone on to hire a Product Manager of their own once they’ve worked with us to validate their product in the market with an MVP. 

A task which is no small feat. The role of the Startup Product Manager is still relatively new in Europe – at least when compared with other markets like the US.

Firstly, this makes the pool of talent available smaller right out of the gate – especially those relevant to your specific industry. 

More than that, a good product manager requires a number of qualities that are hard to find in one person. 

They need to be able to communicate and understand the technical aspects of a product, while at the same time thinking about the user experience implications of those tech decisions, all while weighing up both of these aspects from a business perspective. 

They also need to be creative, analytical and great communicators to succeed in their role. 

Not only is this role not easy to fill, the person you put in it has the ability to make or break your startup – but more on that in just a second.

In this article, I’ll go into where you should be looking to find your ideal Product Manager. But first, I want to go a little further into what the responsibilities of a Product Manager are – and why it’s vital to onboard one from day one.

Contents

What is a Startup Product Manager?

A Startup Product Manager is responsible for defining and executing the product strategy for a startup. They work closely with you and your founding team, development team, and other stakeholders to create a successful product that meets the needs of the target audience and drives business growth.

In a startup, the role of a Product Manager is often broader than in an established company, as they may need to wear multiple hats and take on additional responsibilities. For example, a Startup Product Manager may also be responsible for market research, user testing, customer support, and project management in the early stages.

Some of the key responsibilities of a Startup Product Manager include:

  • Defining the product vision, including the target audience, value proposition, and differentiation from competitors.
  • Creating a product roadmap that outlines the timeline for product development, feature releases, and product launches.
  • Prioritizing product features based on user needs, business goals, and market trends.
  • Managing the product development process from ideation to launch, working closely with the development team to ensure that the product meets the requirements and is delivered on time.
  • Gathering feedback from users, stakeholders, and the market to iterate on the product roadmap and make data-driven decisions about product development.
  • Ensuring cross-functional alignment around the product strategy and facilitating communication between teams.
  • Collaborating with other stakeholders in the startup, including sales, marketing, and customer support, to ensure that the product meets the needs of the target audience and drives business growth.

Overall, a Startup Product Manager is a critical role in a startup, as they are responsible for creating a successful product that meets the needs of the target audience and drives business growth. They bring together the business, technical, and user perspectives to ensure that the product is aligned with the startup’s vision and goals.

With that said, I want to delve a little deeper into why they’re so important.

Why is it Important to Hire a Product Manager for Your Startup?

Simply put, it’s important to have a product manager for your startup because if your product doesn’t solve your potential users’ problem, it won’t be adopted. 

You can have a beautifully designed platform, that works like a dream thanks to the way it’s been engineered and is being promoted brilliantly thanks to your dream marketing team – but if it doesn’t solve the problem, people won’t use it.

And the best way to avoid this scenario is to find a great product manager as soon as possible – and it’s the way the majority of successful startups did it.

Head over to LinkedIn and reach out to a few successful founders and ask them. They’ll often be happy to respond, and I’m willing to bet they’ll mention a product person in their answer. 

For example, my team recently reached out to serial entrepreneur and 25-year Silicon Valley veteran Garrett Gafke to get his insights on building a successful startup. Here’s what he had to say when it came to a product person:

Our product person was a key player and critical in making our very extensive platform work.

A good product person will hear someone from the company say:

‘We need to build this feature for the platform, it’s a must-have!’

And turn around and says things like: 

‘Great! Is it deployable across all customers? Is there revenue to be generated from this feature? Does it help to improve the users’ experience?’ 

It’s really important to lay the foundations of a great product team so you have that point of view. It ensures your product truly serves your users. 

It’s one of the most important startup roles to fill, as a product manager can validate if the way you’re planning to build your product will work before development has even started. 

massive 66% of startups that fail do so because of reasons directly related to bad product development

Here are two examples of what can happen if you don’t nail your product development the first time. 

Let’s start with Quibi, a short-form mobile video platform that launched in April 2020.

Quibi aimed to offer high-quality, short-form video content designed specifically for mobile devices. The platform was designed to be consumed on the go, with optimisation for both portrait and landscape viewing.

However, the product completely missed the mark.

Despite investing billions of dollars into the platform’s development, Quibi failed to gain significant traction. One major issue was the platform’s lack of social sharing features, which made it difficult for users to discover and share content with their friends.

Another issue was the platform’s subscription model, which required users to pay a monthly fee for access to its content. This proved to be a major barrier to entry for many users, who were already accustomed to free content on platforms like YouTube.

Finally, the product was too rigid and inflexible. Because the content was designed to be consumed in short, bite-sized chunks, there was little room for experimentation and creativity among its creators.

In October 2020, just six months after its launch, Quibi announced that it would shut down due to its inability to attract a large enough user base.

The second example comes from GrooveHQ. Much like Quibi, they suffered huge teething problems due to their bad product development. 

Groove’s founder, Alex Turnbull, recently shared the story of how they nearly failed. Simply put, the product didn’t effectively solve the users’ needs. Or, as Alex put it:

We had spent more than six months building a customer service software product that, frankly, didn’t work. We committed the most cardinal sin of product development: building the product that we assumed people wanted to use, rather than the one that our market told us they wanted to use.

