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From Big Corp to Startup: The Product Manager's Transition

Dec 8, 2023
corporate vs startup

Hey there! I've been on quite a journey in the product world, starting in big companies with 200+ employees and recently diving into the startup scene with the awesome folks at Icanpreneur. This switch got me thinking – are startups and corporate gigs really that different, especially in product management?

It's All About the Basics

Honestly, the basics of product management are pretty much the same, whether you're in a giant enterprise or a tiny startup. It's all about:

  • Spotting a problem and coming up with a clever hypothesis.
  • Interviewing potential customers to validate the customer problem hypothesis.
  • Designing a solution that could solve the problem.
  • Testing it out with actual potential customers and seeing if it really works.
  • Figuring out how to get this solution out into the world.

I’ve found that the experience and knowledge gathered through the years working at Telerik, Progress, and Coursera are transferable to my work at Icanpreneur. This is really great for my personal development as I feel I can build on top of everything achieved so far, as opposed to starting a new career.

Wearing Different Hats

But here's a twist – in a big company like Coursera, where I used to work, you've got a clear-cut role. You're part of a team with product researchers, data scientists, and product designers. At moments, it felt as being part of a team with superheroes, each one bringing unique superskills to complement each other in a well-rounded and functional team. This setup allows everyone in the team to dive deep in their area of expertise to make sure they are bringing their A-game.

In a startup like Icanpreneur, I get to wear all these hats myself. Being a team of seven, each of us needs to step in and be a little bit of everything to get their job done. It naturally forces me to develop as a strong T-shape specialist, having deep knowledge in one or two areas and broad knowledge in many other fields. It's a whole new ball game, and honestly, it's pretty exciting!

Fast-Paced Learning vs. Steady Progress

Then there's the pace of things. Startups are all about making quick moves and learning on the fly. Starting from a position of knowing nothing, at every step of the startup journey the team will find new learnings that will enlighten their path forward. Having no established brand, a launched product, and most non-existing customer base - entrepreneurs can optimize for quick learnings at the cost of taking bigger risks accepting that they mess things up occasionally without significant consequences.

In contrast, big companies take their time, making sure every step is calculated and safe. They have much more at stake to protect (e.g. public image, existing products, and revenue) and need to ensure the continuity of their business. Having more people involved in a single task usually increases the time it takes to be completed due to the overhead coming from communication and synchronization. It's like comparing a speedboat to a cruise ship – both are great, but they navigate the waters differently.

Stretching Resources and Managing Perceptions

Resource-wise, startups are doing a lot with a little, while big companies have more to play with. Both are challenging in different ways. Startups often need to be scrappy and get creative about their initiatives. Being more nimble allows them to perform certain activities like prototyping, testing, and launching very cost-efficiently.

Bigger organizations often have more resources at their disposal but need to be strategic about using them efficiently. Especially, when having a huge product portfolio - assessing, which one of them will make the best use of a given resource asks for a methodological, systematic, and data-driven approach.

Different Vibes for Different Tribes

The vibe in startups and big companies can be pretty different too. Startups are all about quick decisions and riding the wave of change, while big companies prefer a more measured, steady approach. Often this is inspired by the type of innovations being created in those organizations. Big companies usually focus on continuous innovation, leveraging the products that have already won in some markets and building new value on top of them.

Startups on the other hand having no existing products are uniquely positioned to tackle disruptive innovations. This is the direct consequence of the Innovator’s Dilemma:

"The Innovator’s Dilemma, as coined by Clayton Christensen in his book of the same name, is a concept that examines why successful companies struggle with disruptive innovation. It explores how established organizations are challenged when confronted with new technologies and business models that can potentially replace their existing products or services. The concept has become widely accepted since its introduction and has been proven to predict market trends and outcomes accurately.

At the heart of the Innovator’s Dilemma is that large established companies often overlook emerging markets due to their focus on maintaining current customers and revenue streams. This leads them to miss opportunities for growth as new startups enter the market with more innovative solutions and disrupt existing players. As a result, these incumbents face disruption from within as they struggle to keep up with changing customer needs while protecting their existing businesses from external competition."

Source: MoreThanDigital

It's fascinating how these environments attract and motivate different kinds of people, or even the same people at different points in their careers.

Wrapping It Up

So, wrapping this up, I've realized that whether you're in a startup or a big enterprise, the core of product management is pretty similar. It's more about the environment you're in and how your team rolls with it. Both at Coursera and now at Icanpreneur, I've seen how much everyone values sticking to good practices and proven methodologies for getting to product-market fit, no matter the size of the company. It's all about turning great ideas into awesome products!

Our mission at Icanpreneur is to empower the product managers and entrepreneurs with the tools, processes, and methodologies to follow a disciplined approach towards getting to successful products. We deeply believe that this is the critical piece to building a successful company - no matter its size.