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Is Product Management Right for Founders During COVID-19?

Are you a Founder wondering if Product Management should be your next career move? Cody Chang, Senior Product Manager who came from a founder background will tell you everything you need to know to make this transition!
10 min read

This is the article version of the interview we had with Cody, which you can watch here. Product Gym members come from unique backgrounds and we would love to share their stories with you! Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to be the first to know about our latest releases.

Richard Chen: Cody, how are you doing today?

Cody Chang: Good. How are you?

Richard Chen: Doing as best I can underneath the circumstances. Let’s get to it. So, the economy right now is taking a turn. We have always seen a lot of Founders.

We see Product Managers becoming Founders, and then we also see Founders going into Product Management here at Product Gym.

During this time right now do you really think Product Management is right for Founders? Is this the right job if Founders are looking to go back into the job market?

Cody Chang: I think there’s a couple of factors to consider: what type of Founder you are, what business you run and, what’s the sort of industry or vertical. Because when we talk about Product Management, specifically software Product Management, I think there’s a lot of translatable skills. I know myself coming from a Founder or a business operations background. I’ve been part of the founding team of two companies and started two companies of my own and I found product and it’s been a great transition because there’s a lot of facets of Product Management that Founders specifically have knowingly, or unknowingly honed, their skill in. This makes for a great transition into Product Management.

When we get into the specifics again, depending on the industry, for myself, I was in pharmaceutical logistics. Then I was at a bank among some other businesses.

If you’re a Founder, I would say there’s a couple of things that you should really think about in your background to see if Product Management is the right thing for you. The first is how well do you feel under pressure and how best do you translate that pressure into demonstrable deliverables? Because what I’ve seen in my Product Management career is that the Product Manager is the hub in the middle of a lot of different stakeholders, but ultimately, they have to push the product and the business forward.

So if you’re a Founder and you don’t do well, working with a lot of people, if you’re used to having, you know, a 50 to 100 person team, just know that Product Management might not be the best route for you. But in all of the more successful Product Managers that I’ve talked to, or at least that I connect very well with seem to come from this background of entrepreneurial-ism or at least has had some level of experience running their own business, operating their own business and ultimately launching something.

Richard Chen: Do you think that it is better to be a Product Manager? Do you think that’s like a better career option? What else do you think Founders can actually consider out there in the market?

Cody Chang: Yeah, so I think if you’re a Founder that has operated in sort of the B2B or B2C e-commerce space, Product Management is probably a great fit for you.

Especially in this economy right now. If you’re a small business owner, or you’re operating a business that really requires foot traffic or retail, there’s a lot of industries already hurt by this current economy.

So to answer your question, Rich, what’s the sort of background or is it the right? Is it the best transition and what are some other routes? If you’re a Founder and you’ve run your own business or run a business at any capacity, there’s a lot of moving pieces. There’s logistics, there’s people, there’s finance.

You have to be really cognizant of how well you’re able to juggle multiple things and different priorities because as a Product Manager, when you’re managing the roadmap, you’re going to have a lot of tasks. You’re going to have a lot of questions from other people. So, in similar roles, other than product management, I’ve seen Founders do great at project management.

I’ve seen Founders do great as sales as well, but specifically for Product Managers, if considering Product Management, it’s kind of a blend of all.

Richard Chen: Yeah. Got it. What about salary wise? Like what can Founders expect, you know, for a Product Manager salary?

Cody Chang: Yeah. So, I think as a Founder, you have to be very specific and thoughtful about how you market your Product Management skills.

I think a lot of people sell themselves short if they don’t have a Product Manager title. When they try to apply for a Product Manager job that asks for three to five years of experience, most of them just don’t even apply. But if you’re a Founder you’ve done, you’ve actually done a lot of Product Management tasks and skills.

So, it’s very much about how you pick out very thoughtfully, parts of your background are relevant to Product Management. The Founders that do that very well are able to command a much higher salary. The ones that don’t, obviously they can’t sell their problem management skills. That’s going to have a direct effect on their salary.

When we’re talking about numbers, the traditional or larger tech companies, they are going to pay you slightly more? I would say the range for a Senior Product Manager is probably 135 to maybe 170 and for regular Product Managers roles, 95 to maybe 120 – 130, but it really, again, depends on your industry.