We didn’t ask many questions of our market in those days, and our product showed that.

It was clunky, complicated and didn’t address the right problems.

People hated it.

And so we spent another six months re-building it from the ground up, this time based entirely on customer development calls with anyone who would agree to talk to me.

Thankfully, the six months Alex and his team spent turned it around for him and his team. 

In both of these examples, however, the hurdles (and in Quibi’s case, ultimate failure) could have been avoided with an experienced product person on board to guide their decision-making. 

So how do you go about hiring that all-important product manager?

Daniel, CEO of Altar, Product and Software development company specialising in building MVPs, full custom software development projects & creating UX/UI that is both functional and beautiful
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Where to Find a Product Manager

There are two key paths you can take to find your startup’s product manager. 

The first is leveraging online platforms to both build your network and directly find candidates for the job.

The second focuses on physically getting out into your startup community to build your network and share your product needs. 

Online

1. LinkedIn

While LinkedIn is not a dedicated platform for finding a product manager, it can still be a valuable tool to help you find your dream Product Manager. 

Mainly because it’s the biggest platform to network with people online. 

First, consider what specific product profile your startup requires based on your industry. 

Then use LinkedIn’s search filters to narrow down potential candidates by location, current occupation, and other criteria. 

Here’s an example of a quick search I did for product managers in the US working in tech who often use “#startup” in their posts:

Linkedin Search for Product Manager

This approach can help you build connections and initiate conversations with potential candidates about your startup. 

Another way to leverage LinkedIn is by joining product management groups, where you can share your ideas and gain interest from like-minded individuals who are experienced in the field. 

You can also ask the Product Managers you connect with for their advice on relevant groups and communities. 

While LinkedIn may not be specifically designed for hiring product managers, it’s a great way to grow your network and potentially find the right candidate for you. 

2. Otta

Otta is one of the more recent platforms to come to market to help connect employers and job candidates – and focuses solely on innovative tech companies.

Otta job platform

Once you’ve completed the onboarding, you’re able to post jobs and browse relevant candidates for free – as well as create an enhanced company profile to showcase your employer brand and mission. 

That said, the onboarding process does take slightly longer than on the other platforms. To create your profile, you have to submit your company’s website for approval so Otta can ensure that you’re a good fit for their candidates. 

Although this causes a little friction in the beginning, they also do the same on the candidate side – meaning that you’re only going to get relevant candidates for your startup. 

3. Wellfound (fka AngelList)

Wellfound is another popular platform for hiring product managers and various other disciplines that startups seek. 

The platform brings together startups, angel investors, and aspiring startup employees onto a single platform. 

With its social media-like interface, job seekers can easily navigate through the platform to find suitable job openings.

To post your job on Wellfound, simply visit their recruit page and sign in. You will be prompted to fill out a form with details about your company.

Wellfound – Best websites to hire developers and find product managers

Posting jobs is free of charge, or you can opt for the premium posting service at $250 per month.

4. Startup Jobs

Startup.jobs is another great platform to find a top-talent Product Manager for your startup. The job board connects you with job seekers across various industries, offering over 10,000 job opportunities in programming, design, marketing, sales, and, importantly, product management. 

You can easily find the right fit for your team with the option to search for candidates by location or remote work options.

To post a job, simply head over to the “for employers” section of the website and click “post a job”. From there, you need to create an account and fill out their job posting form, including details such as the job title, location, description, and requirements.

Startup.jobs platform to hire product managers

From there, you’ll need to choose a pricing plan. Sadly, there is no free plan to post on Startup.jobs. Each listing costs $399 and remains active for 30 days. If you’re posting multiple jobs, there are several discounts available – depending on the number of jobs you post.

5. Toptal

Unlike the other options on this list, Toptal focuses on helping you find freelancers for your startup. This could be a viable option for you vs. hiring a product manager full-time. 

It provides flexibility as you can hire a product manager on an “as-needed” basis, saving you from having to pay a hefty salary 100% of the time – which can be beneficial for an early-stage startup with a limited runway. 

The great thing about using Toptal for this is that it curates its freelancers with a rigorous pre-screening process.

Toptal Product Managers

For you, this means that you’ll only be out in touch with experienced product managers that have the skills you need. 

To get started, you simply need to answer a few questions on their website. They will ask you about your project, how developed your idea is and how long you need a Product Manager for. 

Then you simply give them your contact information and they will email you with potential candidates. 

You only pay for this service if you decide to move forward with a candidate – so it’s completely risk-free. 

Bonus: Altar.io

Finally, if you’re looking for help with your product rationale, you can reach out to us here at Altar. 

We’ve partnered with over 80 entrepreneurs to help them with their product and software development needs and turn their startup vision into reality – often being referred to by them as an extended team of co-founders, which perfectly sums up how we work. 

On the product side, we do this by combining your industry expertise with our deep knowledge of product development in a process we call the Product Scope. The output of this is a complete product blueprint that includes your full unique value proposition, competitive market analysis, bespoke User Stories, UX/UI wireframes and more. 

