Unlocking your next Startup Product Job – June Wrap – Part 2

After holding a variety of Senior Product roles across many different companies, building product teams from the ground up, rising to Chief Product Officer at the startup accelerator and incubator, BlueChilli, and even founding 2 startups herself – Claire Sawyers knows a thing or two about working in startups. 

Why work in a Startup?

Are you sick of the daily corporate grind? There are plenty of up-sides to working in a startup. 

  • Autonomy: the empowerment to go get stuff done.
  • Career progression: moving between roles can be easier in a smaller pool.
  • Mission driven: more than just a pay cheque, and working on something that really matters to you.
  • Less of a cog in the machine: in a smaller environment, it can be easier to see how your efforts directly contribute to the outcomes.
  • Learn and try new things: with a smaller team, and less formal structures, there’s the need to be more T-shaped, and getting in there yourself – a great way to experiment and learn.

The Challenges

But it’s not all roses.

Corporate life has its benefits too. From stability, (sometimes) better budgets, to be able to freely hire specialists, access to mentors and supporting functions. If you’re leaving these behind, be wary of the potential:

  • Stress;
  • Workloads; and 
  • Job security.

If you’re not deterred by the above, and working in a startup sounds like something for you, then the next hurdle is what you’re up against:

  • Intense competition: Claire once received 250 candidates for just one role. Applicants from across the globe, including Silicon Valley.
  • Startups not knowing what they want: Sometimes, product roles can come about in strange ways in a startup. From the board telling the founder they need to step back and focus on investments, to copying and pasting product descriptions from LinkedIn. 
  • How does your experience read: Don’t assume your experience is perceived the same way in the startup world compared to the corporate. What does 10 years experience at the same company say? Comfortable and unable to handle challenges? Or lots of internal opportunities to try new things?

Applying

What are startups looking for in candidates? Take the time to understand your customer (the hirer), so that you can position yourself effectively.

  • Curiosity / Lateral thinker
  • Passion
  • Energy
  • Autonomous / Self Starter

So with this in mind, how do you go about applying?

Highlight your experience – breadth and diversity. Use your initiative. Show your desire. Reach out to the company directly. Or find a referral. 

Make sure your CV is a good user experience. Get your CV reviewed by someone in a similar seniority and/or style of company.

Interviewing

Like any interview, make sure you are prepared. 

  • Do your research. 
  • Use the product.
  • What are the market conditions.
  • Have a point of view.
  • What relevant experience do you have that will make you a star?
  • Have some questions prepared.

Final checklist

Before you accept any role, a few things to consider:

  • Do you believe in the mission? Through the ups and downs that are inevitable with any role, belief in the mission is what will get you through the tough times.
  • Are you aligned to the founder? The founder is likely to be heavily invested in the mission, and may have strong opinions of what should be done. And how. They may be your toughest stakeholder.
  • Is there enough support? As mentioned above, with limited budgets, workload and stress can also be part of startup life. Do you have the right support to be able to succeed?
  • Are there enough challenges? Nobody wants to be in auto-pilot. Are there enough challenges to keep you engaged?

Thanks again to Claire for all the startup advice, much of which can also be applied to larger companies, and best of luck with your next job search.

Resources

For a different perspective on startups, read about product leadership in corporates and startups.

See the slides from the session.

Thank you to our host: A Cloud Guru

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Thank you to A Cloud Guru for hosting us online again this month. A Cloud Guru’s mission is to teach the world to cloud. The largest online cloud school on the planet, with training that feels more like logging into Netflix or Spotify – it’s entertaining and playful. 

Scaling Product Leadership – June Wrap – Part 1

Steven Bladeni moved from strategy to product leadership within a large corporate, to leading internal incubators, before transitioning into Head of Product and Chief Operating Officer roles in the startup world. Steven chatted with us, and shared some thoughts on product leadership in corporate and startup environments.

Building the Team

Regardless of the size of your organisation, as you move into product leadership, there are some universal truths – your success now depends on your team. More about team achievements and performance. Less about your personal accolades. 

Your first step is to build your team.

Unless you are starting your team from scratch, in both startups and corporates, you will inherit team members. So you will need to get to know them, and assess their fit. 

Then the differences between corporate and startups start to become more apparent.

Corporates

  • Larger budgets, and ability to hire specialists.
  • More mentoring.
  • Access to support functions, like HR, Legal, etc. 

