What Does a Startup Product Manager Do?

When you think of startups, what do you think of? The answer is probably entrepreneurs and investors. But there is another important part that plays a major role in the success or failure of an organization- startup product managers. 

Product managers are responsible for ensuring that everything from the initial idea to the final production runs smoothly.

The post goes on to talk about different aspects of being a product manager at a startup including roles and responsibilities, as well as tips for business development.

What is a Startup Product Manager?

A startup product manager is a key player at an early-stage company. They are responsible for managing the process of transforming that initial idea into a functional, sustainable business along with the product team. 

The role of a product manager includes everything from identifying what needs to be developed and designing those features with developers to building relationships with investors and coming up with marketing plans.

What is a startup?

Startups are companies that usually have a new idea or product and require funding. They can be high-tech, biotech, cleantech, gaming – anything you can think of. You may also hear them referred to as technology startups because they often use the latest technologies in their products. 

Startup product manager roles and responsibilities

The product management role encompasses many different tasks. The main responsibilities of a startup product manager are to:

1. Create product roadmaps 

A product roadmap is a plan for the development of successful products. It usually covers several quarters to years and includes details about how each product will develop in terms of both features, timeline, and budget. The main goal is that it should be comprehensive enough so that the development team members and all departments are on the same page with regards to what needs to get done and when they need to do them.

Product roadmaps are essential because they allow companies to stay focused on their core competencies and ensure that they are not stretched too thin with developing new products. 

Startup product managers also develop a product roadmap as part of the company’s overall business plan, which includes other important information like financial objectives.

2. Defining the product vision 

Another important responsibility of an early-stage startup product manager is to define the product vision.

It is important for product leaders, in particular, to have this explicitly defined, because startups can’t afford to spend their time developing products that don’t meet their core PM goals

A good way for a product manager at any level within an organization to do this would be by looking at what customers are asking for as well as identifying gaps in the market where new competitors may emerge. 

Startup Product Managers also make sure they’re staying focused on these objectives through detailed quarterly reports or other PM metrics like customer satisfaction rankings so that it doesn’t become too difficult to track progress over time.

3. Prioritize product features

Great product managers are responsible for deciding which features to work on first. 

This is an important step in the product development process. It requires a great deal of insight into what customers want or need from their products, as well as the research required to identify possible new competitors entering the market. 

Working on this is important because it makes it easier for teams to know what their priorities are and where they should be focusing their product strategy

Startup product managers also use research in order to prioritize features by the likelihood of customer adoption based on past experience, as well as any current market trends that may affect a company’s ability to find success with certain features 

When prioritizing, startup PMs try not only to consider how much time is required for each feature but also the costs associated with developing them. 

The cost can often inform which features get worked on first since there typically aren’t unlimited resources available.

4. Communicating with stakeholders

Startup product managers will typically have a lot of meetings with stakeholders, such as the designers and developers who are working on the project. 

The startup product manager needs to make sure everyone is aligned in terms of what they’re building so that it’s something customers actually want. 

This includes presenting research findings during these meetings, explaining how decisions about prioritization were made, and answering any questions people might have.

5. Conduct and analyze customer feedback

Great product managers need to constantly be asking customers what they think about the product, and in order for that feedback to make sense, it needs to come from many different sources.

Startup product managers typically conduct user research by analyzing data on bugs or customer complaints as well as through one-on-one interviews with users of their app or software. 

The goal is always a better understanding of how people are using products. In the case of startups, this helps guide decisions about when features get built, prioritized within other work, and released into production.

6. Monitor the market and develop competitive analyses

Product managers at a startup also need to keep an eye on what the competition is doing. 

It’s important for startups, especially those in highly competitive markets, to be aware of new features and products being released by competitors so they can respond quickly. 

Startup product managers must stay up-to-date about which companies are relevant to their particular industry or market niche as well as which ones pose a threat for potential takeovers. They may even have insider information from former employees who want out of the company that would prove invaluable when planning future releases with customers’ expectations in mind.

7. Collect, manage, and prioritize market/customer requirements

Product managers at startups are responsible for collecting, managing, and prioritizing customer requirements. 

Startup product managers may work closely with sales reps to solicit feedback from potential customers or they might be on the front lines of new customer acquisition themselves. 

This is a crucial task because it’s the customer who decides whether a product succeeds or fails. 

