I often get this question, i.e. whether I should work at a startup or a corporate to really ‘get’ Product management.
And the answer to this and most other questions related to Product management is..’It Depends’!
It really depends on how you define your product management career, but here are some perspective to help you decide.
Doing Product Management in startups
Early stage startups often lack clarity in terms of what to build and frankly, the founder should be playing the PM role at this stage. If you have an option of doing Product Management in a mid stage startup, do think about it.
Take it up if you like the industry and you are ready to talk to customers, define requirements, own the product and be ready to lead. Note that things will be quite hazy and frustrating (esp when dealing with founders/investors if they are on a diff track), and this will bring the true ‘negotiator’ in you.
Having said that, if the product isn’t really something which can potentially create a huge impact in the industry – you will probably just learn small bits of Product Management owing to limited exposure/opportunity.
That is, small fish in a small pond if the company doesn’t grow massively.
Skills needed to grow: Creative, Lateral thinker, Ability to manage chaos, Ability to do quick tests.
Doing Product Management in corporate setup
Politics. Back biting. Process. Negotiation.
Get ready for all of this when you are doing product management role in large corporate. The good news is that owing to the sheer size of the company, your product can create HUGE impact and you get to learn many things.
For e..g I was PM for Yahoo Small Business and the product was used by millions of SMEs. A change in the feature set will increase/decrease the number of support tickets and we could see the real time impact of feature launches/releases.
For a startup to reach the same level of impact, it would probably take 4-5 years (if lucky!).
That is, corporate gives you access to existing customers – so your job is relatively easier.
The bad news is that you could just become another cog in the wheel and end up with a role which largely falls under project management.
Skills needed to grow: (apart from the ones you need in startup): You need to be very aggressive (okay, in good boys speak: assertive) and opportunistic to grow in a corporate setup.
In the end, it all boils down to how great a #ProductThinker you are. And how empathetic you are about your customers, your team members and the industry.
This is one of the core things I teach at Product Management course ! That is, empathy.