4 reasons why titles matter in startups

So you have just been offered a product management job in a startup, but the job offer does not mention any specific title. Should you bring up the title in your offer negotiations? I say Absolutely. In startups everyone is expected to wear multiple hats, but titles still matter for the following reasons:job title

  1. Equity offered is directly proportional to your title: Startups have what is known as a capitalization or a cap table. In its most simplified form, you can think of it as a two-column table – first column lists the titles in each row and the second column lists the % of ownership each title is given. Founders get the most equity, a hired CEO gets the next big chunk, VPs get more than Directors, Directors more than Managers and then at the bottom are those who are individual contributors. So your title determines what you get. Of course, there may be exceptions especially for the first few employees, but the cap tables are a general rule of thumb when it comes to equity grants. Note that I specifically used % of ownership as opposed to number of shares (this is another pitfall you should avoid). The number of shares mean nothing other than possibly stoking your ego. Being granted 50,000 shares may make you feel good, but if the outstanding shares are 100 million, you have just 0.05% of the company. This means if the company gets sold for $100M dollars 5 years after you join, the maximum you will ever get in exchange for your 5-year sweat equity is $50,000 (and even this is not a given and it depends on the terms at which money was raised from investors). Instead if you had 1,000 shares in a company that has 100,000 shares, you own 1% of the company. If it now gets sold for the same $100M, you could get a sweet $1M.
  2. Current title typically determines where you go next: Very few startups succeed, actually only a minuscule of them. You may have a fancy title of “The Cool dude” in the company that says titles do not matter and one that touts great culture. Even if you were responsible for all of product management, it could hurt you in the future. Future employers will not know what “The Cool Dude did” or may not even believe what you did. I would any day choose a title of Director of Product Management or VP of Product because it sets you up for your next stepping stone. Note, the founders of a company will make sure that they have the title of “Co-founder” in their titles for a good reason – it demonstrates their entrepreneurship and risk taking abilities. So I don’t buy when I hear startups say “we are not big on titles here”. Don’t get me wrong, I have always done what is needed to get the job done independent of what my title states, but that does not mean that the title is not important.
  3. HR cares about titles: If your startup gets acquired and if the acquirer decides to eliminate positions, severance payouts are usually based on your position in the hierarchy. I have seen execs walk away with a much bigger pot of gold than individual contributors have. Even if you are not let go, your compensation structure (bonus, stock options etc.) in the new bigger company will be dependent on the title you held in the smaller acquired company.
  4. Titles matter when speaking to customers: “The Cool dude” on your business card is not going to help you much if you are trying to close a deal for your sales team or if you are trying to meet with an executive of prospective clients. Titles like Director of Product or VP of Product Management likely will. Customers want to spend time with whom they perceive has decision making authority and not with “The cool dude”.

Just my opinion. What’s your take?


Started new gig at Care.com

I started my new job at Care.com this week as Director of Product Management for the International initiative. Had a good 2 year stint at Gazelle before this great opportunity came by.

Care.com enables consumers to find babysitters, nannies, senior care providers, pet sitters, tutors, housekeepers and a lot more. The service has existed in the US since 2006  and has become the largest and fastest growing service used by families seeking high-quality care providers, providing a place to easily connect with hundreds of thousands of care providers, share care giving experiences and get advice. Now care.com is expanding into the UK and I will be leading the product management effort for this initiative. I am very excited to join the company given the stellar management team, sizable marketopportunity and the ability to build something up from the ground floor.

Wish me luck folks since it is going to be busy, fun and challenging!

Senior Product Manager position – New York City

One of the ways this blog helps me is when readers reach out to me asking for advice and also for help. Recently, Jonathan Hoefler, CEO of Hoefler & Frere-Jones (www.typography.com) reached out asking for help in recruiting his company’s first software product manager. Jonathan and I went through needs analysis to make sure I understand where the product manager would fit into their org and also what would be expected of the product manager. I helped Jonathan write up the job description for the position which is given below. If any of you are interested, please respond directly to Jonathan at hr-spm@typography.com. (I will not be accepting resumes or making recommendations to Jonathan unless I know you personally).

This position reports directly to Jonathan (CEO) and is a highly visible role with great opportunities to define product management in a company that was named one of the most innovative design companies in America by Fast Company. Good luck!

Senior Product Manager, Software

Hoefler & Frere-Jones (H&FJ) is a leading digital type foundry with a body of work that includes some of the world’s most famous fonts. H&FJ works with brand leaders in every sector, developing original fonts for print, screen, and mobile applications, and licensing them through our New York office and our website www.typography.com. Our body of work includes the signature typeface of the Obama campaign, the fonts used by magazines from Wired to Martha Stewart Living, the institutional typefaces of the Whitney and Guggenheim museums, and the Hoefler Text font family that has shipped with 75,000,000 Macintoshes. A leader in the industry for more than 20 years, H&FJ’s mission is to enable people to speak in a unique voice across all channels, always with an emphasis on new and emerging technologies. It’s an objective that’s lead us to create new products and services that bring fine typography to websites, mobile apps, eBooks, and beyond.

