Product Management Experience: Corporate vs. Early Stage Startupby@danilafetisov
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Product Management Experience: Corporate vs. Early Stage Startup

by Daniel FetisovSeptember 4th, 2021
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Let's start with who can be interested in this topic? It's written primarily for product managers in corporations. Usually, with vast numbers of people in corporations, different processes arise, product size decreases managers' influence on the customer life cycle, and so forth. Because of this, decision quality and creativity significantly drop. Moreover, entrepreneur-thinking, so necessary for this profession, has no chance to grow in this environment.
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Duties, processes, and restrictions differ entirely between a corporation and a startup, but in what case would it be helpful for a product manager to go through it all?

First of all, I want to answer the following questions:

  • Who can be interested in this topic?
  • What for was it written?
  • And, finally, why I decided to write it?

Specifically, these questions may help to understand the whole article's main idea.

An Article for Product Managers in Large Corporations

Let's start with who can be interested in this topic? It's written primarily for product managers in corporations. Usually, with vast numbers of people in corporations, different processes arise, product size decreases managers' influence on the customer life cycle, and so forth. Because of this, decision quality and creativity significantly drop. Moreover, entrepreneur-thinking, so necessary for this profession, has no chance to grow in this environment.

Why was this article written?

When people work in the same conditions for a long time, they can live with thoughts that everything around them is acceptable and correct. But it can be the opposite, for sure.

And if the product manager does not notice some ringing bells, the company, in which he is partly responsible, will go into stagnation or grow not as fast as possible. Therefore, you, acting mini CEO, do not get as many customers and profits as you can.

By the way, the last question for the intro is:

Why did I decide to write about it?

My name is Daniel. I am currently a technical product manager in Yandex, Moscow, Russia, responsible for user payments in the media-services segment (online cinema platform, music streaming service, and the subscriptions, uniting it all). Some time ago, I attempted to establish a startup (as you can guess, it didn't become a unicorn 🙂), which helped me thoroughly rethink all my work activities.

So, the plan for the next story is:

  1. Let's take two middle-level product managers
  2. Let's take two vectors of work: improving a product in a corporation and launching a startup (manager - founder)
  3. Compare all of it by themes: hypothesis generation, its implementation, and result checking
  4. The mental part of the whole process
  5. What we can change in our future work

So, let's start with our managers, Thomas and Josh (all names and personas are imagined, for sure)

Thomas, Corporation

Thomas works in a corporation, is responsible for a separate part of the whole product, and has many colleagues who can help develop features: marketing teams, designers, developers, QAs, analysts, even the user research team can help him. Moreover, if there are no colleagues for feature implementation at a particular moment, Thomas can arrange for some resource allocation for a while.

Moving further, Thomas has a manager, who helps him choose the suitable growth vector, helps not to waste time, and periodically returns with pretty qualitative feedback. Furthermore, we should remember that Thomas every two weeks receives a salary and every half a year - options, so income is very stable.

Josh, Entrepreneur

On the other hand, we have Josh. Josh was working in giant corporations but finally decided to quit and launch a startup (the idea of which was in his head for quite a long time). Genuinely speaking, Josh does not have the skills to get investments with just a presentation, so he decides to make at least the MVP with his money. He does not have a team, for sure, so he should count only on himself.


Let's make a move to the hypothesis. Our guys should develop one on which they will work further.

How do Thomas's actions look? Being in a stable company that possesses a product-market-fit, he analyses the current customer funnel, drives consultations with marketing, analysts, design teams, and develops the feature, increasing conversion he is responsible for by 15%. As you realize, the final influence on the whole product will be far lower. He even does not build another room in the house. He improves the interior in one of them.

And what does Josh - our entrepreneur - have? He has a very interesting situation - at first, he needs to understand what exactly he should do. Owning the idea is good, but there is no understanding, who will pay for the product.

Returning to our analogy with a house, Josh wants to build a five-floor hotel for animals but does not know where it should be, how animal owners would discover it, and has money only for just 1 level.

