GUIDE 2024

What Does a Startup Product Manager Do?

The biggest challenge that all startups face is a lack of resources. Every decision about hiring new resources or carrying out transactions has to be carefully planned out. However, for a new business with a product or two, investing in a product manager is a safe bet.

Startup PMs, also known as “first product managers,” are responsible for setting up the very foundations of product management at a newly established company. Since they’re a crucial part of their company’s foundational team, there’s a lot of pressure involved. That being said, the job comes with many attractive intrinsic and financial perks.

But what exactly does a startup product manager do? If you’re a startup founder or a product management professional considering a new opportunity, keep reading.

In this article, we’ll sketch out a detailed picture and understanding of what a startup PM’s job entails.

Let’s get started.

What does a Startup Product Manager do?

For the most part, a startup product manager has the same responsibilities as a typical PM working at a well-established company. They’re responsible for creating and owning product strategies, rallying internal teams towards a common goal, managing people, and leading discussions around innovative solutions and initiatives to move things forward.

The only difference is that a PM at a startup needs to apply a more hands-on approach and work with the founders.

Here are a few, core responsibilities that every startup PM has to take care of:

1. Owning the Product Strategy and Roadmap

Before anything else, a startup PM has to collaborate with the founders of the company to develop, own, and implement a full-fledged product strategy and a game plan (product roadmap) for it.

This is the most crucial part of a startup PM’s role. If you look up JDs on Glassdoor and Indeed, you’ll see that it’s the very first thing that recruiters mention.

This entails specifying:

  • What the startup wants to accomplish with its products
  • The specific business goals they want to
  • List of steps and initiatives required to get to the product vision (plan of action)
  • The resources required to stick to the product roadmap

After creating a product strategy and roadmap with the founder(s), a startup PM would then have to communicate and implement this strategy to the startup.

The PM acts as the main point of contact for any queries about the product roadmap (for example, how far have the teams progressed?).

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2. Aligning Internal Teams towards the Vision

The second biggest responsibility of a startup product manager is to align the internal development team (regardless of how few members there may be) towards a common company-wide agenda – the product vision.

Aligning or rallying product teams in startups is relatively easier than it is in larger companies. That’s because, in a typical startup, there aren’t many team members to begin with. Each product team has a handful of people (and in some cases, certain departments, such as marketing, are one-person-armies).

Whatever the case, a startup PM has to make sure that all the stakeholders, product leaders, marketing, and product development teams are on the same page.

For this purpose, the product manager may hold one-on-one meetings, in addition to stand-ups, to keep everyone in the loop.

Again, since the internal teams aren’t that large, the PM has the privilege to take a more personal approach.

3. Contributing to Every Major Business Function

Another thing that separates the job of a startup product manager from a regular product management role is the amount of individual contributions they have to make.

A typical startup doesn’t have much resources to spend. As a result, the product manager there is expected to wear many hats and execute some of the product strategies themselves (in addition to managing team members).

In other words, they have to assume the role of a generalist.

For that reason, a great product manager should have sufficient know-how of:

  • Product marketing (product life cycles, market/user research, GTM, and others)
  • Business in general (finances, strategy, and others)
  • Product development (user stories, design, engineering, and others)

Hence, startup founders and product managers are expected to do everything – from influencing decision-making to taking initiatives that result from those decisions.

Considering all that, if you’re interested in building a career on the individual contributor (IC) track, working as a startup product manager can prepare you for the quick-thinking approach it requires.

4. Manage the GTM Strategy

If the startup doesn’t have a product marketing manager (or anyone else overseeing the marketing function), the startup PM is expected to create and execute the go-to-market (GTM) strategy.

This entails:

  • Determining a pricing strategy – the startup PM works with the founder (or a finance specialist, if there is one) to opt for a pricing strategy that aligns with the business goals.
  • Determining a distribution strategy – another critical component of a GTM strategy is determining a strategy to reach the end customers.

Behind every successful product in the startup world, there’s a high-level GTM strategy that helps bring it to the world. For that reason, the startup PM has a lot of pressure to get it right.

5. Provide Feedback and Get Updates

At an early-stage startup (and those in later stages), where the company has already launched a minimal viable product (MVP), a startup product manager has to work with the internal teams to analyze and act on customer feedback.

Again, this requires a hands-on approach. A product manager has to create a process that enables the sharing of this feedback with the relevant teams. Furthermore, the process should also describe the way those problems are addressed and how market problems are resolved.

For instance, if feedback reveals certain gaps in the product (a glitch or potential improvements), the engineering team should be involved. On top of that, the PM has to create and implement a plan of action that resolves the problem and helps fill the gaps.

6. Measure Results and Optimize

Last but not least, the startup product manager is responsible for collecting, evaluating, and sharing product-related data.

For this purpose, they track certain product metrics to make sure that the startup is on a trajectory of growth that hits the business goals.

Additionally, after analyzing this data, the startup product manager is also expected to lead the corrective/improvement measures through internal discussions.

Do Startups need Product Managers?

The short answer: Yes, most startups do need product managers. This is true for startups that have grown beyond the pre-seed stage and are moving fast towards creating and launching something tangible, all while wanting to scale.

However, keep in mind that startups at the early stages can also benefit from hiring PMs.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • A startup product manager can take a major chunk of the PM workload off the founder’s shoulders
  • They can serve as the bridge that aligns all business teams
  • Using their years of experience, they can set a clear roadmap for the startup product
  • Product management helps eliminate business silos

At the end of the day, the decision to hire a startup PM depends on its founders, since they know from target market research where they stand better than anyone else.

Final Remarks

All in all, startup PMs not only help move things forward across the board through individual contributions, but they also set the very foundations for project management in their startup company.

If you enjoy working in high-velocity environments and want to make an impact at the foundational technology level, you should consider becoming a startup product manager.


Below, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions related to the startup product management role:

How much do startups pay product managers?

Startup product managers in the US earn $116,000 per year (or $41 per hour). The highest salary reported for a startup product manager is $161,500 per year.

Furthermore, the highest-paying city for this role is Sunnyvale, CA, with an average annual salary of $101,675.

How do I become a first product manager?

Here’s a quick roadmap that you can take to land a role as the first PM at a startup:

  • Invest in building your credentials – first and foremost, you need to build a list of credentials that validate your skills. A bachelor’s degree isn’t necessary but can give you a significant competitive edge. Instead, focus on investing in different product certifications.
  • Invest in the right skill sets – work on your soft skills. In addition, building business development, management, and marketing skills can also go a long way in helping you stand out from your peers.
  • Gain ample experience – unless you’re aiming for an internship, if you’re fresh, you shouldn’t apply as a first product manager at a startup. Build relevant work experience first by working someplace else, under the tutelage of other experienced product managers.

Finally, after building ample product management experience, start applying and preparing for the interview process for open positions at startups.

When should a startup hire a product manager?

While a startup could benefit from hiring a product manager at any time, it doesn’t mean that there’s always a need for one. The best time for a startup to hire a product manager is when it’s having trouble scaling, and the founder(s) need to delegate some of the product management-related tasks to an expert.

A startup space also requires product managers when they need to make the product market fit.

If you are new to product management and are looking to break into your very first product manager role, we recommend taking our Product Manager Certification Courses, where you will learn the fundamentals of product management, launch your product, and get on the fast track toward landing your first product job.