As our first ever Product Manager, you will work closely with our senior management and engineering teams to develop product strategy and lead its execution. You will report directly to the CEO, making this a leadership role with significant visibility, accountability, and career growth potential. You will lead the enhancement of existing products, and help to develop new products and services. You must possess both business- and technical savvy, a big-picture vision, and the drive to make that vision a reality via superior execution. We’re looking for an individual who is passionate, hands-on, and willing to work collaboratively with internal stakeholders to launch successful and profitable products for the company. As an established and well-respected company, H&FJ is free from startup jitters and management fire drills. And as a small company (a team of 17) with a global reach, you’ll have a real opportunity to make a significant impact.

This is a full-time salaried position at our New York office, open to US citizens or those with authorization to work in the US.

Key Responsibilities:

While these responsibilities are what will keep you busy, H&FJ is a place for people ready to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to make our products successful.

  • Manage the full product life cycle for our web product offerings ranging from strategic planning to tactical execution.
  • Define product strategy and product roadmap for existing and new product offerings, working very closely with the senior management team.
  • Define product requirement documents for current and future products based on market research and competitive analysis.
  • Drive the execution of the defined solutions by working with senior management, engineering and marketing teams.
  • Develop and implement a company-wide go-to-market plan, working with all internal stakeholders to ensure successful execution and product launch.
  • Help create marketing materials such as datasheets and white papers that communicate the customer benefits of our product offerings, and reflect our position as an established industry leader.

Required Qualifications:

  • A BS/BA degree, preferably in a technology field.
  • A minimum of 5 years of software product management experience, with at least 2 years of experience managing SaaS, or software products sold online.
  • A successful track record of achieving results with minimal direction and oversight in a very fast paced environment.
  • The demonstrated ability to deal with both big-picture strategic activities and detail-oriented tactical activities.
  • Superior communication skills: written, verbal, and presentational.
  • Ability to articulate and present problems and possible solutions to internal stakeholders.

Since you’re good at articulating and advocating your position, please write directly to Jonathan Hoefler, Founder and CEO, at hr-spm@typography.com, to explain why you’re right for H&FJ. Please include a copy of your résumé, as well as any other material that you feel is relevant.

Managing your product management career – Part 3 – Job hunting tips

This is the third and final post of the series on managing your product management career. The first post was about assessing your product management skills and the second post was about how to market yourself as a software product manager.

Now that you have assessed your skill set, build digital assets for your personal brand, you are now ready to start the next step in your career. Here are a few job hunting tips.

If you think that you can easily find a job by posting your resume on as many job sites such as Monster, Careerbuilder or HotJobs, be prepared for a rude awakening. I have never posted my resumes on any job site. The only professional resumes you can find on me are on LinkedIn and on the About me page on this blog.

There is something called a “hidden job market” out there which is a lot larger than the “visible job market”. Various studies have indicated that upto 80% of new jobs that get filled are never advertised.  They get filled via referrals. So if you are dependent on applying for advertised positions and waiting for the phone to ring, you are going to be disappointed.

If the above number does not awaken you, consider this one. About 24% of jobs are created when an exceptional candidate is found – wow, these jobs did not even exist before the employer found this candidate. (Source: mgssearch.net).

So how do you really tap into this hidden job market? A google search will point you to a very good articles on how to do this. Here are three tips that I have put to work in my past job searches.

1) Work your network! Let the network know that you are looking and seek their help in getting in touch with decision makers in companies that you may want to work for. This can be done confidentially if you let your network know.

2) Attend local product management or industry related events (breakfasts, dinners etc.) – You are likely to run into hiring managers or potential job seekers that you could look to hire. For example, when I attend the Boston Product Management Association meetings, I always hear hiring managers announce that they are looking for product managers. Such events give you the golden opportunity to meet face-to-face with the hiring manager without having to send emails, play phone tags etc. You could not find a better way to get in the door. After this, it is upto you to make a great first impression that will result in continued engagement and hopefully a job offer. Remember that you are always a salesman for a product – YOU!

3) Continue to expand your network even during job searching. I have written about how to do this in my previous post on how to survive a layoff.

4) Always network – don’t wait till you are ready to look for a job. They say  “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty”.

Thoughts? Do you have any additional ways you have used to look for jobs that have worked successfully?

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Managing your product management career – Part 2 – Marketing “you”

This is the second of  three posts I intend to make related to my talk on “Managing your Product Management Career” at ProductCamp Boston. The first post was about assessing your product management skills.

Now that you have accurately assessed your product management skills, it is time to think about how to market yourself. Before the advent of the internet, all you needed was a resume. You created one, mailed it to different companies when you were applying for an open position. Unfortunately, in the current world, resume is still required but is grossly insufficient. It is not good enough to stand out in a crowd of product managers. You need to “market” yourself by creating digital assets online. This does not mean that you post your resume on every job site you can find on the internet. Instead, you need to create your own digital assets online that market your personal brand. You also need to take advantage of social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook. I, as a hiring manager, for instance first does a Google search on a candidate’s name before paying attention to the resume in hand. I want to fLinkedIn ind out what comes up about the candidate online. This can be used to your great advantage if you create a great portfolio online.

Here are some things you can do to create a great digital presence for your personal brand.