Startup Product Manager skills

The skills and qualities that make a good product manager are the same as in any other type of company, but startup PMs also need to be comfortable with uncertainty. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most valuable skills product managers usually gain in PM bootcamps and PM certification programs:

1. A strong and clear product vision

 Startup PMs need a clear vision of what they want to achieve and the ability to communicate this with conviction. 

They should be able to summarize how their product will make its customers’ lives better in just one sentence. 

This is a crucial skill because it ensures that all decisions align around achieving the same goal, and saves time for other tasks like roadmap planning or customer validation surveys. 

2. A solid understanding of data 

The product manager needs to be able to take a step back and look at all the data they have collected, no matter how much or little. 

This means making inferences from customer surveys and other research in order to develop hypotheses about what is likely happening with their customers’ problems. 

They also need to know how metrics like AARRR funnel analysis can help them test those hypotheses. 

It’s important for PMs not just to think of themselves as people who make products but also marketers that are promoting these products through channels like email campaigns or social media advertising. This is because marketing decisions will directly affect whether anyone finds out about the startup company’s product in the first place.

3. knowledge of market and industry trends

The startup product manager needs to know about what’s happening in the market. Trends come and go, but it is invaluable for a PM at any company to be aware of them. 

This can help them make better decisions when it comes time to release new products into a competitive marketplace. 

It may also help with making decisions on pricing strategy or even where they should focus their marketing efforts (e.g., Instagram vs Facebook). 

In fact, this knowledge will likely prove useful no matter which channel they use because trends are so fast-paced now that anything could become popular next week.

4. Business skills

A product manager needs to be very savvy when it comes to business and decision-making skills.

They need to know how things work in the startup world so they can best serve their company.

This includes using different tactics for achieving success that may have been avoided in a larger organization where there’s more risk-taking allowed. 

It also means understanding which decisions will lead to growth or stagnation and figuring out what makes sense financially before proceeding with them. 

And finally, they must understand how important client relations are because this is not only about pleasing one person but having strong relationships with everyone who interacts with their startup company on some level (end customers, potential investors). 

5. Product Strategist mindset

Startup product managers need to think in terms of what’s best for the company. 

In order to do this, they need a deep understanding of how their startup works on every level and an awareness of its strengths and weaknesses. 

The strategic mindset is about asking “how does X affect us?” rather than just looking at it as something that’s happening to them or someone else. 

It also means being able to identify where there needs to be changed so things don’t get stagnant or fall behind competitors. 

A better product, more sales, finding new clients– these are all examples of strategic thinking in hindsight because you’re analyzing what has already happened and figuring out ways you could have made it happen differently before.

6. Communication skills

A product manager needs to be able to communicate in a clear way with multiple audiences– from employees and stakeholders, up the chain of command all the way to customers. 

This communication can take many different forms: email updates, dashboards displaying progress metrics, report summaries for management meetings or reports that are read by top executives. 

The same thing applies when communicating externally as it does internally; everything should be written in a tone appropriate for how senior someone is on your team. 

7. Storytelling abilities 

In order to sell your product, you need to be able to tell a compelling story. 

This storytelling should include the history of how it came about, why people will care, and what makes it different from the competition. 

You also need to have anecdotes that illustrate key points when showing your product off– for example “I was at a client meeting with our sales team yesterday where we demoed X and I could see their faces light up”. 

The more personal and vivid these stories are, the better they’ll sound coming out of someone’s mouth. 

Is working as a PM at a startup worth it? 

Being a product manager at a startup might seem daunting and fascinating at the same time. 

Although it is true that working as a startup product manager might be a challenge, there are many benefits that come with it. 

These include: 

  • Being able to work directly with the founders and CEO of a company. This means you’ll have more opportunities for visibility in your organization. 
  • Working on multiple projects at the same time so if one starts dragging along then you can work on something else instead.
  • You might get an opportunity to be exposed early on to new technologies or concepts before other companies adopt them, which will make it easier for startups like yours to stay ahead of your competition. 

The truth is that, even though there is a higher risk of failing than in a traditional company, being a product manager at a startup is worth it for so many PMs out there.


I'm a seasoned writer specializing in business reviews.  I've had my articles published on leading blogs including TheNextWeb, Yahoo News, Jeff Bullas, Business2Community, and more.