GUIDE 2024

How to Become a Startup Product Manager without Experience

The key to every success in any industry is innovation. Startups have the luxury of exploring new ideas without fear. The startup world is challenging and always will be. As a startup product manager, you will make decisions in an effort to achieve your company’s goals without overworking your team.

Startup Product managers are in charge of setting up the foundation for product management at a new company. Since product development is such a lucrative field, this is a crucial role for the company.

According to Airfocus, an optimized product manager boosts profitability by 34.2 percent for a corporation. That said, while startup product managers are in demand, many prospective professionals still have difficulty figuring out how to embark on this career path.

In this guide, we will break down a few steps you can take to increase your chances of being a startup product manager.
Let’s dive right in.

Step 1: Learn Fundamentals of Product Management

As a startup product manager, you will be responsible for guaranteeing the success of the product development process. This includes all of the activities done in product conceptualization, design, development, and marketing.

In the conceptualization phase, product managers must identify the vision, mission, and requirements that will condition how a team builds out a product. In order to do so, startup product managers will need to conduct market research to maximize product-market fit. 
Product Management
Startup product managers then use those initial requirements to condition how they design and develop the product. On one hand, this entails coming up with possible design concepts that capture the vision, mission, and goals of a given product. On the other hand, it also involves translating product requirements into actionable initiatives that the design and development team can follow to meet your expectations as a product manager.

Once your team has completed the development phase, you must also participate in creating a marketing plan for your product. Here, you will have to supplement your initial market research with additional context that will help you to optimize how you position your product in its respective market.

In order to carry out all of these activities, you will need to have a solid understanding of the principles of product management.

Our PMHQ Product Manager Course will help you get a foothold in the essentials of product management.
Technical Product Manager Certification

Step 2: Get Certified in Technical Product Manager

Many companies have their own internal training programs and certification processes. However, anyone pursuing a job as a startup product manager will find it helpful to get certified in technical product management.
The Role of a Product Manager
The working environment at any startup forces everyone on the team to juggle several responsibilities across different domains at all once. In the case of a startup product manager, your responsibilities transcend that of being a traditional product manager. Since the team is small, you will have to manage the technical aspects of product development. This will include:

  • Translating product requirements into clear and concise instructions for the product team 
  • Creating roadmaps that will help the technical team understand product requirements
  • Figuring out milestones and deliverables for software engineers
  • Providing feedback that will help the technical team improve upon the work they’ve produced
  • Facilitating communication between the technical product team and other stakeholders

For that reason, startup product managers need to be familiar with the technical side of product development. You will have to keep abreast with the latest frameworks used by product managers to keep the technical team engaged and motivated. Also, if the product you’re managing incorporates complex applied science, you will also have to be knowledgeable about those specific types of technology. For example, if your product leverages artificial intelligence AI), you will have to have a solid enough grasp of AI to liaise with the technical team and ensure the product’s success.

Step 3: Get Certified in Business Fundamentals

While roles in product management are in constant evolution, there are some basics that will never change. Business development is one of those fundamentals. Product management is a discipline that goes hand in hand with business development. In the case of a startup product manager, you must be familiar with business development and financial management.

Since startups are businesses that have just been launched, proper management of your money and additional assets is crucial. As a startup product manager, in most cases, you will have a budget that will dictate monetary allocations for certain business activities. This will force you to find creative ways to meet and exceed product expectations.

Learning the basics of managing businesses will provide you with the knowledge that will help make the decision-making and prioritization process in product development easier for you.

Step 4: Gain Formal/Informal Experience in Startups

If you’re looking to become a startup product manager, it’s essential to build experience in startups.
The work environment of a startup company is different from that of a traditional company.

Juggling different responsibilities is only one of the many tasks that startup product managers need to carry out. The demand for growth in a startup is at an all-time high. Otherwise, the startup may fail.

Therefore, those who work at startups operate in high-stress environments. Working in this type of environment can be taxing on someone who doesn’t have prior experience since it requires nerves of steel and extreme focus.

