Product management · Startups

When is the right time to bring on a product manager?


June 17th, 2015

Having built the initial product, I know more about it than anyone else on our team and have been there through every stage of development. Our company is growing, and we've thought a lot about hiring a full-time product manager to take over some of what I'm already doing. Curious if there is a certain stage the product should be in before a full-time PM is necessary?

Chris Carruth VP/Director. Strategy | Business Development | Operations | Product | Solutions

June 17th, 2015

I think it really depends on your definition of a PM and what he/she does. Typically founders function as the PM, like you are. However, there is also the aspect of where your personal time is better spent. Is it more beneficial to work in expediting the sales ramp now that the product has been created?

Prod Mgrs should do more than just manage the current release. A good PM should be able to read the market, assess the competition, and produce a roadmap that keeps your product in front of the curve versus always playing catchup. Most founders, at some point in the growth cycle, do not have the bandwidth to assure the company keeps growing AND ensure the product stays not just on track but on "the" track to superiority in the market. 

If you have the bandwidth to think/plan/manage tactically and strategically, then keep the function. If sales growth is more important then bring in a PM to drive product. And, in the beginning, assess whether a FT PM is really needed....perhaps a part-time resource would be fine, especially if you have a business-oriented technical lead.


Art Graham Digital Media - Consulting | Project Management

June 17th, 2015

You are attached to your product that you may be reluctant to transition your stated responsibilities to a PM, Not knowing or vetting your business, the transition could be tied to a milestone of funding or success.

Shardul Mehta

June 18th, 2015

Assuming you have the money, then I agree with Mike, as soon as you can afford it. While you may know every aspect of your product, you need to ask yourself if continuing to play that role will help your company/product scale. If not, you'll actually become your own worst enemy to growth. You need someone who's constantly in touch with customers and bringing the customer perspective back into the organization to influence not only product development, but also go-to-market commercialization.

A PM admittedly ain't cheap, though. So if you're pre-revenue, it may be early, unless you've got investment to get you through your next funding cycle and the success of that investment milestone is contingent on the performance of your product management function. If you don't have the capacity to do it yourself, you may need a PM. If you've got revenue / cash flow, and you're looking to scale, a PM may be a viable hire.

Bill Kelley

June 17th, 2015

In my experience, the PM is a later hire. Until there are 3 or more people contributing to the product, it should be manageable by you... Now, if you are talking about someone more on a strategic level, like a director of product development, that could be within the responsibilities of a senior marketing person.

My philosophy is that product strategy comes from marketing; the tactical [engineering] contribution comes from the strategy. This is assuming the product is market driven - and almost all are.

Mike Whitfield Sr. Software Engineer, EPAM, Google

June 19th, 2015

Sadie more context is needed.  Why are you being a PM?  What PM activities are you doing if your title is SE?  Who is asking you to PM?  What is the growth pattern?  Blah blah blah, etc.

Aaron Filner Head of Product Managment, Design Google Energy

June 18th, 2015

I would be wary of hiring a product manager too early, before say a rough size of 20 or so employees. Art's word of caution about being willing to cede the responsibility is key. If you are not ready to empower a PM to be successful, the company will suffer and they will fail in their role.

That said, once your company reaches enough momentum it becomes invaluable to make that transition. 

Reme Pullicar Project | Program | IT Manager

June 17th, 2015

Sadie, I'd like to say that you have already answered your own question. Clearly, you are feeling the pinch of having everything go across your desk. You need to delegate in order to steer your company. If you have the revenue or at least the ability to hire, then do it now. Get your Product Manager going early in the process so that they will be able to develop your breadth and depth while it is still early.

There will be plenty of opinions, but as Chris noted, you don't have to chain down your new Product Manager to a single role. Startups always have plenty of hats to go around. Hire wisely. Hire someone who can fill multiple roles while it is still early, take over what you need to delegate, and grow into a more singular role as your staffing requirements expand.

Reach out to me directly if you wish.. I'd like to learn more about what you are doing. Reme

Mike Rozlog Advisor at TechColumbus

June 17th, 2015

IMO, as soon as you can afford it.  As stated in the prior responses, usually the founder(s) are doing that role.  However, there are so many other things that founders need to be doing and I find it valuable to bring an experienced PM into the mix because once they understand what is trying to be achieved, it gets the team out of group think and can bring a "fresh" perspective to the process.  While I don't want to waste time rehashing things already decided, I have been saved more than once having a fresh perspective presented.  Therefore, for me, I like it sooner rather than later... however, if I don't have the money... then it can wait.

Anthony Miller

June 17th, 2015

I'm going to have to agree with Bill on this one! It's way to early to bring in a full-time product manager. I would also ask are you cash flow positive, still seeking seed or other venture? What's your current burn rate? I've worked with startups with launching their MVP and then later on supporting it and iterating upon it for years before a full-time product manager is hired on. Timing is essential. Succeed at the decision the first time and it will save you and your company a lot of headaches.