06: This Is Why I Never Hire Product Managers

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This is a podcast episode titled, 06: This Is Why I Never Hire Product Managers. The summary for this episode is: If you liked this episode, we bet that you’ll love our blog content. blog.drift.com/#subscribe Subscribe to never miss a post & join the 20,000+ other pros committed to getting better every day. --- "I try to never hire someone who has been a product manager before." On this episode of Seeking Wisdom, Dave dives into David's approach for hiring product managers and why he thinks experience rarely matters when it comes to hiring PMs. Read the full blog post that goes with this episode here: http://bit.ly/hiring-product-managers Follow David on Twitter: twitter.com/dcancel Follow Dave on Twitter: twitter.com/davegerhardt Subscribe on iTunes: bit.ly/SW-Podcast

Speaker 1: Okay. Yeah, we're good. No, I will just set up. We're good now, it's recording.

Speaker 2: Okay.

Speaker 1: The blinking red just means it's monitoring.

Speaker 2: Okay.

Speaker 1: Okay, all right. Topic for today is about hiring. There's two, okay, the hottest job that everybody... Everybody wants to work in a startup, that's number one. So we got that out of the way.

Speaker 2: Covered.

Speaker 1: Second part of that if you go down, the thing that everybody wants, so first they want to get a job at a startup then the thing that everybody wants to do at a startup is all of a sudden everybody wants to be a product manager.

Speaker 2: Hey man, when I found that out recently, I want to give a talk at HBS. So back in the day, when my product managers that I used to work with wanted to leave product management and they would go to HBS. Now I'm going to HBS and people want to leave HBS and become a product manager crosstalk-

Speaker 1: So people go to business school and then they come out being product managers.

Speaker 2: Yes.

Speaker 1: We don't need to dive into.. We've touched on MBA stuff before so we won't go deep in that one even though I can see it on your face. But the question that everybody asks you a lot is like," How do you hire PMs? What do you look for in hiring PMs?" And you have a really like, kind of," I don't really care," take on this so-

Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah, no yeah, I care deeply.

Speaker 1: Yeah you care deeply, but you have a criteria that's the opposite of what people are going to think.

Speaker 2: Yeah I have a different perspective and mine is, they usually ask me like," What qualities do you need to be a PM? And how much does experience play in? How technical do you have to be?" And I say," Number one, I never hire someone to be a PM who's been a PM before." And then their mouth drops.

Speaker 1: Okay, so let's go in on that. That seems counterintuitive because I listen to everybody and what does everybody say about startups? The hardest thing is the people and hiring.

Speaker 2: Mm- hmm.

Speaker 1: You got to get those things, right.

Speaker 2: I agree.

Speaker 1: But you're saying don't hire somebody who has experience for what you want.

Speaker 2: Yeah, and it's for a couple of reasons. One, PM is a role that is very specific to a company, and if you meet PMs from five different companies, you've met five different roles that almost have very little overlap. And then the second is, the companies that I've started or I have been a part of have been product driven companies, therefore, product is our special sauce, right? Depending on your company and depending on what your special sauce is, for my company, it's been product, and if that's our special sauce, then we can grow people better internally then we can hire external PMs.

Speaker 1: A good example, so at Drift we have Matt is our product manager and you guys hired him right out of college, he's our only product manager right now.

Speaker 2: That's right.

Speaker 1: And to you, so you'd rather do that, where you can have somebody and mold them than take somebody who's been at Google for 10 years and then have to retrain them to this way.

Speaker 2: Exactly, because when we mold them and they come and they rise internally, they have our DNA, right?

Speaker 1: But is there a skill set for product managers or can you take anybody in and have them become a product manager?

Speaker 2: I would say there are not specific skillsets, not specific rules for hiring a product manager. I think there's heuristics, there's things that we look for that we think are patterns. I think people who are naturally obviously curious about the types of products that we're building, and today, people who are really product junkies or really geek out on whether it's product hunt or new products that are being released, they're the ones that are testing new gadgets and new things all the time.

Speaker 1: Right. So you still want somebody who's playing around with products all the time but maybe not somebody who's gone super deep on one.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 1: And that's the only thing that they can-

Speaker 2: Exactly.

