The 10 Things Launching My Own Product Taught Me About Being A Product Manager
Launching a product is intimidating, I’ve been there. It’s tough putting something you worked so hard on out into the public. And it’s even harder to recognize when to put down the pencil and just ship. After working as a theatrical sound designer on Broadway, founding Hooke Audio and launching the first binaural recording wireless headphones, I’ve learned what it means to be a product manger. As the saying goes “the show must go on”, as a product manager this is at the forefront of everything you do. These are my top 10 takeaways.
1. Be prepared to do work not under your job description
Sometimes you won’t have a designer or developer. Sometimes that pitch competition or client requires a video in a format you don’t have. A basic understanding of Photoshop, Premiere, HTML, Github, WordPress and Google/Social ads has allowed me to hit unexpected deadlines on time. At the end of the day, you are the person delivering. Having the skillset to properly assess and approve all deliverables is essential to any product managers success.
2. You are expected to exude certainty
Your role as a product manager is to launch a working product and staying confident, even when the product doesn’t work and a ship date is nowhere in site. People will look to you for answers that you won’t have and the pressure of delivering will make you question your entire existence. But how you communicate that uncertainty is everything. There is a way to make “we’re still figuring it out” both exciting and encouraging.
For example, when our first product Hooke Verse was delayed due to manufacturing delays, I took is as an opportunity to implement some much needed product updates using technology that didn’t even exist when we started prototyping. I did the research and gathered the data to better understand how this would help our bottom line. At the end of the day, I could say to my investors and customers “we are delayed by a few months, but the delay has brought x-feature which will increase revenue by 10x due to opening “y” and “z” markets.”
3. Always be asking your team “are you being given the tools to succeed”?
This one can be very easy to lose track of and it’s a big part of a product managers job. Does your team have all image assets, CAD files, Google Drive access and the means to reach other team members? A team member might not realize they’re missing a tool until it’s too late. And that’s when the blame game begins. You never want to be in a situation where after asking why they couldn’t deliver, your team says “well we didn’t have _____ & ____”. This is something you need to be checking in on weekly and getting confirmation on from your team. At the end of the day, if they have all the tools they need to succeed and are constantly telling you so, there should be no excuse for missing deadlines.
4. Each of your team members will communicate in different ways and with different tools. Encourage that.
I’ve had employees that prefer to chat over skype, some prefer calls, some just texting. There will be a lot of information shared between you and your team that is not vital to all. It is your job to organize that information and filter the data into a package that easily communicates the tasks/objectives at hand. A slack channel with everyone on it is useless if half of the members are wasting time reading when they could be working. Work smart and communicate smarter. You are the bearer of all information, how you communicate that info makes or breaks a deadline.
5. Deal in fact. Never emotion.
With uncertain deadlines, technology that doesn’t work or clients that just aren’t getting back to you, it can be hard to not get emotional. Even more, it can be hard to not make decisions based upon emotion. Every time you are tasked to make an executive decision (which you will do often as a PM) ask yourself “am I dealing in fact? Or emotion?” Are you making that product update because you think users will love it or are you doing it because you KNOW they will love it? Have you sent the survey to get feedback? do you know your net promoter score? Are key wholesale partners saying this feature will increase sales by x? Dealing in fact takes experience but will ultimately allow you to make the most informed decisions and eliminate uncertainty moving forward.
6. Surround yourself with a team that keeps you “out of the weeds”
As a product manager you are wearing many hats and doing the tasks of 5 people. It can be hard to take a step back and look at the product with fresh eyes/ears. This is why having a team with a good understanding of your current market fit and customer feedback is essential to moving forward. It can be very easy to lose track of what’s important or miss the opportunity to capitalize on a recent event. Constant communication with your team both inside and out of the project is essential to staying focused.
7. Be. Patient.
I used to hate when people said “It’s a marathon, not a race”, but now I believe it more than ever. This one is so important because it so directly effects any person who is drawn to the life of entrepreneurship and product development. The drive and passion you possess for making great products can come at a cost. You’ll rush to hit irrelevant deadlines you’ve set for yourself without even realizing it, you’ll become irrationally upset when manufacturing is delayed when in fact the delay does not effect your bottom line. Deadlines will be missed, parts will be delayed. Take solace in that it happens to every one, be the one that doesn’t let it effect your end result!
8. It will be easy to blame others, but taking the fall is a big part of the job.
As a product manager, you will inevitably be blamed when something goes wrong. You’re the fall guy, the person at top who is supposed to NEVER let what just happened happen. Your job is to make sure everything is progressing on time. But Sh*t can happen. A team member can miss an email, some one can order the wrong part even though you gave them the correct part to order. How you handle these mishaps will ultimately decide how willing your team is to continue working for you moving forward. Taking responsibility for some one else’s mishaps can go a long way. You made need something further down the line from them and when you do, you’ll get great work because they know you have their back.
9. Don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough.
In my 6 years of running Hooke Audio, I’ve seen many incredible products come to light through Kickstarter and angel investment only to run out of money and never ship, leaving thousands of frustrated backers with nothing to show. 9 times out of 10, the company failed to deliver because they let perfect get in the way of good enough. They had to have die-cast aluminum when plastic molding would have been just fine. They had to be compatible on every single device when in reality, working REALLY well on just two devices would have gotten them much further. Would you rather have a product that works 3/4 of the time to start or a product that never sees the light of day? Sometimes you just have to know when to ship, knowing that the work does not end there. It happens way too often and as a product manager, you have to know when to put the pencil down and see what happens.
10. There are some bugs you just can’t find until you ship. How you prepare for those is what matters.
When I first launched Hooke Verse, I thought I had dotted every i and crossed every t. I tested on so many people, young and old, big and small to make sure what I was putting out in to the World was absolute perfect. Little did I know that perfect didn’t exist. 1 week into launch, a customer brought a bug to our attention that was so big it made me want to close up shop all together. But I was covered because I specifically prepped for this. I made sure I had the resources available to have a team on hand long after shipping to address any issues that come our way. Like I learned designing sound for theatre, just because you can run through the entire show in a tech rehearsal doesn’t mean sound levels don’t need tweaking or adjusting. Even worse, a sound cue can work in an empty house but fall flat when 500 butts are in the seats. Products are constantly evolving and requiring updates. It’s your job to make sure you can afford a team in place post launch to address these issues in a timely manner. It’s what separates good products from great products.
Remember, You are only as good as your team. If you’re the smartest person on your team, it’s a bad team. If your team isn’t growing, make it grow. Money is complicated. There is never enough, yet you cannot build without it and your team needs it to keep moving forward. Vision may inspire — money just makes things happen. Ego. Get rid of it. Remove it from your team. It breeds anger and vanity. It is a mask for doubt and insecurity, neither of which can help your product or empower your backers. Mistakes will happen. Own up to them. You’re a small team with no statement of procedures in place. Embrace them, understand why they happened, and adjust accordingly. No one ever won without making serious mistakes!
From One Ear To Another,
Founder, Hooke Audio