It depends on the company that you’re transitioning to. And it really depends on the value that you bring because in smaller companies, they offer you stock options. How are they vested? Are you actually bringing value and are you joining in the very beginning where the salary might be quite low, but the payoff one can find is high?

So, if you’re a Founder that really loves getting into the weeds at delivering a lot of value, you’re going to see a lot more financial gain from those RSUs. Whereas if you’re a Founder, that’s sort of done with your startup game and you want complete stability, then you’re going to have a different expectation for salary.

But I would say generally the range would be for regular PM, you know, 90-95 to 130-135 and then 135 and up for a senior PM role.

Richard Chen: So how realistic are a Founder’s chance of somebody whose business didn’t work out for some reason, trying to break into Product Management?

How realistic are their chances if they’ve never carried the Product Manager title before?

Cody Chang: I think not carrying the Product Manager title can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because as a Founder, you can call yourself whatever you want, you’re the Founder, you’re the CEO, you’re the Product Manager.

You’re the head of product. You’re the refrigerator cleaner. You’re the janitor, you’re everything. And because of that, you’re able to have a lot more flexibility in telling the story that you want to tell for Product Management. It’s a curse because you’ve done so much and Product Management does have a range of specific duties.

So, you need to find in your background what relates best to those specific duties as a Founder. I would say the chances are very high, especially if you work in an industry that’s adjacent to software. You also have a good chance even if you work in an industry that isn’t adjacent to software. For example, I worked on supply chain logistics.

A lot of people might say that that has nothing to do with Product Management, but that in itself is, I mean supply chain logistics is very process – oriented detail oriented. And so being able to pitch those specific Product Management tasks, being able to detail requirements, being able to communicate effectively, finding the right people to talk to are the key skills that you gain.

Do you know how to pitch yourself as the best product manager for your background? For most cases, actually, really, for all cases, I think a Founder that has a great chance of becoming a Product Manager and not even just becoming a Product Manager, but doing very well on the job once they figure out those trends with skills.

Richard Chen: That’s the other thing, which brings us to our next question. How do you think they’re going to fare on the job and why?

Cody Chang: I think that most Founders, depending on the industry will fare quite well. Again, as a Founder, you’ve previously been directly responsible for the profit and loss of your company. In many cases, if your company doesn’t do well, or you don’t close sales, you don’t eat.

A lot of people, especially in this time, a lot of people that work in large companies, they really haven’t had that, I guess that level of urgency. And so, for a Founder that has that type of urgency, you know, your employees depended on you to make payroll for them to eat.

Bringing that mentality into the Product Management role is extremely powerful because you’re able to empathize completely what the core business needs are. As a Founder, you are juggling tons of priorities. If you have a set amount of budget every month, every week, a set amount of head count, set amount, amount of manpower hours, what do you dedicate to?

Right? They’re constantly prioritizing. And that is a very fundamental skill, I think, for a lot of successful PMs. So not only is it a great transition, but if you’re able to translate that business urgency into your role, I think you’ll be very successful.

Richard Chen: 100%. The next thing is, is this transition right now?

Does it make sense during COVID-19?

Cody Chang: I think it makes more sense rather than others, because the reality of this situation is it seems like a lot of small businesses, unfortunately, are folding. There’s a lot of businesses that can’t survive because they just don’t have that kind of traffic.

They’ve experienced failure. It’s not their personal failure. It’s just a failure of the market. But being able to weaponize that feeling of failure into learnings that you can translate into a Product Manager job is extremely powerful. And I think companies recognize that. I think that’s one of the core reasons why this is a great time.

A second reason is, if you’re able to transition into a Product Manager job, it brings a level of stability. So, you suddenly are not responsible for making sure the 12 to120 employees are able to eat well. That’s someone else’s problem. You’re able to bring some level of order to your life where you can use that to focus on other areas of your life.

Having run a business myself previously, was a sacrifice of my personal life. I don’t really think that there is such thing as a work life balance. Now it might be a great time to transition into a role that allows you some flexibility and stability.

Now is an unfortunate time, but it opens up a lot of opportunities, especially for Founders. This is because Founders can use this time to reflect on whether or not they’re a business. And unfortunately, you know, these types of disasters will happen again, so it’s time for an examination.

It’s a time for reflection. And it’s a time to really reconsider. And even if you do transition into Product Management, Product Management itself is a great skill to have, if you want to eventually become a Founder again and start growing business and continue down that route.