Speaker 1: ...think about. Okay, the secret sauce thing is interesting. So if product is your secret sauce, you'd think that, you can almost train anybody to be a product manager. That's specific to us, let's maybe give some more general advice for other companies based on their secret sauce. What's your kind of theory on who you hire? So the first thing is, what's your secret sauce? And then-

Speaker 2: First it's identify your secret sauce, and so let's say it's another company and their secret sauce happens to be sales. And they think in that company, they should probably hire product managers who have experience, they probably should hire marketers that have experience, they probably should hire finance and HR that bring a wealth of experience, but they probably shouldn't hire lots of experience when it comes to sales because sales is their secret sauce.

Speaker 1: Right, and so in the product- driven scenario, you're looking for on the outside, people who, the non- secret sauce thing is like very specific in finance, HR or just other kind of roles that don't support the product.

Speaker 2: Exactly. I think for us, those roles, let's say that finance, HR, hire experience all day long, right? Like I'm going to look for people who are going to teach us something there, but in product, we're teaching people about product. In kind of growth and marketing, I'd say," That's the secret sauce area for us too and so we're doing more teaching than starting learning from someone who's just had 20 years of experience in a company."

Speaker 1: Why do you think everybody wants to be... So you speak at a lot of these things and they're really specific, and everybody asks you to speak on product management because product management is like the product thing, right, it's like either you're an engineer or designer, or product manager. Why does everybody want to be a product manager? And maybe talk about how that role has changed. Because don't you feel like if it was the same role as it was 15 years ago or 10, nobody would want to do it?

Speaker 2: I think the power balance has shifted. When I first started doing startups, what was valued was experience, having a degree from a business degree whether it's an MBA or not was highly valued, right? So it was all about business. What was sort of valued was engineering and product management, I'd say engineering for sure, product management was way below engineering. And so in that scenario, many people wanted to escape being a product manager because they were kind of low on the totem pole.

Speaker 1: And it was more like project management.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it was more project management stuff. It wasn't exciting, it was more waterfall and agile kind of stuff, so it was a certain kind of person and it wasn't really seen as a leadership opportunity. I think what's changed now is that having that business background and having that experience has gone out of vogue, right? And what engineering new product are the differentiating aspects and design with most companies, most modern companies, and so now all of a sudden people are looking at those areas and saying," How do I be one of those people?" With engineering and design, that's not something that you can easily graduate, graduate school, or an MBA program or undergrad, and just get into.

Speaker 1: Or it's pretty specific-

Speaker 2: It's very specific.

Speaker 1: ...that you have one of those skills, right?

Speaker 2: Yes.

Speaker 1: You know how to design, you're an engineer.

Speaker 2: Yeah, so now people graduate and like, there's no room for business development person. That used to be the thing that everyone wanted to be, strategy, business development, whatever. And they saw that as the quickest path to leading their own company and to become the CEO.

Speaker 1: Right.

Speaker 2: Now they're looking and saying like," I want to be in product. I want to be close to the things that we're building. I want to be close to engineering and design because that's my quickest path to leadership."

Speaker 1: What makes a product manager good? How do you know?

Speaker 2: That's a good question. Complicated question, right?

Speaker 1: It's both.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it's both. It's complicated because one, it depends on your type of company and two, it's kind of squishier to measure. It's almost like engineering's a little squishy to measure.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: I'd say everything in product design, engineering and being a PM or kind of, there's a little bit of subjectivity there-

Speaker 1: Sure.

Speaker 2: ...versus sales and marketing inaudible easier to measure. I'd say for me, what's a successful product manager is one, they are the number one customer advocate for the product that they're building and not because we've tended to do this kind of customer- driven mindset.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: And so they're the ones, they're not a project manager because they don't have much value for that. They're the one who kind of understands the customer the most, is probably talking to the customer the most outside of support and almost as much as, let's say sales or marketing is talking to a customer, they're living, breathing with the customer and they're the ones who are helping engineering and design get closer to the customer.

Speaker 1: Yeah, so this is like the product manager is the voice of the customer internally.

Speaker 2: Yes.

Speaker 1: But it's interesting because you don't ever hear anybody speak up and say," That's why I want to be a product manager."

Speaker 2: No.

Speaker 1: Rarely.