Gaining informal experience in startups is the easiest way to get into the frame of mind to be a startup product manager. Where possible, try your best to work in a role similar to that of a startup product manager.

If that isn’t possible, then get your foot in the door in the product or development team. From there, you will get a solid sense of the kind of challenges that startup product managers have to face and how to best navigate them to be successful at your job.

How to Become a Startup Product Manager With no Experience

If you are looking to become a startup product manager, chances are you do not have prior experience in the field.

While experience in a similar position is crucial, there is still hope for you to become a startup product manager even if you don’t have a professional background in the field.

Here’s a short summary of some steps you can step to land a job as a startup product manager without any prior experience. 

  • Have a solid technical background and understand the complexities of software development.
  • Familiarize yourself with business principles, market strategies, and product creation. 
  • Learn product management frameworks, procedures, and methodologies.
  • Sharpen your data collection and analytical skills.
  • Find out how to make better decisions using product metrics. 
  • Study concepts such as cost-benefit assessments, trade-offs, and other economic terms that will be pivotal in helping you manage the financial aspect of product development.

How to Prepare Yourself for Your Next Startup Product Manager Role

If you are looking to become a startup Product manager, there are a few things that you can do to land the role. This includes the following:

Prepare For A Startup Product Manager Interview

When preparing for a job as a startup product manager, a good place to start is to by getting ready for your interview.

Your interview process is one of the most crucial aspects that you need to nail when applying for any job. This is your opportunity to prove why a potential recruiter should hire you for the position.

According to stats shared by Legal Jobs, you have a short 7-second window to make a good impression on a potential recruiter. If you arrive at a startup product manager interview unprepared, you will leave a bad impression on prospective employers.

To avoid this, take time and research possible startup product manager interview questions and answers. Don’t try to memorize possible responses. The best interviews are those where the candidates act in a relaxed and confident manner.

By anticipating possible questions and preparing responses, you will stand a better chance at impressing your employer and landing the job.

Work on Your Soft Skills

If you want to become a startup product manager, it’s vital that you work on your soft skills. This includes skills like:

  • Communication 
  • Empathy
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork

As a product manager, you’ll need to communicate with your team and your stakeholders. You’ll also need to be able to solve problems while guaranteeing speed and efficiency. It’s also important to be able to work well with others to achieve common goals.

Several different programs can teach you the essential skills needed to be a successful product manager. You can also look for a job as a product manager intern. This will allow you to learn from experienced professionals and develop your skills.

All in all, these are skills that can be developed through practice and experience.

Always Seek Improvement

No matter how good you are as a startup product manager, there is always room for self-improvement. Be sure to seek out new and innovative ways to improve your skillset.

Whether it’s attending conferences or workshops, reading books or blogs, networking with other professionals, or taking courses, be proactive in building your skillset. And don’t forget to practice what you learn. The more you apply what you’ve learned, the better you will become.

Here are four additional tips that will help you on your journey to becoming a startup product manager: 

  • Always be open to feedback. That includes any constructive criticism that they may give. Whether it comes from your team, customers, or other stakeholders, make sure you take the time to listen to them and understand the message they’re bringing across to you. Use it to inform your product roadmap and make any necessary changes in your product management strategy. 
  • Test your assumptions. As a startup, chances are you don’t have the luxury to waste time on things that don’t work. If you have an initial hypothesis, be proactive and test out those ideas to see if they are worth the investment. 
  • Be creative. In the early stages of a startup, every dollar counts. So don’t be afraid to mix things up and try out new ways to get your product in front of customers or improve its usability. While it may seem like a long investment at first, you’ll find that you’ll get better quality data to help you finetune your product strategy and save in the long run.
  • Remain up to date with the current trends in your industry. It’s important to know what’s going on in your field so you can make informed decisions about your product. Read up on relevant blogs, attend conferences, and participate in discussions online. Doing so will give you more ideas that you can use to craft and refine your product strategy and prove to your company why you are a rockstar product manager.
Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is the co-founder of Product HQ, founder of Technical Writer HQ, and founder and head of product of Squibler. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.