Community Wisdom: Podcast update + prioritizing at an early-stage startup, playbooks for product discovery, demonstrating your PM skills to recruiters, moving from VC to PM, and more
Community Wisdom 88
👋 Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of ✨ Community Wisdom ✨ a subscriber-only email, delivered every Friday, highlighting the most helpful conversations in our member-only Slack community.
🎙️ Lenny’s Podcast now live!
In case you missed it, I launched a podcast this week. A few days in and it’s currently the 9th most popular business podcast (somehow ahead of Tim Ferriss, How I Built This, and Brené Brown 🤷♂️), and in the top 200 overall.
The response has also been super encouraging.
Here’s a shortcut to the first three episodes (which you can also browse within Substack):
I hope you like it.
If you listen, please send me feedback so I can keep making these better. And if you find it valuable, please leave a rating (literally takes 10 seconds) 🙏
💥 Top threads this week
1. Prioritizing at an early-stage startup
Q: Has anyone been the product person in an early-stage startup which is trying to be all things to all people and implement everything a (in this case B2B) user requests, rather than focusing on product-market fit for your USP or big idea? How did you handle it, and did it work? ↗️
– Laura M
Tibi: 2-time first-PM in an early-stage company.
Most of the outcome is in the hands of the leadership. It’s really hard to fight that back past a point, as early-stage usually = founders are hands-on.
What I saw brings the hectic feeling of running around and trying everything is an unclear idea of what the vision of the company is, so when a user asks for something when that something faces an unclear vision usually the thinking is that the user will pull you into PMF.
The added pressure also comes that early-stage = limited runway so the temptation to do the things that bring money vs the thing that gets you to the next funding round is even higher. B2B is even higher pressure as you’re not talking about a percentage of potential user loss that can be replaced but specific contracts with a limited number of companies than can vanish.
Maybe I’m pessimistic or I’m deriving outcomes based on a sample of two, but without leadership support, it’s a lot of fighting against the current. The board usually helps a lot with this in keeping the founders in check.
Laura M: Thank you - I’ve been working on the product vision and strategy with the founders, so maybe I can use that as an angle to have this conversation. All your observations very much match what I’m seeing!
Matt O’Connell: Hi @Laura Morgan. I’ve been in this situation several times and am now on the founding end. A lot of what @tibi brings up resonates. Here’s my take.
The “all things to all people and implement everything” is a real struggle.
You can’t find PMF if you don’t try something. But, if you attempt to try everything, the best you can hope for is something that sticks, but at what cost?
Testing everything and anything is the direct result of a lack of strategy. The attached image is something I created to help articulate this idea.
The question I found helpful to think about is – How do we get everyone to clarify and commit to a strategy for more than a few minutes (ok, maybe hours)?
Developing and communicating strategy (especially at this stage) is often verbal or fragmented across multiple channels. One way to help bring this all together is to visualize it. Some tools can help with this (I’m building one). So what do you need to make this work? From what we’ve been learning:
Buy-in on a strategy
Commitment to it
Clear communication of it (progress/direction/change)
Mutual understanding of how to handle 1-offs (your b2b urgent requests from top customers, etc)
I’ve used that visual to help paint the story of “What can happen if we focus“ several times. It’s worked well for me so far.
Julian: Sadly I’ve only had one experience of this and it was fundamentally a mis-hire. The founder had the delusion that there was already product-market fit so he hired me as “head of product“ to scale the product. Sadly, when I arrived, it was really clear that nothing could be further from the truth.
Doubly unfortunately, I was in a financial situation which meant I couldn’t immediately resign and go back to the market unemployed even for a short time.
I really struggle with product management roles in early-stage companies. I think founders should be responsible for that. I now as a founder I would only hire a product manager once I have product customer fit ( “dozens“ of people / orgs who have completely changed the way they work to use your product instead of a previous method).
Otherwise what tends to happen is the product manager ends up being a bunch of different roles — similar it seems to your experienced — project manager, program manager, delivery manager, maybe operations manager. But not the product manager.
The product manager role is a delegation of product work either through market penetration (more value from existing customers), market development (more customers), product development (more features, same customer), or diversification (new customers, new features). IMHO they (we in my past) have no place being involved in proving the core proposition of the company. That’s my view anyway.
But maybe my bias is that I have good product management skills as a founder as well. And maybe there are founders who have no idea how to build products. Maybe that in itself is a red flag?
Laura M: This is super interesting, thank you. Fortunately (for me!) this is a client that I’m doing some consultancy with, rather than an all-the-eggs-in-one-basket full-time gig. What’s frustrating me, though, is that I 100% believe in the core vision, which I’ve worked with the team to develop into something articulated and communicable, and I really want to be part of bringing it to life! But your words are ones I’ll keep in mind, especially the description of the PM role, which is great.
2. Playbook for product discovery
Q: Does anyone have a good playbook for product discovery? ↗️
– Jacob Young
Scott: Here’s our Product Discovery Playbook: The Product Discovery Playbook | Productboard
If you’re venturing into Switch Interviews, Kate Bourgoin’s Customer Camp templates are super useful.
Jacob Young: Thanks y’all. We’ve launched a quickly designed MVP to capture an opportunity with a few of our partners and we're looking for a good framework on how we can iterate on it. It resonates with a lot of partners but clearly could be better!
Jeff: So are you looking to test desirability? Willingness to use/pay? or the feature set itself?
Jacob Young: We’ve had both willingness to pay and desirability. More so the feature set itself and whether its design/existing feature set is holding it back from more.
Jeff: Gotcha. I’d first start with making sure assumptions (visible and hidden) are nailed first and validated. If you’re good there awesome.
I spend more time here than specific product discovery tho I’d argue it’s a blurry line.
Teresa has a post on this How to Improve Your Experiment Design (And Build Trust in Your Product Experiments) - Product Talk
Daniel Lee: I always appreciated Superhuman’s approach: How Superhuman Built an Engine to Find Product Market Fit | First Round Review
They also have a good product pricing/positioning framework, they use this: Van Westendorp’s Price Sensitivity Meter - Wikipedia
3. Demonstrating your PM skills to recruiters
Q: Does anyone have any suggestions on ways that I can display my ability as a PM that recruiters could look at before interviews?
Devs have their Git pages, designers their websites/portfolios, but what about us PMs?
For example, one idea I saw was to create a “career“ roadmap based on my personal career search “project”. ↗️
– Arianna McGlothlin
Stepa Mitaki: The resume is PM’s portfolio or Git page. As a hiring manager, I can say that this is the number one thing I’m looking at when reviewing candidates. So do recruiters.
The best way to make it stand out is to show impressive results. Focus on the results and impact you’ve achieved instead of simply listing your responsibilities, and you’re good to go. Add more numbers as they are easy to catch by glancing through.
Instead of “improved conversion“, say “increased conversion rate by 37%.“
Instead of “lead a cross-functional team“, say “lead a cross-functional team of 10 people.“
Instead of “seasoned product manager“, say “product manager with 10+ years of experience“.