Weighing the Pros and Cons of PMing in Fast-Growing Startups

Welcome to our Product Newsletter, a biweekly email highlighting top discussions, and learning resources for product managers.

What We Will Cover In This Edition:-

Top Discussions: 

1) I’m worried that AI may replace my job as a developer; are PM jobs safer?

2) What presents the largest difficulty for a new PM?

3) Challenges Vs Benefits of PMing in a fast-growing startup

Top Learning Resources:

1. Essentials of Monetization — Product-led Growth

2. I asked 100 developers & PMs how they build software. Here’s the results.

3. 10-Step Product Management Cycle


Top Discussions

Question 1I’m worried that AI may replace my job as a developer; are PM jobs safer?

Everyone used to say that AI will aid employment rather than replace it. What I can do in a week, GPT-4 can achieve in a matter of minutes.

Since a PM’s position is a generalist one that requires communication and planning. I believe AI will support PMs in their work, not replace it.

On the other hand, I believe AI won’t replace top level technical architects or tech leads, but rather software developers who are essentially performing ‘code-monkey’ type duties. That implies that you would only require two engineers as opposed to four. You would still require a product manager, though.

Have you used GPT-4? What do you think about it?

– Terry Anthony


A] Putting on my PM hat, I’ll argue for twice as much work to be done if there is tooling that enables two engineers to perform the duties of four. Most non-trivial initiatives have the biggest bottleneck during the engineering phase. ML tools help in improving that, right? Oh, yeah. My developers can now perform more.

– Marco Silva

B] While in certain instances this is true, it is not always the case. For instance, just because you triple your efficiency doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your productivity would triple across all teams and organizations. Some people can notice a 3x improvement in output, while the average improvement might only be 1.3x or 2x (this is still unknown and will fluctuate over time).
In addition, if everything else remains the same, you would actually require more PMs in relation to engineers.

– Elvin Henriques

C] At a high level, every job role comprises three components:

  1. Technical talents include the use of tools and hard skills like coding, html, CSS, SEO, design, and photoshop, among others.
  2. Experience in a domain, industry-specific knowledge, and market intelligence
  3. Human qualities include coordination, empathy, communication, and leadership.

One issue that people frequently overlook is the necessity for someone to oversee the input and output of AI, even if it partially replaces the technical faculty.
For instance, in the case of front end development, someone still needs to collect requirements, feed inputs to AI, iterate to get it perfect, then take the output to a stakeholder, obtain feedback, connect with other teams to launch into production, etc.

Now, how a front end development function falls on the three criteria listed above will determine whether it is in danger.

An AI product will be a threat if you’re just taking a ticket out of JIRA, putting it in a folder with minimum human involvement, and using quite basic site designs. The same will happen to transactional services like transcription, translation, image categorization, etc.

Your employer will still require you to manage relationships if you are providing complex front end executions in addition to human coordination. Your use of AI to streamline menial tasks is likely to be expected, and productivity benchmarks may change.

There is an indirect threat in this situation since businesses will realise they might not need as many front end developers to complete the same amount of work. Moreover, they might not need “front end specialists” either if the task’s output is rather simple. There will very likely be prompt engineers.

Roles where there is a requirement for someone with deep subject expertise, experience, and knowledge of undocumented previous history of business/customers, in addition to technical and human factors, won’t be threatened in the short to medium term. They will undoubtedly be need to employ AI as well.

Employers will soon start making efforts to democratize that knowledge over time through AI in order to stop depending on human databeds or important personnel whose departure could jeopardize operations.

Knowing how many of these levers your work pulls is crucial. Workers that are adaptable will look for opportunities to make the most of their domain knowledge and human attributes. They will also decide to shift their attention back to difficult technical tasks where there will probably be little training data available.

– Eva Richardson


Question 2) What presents the largest difficulty for a new PM?

What difficulties did you face when you first began working as a product manager?
It was really difficult for me to comprehend what I was intended to perform, what the term “product manager” genuinely meant, and how to locate the appropriate frameworks when I first began working as a PM ten years ago.

After ten years in the business, I’ve reached a point where I want to give back to the community, but I’m not sure how to do it most effectively.

Are you just now beginning to work as a PM? Where do you focus the most of your attention?

What did your prior experience—if any—help you learn when you first started?

– Risa Butler


A] Since I am from the accounting industry, there was a lot of structure and a clear understanding of what needed to be done and how.

As a product manager, you must be prepared to prioritize and work on tasks without being given clear instructions. That can only be determined via experience. You can get a basic notion of what to do by reading up on best practices and product frameworks, but ultimately it is up to you to decide what is best.

– Quinn Gomez

B] Correct me if I am wrong, but product management is more of an art than a science. Everyone is always learning on the job because the discipline is still relatively new and has substantial variations depending on the context and industry of each firm. Also true of those who oversee us and do our interviews. So, be kind to yourself and just do not give a fuck! Be humble and keep learning, please.