Startups

  • Limited budgets, and more T-shaped generalists that can span across functions.
  • More hands on training.
  • A lot more do-it-yourself – want to hire? Go write that job ad.

Advice

Get to know your team, their strengths, weaknesses and aspirations. Where are the gaps? Will you fill them with another hire, training or mentoring? If you can, get a specialist for the things that really matter to you.

Create the Right Culture

Now that you’ve put your team together, how will they operate? It’s time to set the culture. Collaboration is almost a given. But how do you create a healthy tension, and ensure it is effective? And does that look different in different organisations?

Collaboration is encouraged, but sometimes too much. Seeking consensus will get you there, but sometimes it will just take a lot longer to get there. 

Corporates

  • Leaders prefer to control, rather than empower. Whether due to governance or legacy, the control and accountability can be hard shackles to break.
  • Challenging the status quo is accepted, within limits. You can design a safe place within your team, but as you move wider, more politics come into play.

Startups

  • The founder cannot do it all themselves, so it is essential to empower staff. Set the team in the right direction, and let them go. 
  • Amongst a small team, people are less likely to question the authority of the founder.

Advice

Trust the person with the most domain knowledge.

Manage your Stakeholders

No matter where you work, there will always be stakeholders to work with. And there will always be some decisions that are made, that you don’t agree with. Whether that be from an executive leadership team, or a founder. Either way, you need to know when to suck it up, and move on. But also get your team to move on.

Corporates

  • There will usually be more stakeholders in corporate. From brand, legal, support, sales, and maybe even the cleaner. 
  • With all these additional stakeholders, there is much more rigor to the decisions. 
  • Slower decisions

Startups

  • Although there may be fewer stakeholders in a startup, it could be just one key stakeholder – the CEO or Founder, who is passionate about the product, and with strong opinions of what and how things should be done.
  • Less process and rigour, which can make for faster decisions.

Which path is better?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Both corporate and startups have their benefits and drawbacks. 

Corporate environments can give you the opportunity to learn from more experienced leaders, expand your toolkit and build good habits. Startups allow you to utilise your toolkit, and embed product thinking at an early stage of a company, and take it to the next level. 

It’s more a question of which is a better fit for you, the stage in your career and what you are looking for to be fulfilled.

Thanks again to Steven for sharing the insights!

Resources

You can see the slides from the session and below is the video. Plus find our summary of our other speaker, Claire Sawyers, on how to land a product job in a startup.

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Up Next:

Our next session is this Thursday June 25th when we team up with Leading the Product for their lightning talk pitch fest! It’s too late to put your hand up to pitch your idea though it’s a great evening to support your fellow product people and get an idea about what it’s like to speak at LTP. RSVP now!

July event – Life & Times of an Entrepreneur

This month we are talking with a panel of entrepreneurs about their journey in their space and the product skills they are picking up along the way.

RSVP for Thursday July 25th

A big thank you to our host – A Cloud Guru!!!

Our Speakers:

Grant Hatamosa is the first employee of Zen Ecosystems, a hot upstart in the cleantech/smart grid industry. Grant has worn multiple hats through his journey of becoming Zen Ecosystems Vice President of Product. He was a call centre agent, field technician, manufacturing manager, and operations & support manager on top of his actual role as Product Manager.  He currently spends his time on Business Development & Product Management preaching the gospel of energy efficiency to customers in the US and Australia. Prior to his stint at Zen Ecosystems, Grant was a lead software developer for Planet Innovation, a company that was awarded Australia’s Most Innovative Company for a number of years. He also had stints in Singapore and the Philippines for NXP Semiconductors and Lexmark Research and Development respectively.

Shannon Gilleland is a project manager come entrepreneur who earned her stripes not only managing schedules across 12 international teams, for a global games company, but from getting her virtual hands dirty in the e-commerce business setting up and running multiple online businesses. She’s now putting her entrepreneurial, project management and problem solving skills to good use by helping solve one of the worlds plastic pollution problems as well as helping her fellow parents travel easier with a baby.

Carl Rigoni is the founder & CEO of SixSix. With a strong track record in successfully managing portfolios of digital and traditional businesses, generating revenues in excess of $1B, Carl is a leading force in helping our clients achieve their economic goals in the digital landscape.
Carl also has extensive experience in building multiple cross functional digital incubation teams to facilitate innovation and Enterprise transformation agendas. Furthermore, he has launched highly successful disruptive products such as an award winning Whereis Mobile Application, Sensis1234, and a national Digital Change of Address Notification service.