Of the various hats I have worn all these years - founder, Sales guy, Deployment Specialist, Level 1 and Level 2 Support, DevOps, Cheque depositor - I have come to realize I was a Product Manager all along - right from the get go.
Putting a label on what you do is extremely important. It helps you define the job you do, appreciate it, read more on it and helps you improve on that particular skill.
If you are the guy/girl in charge of making the Product among the Founding Team - you are the Product Manager. Say it out aloud - "I am the Product Manager". The fate of your entire Startup lies in your decisions.
All other designations - CEO, CTO, Director, Co-Founder all are important - for the outside world and your team-mates - but nothing is as critical as the “Product Manager” hat you are wearing now.
Strap the Product Manager Hat tight.
When I gave Sales demo - I was not trying to get a Cheque out of the customer. I was listening to their pain points, and my mind was frantically scanning to see how my Startup could alleviate those paint points. I was trying to find patterns among Customers - so my solution can solve them all. I was trying to see how much value we can give them, and price our product as a fraction of the value ( and not just features ).
When I was paying the monthly bill for AWS account - and saw it was increasing gradually, asked myself - Are such resource hogging servers really necessary - and promptly turned them off - and found better cost effective alternatives. Also when I plan a feature, I keep the cost in mind - I am not going to get sold on the hype of a technology [ NoSql I am looking right at you]
When I got a customer to go live - I realised how a few small features created some of the biggest headaches and heartburns. Promptly booted them off or tweaked them.
When I had to do Marketing - do SEO, or write content for Brochrures, or create Competitor analysis - I had to analyse inwardly as well as the competition and could identify the areas we were strong and weak. I knew what areas we could pull ahead of the competition - become more stronger, and what areas we had to improve - so we cannot be beaten down with.
If you are the Product Manager of a Startup - and working 9 to 5, doing a few customer interviews, talking to the CEO/CTO/Founder, browsing competitors website/Apps, STOP - you have to do more. [ ps : Startup founders, if you have hired Product Managers - here is what they have to start doing ]
1. Accompany the Sales guys in a few demos. In fact you should constantly do this - product keeps changing, market keeps changing, competiton keeps changing.
2. Get your hands dirty and deploy a few accounts - from start to finish.
3. Write the next set of marketing material, do the next Competitor Analysis document yourself - instead of just giving inputs.
4. Do SEO, plan the adwords campaign yourself.
5. Be the DevOps and/or pay the AWS bill from your pocket and get it reimbursed - and see for yourself that one cool feature which hardly anyone uses is costing a bomb.
And for my startup founders - Say it aloud. Stick it in big fonts right in front of you.
“I am the Product Manager"