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The Startup Case Study: How to Win the Startup PM Interview

According to Fortunly, there were 30.7 million startups in the US in 2019. This means that there is a higher chance for you to join a startup as a Product Manager. But what is it that makes a startup PM so different than an enterprise PM? There is no doubt that the expectations and responsibilities will differ immensely, and you will need to show that you are ready to be by your company’s side no matter what. The company will be looking for this characteristic during your Product Manager interview — especially during the startup case study.

Your first few rounds will verbally test your character, while the startup case study round will show the interviewer whether you are really up to solving the kinds of problems that the company is currently facing. Let’s explore what you need to do in your case study round to prove to your future employers that you are ready for your role.

Presenting a Case Study: Established Company vs Startup

Before beginning your case study preparation, or even your preliminary phone screen interview prep, make sure that you know how you will be contributing to the company as a Product Manager. We all know that a startup operates differently than an enterprise, and so does the startup Product Manager.

First and foremost, you should show that you are quick when making decisions and taking action. Unlike established companies, you will not have many tools or practices to help you make decisions and organize your and your team’s tasks.

You should be comfortable with communicating decisions and last-minute action items with the rest of your team. Also, be ready to execute those decisions. Executing decisions takes a sense of responsibility and ownership, which brings us to our second point. As a Product Manager, you should be a leader who isn’t afraid of taking risks. When needed, you should be ready to take the driver’s seat.

There is no doubt that your responsibility will exceed beyond a single product, and you will soon be expected to come up with ideas that will impact the whole company.

Know What to Expect From Your Startup Case Study Assignment

You might be thinking that the case study round is just a part of the interview process, but it’s not. It’s a simulation of the real job, especially in startup interviews. This is a tricky situation, but you can leverage it to learn as much about the company as possible.

Many Product Gym members have taken the startup route to land their next role, and many of them have noted how unorganized a PM interview can get at a startup. So, be ready for some confusion. At the end of the day, many of these companies don’t have a recruiting team or a full-fledged HR strategy, and therefore chances are they are also exploring interviewing as they go.

Be on top of your follow-up game and show the company that you got what it takes to join the team. Moreover, assess how they treat you and try to figure out how the company culture is. Are they ignoring your emails and acting like you don’t exist? Or are they making a genuine effort to make the interview work for you despite the lack of resources?

You might be expected to solve a complex case study on the go during an interview or receive a very ambiguous prompt with little to no information. You might get minimum direction as to what to deliver and how to deliver.

Regardless of the obstacle, make sure you master case study basics and prove to them that you have what it takes to drive a product from ideation to release. If you need more help with that, check out our case study guide to learn how to solve case study questions successfully and quickly.

Show Them That You Are Ready to Wear Multiple Hats

Startups, especially early-stage startups, don’t have all the resources they need. Therefore, Product Managers are expected to wear many hats to ensure that the product is well-executed. You might not have a UX designer and end up designing the wireframes yourself. You might not get a tester and might have to train an engineer to test the software.

Regardless of what the situation is, get ready to prove to them that you can multitask.

How do you show this skill in your Product Manager case study? By thinking about how this company can make money — or in Product Gym terms, by becoming a wartime Product Manager.

Think about how the product in question will contribute to the company’s short-term and long-term goals. Many startups are still in the funding stage, so any work you design should generate revenue with minimal costs.

Do some market research on your own and think about the clients that this company has to target. Think about all the ways you can create a product that the market currently needs and lacks.

Include wireframes in your case study presentation to show them that you already thought about how the product should look. In your documentation and presentation, describe the resources you will need and how you budget this product.

We know that with a startup operating in a niche market, you might have little to no knowledge and resources for understanding the competitive landscape and creating a useful product. If that’s the case for you, make sure you watch our case study prep guide to sound like a seasoned expert in this field, no matter what your background is:

Prioritize, Prioritize, and Prioritize

Last but not least, be on top of your prioritization game. As we mentioned before, these companies operate with minimal resources and are under a lot of stress as they probably haven’t started monetizing yet. Think about the essential features needed to create a fully functional MVP ready for the market in the least amount of time.

Make some realistic estimations and come up with numbers to help your interviewers with the budget, resources, the time you need to create this product. Roadmap the steps required to get to the MVP and clearly define everybody’s responsibilities to build it.

Long story short, treat your startup case study as a real problem that you need to solve, and don’t hesitate to be the boss of the product you are about to execute. Your leadership is very much needed, so make sure you radiate confidence as much as you can.

Present Your Startup Case Study Like a Pro

Are you still lost with Product Manager case studies and need more guidance? Sign up for the Product Gym case study course. We’ll share all the essential frameworks you need to tackle any kind of case study assignment. You’ll also gain real, solved case study interview questions from top tech companies.

Want to talk to a career coach to get one-on-one advice tailored to your situation? Schedule a free consultation with our in-house team, and let us answer any questions you may still have.