Essential Startup Product Manager Skills

Updated on February 3rd, 2022
Essential Startup Product Manager Skills

Product managers who work at startups have their work cut out for them. Nowadays, sharpening your startup product manager skills has become more of a priority than they have ever been. 

Based on startup statistics shared by Embroker, around 90% of startups fail. Further data from Embroker shows that failure is most common for startups with between two and five years in their target market. 

Startups need to align with professionals who will minimize their chances of failing once they have launched their products. Product managers in startups are all the more important since their role deals with guaranteeing the success of a product throughout its lifecycle.

In this guide, we will break down ten fundamental startup product manager skills that you need to master in order to succeed in this role. We will also dive into ways in which you can acquire these skills or sharpen them if you already have them.

Let's get started.

1. Technical PM Skills

A big part of the role of a startup product manager is working with engineers to define and build the product. While you don’t need to know as much about technical product development as an engineer, you should have a good enough understanding of how technology works.

Technical Product Management

This is crucial for several reasons. For starters, having sound knowledge of technical product development will make it easier for you to plan with software engineers. This is because you will understand not only the jargon and terminology that they use but also the various processes and technologies that they use to build products. This will make setting expectations and milestones less of a challenge. 

What’s more, being knowledgeable about the technical aspects of product management will also allow you to establish smooth and steady flows of communication between you and the entire development team. Having an understanding of their demands, challenges, and goals as software engineers will lay the foundation to provide and receive feedback and constructive criticism between both parties.

If you already work within a product team, a good place to start honing your technical skills is by engaging more with the development team. Find out more about how they work as well as the kinds of challenges they experience on the job. If you don’t have the luxury of already working in a product team, then consider applying for the role of a developer or product designer if you have the skills. There, you will gain hands-on knowledge of how these professionals work. With that knowledge, you will find it easier to transition into being a startup product manager.

If any case, do consider enrolling in the Technical Product Manager Course at PMHQ. This course will give you the technical knowledge and abilities you'll need to manage products that use diverse technology.

2. Management Skills

Having sound management skills is essential for a startup product manager. As a product leader at a new company, you will have to juggle different tasks at once. This includes:

  • Developing a product strategy that aligns with its corresponding vision and mission
  • Determining requirements for product success
  • Identifying key milestones along the product development process
  • Setting expectations for the design and development team
  • Communicating feedback to the team for reviewal
  • Overseeing the product launch and development of go-to-market strategy

    Your ability to manage those responsibilities will be the differentiating factor between you being an asset or a liability to your startup. For that reason, remaining organized while multitasking is a fundamental startup product manager skill that you must hone.  

Product Management

Doing so will require you to prioritize tasks and resources at a given time in an effort to guarantee the success of a product’s development cycle. It will also require you to support and encourage your product team. As a product manager, you will have to lead cross-functional teams that comprise developers, designers, and marketing professionals. Honing your skills as a manager will be crucial to align the different profiles in the team around the overarching goals of the company. That way, you’ll have an easier time managing expectations among team members and stakeholders alike. You will also find it easier management skills will also be helpful when you negotiate or resolve conflicts in your position.

One of the best ways to sharpen your managerial skills is to land a job in a managerial or supervisory role. The added responsibility will give you practical experience in prioritizing tasks and will set you on your path to becoming a startup product manager

3. Communication Skills

Communication abilities are key for a startup product manager. This position forces you to communicate with stakeholders, engineers, and other members of the team. This includes understanding complex concepts and explaining them in a way that others can understand. Excellent communication skills will help keep everyone on track and maximize product success.

Framework for Communication Strategy

This will, in turn, have a positive impact on your team’s ability to deliver successful products on time and within budget.

Some ways to improve your communication skills as a startup product manager include:

  • Participating in group discussions and exercises (e.g., brainstorming sessions)
  • Asking questions from your team members when you are in doubt 
  • Listening to feedback, comments, and constructive criticism from your team
  • Giving clear and concise explanations of your ideas
  • Using visual aids (e.g., diagrams, sketches) to illustrate concepts
  • Being patient when explaining complex ideas or responding to tough questions

4. Research Skills

Research is a fundamental element of the product development process. As a product manager, you need to understand customer needs and develop products that meet those needs. This information will help you determine how to best position the product within its market and stand out among those of your competitors.