1) Start a blog: It does not necessarily need to be on product management, but something that your passionate about. If it is cooking, so be it. If it is horse racing, so be it. What I want to see is your passion, your writing skills and ability to take an initiative and keep up with it. For example, this blog is a big part of my personal brand. It is the first thing that usually comes up when you Google my name. Now, a word of advice. There is nothing more to turn off people (at least me for sure) than seeing a blog which has 1 or 2 articles written months back. This is akin to seeing a real estate property in a dilapidated state. You would be better off by not having a blog if you cannot keep up with it. Otherwise, you come across as someone who starts new things and loses interest.

2) Write a guest blog post or comment on other’s blogs – If you feel that you are not ready to start your own blog, look for opportunities to do a guest blog post on existing blogs. I for one is always looking for guests to write about product management on this blog. If you think you have good content, contact me. If you think you are not ready to do this yet, then start commenting on other’s blogs. By this, I do not mean that you leave a comment of “Great post” on many blogs, but instead enrich blog posts by sharing your opinion with others.

3) LinkedIn – If you are not LinkedIn, create an account now. If you are on LinkedIn, make sure your profile is up-to-date. Treat it as your online resume. LinkedIn does a very good job on doing search engine optimization of member profiles and invariably it is something that comes up when you Google someone’s name. Do you have recommendations on LinkedIn? Product managers interact with customers and all internal stakeholders as shown below. Make sure your recommendation gives the viewer a 360 degree view. Get recommendations from all these groups you have worked on. Don’t go overboard and get say 10 recommendations for each job because too many can turn off people as well. I would say 2-3 per job are good enough. There are also so many product management discussions groups on LinkedIn. Join these groups, post any questions you have and get free expert advice from the product management community. Also contribute to existing discussions.

4) Speak at events or attend events: If you have a local product management association or product camps, take advantage of these opportunities to speak at these events. Many times, these events will be publicized online and offline and will help you build your personal brand. If nothing else, attend these events and help out by volunteering. Webinars could present another opportunity to build your reputation.

5) Write articles for magazines: Can some of your content be published in magazines. For example, I wrote about understanding market needs through customer visits and had it published in the Pragmatic Marketing Magazine. This article then got read by a large number of product managers and since the magazine is also online, the article gets indexed by Google and comes up if someone searches on my name.

Thoughts? Do you have any additional ways you have used to market yourself online?

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Managing your product management career – Part 1 – Assessing your skills

This is the first of  three posts I intend to make related to my talk on “Managing your Product Management Career” at ProductCamp Boston.

We as software product managers, spend a lot of time managing products at work. We assess the competitive position of our products, we identify gaps in the product’s feature set and then enhancing our products to fill these gaps. This kind of assessment is an ongoing effort to make sure the products maintain their competitive edge in the marketplace. But how much time do we spend in our working career to assess the competitive position of the ONLY product we have absolute control over – OUR OWN CAREER? We could switch jobs, we could get laid off, we may switch careers, but amongst all this, there is only product that is constantly with us – our own skill set. If we do not assess where we stand and work on maintaining our competitive edge in the marketplace, we can only expect  to become outdated and not finding a buyer for our services (future employers).

So how do we do a skill assessment to understand our strengths and weaknesses? It is quite simple and can be done using a simple Excel spreadsheet. Here is what you do.

1) Make a list of all the skills you need to be a world-class software product manager. The spreadsheet may look something like this

2) Then make a honest self assessment of where you stand today and how important this skill is to a Software Product Manager job on a scale of 1-High, 2-Medium and 3-Low as shown below.

3) Once you have completed the assessment, sort the spreadsheet so that the rows where “Importance to a Software Product Manager job” is 1-High and your current skill level is also 1-High is at the top as shown below.

4) The picture should now become clear. The rows colored in green are your strengths and the rows in red are your competitive weaknesses. This is where you should devote your energy, time and money.

You should plan on revisting this spreadsheet every 6 months to add new skills that you have developed and also to update your current skill set.

Thoughts and coomments?

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Messenger of problems?

It is very easy to identify problems. What is difficult is figuring out how to solve them? Ones who do the ldeliveryatter are valued and get ahead. Sounds like cliche? Absolutely. But it still surprises me when I run into “messengers” of problems. Many want to bring a slew of problems to their bosses – this is not working, it is not efficient, we are understaffed etc. I am sure your boss probably knows about these issues as well. Sometimes, he may not. But if all you are doing is taking a problem to him/her, you are slowing becoming another problem for him/her.

Let us consider a different scenario of a person who identifies the problem, prioritizes the problem, thinks of possible solutions and then approaches his boss stating the problem and his/her recommended solutions. Valuable? Of course. Put yourselves in your bosses shoes. What would you do to solve the problem if you had the authority to fix it? Would you prioritize it to get it fixed? Would you spend political capital on it to get it fixed? If the answer is No, don’t be the messenger of the problem.

Those that are valued are the messengers of recommended solutions to identified problems. No one will stop you from making something better, more efficient, less costly, work faster. But no one wants to hear that something is broken, they want to know how to get it fixed and that yo are willing to take charge to get it fixed.