How I approach product management in early stage start ups

I want to share the main points I always keep in mind when working on product management. Most of these are common knowledge to the lean start up / customer development crowd as they are inspired by those initiatives, but I wanted to see what you guys make of it.

1)  Your main responsibility is to decide what not to include. This is the key to fast iterations, and fast iterations are the most sensible path to finding product/market fit because it helps you built the institutional knowledge you need at a faster rate. You see, when you start your company you really don’t know what it is you don’t know. Figuring out what to finally build requires a corpus of institutional knowledge that needs to be unique to your company and unique to your product.

2) The main criteria for what to include is to pick the riskier items first. For example, if you are trying to build the next Facebook on top of voice notes (as opposed to pictures) probably all you need to start testing your idea is a feed of some sort with the voice notes of all your friends. A profile with my education background or an event invite system is not something you need in order to test your idea. You are starting a company because you think there is a different and better way of doing things. That new way of doing things will be your riskier items. Test those first.

3)  Never lose sight of the product development cost structure. Since fast iterations are the key, the main item of the cost structure is time. Hence, you need to have a good sense of how long things take to get done. This is particularly difficult to get right in software development but every marginal improvement in accuracy on your end has a disproportional positive impact in your ability to launch a product that will work. Early product development ROI is a function of time spent per iteration  x positive delta in institutional knowledge. The more visibility you have on the time it takes to iterate, the more visibility you will have on the ROI of your iterations.

4) Before product/market fit use metrics to test Bold hypothesis. This will increase your chances of maximizing institutional knowledge per iteration. By bold hypothesis I mean educated guesses about users intent that will result in new features or removing features. In contrast, light hypothesis are changes that clarify and optimize current usage. Examples include changing the order of the items on the navigation bar, testing colors and copy and optimizing viral hooks. After market fit, you should make way for more light hypothesis but never abandoned the bold ones. You should always ask yourself: If I where to start this from scratch, how would I build it ?

5) Simplicity is key. You need to make sure that if people don’t use a feature it’s because they don’t like it, not because they don’t understand it or they can’t find it. Simplicity has an aesthetics quality to it, but it does not mean optimizing for aesthetics. In fact, people often will bundle aesthetic approval with product approval and what you need first is product validation.

I would be interested in learning what are the key product development guidelines that you always keep in mind.


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7 responses to “How I approach product management in early stage start ups

  1. I really like the idea about time. Knowing how long it takes you to iterate is really what it is all about.

  2. Great post. As a 14 year product management professional, the thing I’ve seen people stumble upon is trying to achieve perfection. It usually unnecessarily extends the iteration time (bad) for not much more significant value (worse) and in launching brand new products, it’s impossible to know what perfection is because the user’s expectations are unknown. You’re right that a good PM needs to know what to leave out, but they also need to understand that perfection is not the goal and that finding the perfect ‘good enough’ point is.

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  4. hola gheller… como va la vida de casado? yo mejor en la de padre q la de marido pero ahí vamos. just a quick drop to say hi. porfa si estas en caracas avisame, y bueno si estas en SanFrancisco ve a comer a el restaurant de una vieja amiga se llama picapica ella es la hermanita de leopoldo lopez y le mandas un saludo de mi parte. y uno más grande para ti.

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  6. great post. as a first time startup founder not coming from a tech background I had the hardest time getting this right while trying to launch my product (now in private beta). we didn’t get it 100% spot on, but thanks to posts like this and lean startup methodology in general I think we’re going to get it right for the second iteration of the product on out!

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