4 Signs You Need to Make Your First Product Hire

Rajesh Nerlikar July 10 2019

One of the most common questions we get from startup founders is - how do I know when to hire my first product person?

Here are 4 common signs that you might be ready for your first product manager:


1. You Don't Have Enough Time for Product

Most founders stay actively involved in product development for as long as they can - after all, it's their baby.  But at some point, they can't spend enough time prioritizing what to work, fleshing out designs, and answering questions as engineering builds.  These tasks alone probably make up 10-15 hours a week, and we know some of the most common reasons founders can't dedicate that time include:

  • Fundraising - raising a round takes months
  • Hiring - building out other parts of the team, especially the executive team, should take priority

2. You're Not Sure You're Shipping The Right Things

If you do have to drop product management duties for a bit, you might be able to ask someone else like an engineer to step in temporarily as a Product Owner.  However, you might not agree with the prioritization choices being made, and you might raise an eyebrow at a sprint demo or when you read the latest release notes.  If you're not sure the team is shipping the highest-priority, most valuable things first, it's probably time to hire a product manager.

3. You Have 5+ Engineers

At some point, you'll want a Product Manager to ensure that one of your most expensive teams - engineering - is focused on the right priorities.  At this stage, you might even have a part-time or full-time designer helping out with product development.  Why 5 engineers?  Let's say an engineer makes $100k / year.  That means you're spending $500k a year.  What if even 30% of what they're working on isn't high priority?  That's $150k a year - more than enough to hire a Senior Product Manager to lower that 30% to something more like 5% (if not 0%).


4. You're Launching a New Product

It's one thing to not have a full-time product manager for a single product.  But you'll probably need one when launching a new product to conduct customer discovery interviews / competitive analysis, prioritize the initial version of the product, and lead the effort to launch the new product while collecting feedback along the way.


Closing Thoughts

Of course, if you do realize you need to hire a product person, there are a couple of key questions to ask yourself:

  • What level do you need?  For the most part, we recommend hiring a Senior Product Manager first - someone to execute on the roadmap, not take product vision / strategy off your plate. 
  • What specific skills should this person should bring to the team?  Things like design (if you don't have a designer), industry experience, or product development process expertise.

For more on this, check out The 4 Things to Look for When Hiring a Product Manager.

Written by Rajesh Nerlikar

Rajesh is a co-founder of Prodify and Principal Product Advisor / Coach. Prior to that, he was the Director of Workplace Products at Morningstar, a Senior PM at HelloWallet (which was acquired by Morningstar) and a PM at Opower (which went public in 2014).

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