Therefore, Josh has to run a validation process: discover if there is a market, create landing pages with various communications, send traffic from different social networks on them, invite people for user research interviews. And, unfortunately, in the current case, traffic and potential customer interviews are unpaid for Josh (comparing with Thomas - his company finances all these things). So, the described process runs until:

  1. The concrete user job-to-solve isn't discovered
  2. The high conversion user acquiring way isn't formed
  3. The market evaluation and first version of unit economics don't exist

But let's remember, Josh has some product creation experience, and therefore this step he completes only after spending some amount of money and time. So, speaking about further hypothesis work, he should grow the number of paid users by hundreds of percent, not tens, and keep unit economics alive at this moment (at least in the near future).

Implementation and Result Check

Let's speak about Thomas. He clearly understands what he should do:

  1. Retrieve the key points in his idea.
  2. Describe job/user story.
  3. Go to program manager.
  4. Arrange on team allocation (we can put here any resource holder, even Thomas himself).

So, when implementation is completed, Thomas runs an A/B experiment, checks if his idea improved anything - if the answer is no - he throws it out with no doubts. If it improved some or did not worsen (it can be helpful for other long-term goals), he keeps it running as a usual functionality.

But Josh has the opposite case. First of all, he thinks of how to implement his hypothesis most cheaply. It even can be just a website with no automation - the customer submits a filled form, Josh receives it via e-mail, does the job, and sends the result back. And every new user, mainly the information about his behavior, what he brings to the service, receives a considerable level of attention (what we cannot say about Thomas's - corporation case - where it is all about metrics).

So why does Josh act like this? The answer is simple - It is all due to lack of money - the main idea at this startup level - make checking a hypothesis as cheap as possible because the more affordable it would be, the more experiments you could run. Speaking of test results, Josh can afford not to roll back this functionality only if it brings the expected profit. Otherwise, he will have to support it in a stable state (= spend money and time on it).

But what if Josh does not have the skills to run the necessary experiments entirely? He can write content communications, run ads, research users, analyze test results, metrics, and even design a bit. However, someone should create landings and the software if it is necessary for precise hypothesis tests. Here Thomas can use loads of no-code solutions by himself or hire guys for these tasks. The last also can be done in two ways (at least):

  1. Find a co-founder. He definitely can help with open issues, but Thomas should not forget about arrangements - at this moment, he should divide his future company into two almost equal parts. Otherwise, he will get many disputes with the co-founder in the future.
  2. Hire a team. The money-spending flow will speed up, Thomas will get some additional operational work but keep it all in his hands.

Mental Condition

And the final part. The mental aspect of the whole process. As you already understood, Thomas works in a corporation full of calm, risks with far fewer resources than Josh, has a clear future due to stable income, and does not have to work during his free time to have a good life.

But Thomas, in the situation, when betting all on the startup idea, can pay an unbelievably high price for mistakes. With failure, he will lose money (the sum depends on Josh's skills and network) and a massive amount of time. But the profit in the case of success will be enormous, for sure. However, the future, when Josh runs a successful company, definitely adds motivation. However, he must find or properly use existing resources to reach this point.


So, completing this article, I want to return to the question:

How can startups help product managers in corporations?

Speaking of me, it helped to notice the following points:

  1. Always think of your ideas implementation price - the bigger the profit will be, the more you have to act as a product manager. We often run expensive features but with low final results — we need to do this less often.
  2. Do not hesitate to talk with your customers directly. Check the most popular issues from the support team. In other words, be as close to your user as you can. Managers pay too much attention to metrics in corporations, forgetting who is behind them. And as a result, dark patterns come to the game.
  3. And last but not least, respect and support your team, do not look at colleagues helping you with ideas implementation as a non-deletable part of your work — you can get into a situation where there are no such colleagues (Josh's case, for example). But extraordinary things can be done only with a great team.
  4. And remember, the fact that you do not pay them does not say that you should not help them do their best.

Good luck with your work, move corporations forward, and launch awesome startups!

Also published here.