At Leapfrog, many of our clients are startups in search of product-market fit or new businesses in search of a repeatable and scalable business model. We like to view ourselves as more than just development partners for them. We also are thought-partners on a journey to find the right product and grow businesses. For that, a critical role comes into play for any startup team – a good product manager. At a job description level, product managers coordinate with stakeholders to define and prioritize features.
So what makes a good product manager?
Or specifically, what makes a good product manager for startups – companies that haven’t proven a business model, and haven’t established product-market fit? Startups have a vision of how things hopefully work – the market, the painful problem they’re solving, the unique selling proposition, product features, and growth and revenue channels. But until we can validate them with engagement, growth, and money – they’re just hypotheses.
At Leapfrog, we’re big proponents in “Lean Startup,” which teaches startups to systematically validate business assumptions as quickly and efficiently as possible. It helps measure progress in terms of “validated learning” about those hypotheses, rather than in terms of features, code or short-term success. The graveyard of startups is littered with elaborated products and technological marvels that nobody ever used, or people used, but nobody paid for. Lean startup teaches the most urgent priority as a startup isn’t building a thing; instead, it’s discovering the right thing to build.
Hence, we believe that the best startup product managers exhibit a relentless pursuit of the truth and value speed of learning over the speed of building.
A good product manager doesn’t think about how to best design a solution, but rather align product R&D to systematically validate business assumptions, including whether we have the right solution in mind in the first place with the least waste possible.
Some of the questions good product managers would ask are:
- Does our market care about the problems we’re trying to solve? Are they that painful for our market? Good product managers don’t start customer interviews with “Wouldn’t it be nice if you had X thing I plan on building.” They ask target users to “tell me about the last time you did Y part of your job” instead. PMs hope your target audience will validate your hypothesized pain points.
- Do we have a unique and compelling solution – often just one “killer app” – for those problems? An experience that immediately engages our target market and keeps them coming back, without the kitchen sink. If people love us enough to engage and come back, do they love us enough to invite others or pay? Good product managers have a template for experimenting with different (not more features)and measuring which one’s matter.
- Before I scale my startup, do I know how to validate quickly if my business is worth scaling in the first place? Great PMs will do things that don’t scale, like the Airbnb founders that worked tirelessly with their first hosts. They hired professional photographers, making beautifully handcrafted profiles for their property. They knew that if they had places that looked and sounded terrific, people would show in. However, people still didn’t pay to crash with a stranger. They didn’t have a business, no matter how many marketplaces features they built-in.
At Leapfrog, we have been working on a playbook for building products that has excellent tips and techniques for PMs that help along the lines of validating quickly and cheaply.