For aspiring product managers, your experience in an entry-level position, like Customer Support or Sales, can become a useful experience when beginning to transition into a Product role. Especially in the startup world, where companies are growing, generating more development, more team members and more product decisions. It can be a wonderful petri dish of opportunity. This is where you can leverage your experience as someone who has worked on the front lines and knows firsthand which problems are the most critical.
That’s how I began my role in product management: I joined as a customer service representative, spoke to hundreds of users, and had a vision for the problems we needed to solve. Happily, I made the case, and got the job, and was over the moon. It’s been a year, and I’ve been developing my sea legs. They’re still wobbly, but since retrospectives are my jam, here’s my top 4 my lessons learned.
Invest in your curiosity
Go to events, take MOOCs, talk to your coworkers about what they are learning about, but do what interests you. Some of the paths I’ve gone down are not my cup of tea, so I learn the basics and move on. Others have surprised me with how helpful they turned out to be. An event that I thought was a clickbait title turned out to be incredibly helpful when I jumped into a meeting about team reorganization and allowed me to speak with authority in a room of opinions.
Find a community
For me, this was a result of investing in my curiosity, but by repeatedly going to events, I found the groups I loved (and didn’t love), and the people who also nerd out about the same things I do. For NY peeps, I’d highly recommend Women in Product and Products that Count (both have international reach, but I’ve only been to the NYC events). By the end of the year, I usually know at least one person when I show up to the event, which makes the whole process of showing up somewhere out of the blue a lot more comfortable.
Lean into your strengths
I can’t code. I don’t understand the deep technical level of data architecture. But I do know hundreds of our customers. I’m an incredibly logical person. I excel at empathizing with other people. By developing self-awareness around my strengths, it leads me to make better decisions and helps direct my focus.
Trust fall into your discomfort
I struggled for the better half of a year about missing direction, both from a mentoring level as well as a product org. Finally, I realized that I’m the best person to fix the things that dissatisfy me. Rather than waiting for a more senior colleague to hand me a product roadmap, I used my strengths (see point 3) to create a mid-term product vision, advocate and give myself the tools necessary to create my roadmap.
And that leads me to today! I’m still using these top 4, but also exploring new lessons. Of course, this includes a huge shoutout to my teammates who have worked with me during the learning curve, and the trust that this requires. Best of luck to you in your endeavor!
-Suzanne Frush, Lingo Live Product Manager
Interested in reading more? Check out How cultural awareness affects team communication.