– Whitney Chard

C] Coming straight out of college, I was used to having exams, quizzes, and projects that were assigned to me, so for me, it was dealing with the absence of downstream chores and the level of initiative required. When several of my other friends entered junior level positions in industries like finance, consulting, accounting, law, etc., all of which have highly hierarchical cultures, the status quo effectively persisted for them.

At a software company, however, you immediately begin by determining what the best leverage project is to focus on at any given time (with the help of your team and stakeholders). That is a difficult transition to make, and it took me some time to get used to it. But eventually, you start to get really adept at setting priorities for your own needs and those of your product line. Additionally, you become proficient at understanding who to contact and how to do so.

Without the training wheels of rigid hierarchy, navigating ambiguity and determining direction and priorities.

– Anushka Garg


Question 3) Challenges Vs Benefits of PMing in a fast-growing startup

Have any of you held a PM position in a fast-growing startup? If so, how do you find it to be a PM in such a setting? Benefits vs. Challenges?

High growth, in my opinion, is a stage in which a corporation expands both its workforce and its output. For e.g., consider scaling from 30–40 people to 500–1000, from $2–10M in revenue to $200+M, etc.

I question because I frequently read articles about product management and frameworks written by individuals who either work for smaller startups or businesses that have already “crossed the chasm” (FAANG, etc.), which have consolidated and grown more corporate-like.

The majority of product frameworks, training programs, and tips simply do not work in a high growth business where chaos and rapid execution are the norm.
Would like to hear your thoughts on this!

– Alana Martin


A] I have been working in such an environment for a few years, rapidly expanding from 50 to 500 people in 12 to 18 months. Over the course of a few years, we were able to gradually align the organization around objectives and proceed from the absolute disarray (no structure) it had started in.

Product frameworks must be created and customized to fit the organization, its goals, and its workforce. It is not advisable to embrace frameworks just because they were mentioned in a book and sounded wonderful in theory but have no foundation in your personal reality.

The product operations team is frequently extremely crucial to achieving alignment outside of team silos in an organization that is quickly scaling. They also make the arduous process of redrawing domain boundaries, which will unavoidably be necessary, much easier. This is especially true for organizations that have quickly scaled and relied on a variety of early-stage third parties, each with a distinct approach and culture.

Product management as a whole place’s far too much emphasis on FAANG, especially during hiring, where selecting candidates with minimally relevant experience might be a surefire way to guarantee failure. When an organization is growing quickly, you need employees that can thrive amid a high level of ambiguity and figure out how to complete tasks when the framework is silent on the best course of action. And you want individuals that create, build, and fix the framework as you go rather than just complaining that it does not work perfectly yet.

– Elvin Henriques

B] In just over a year, we went from 20 to 80 people. anticipating further exponential expansion. I have a North Star and a sizable product.

Sometimes I feel like a cowgirl. It is a crazy journey, your influence is significant, and this is uncharted ground. Frameworks are adorable but fall short. Put on your boots, approach individuals, and think strategically and creatively. And everyone is really enjoyable.

Giving your Legos away is a challenge. You have a really wide range. If the company expands, you will have to give up some of your scope. People will be employed to devote their whole attention to the side project you were working on. However, if you embrace it, your actual sphere of impact will only expand.

– Tina Greist

C] I work in a venture backed startup. We will see if it’s high growth. We just hit 32 FTE and 1M ARR. Up next is crossing the chasm you mention or sinking. Have runway till mid 2024.

How is it? It’s intense. Emotional. It’s like doing everything I’ve done before but with no safety net, amped up personal investment and some clear gaps in experience starting to reveal themselves.

I’m the only female across product (design sits under me as well), engineering and data. Also, only female on leadership team. As much as I can ‘hang’ in almost every situation there are days I miss HR.

– Maria Wilson


Top Learning Resources

Examples include ads embedded in social media video clips, services that were previously free now being available at a price, or different tiers of the same service being offered at different price points — such as a “premium” level that is more costly.

I asked 100 developers & PMs how they build software. Here’s the results.

A question I wished I had asked was: where in the world the company was located. It would have been interesting to see if there was any correlation between that and remote/hybrid/office work.

Anyway, we now we have an idea of who these teams are. Onto the meat of the survey: how teams plan and develop software.

When it comes to planning what will be worked on by the development teams, most companies are using feature roadmaps. And it’s not just the big companies doing this — you can see a fairly even spread amongst all company sizes.

10-step product management cycle

I was asked the other day how we, at Amazon, think about Product Management and the software development cycle. What mechanisms does one need to create a repeatable process? Who owns each step and who should be involved? How do you develop ideas? How do you prioritize? How do you keep the process on track?

I realized, after writing out the entire flow, that this was the first time I had written it out onto a single piece of paper. I thought this could be helpful for others and so wanted to share with you here. The target audience for this overview is primarily new Product Managers as these are first principal concepts. Seasoned PMs will know these steps intimately, but I hope there are a few nuggets for them as well. I also want to be clear that I do not consider this “the” product development flow — there are undoubtedly alternatives and specific modifications required depending on the industry or situation. I therefore do not consider this to be an exhaustive review but rather a high-level blueprint.


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