Why Startups Need Ambitious Product Managers

Growing companies need PMs with drive and vision to move their product forward.

Written by Avery Komlofske
Published on Apr. 25, 2022
Why Startups Need Ambitious Product Managers
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What is it about a startup that draws the ambitious product manager (PM)?

Are they compelled by the promise of professional growth as the company scales and they’re given the chance to perform beyond their job duties? Are they intrigued by the unique market space many startup products occupy? Or is it the ability to set the trajectory of a product from its early days that attracts their attention?

If you’re the sort of person that hunts for the biggest opportunities and challenges, there’s a strong chance that a startup is the place to be. And it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement — startups are incentivized to make space for driven individuals.

When a company is looking to grow, it needs people with ambition to help — and it’s important to have those people on the product management side. Without a PM’s strong, enterprising vision, a startup’s growth might never materialize. With that vision, though, companies can grow beyond everyone’s initial dreams.

Built In Austin asked employees from Self Financial, RudderStackProspera, Rev.com and Acrisure Innovation about how their ambition has helped them build their careers in product management — and what big projects they’re driving next.

 

Nick Jaster
Sr Director of Growth, Product • Self Financial

 

Self Financial is a fintech organization dedicated to helping underserved people build their credit responsibly.

 

What are the biggest projects or challenges your product management team is working on in the next six months?

On the growth side, we’re working on features to attract untapped customer segments and grow and diversify our acquisition channels. An evergreen focus continues to be conversion rate optimization — synthesizing customer insights, quantitative data and UX best practices into experiments to improve funnel performance. We’re also starting a growth-adjacent MarTech team that will implement and maintain marketing and messaging tech infrastructure.

Once we’ve converted a customer, our focus shifts to delivering the best product experience possible — as measured by NPS, engagement and retention. We’re working to improve the frequency and depth of product engagement, promote behaviors that improve customer credit score outcomes and cross-sell our products in relevant and compelling ways.

Finally, our data team is working on ways to provide feature-rich datasets and tooling for new analytics needs, as well as planning for the evolution of Self’s data platform — the impact of which will be huge.

 

What opportunities exist at your organization for ambitious PMs?

To me, the biggest opportunity is to work on truly meaningful customer problems. We believe everyone should have the ability to improve their financial future. Over 100 million Americans have low or no credit — which results in higher interest rates, reduced access to various financial products and services, and more. For these types of customers, Self’s products can be transformational — which we hear in reviews and testimonials.

Self empowers PMs to define and drive their roadmaps forward. I think of it as setting PMs up with autonomy, but not without support and coaching. In our recent quarterly business reviews with the C-suite and other senior stakeholders, it was inspiring to see Self PMs speak to their work, articulate their vision and thinking and truly own their roadmaps. 

Finally, ambitious PMs also have a great opportunity to influence how we function as a product organization. We’re always thinking about ways in which we can improve our team processes and codify best practices. We have ten people in product today — double the size we were six months ago — and four open roles. PMs with a continuous improvement mindset and a positive attitude can make a lasting mark on the product function as a whole.

PMs with a continuous improvement mindset and a positive attitude can make a lasting mark on the product function as a whole.

 

How have you been able to grow your career within your company?

I’ve been at Self for four months, but I’ve learned a lot and feel like I’ve certainly grown from a career perspective. Fintech is a new space for me, so learning the domain and its nuances has been really interesting from an intellectual standpoint and gives me more diverse industry experience within the broader digital ecosystem.

I was also fortunate to get staffed on the integration team for Self’s recent acquisition of RentTrack, Inc., a pioneering credit reporting company that was the first to report rent payments to all three major credit bureaus. With this acquisition, Self will serve as a single destination for an expanding list of credit building options made possible through everyday activities like purchases with a secured credit card and paying significant bills such as rent and utilities. So it’s a big win for customers — and for me, a project that flexes a lot of strategic and executional muscles.

With more tenure, I predict that my career growth at Self will be an outcome of staying curious, executing at a high level, taking on stretch opportunities, being a great manager and teammate and — as always — benefiting from some amount of luck.