Richard Chen: There you go. What other words of advice do you have for Founders that are considering moving into product right now?

Cody Chang: I would say the number one piece of advice is don’t underestimate the interview game. Having been a Founder myself, you know, prior to one or two jobs at my current role, I really had never interviewed.

I sort of just for whatever reason out of college or in college, I knew a contact who knew a contact and that’s how I got my first few jobs. It was always myself interviewing other people, not the other way around. Once those dynamics changed, I realized that even having all those four skill sets, if I’m not able to communicate that effectively, doesn’t mean anything.

And I think Founders have an ego. You know, it’s powerful to run a business. It’s powerful to be on the other side of the table, making the offers instead of negotiating the offer. That’s all great. And that’s all part of the wonder of entrepreneurial-ism and starting your own business.

But when you’re looking for transition into a role in a large company and to contribute as perhaps an individual contributor, you have to realize that in order to get your foot in the door, there are certain skills that frankly aren’t taught enough in the school emphasized. The word of advice that I would have for a lot of Founders is definitely don’t underestimate the interview game, the resume, LinkedIn, the cover letter.

Applying, how to negotiate an offer. Those are all things that you think you might know because you are a Founder and because you’re unstoppable. I would say, you know, if there is any shortcuts that you can take in there, hire a coach, go to a program like Product Gym, take those routes because you don’t, as a Founder, you don’t want to suffer through that and go through that learning curve.

It’s not worth the time. Go through a structured program or at the very least make sure that you focus on your interview game and make sure that you focus on actually trying to get the interviews. A lot, I think a lot of people will try and memorize, especially Founders, they try to find, you know, these shortcuts.

There are no shortcuts in getting a Product Manager job and people at Product Gym know this. Product Manager title is one of the hottest in the market and you do have to put in leg work. There are no shortcuts to putting in the hours, honing your pitch, delivering, and articulating what value you deliver very specifically.

So, apply for Product Gym. And, definitely one of the key things and words of wisdom is don’t underestimate the interview game. Definitely check out Product Gym.

Richard Chen: I think you hit the nail on the head right there. I mean, that’s one of the biggest things that I see from Founders is that.

When they decide to go out there and leave the Founder game, they’re usually too traumatized or too ashamed to go after companies that are in their industry, because it would actually make the most sense, like if you know, eCommerce to go directly to eCommerce. So, they usually go for the hottest names that are in the tech space and maybe if their background is impressive enough. Obviously, something drove them to become a Founder in the first place. Usually their background is impressive enough to go out there and get these interviews at Google, Facebook and the hotter names in the space.

But, after the first or second round, they start realizing at a very high cost to their own career path. That’s underestimating the interview game. They just ended up shooting themselves in the foot because now those companies because they didn’t communicate how they were going to be a good fit. So, they didn’t end up landing the job and now they have to settle for something less.

Cody Chang: There’s definitely a learning curve to being able to articulate your nontraditional Product Management background into a traditional Product Management background. And then there’s a learning curve after that, to be able to communicate the right things to the interviewers at these top tech companies. And again, just like you said, a lot of Founders I think are well qualified, but you know, it is the attitude. You know, again, a lot of Founders are very arrogant. If they don’t get the job, they usually start crapping on all the interviewers, on the process, or on the industry. That’s not very productive and they dwell on it too much because they themselves have dealt with this sort of failure.

They think they’re more qualified than the interviewer sometime. And while that may well be true, it’s a game and these Founders have to be able to internalize. This is a game and they’re playing on rules that they are no longer familiar with. And if they don’t learn the rules and master the rules and master the game, they’re ultimately not going to do too well, and worse than not doing well, they’re going to burn through opportunities. Exactly. Like you said.

Having said that though, I think Product Management is a great route for Founders. I think most Founders will do very well. Know that all the skills necessary for a successful business or even an unsuccessful business translate very well to Product Management.

Words of advice is that don’t underestimate the process. What do you need to get? You need to be able to get the job in order to do well on the job, because if you can’t get the job, then doing well on the job is a secondary goal.

Richard Chen: Absolutely. And with that said, this pretty much concludes our video for today.

Thank you. Thanks so much for your time Cody.

Cody Chang: Thank you.

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Is Product Management Right for Founders During COVID-19?

Are you a Founder wondering if Product Management should be your next career move? Cody Chang, Senior Product Manager who came from a founder background will tell you everything you need to know to make this transition!

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