“Be conscious of when and why you’re hiring your first product manager. Yes, they will ensure your product aligns with company strategy and customer needs, but they can also be an unneeded middleman between the founding team, engineers and your customers, which you just don’t need in the early stages of running a company,” says Mike Oliinyk, who led product at both Wise and Wolt before their IPO and acquisition, respectively.
Mike is passionate about how to hire product teams and spends a lot of his time advising companies on how to avoid hiring mistakes that can be almost impossible to reverse. In our Startup Life newsletter, Mike gave his top tips on how to hire your first product manager.
Don’t hire too early
When companies outgrow their founders’ product experience or the company has too many products for the founding team to manage, start looking for a product manager — don’t hire one just to offload founder workload. Bring one in when you have 10-15 engineers in the team. Some companies can go without a product person for longer while relying on engineers who know how to focus on customer needs.
Hire for empathy
Always ask potential candidates "why": "Why did you build that product or feature?" or "Why did you start that company?". You want to hear that they were trying to solve a customer problem that they’d independently investigated. You also want to hear how they iterated and executed fast, based on customer needs.
Only ask for needed technical skills
Don’t ask for every possible technical, analytical, design and growth skill. Determine what combination of skills you crucially need to manage your products and ask for that in your job description. If you don’t have previous experience interviewing for hard product skills, get external support from your investors, advisors or even the wider product community. Ask for their preferred resources and top tips, as well as for specific advice on your process, or even ask them to partake in interviews.
Don’t limit your talent pool
Product managers don’t need to come from a specific background like software engineering. Some of the best product managers come from diverse backgrounds like psychology, customer support or entrepreneurship. They also don’t need to come from your industry — you may benefit from your first product manager having a fresh perspective on the industry.
Look for fanatical motivation
Your first product manager needs to be passionate about the problem you are solving. In interviews, ask if they have tried your product, what they love, what they would improve.
Interview for values
Early joiners will influence the culture of the team. Develop a set of questions for each company value — 5-10 questions per value will suffice. At Wolt, for example, for the value "Attitude — We take ownership beyond the obvious", we had questions like:
- Tell me about a time when you took ownership of a project that didn’t belong to your team?
- Why do you think startups give equity to employees?
On the subject of... Hiring your first product manager
💡 Hiring tips. Here’s how to find the right product person for your team.
🧱 Structuring your product team. How do you set up a product team? Who do you need in it? Who do they report to?
What soft skills do you need? Don’t just focus on technical skills requirements — emotional intelligence is just as important.