Good research skills can also help a startup product manager identify potential opportunities and threats early on. This will allow you to take advantage of opportunities or mitigate potential risks before they become too large. 

All of this implies that your research skills as a startup product manager will help you build better products. By understanding what customers want and how best to meet those needs, you will then create products that will be successful. This, in turn, can help will attract new customers and grow your product.

Research is a fundamental element of the product development process. As a product manager, you need to understand customer needs and develop products that meet those needs. This information will help you determine how to best position the product within its market and stand out among those of your competitors.

Good research skills can also help a startup product manager identify potential opportunities and threats early on. This will allow you to take advantage of opportunities or mitigate potential risks before they become too large. 

All of this implies that your research skills as a startup product manager will help you build better products. By understanding what customers want and how best to meet those needs, you will then create products that will be successful. This, in turn, can help will attract new customers and grow your product.

5. Business Skills

A startup product manager is responsible for a product’s success. This includes working with engineering teams to design and launch products. To be successful in this role, it's vital to have strong business skills. Here are some key business skills that every startup product manager should possess:

  • Sales skills: A good product manager needs to sell their product ideas not only to internal stakeholders but also to customers. You must be clear on what your clients desire and how you can take advantage of that to increase your chances of selling your product. 
  • Marketing skills: Product managers also need to have a solid understanding of marketing principles. They need to know how to create adequate marketing collateral, run campaigns, and track results, among others.
  • Analytical skills: Analyzing data is essential for a product manager. They need to track how users are interacting with the product and determine what changes or enhancements need to be made.

Business acumen: A good product manager needs to understand business concepts and how they apply to the technology industry. They need to read financial statements, assess market trends, and make sound business decisions.

6. Analytical Skills

An analytical mindset is key for a startup product manager. This stems from a need to be able to understand and assess the data that is available to you. This involves understanding customer behavior, market trends, and competitor activity. Having this ability will help you make better decisions for your product roadmap.

Project Roadmap

Credits: Product Plan

 

It will also provide you with key insight as to how you should grow your business. Your ability to analyze data will help you as a startup product managers prioritize your time and resources while optimizing products. The more you practice analyzing data, the better you will become at it.

7. Delegation Skills

Delegation skills are essential to startup product managers because you need to manage your time and resources. Startups often have a small team in which you will adopt a senior role as a manager. For that reason, you must delegate tasks to other team members where needed in order to ensure that the entire team is on track towards achieving the overriding product goals. That way, everyone contributes to the product's success without feeling overwhelmed. 

Delegation Framework

Additionally, delegation helps to build trust within the team and encourages collaboration. When everyone feels like part of a team, chances are they will find it easier to work together while reducing the likelihood of conflict. This will benefit the startup in the long run as it lays a foundation for faster growth by way of increased productivity.

8. Marketing and Sales Skills

One of the most important skills for a startup product manager is marketing and sales skills. You need to create a marketing plan, and you also need to know how to sell your product. You should understand what makes your product unique, and you should be able to articulate this to potential customers. This will implore you to familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of product advertising and marketing as well as the need to tap into your creative side.

You can take classes at a local business school or online courses to improve your marketing and sales skills. Another option is to join an entrepreneur group or networking group to meet other business owners who can help you learn about marketing and selling products. These activities will help you sell your product to customers and investors and help you grow your business.

9. Prioritization Skills

Prioritization skills are essential for a startup product manager. This is because the product manager is responsible for understanding and prioritizing the customer's needs, then aligning the team's work to deliver on those priorities. Without strong prioritization skills, it can be difficult to make tough decisions about what features to build and what tasks to prioritize.

Credits: NessLabs

 

One way to develop your prioritization skills is to use a framework such as the Eisenhower Matrix. This tool will help you assess and compare different tasks or features to determine the most important ones. 

Not sharpening your prioritization skills as a startup product manager has several adverse effects. One of the most glaring ones is that it will lead to missed opportunities if a less important task is given a higher priority. 

10. Strategic Thinking Skills

Strategic thinking is a skill that will play a significant role in your ability to succeed as a startup product manager. Strategy is a fundamental aspect of the product management process. It is only with a strategic mindset that product managers can prioritize decisions that maximize product success. 

Your strategic thinking skills will allow you to design, develop, and execute long-term plans for your products. This is essential in today's fast-paced, ever-changing business environment. This skill, along with the others in this guide, can be honed by building managerial experience or taking a course in management to learn them.