Making an impact in your first Product Management role.
How you can step into the unknown, stay a cool cat, and make a real impact within your first 90 days.
While the principles of Product Management have been in practice for years, the field as a career itself is becoming increasingly popular, with many people trying to become a Product Manager. After realizing a product-focused role could be the right fit for me, I began navigating my career into Product Management. Soon thereafter, I was presented with an interesting opportunity and took the leap.
Making this leap into your first product role can be a daunting task. No one is there to hold your hand and the role can be fairly ambiguous depending on various factors, such as the size and structure of the team, or the nature of the product itself.
Over the past 3 months I had the opportunity to work with the team at Shoelace to help beef up their product offering. Here I’ll provide some helpful tips that kept me cool while making a real impact on the company and their users.
What is Shoelace?
Shoelace is an intelligent retargeting assistant for e-commerce merchants. The app provides a peaceful user-experience for e-commerce merchants looking to gain more sales from the visitors that leave their online store without making a purchase. Historically, Shoelace focused primarily on offering their users Dynamic Product Ads. While the Shoelace team had worked hard to nail product-market-fit, this wasn’t enough of a differentiator to stay competitive in today’s market. Shoelace had to dig deeper into understanding the pain points they were solving for their users and how the team could beef up their product offering to deliver more value.
Jumping into things at this time presented me with a unique opportunity to wear several hats and work with an incredibly talented team that were solving real problems.
During this time there were three core areas of focus for the team that were critical in moving the product forward — exploration, speed, and value.
How can we innovate on our current product offering? What new partners or existing apps can we work with to provide ads that no one else in the market is providing to e-commerce merchants?
This involved thinking outside of the box, talking with our users directly, and connecting with industry leaders.
How can we automate processes to save time, costs, and accelerate our overall speed to market?
This involved tracking our team’s time, processes, and tasks to determine what redundancies could be automated by technology. It was obviously critical that automated processes work to provide accurate and effective results for our users.
How can we offer all of this to our users while also leveraging data and insights to optimize the performance of these ads at scale?
This involved finding ways to pull data and make meaningful insights that would enable us to drive value for all of our users.
Over this time, Shoelace managed to increase their user-base by over 80%, substantially increase MRR and negative churn rates, and even land a spot in 500 Startups.
How you can make a real impact within your first 90 days.
The first 90 days in any role can be daunting. With so many moving parts, jumping into my role at Shoelace was no different.
Here is my advice to anyone starting in a new product role.
1) Be a MVPM.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew by trying to familiarize yourself with every aspect of the organization. Know where to focus your time.
Brandon Chu defines a Minimum Viable Product Manager (MVPM) as someone with a set of skills or knowledge that are useful to be an effective generalist product manager.
You don’t need to learn everything, but it’s critical to understand enough of your team’s technology, UX, and business to drive product success.
In the early days, spend time getting familiar with the people, processes, and technologies used in these different areas of the organization so you can quickly begin applying the highest leverage as a PM.
2) Be empathetic.
Understand other’s points of view. This may literally mean taking time out of your day to meet with these individuals from different teams in the company to understand their workflow, tools, preferences, their favourite burrito, or even their most frequently used emoji🔥. Your relationship should go beyond work — you should truly get to know the rest of the team so you can always view problems from their perspective.
3) Hustle hard.
Discover what others are spending their time on and find ways to make their job easier. Bring solutions, not problems. If you’ve identified a problem you can’t solve, take a step back to think it through to come up with some alternatives with data and evidence to back up the feasibility of your assumptions. Then test these assumptions.
Hustling hard also means being open to quickly trying new things and knowing when to scrap it if it’s not working.
A good friend of mine who is a seasoned product director once told me what he thinks makes someone a great PM. He said that after hiring dozens of PMs throughout his career, he found that the best candidates were extremely strong on two qualities: Hustle & Empathy.
— Reza Khadjavi, Co-founder & CEO at Shoelace
4) Know your users.
Without getting to know your users and truly understanding their pain, you will never understand your product or how you can make your product better. After all, Product Managers are the internal voice of the user. That being said, you should be finding ways to interact with your users early on.
Find Facebook groups relevant to your product, monitor Twitter to hear what users are saying, provide user surveys, meet them at industry events, hop on a call, Skype them.
5) Use data.
For every product decision you make, ensure it is being backed up with data. Making assumptions and validating them through data is incredibly useful and will help you know when you start or scrap an idea.
Being a new member to the team, the rest of the team will be looking to see what you’re made of. If you can quickly provide new ways to collect data or provide real insights, you should be able to earn some respect from the team while also helping make impactful product decisions.
6) Be helpful.
In general, find ways to be the most helpful. Strive to be at, what Daniel Debow calls, a Level 5 GPSG: General Purpose Smart Guy.
Working at this level takes courage and you’re not always going to get it right. It’s important to leverage the power your team to collaborate and realize helpful solutions.
I hope these points help you become a little more efficient and stay cool as you step into the unknown. Stepping into your first product role isn’t easy. However, if you exhibit strong empathy and hustle, along with some of the other hints I’ve provided here, you should be able to make a positive impact.