 

 

RudderStack team members at an upscale bowling alley
RudderStack

 

Monica Ugwi
VP, Product & Design • RudderStack

 

Rudderstack produces a bi-directional data management and consolidation platform.

 

What are the biggest projects or challenges your product management team is working on in the next six months?

At RudderStack, we are lucky to be smack in the middle of a space where there is real and overwhelming customer demand. This means we have a sizable backlog of meaningful products to be built — our ability to deliver value to our customers is limited only by our ability to strategize and execute. Over the next six months, we will continue to focus on our foundational product offerings. We’re also investing in R&D in some future-looking bets in the data space that we’re extremely bullish about.

 

What opportunities exist at your organization for ambitious PMs?

We are looking for people to own end-to-end customer experiences, some of which are still in the early stages of development today. If you are a leader looking for opportunities to help a company set its strategy and lead the team to ruthlessly execute, RudderStack could be a fantastic fit. We have opportunities for great PM craft all through the development stack — front end experiences, data pipelines, backend platform engines.

We have opportunities for great PM craft all through the development stack — front end experiences, data pipelines, backend platform engines.

 

How have you been able to grow your career within your company?

I joined RudderStack only a couple months ago, and I’ve been learning at a tremendous pace. Understanding customer needs, building relationships with colleagues and investors and expanding my voice in the data space have all been valuable in forging my career as a PM leader.

 

 

Prospera product team members
Prospera

 

Ron Shilansky
Senior Product Manager • Prospera Technologies

 

Prospera Technologies uses machine learning to enhance the agriculture industry.

 

What are the biggest projects or challenges your product management team is working on in the next six months?

Prospera recently released several new revolutionary products in the agriculture market. These products are aimed to help farmers make informed decisions by providing them visibility and insights to their crops and operations status. Therefore, as farming season is starting in the US, we will be monitoring the usage of these new products to improve their product-market fit and to find new opportunities for growth.

We are also working to combine our entire product lines of artificial intelligence and machine control solutions into one platform. This will create a powerful one-of-kind toolkit for farmers all around the world, allowing them to farm more efficiently and intelligently.

In addition, our product management team is constantly exploring new opportunities for precision farming innovation utilizing the latest technologies. We do so by maintaining close relationships with farmers across the globe to identify the most important problems in the industry, and by working together with other teams in Prospera — agronomy, data science, hardware and software engineering, sales and marketing — to create the best solutions for them.

 

What opportunities exist at your organization for ambitious PMs?

Prospera is a product-led company. Product managers define strategy, set the roadmap and lead the go-to-market teams across the company towards achieving our business goals.

As such, our product managers live and breathe the agriculture market. Each PM gets to travel and meet all kinds of farmers, understand their business and their needs, study their current approach and identify the main problems to be solved.

Each product manager in our team is responsible for an entire business line, end to end. This includes everything from building features, through questions of product marketing and all the way to defining the business strategy and growth plans.

The biggest opportunity of all, though, is to invent new products that transform the way farmers increase yield — with more intelligent use of water and fertilization, less waste and less use of chemicals. We go to work every day and get to build a technology solution that solves humanity’s most fundamental challenge: How to feed the world.

I am fortunate enough to invent new solutions for complicated agronomic problems.

 

How have you been able to grow your career within your company?

Throughout my journey as a product manager at Prospera, my managers kept believing in me and pushing me to new areas and challenges outside of my comfort zone. I got to develop new skills with different aspects of product management, including learning new technologies, owning both software and hardware products, building business and go-to-market strategies, and promoting product growth. 

The main opportunity came a few months ago, when I was offered to relocate from Israel to the US to help establish our new HQ here in Austin. The opportunity included building a strong product management team and focusing on growth opportunities of all of our products.

I am fortunate enough to invent new solutions for complicated agronomic problems. Without any similar products currently existing in the market, I come up with ways to translate immense amounts of data into clear and actionable insights for our users.

