This Week #1: Must reads on growth, what PMs should focus on when joining a new team, and the value of an MBA

Thank you for all of the questions that have come in over the past week! I was half-worried no one would take me up on the offer — instead, we now have a backlog of over two dozen intriguing questions. To avoid completely nerd-sniping myself I’m going to keep it to three questions per week. If you don’t see your question answered below, stay tuned for future posts! 🙏

Note: If you find this valuable, can you do me a favor and click the little gray heart below the title above? It helps get the word out about this budding newsletter. 😍

On to this week’s questions!

Q: I just applied to a growth role at a payments company — it looks like I’ll get the job. I’ve done a bit of growth before, but mostly retention. What do you advise I read up on to learn more about growth?

I have a few go-to resources that I generally share, but I decided to take this question to Twitter and got back a motherload of great stuff. Below is a subset of what I think will be most helpful to you right now.

Before you dive in, however, a warning: Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. It may seem like the folks you’re reading have it all figured out — but they don’t. They’ve learned a few things, and wrote about them, by going through the same process you’re about to go through. Take a few ideas at a time, discuss them with your team, and try them out in the real world. You’ll learn most by doing.

Favorite online reads:

  1. Growth Marketing by Julian Shapiro

  2. Everything by Brian Balfour, start here

  3. Everything on Reforge’s website (and definitely sign up for their classes)

  4. Everything Andrew Chen has written, start here

  5. Everything Casey Winters has written, start here

  6. Everything Sean Ellis has written, start here

  7. Growth Design by Lex Roman

Favorite books:

  1. High Growth Handbook

  2. Hacking Growth: How Today's Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success

  3. Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

  4. Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies

  5. How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business

Favorite videos:

  1. How to Improve Conversion Rates

  2. Indispensable Growth Frameworks from My Years at Facebook, Twitter and Wealthfront

  3. HubSpot, Brian Balfour "Growth Is Good, But Retention Is 4+Ever"

  4. Y Combinator videos

People to follow who share growth content: @andrewchen, @angelsteger, @bbalfour, @briannekimmel, @calexity, @dahartattack, @frost, @HilaQu, @JeffChang30, @merci, @nateliason, @npilosof, @onecaseman, @SeanEllis

Check out the full thread if you want to dig deeper.

Q: I'm starting a new PM role in a week, and wanted to know — what can a new PM do immediately to set the right tone with teammates, and pave the path for credibility and collaboration?

Such an important question. I like to think of a new PM joining your team much like a new roommate moving in to your apartment — even though you’ve interviewed them and did extensive reference checks, you’re still a little skeptical, not sure you want to trust them with the keys to the house, and wonder what this person actually does for a living.

To make the best impression as a PM joining a new team, here’s where I’d focus during your first 30, 60, and 90 days:

First 30 days — Focus on building trust

  1. Ask lots of questions. Learn about the team, the business, and the product. Make it clear you aren’t coming in to tell everyone what to do, particularly before you have context.

  2. Talk to customers. Get on-the-ground truth from your users. Even though this will just be anecdotal evidence, it’ll start to build up your product knowledge, and will give you a tangible idea of who you’re building for.

  3. Find 2-3 quick wins that make the lives of the team better. This can be unblocking a blocker, resolving a lingering decision, or improving an annoying process.

First 60 days — Focus on improving execution and driving tangible impact

  1. Does everyone know what they should be doing at all times?

  2. Are there unnecessary meetings that waste people's time?

  3. Are blockers being addressed quickly?

  4. Is everyone on the same page about upcoming deadlines?

  5. What can your team do to drive more impact?

First 90 days — Focus on developing your point of view on strategy and vision

  1. As you learn about the business and product, figure out for yourself what you believe the next step for the team should be. Begin to form a long-term strategy.

  2. Building off of that thinking, work with your team to develop a 6-12 month roadmap and rally everyone around it.

  3. While you work with your team on this, in parallel tee up your thinking with stakeholders (e.g. your manager, their manager). Make sure they are bought in early so that you don’t present a plan that flops.

What do you do after 90 days? Keep doing all of these things above. Plus, all of these things (skip to part three). No one said being a PM was easy.

Q: What is the value of an MBA for product managers? If you were hiring for a lead PM/Director - do you value 2 years of experience as a PM more than 2 years of business school, all else equal? Also, what are extended education programs external from the day to day job if I want to continue to grow into a product leader?

If I’m reading between the lines correctly — you are considering doing an MBA program in order to accelerate your PM career. If that’s right, my advice is simple: In most cases, it’s not worth it. There are better ways to accelerate your career (see below), especially if you already have a PM gig. When I’m looking at PMs for a potential role, nothing beats experience doing the actual job.

However, if you are trying to break into product management, or find yourself stuck in your career, an MBA is not the worst idea. You learn a lot of valuable skills, it’s an increasingly common path into product management, and some of the strongest PM’s I’ve worked with had MBAs (not causal though).

A few alternatives to an MBA to accelerate your PM career (sorted by how I’d sequence them):

  1. Talk to your manager — work together on a plan to level you up

  2. Find a PM mentor (or two) and meet monthly — ask hard questions

  3. Work on a variety of products and teams — spend time doing growth, building foundational tools, creating infra, etc.

  4. Switch to a different (stronger) team within your org — or to a different company

  5. Subscribe to and read everything from PMHQ and Mind The Product

A few reads to explore further:

  1. Does a product manager need an MBA?

  2. Forget the MBA. Here’s the fastest way to become a product manager

  3. How do you get into a product management role with no prior experience as a PM?

Till next week!


Lenny 👋

P.S. Let me know what you think! Is this useful? What could be better? Tell me! I promise you won’t hurt my feelings. This is an experiment and I need feedback.