Most people think of product management as a role someone or a team in a large corporation plays. But in small businesses or startups, it is a “role” the whole company often pitches in to play.
Right now my company, Here On Biz, is only a small team but we are doing business deals that large corporations are envious of. Having a product development lifecycle that aligns with your vision and customers' needs is a challenge. Effective product management contains multiple pieces involving planning, forecasting, and marketing.
Planning the Product
Conceptual: Every plan starts as a “napkin idea." Someone somewhere in your company is dreaming up ideas. Sometimes these plans or dreams come from the customer and other times from an engineer. I recall one meeting with Virgin America, our airline partner, where one of their wicked smart brand folks suggested that our app would not only show and allow for guests to chat with fellow passengers, but we also allow a filter to show guests who is on any Virgin America plane in the air. Great idea… now can we do it?
Contractual: The contractual moment is an art form. The age-old saying of underpromise and overdeliver is very true. As soon as I heard the great idea of showing all guests in all planes, I immediately called my partner and product genius, Allen Hartwig. After he listened to me babble on and on about what a great idea it was, he asked the two key questions, “Will it help us move toward our vision?" and "Is it possible?"We discussed it for a bit and realized that it would move us toward our goals. It not only fit into this plan to work with Virgin America, but it also met future needs. As for the question, "Is it possible?", the answer is always yes. A true entrepreneur always believes anything is possible but it must make logical sense in how quickly you can create the product. In this case, it was possible and viable. A few tweaks to our agreement and this feature became a new line item.
Be realistic with your goals: A publicly traded company and a startup that is 10 days old both only care about value creation, but it looks very different to both. When looking at the forecast or predicted impact of the new feature/product, it is important to read the tea leaves with precision. A low-level estimate will leave a team feeling too satisfied with results and decrease effort but an out-of-reach estimate will leave everyone feeling defeated. Do your research and have reasonable goals when predicting the impact.
Marketing the Product
Build partnerships: Every good story deserves to be told and if you have done your job as a team creating a new product or feature, it will result in a good story. Partnerships can be a great way to tell a story to an audience who cares. When looking for marketing partnerships, ask the question of who would want this product or feature the most. Then find a community that already has that audience. If they are doing their job, they will want to inform their community of your service, product, or feature as long as you aren’t delusional and trying to spin some fake story about why their audience would care.
Take advantage of earned media opportunities: Many news outlets are looking for content. The important thing is giving them an easy story to tell. Don’t over pitch with long drawn out emails and don’t be too cryptic. A good journalist wants to read the pitch and understand the value to the audience. It often helps to put yourself in their shoes and pitch it as a packaged turn key concept. I once pitched a news station the story line, who they could interview, and what the result to the audience would be. They loved it and took the whole concept and made it a reality.
Budget for paid media: Newspapers, radio stations, Facebook, Google and more are all looking for you to spend your money on buying eyeballs from them. The best media is earned media, but if all else fails and you have money to spend, find a way to sponsor a story series about your new product or ways it has enhanced people’s lives. This can become a bit of an “infomercial” if not done right and you want everyone to know that the product really does work and it isn’t just a paid actor scenario.
All of this to say if you can create a culture of product management in your small startup team, you are better off than having one person hold this role on their own.
What are some great product management resources you love to use with your team?
Photos: Robert Banh/Flickr; Here on Biz app on a Virgin America flight; Nick Smoot with Gavin Newsom (left)