 

 

Rev.com team members having fun at an outdoor company event
Rev.com

 

Jon Moran
Product Line Manager • Rev.com

 

Rev.com uses speech AI to produce speech-to-text and live captioning.

 

What are the biggest projects or challenges your product management team is working on in the next six months?

I am the product lead for Rev’s Transcription Product Line group, and our north star is to grow transcription revenue. 

To that end, I am currently assisting my team in managing two projects over the next six months. First, we are experimenting with new freemium subscription business models for our automated transcription product in an effort to massively open up Rev’s top-of-funnel customer acquisition and solidifying our brand presence. Second, we’re building the capabilities to deliver the world’s highest-quality deposition transcript by partnering with court reporting agencies and other enterprises with legal transcription needs. 

Beyond these core focuses, I am also supporting our hiring motion as we continue to grow our world-class product team.

 

What opportunities exist at your organization for ambitious PMs?

In my nearly four years here, Rev has consistently rewarded self-starters looking to accelerate their product career. 

New Rev PMs, even those hired with minimal experience, are given considerable responsibility and ownership right off the bat. There is plenty of opportunity to leverage that ownership early and create a track record of success. Rev’s product org also aims to foster a culture of experimentation that embraces contained failure and the lessons it teaches — as those situations are what typically precede the successes.

Generally, Rev is full of good-natured people who lean away from internal politics and towards rewarding people who deserve it.

Many product leaders have been molded here at Rev. Most stay at Rev to continue their career growth and many also take their Rev experience to become product leaders at other high-performing product organizations. I don’t know what the Rev’s product alumni net promoter score is, but I’d wager it would sit above industry benchmarks.

There is plenty of opportunity to leverage that ownership early and create a track record of success.

 

How have you been able to grow your career within your company?

I certainly have! I was hired at Rev as an associate product manager after pivoting from a previous career as in SaaS technology sales and have been guided and mentored into an experienced product leader. 

For the most part, I’ve worked as an individual contributor on customer-facing products in both Rev’s transcription and captioning businesses. I have experience in launching new SKUs, building platform feature capabilities to support file management and downstream customer workflows, executing rapid A/B experimentation for both acquisition and retention growth strategies, and even serving internal users in finance by evaluating and integrating a third-party API in our checkout and transactions systems to become fully tax compliant.

In nearly four years, I have been promoted a couple times, most recently into a product line manager for Rev’s Transcription business — a hybrid PM/GM role equivalent in level to a group product manager. My role has shifted to focus on strategy and coaching, and I have the privilege of working with two excellent PMs — Erik Margetis and Kristi Pak — who lead three different engineering teams on some of Rev’s most high-impact projects.

 

 

Eric McGregor
Senior Product Manager • Acrisure Innovation

 

Acrisure Innovation uses AI technology to derive predictions and insights for the insurance industry.

 

What are the biggest projects or challenges your product management team is working on in the next six months? 

First, since a lot of what we’re doing is new, one of our biggest challenges is keeping up with the rapid pace of learning. Also, because of the nature of our industry, one of the most difficult things to learn about is why something did or didn’t happen. 

But these are the kinds of challenges that really make product management interesting — and uncovering creative solutions is what really makes it rewarding.

 

What opportunities exist at your organization for ambitious PMs?

Acrisure Innovation has an aggressively entrepreneurial culture and is part of an industry that is only just starting a real technology transformation. Inside our organization, there’s no shortage of product development and research initiatives that need dynamic product leaders to guide the process. This is an organization that is actually focused on learning and developing solutions that respond to real user-centric problems. For me, this is the kind of product management opportunity that really resonates.

When you think about career growth, the things that really matter are the people you work with and the opportunities you get to challenge yourself to be better.

 

How have you been able to grow your career within your company?

I’ve had the opportunity to directly influence our product development and execution system in meaningful ways. In addition, I’ve had the chance to see a product all the way from prototype to beta, and then to release. This organization has allowed me to expand the circle of leaders I’ve been able to work with and learn from. When you think about career growth, the things that really matter are the people you work with and the opportunities you get to challenge yourself to be better — Acrisure is a great place to find both.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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