And, because our entire management team consists of ex-startup founders, lean methodologies are at the core of all our processes, with a strong focus on the user. 

You can check out some of the projects we’ve worked on here.

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Offline

When it comes to the offline method of finding a Product Manager for your startup – the best way is to go to local events and meetups in your area. A quick search for “product management” or “startup” on meetup.com will give you a quick list of potential places to go. 

Unlike many of the online methods, this is more about connecting with the community and building your network. This will benefit you greatly in the long run, and you will probably find more than just a Product Manager in the process. 

One piece of advice I have here is to pick your meetups wisely. I’ve seen many an entrepreneur burn themselves out trying to attend every possible startup meetup or conference. 

In my experience, it’s better to choose the events based on your niche and industry – purely for the sake of energy, time management and the likelihood of finding relevant connections. 

Now you know where to start looking for your product manager, it’s important to talk about how to evaluate a potential candidate when you’ve found someone who you think is the right fit. 

How to Evaluate Your Potential Product Manager

As I’ve already touched on, hiring the right Product Manager for your startup is a critical decision, due to the vital role they play in driving the success of your product and startup.

So, when you think you’ve found the right person for the job, it’s vital you do your due diligence and evaluate their skills properly.

Let’s start with the qualities you need to look for in your Product Manager. Then, I’ll go over who can help you with this evaluation if you find you’re unable to do it alone. 

The Expertise You Need in a Product Manager for Your Startup

Startup Mindset & Experience

Look for a Product Manager with experience in the startup environment. 

A startup environment is very different from an established company – you need someone flexible who is used to adapting to the fast-paced, rapidly changing environment that comes with working in an early-stage startup environment. 

You also need a Product Manager who has an entrepreneurial mindset and is willing to take risks, experiment and iterate quickly. 

Technical Skills

 A good Product Manager needs to have a solid understanding of the technical aspects of your product. 

They should have a foundation of knowledge surrounding the software development process, UX/UI design, and data analysis. 

I’m not suggesting that they need to know how to code or be a wizard who can create incredible wireframes in Figma. They do however need to have experience in a technical environment – as well as experience working closely and communicating with technical teams. 

Strategic Thinking

Your Product Manager needs to be able to see the bigger picture and think strategically about your product and startup’s goals both now and in the future. 

This will enable them to create a well-defined product roadmap that aligns with your overall vision and give you the best chances of success thanks to data-driven decisions concerning feature prioritisation and long-term product development. 

Communication Skills

As I mentioned earlier, the Product Manager role, by design, requires the ability to work closely with a number of different stakeholders within a cross-functional team. 

Therefore, they need to be an excellent communicator. 

They need to be able to explain technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders, clarify feature decisions to technical stakeholders, etc. 

At the core, they need to be able to facilitate easy communication between stakeholders of all disciplines. 

User-Centric Approach

Finally, you need someone who has a user-centric approach. 

It’s critical that your Product Manager is able to empathise with your target audience. More than that, they need to understand the importance of gathering feedback from users by reaching out directly to them and talking with your specific target stakeholder. 

They then need to have the proper skills to digest that data to inform critical decisions surrounding your product development. 

Who to Call on to Help You Evaluate Your Product Manager

During your search for a Product Manager for your startup, you may find that you lack the necessary skills to properly evaluate them – which is completely normal. 

For example, if you’re a non-technical entrepreneur with little tech experience, working out if your potential Product Manager is tech literate will be a challenge. 

Luckily, there are ways around this. 

The first, and most obvious, is to look to any trusted startup experts, advisors or mentors you already have in your network. Don’t be afraid to ask – you’ll be surprised how many people will be happy to take your call. 

And don’t just take my word for it. My team recently sat down with unicorn founder Wade Eyerly to gain his insights into building a startup. Not only was he more than happy to take our call, but  he also shared this:

As entrepreneurs, we’ve all needed so much help to get to where we are, that we understand and most of us are still calling people looking for help!

So when you call entrepreneurs and say: Hey, can I get 20 minutes? I want to bounce an idea off you.

The answer is: Yeah. Okay.

Every single time.

If you don’t have anyone that fits the bill in your network, then widen your search. Reach out to people on LinkedIn, hit up some Slack channels, and ask for referrals from your network (again, you’ll be surprised how many people will happily take 10 minutes out of their day to help you find the right person).

The final route you can take to help you evaluate your potential Product Manager is to go to a Product Agency. 

A reputable agency will not only fully understand the importance of finding the right person for the job, but they will also have a wealth of experience in vetting their own Product Managers – and will undoubtedly be a useful tool to help you evaluate your candidates.

If you decide to go down this route, drop my team a message here and we’ll see what we can do to help you. 

Wrapping Up

Finding the right product manager is no easy task and can be the difference between startup success and failure.

But, if you’re able to do it successfully, you’ll greatly increase your chances of success – and I hope that the advice above will help you find them. 

Just remember to do your due diligence and make sure you find someone with the right qualities for the job.

Thanks for reading.

Categories:
Paolo Dotta
Co-Founder
Paolo started working in banking in Milan and London. After the financial career, he created a startup and then joined Altar where he mainly deals with business development and fintech projects.

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