Speaker 2: Rarely.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Speaker 2: But that is the most glamorous thing, right? Because that is the closest, the point of a business is to sustain and generate a customer and the closest point to the customer, at least in the businesses that we work on, is being that product manager.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: So that is the closest to the customer so they should be excited about that.

Speaker 1: We'll do a whole one on the value of talking to customers versus looking at data-

Speaker 2: inaudible.

Speaker 1: ...but it's like the product manager is the owner of that.

Speaker 2: Yup.

Speaker 1: Yeah, it's like," Cool, we can look at dashboards all..." But I think the trend is you might go to business schools and hear people that want to be product managers and they want to fire up all the dashboards and all the Excel sheets-

Speaker 2: Exactly.

Speaker 1: ...but the real good ones are going to be like," I'm going to spend my entire day out of the office or just answering emails with customers."

Speaker 2: I think you nailed it. I think that's when I get asked about being a product manager, I think one, the first question is like," How technical do I need to be," and I'd say," Not very." And then to two, when we talk some more about what they're thinking a product manager is, they're definitely thinking the same thing as being that BD or strategy person which is Excel, PowerPoint, spreadsheets, that's just looking at data all day and looking at data all day is not a product manager.

Speaker 1: No, there's actually more roles for, that's more like a growth today, right?

Speaker 2: Exactly.

Speaker 1: Like you want somebody, I'd love to have somebody super analytical working with me like," Okay, you can own all that stuff-

Speaker 2: Totally, just going deep in that stuff.

Speaker 1: ...if that's what you want to do. All right, let's leave people with a little bit actionable stuff. Maybe you'll share a secret or two. Knowing all this, how do you interview, so if you're a founder listening or just, you're hiring somebody and you're listening to this, what is the interview question, or maybe it's not a question maybe it's scenarios, what do you want to get out of a interview for a product manager?

Speaker 2: I want them, so there are scenarios and then there are things that I ask, I'm looking for people who are," I geek out on product," right? That's always been my thing. And so I want to find someone who can keep up with me or is telling me about some product that I don't know about.

Speaker 1: So you want that person that is on every new app.

Speaker 2: Yes.

Speaker 1: You drive me insane because every screenshot I get from you, there's 15 new toolbars or apps or something like that, right?

Speaker 2: Right, that's what I'm looking for.

Speaker 1: Yeah, but you want that.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 1: And that's like, just the curiosity, is that because they're doing it because they want to see how other people are doing it?

Speaker 2: Yeah they're seeing, they want to learn from others and more importantly they're doing it because they have passion around it, right? No one is paying them to go look at a bunch of apps and so I want to see that, I want to look at their phone if I can, I want to look at their desktop, I want to see what it is, what they're actually using and then I want to talk about products and I may pick a random example product that I love and see if one, if do they even know what I'm talking about, two, can they appreciate it and they're geeking out? It's like, whenever you're into, like you're into CrossFit so if you talk to someone who is into CrossFit, you can geek out in seconds-

Speaker 1: Right, so-

Speaker 2: ...and if they're not into it, you can tell that they're not into it.

Speaker 1: So that's a really important point because, so that really gets at the core of, do you want to be a product manager because you want that job or do you love product so much and you're not an engineer and you're not a designer and you're trying and that's what you want to do?

Speaker 2: Exactly. And then we talk about ideas that they have for products, another red flag, they have no ideas for products, right? And just things that they want to do and then how did they work each day? That is also looking at the tools. So like," How do you work each day? Do you use Evernote or do you use some other notepad?" Or like," What do you use as a prop from a process standpoint?" The best product managers are always trying new things and new processes.

Speaker 1: Do you ask them specific things? Like, do you say," Hey, how would you, right now, Twitter is the one that everybody likes talking about, hey, come to this interview with three ideas on how you would grow Twitter."

Speaker 2: I don't ask them beforehand because I don't like people to be rehearsed, so I may ask that question on the cuff, right? How are you going to fix Twitter, or show me how you use Twitter, show me your account.

Speaker 1: Yeah that's a good point, because anybody can prep for that, right?

Speaker 2: Yeah, no prep.

Speaker 1: You want the genuine, catch you at seven o'clock on a Friday drinking a beer talking about products-

Speaker 2: Exactly.

Speaker 1: ...or coffee or whatever.

Speaker 2: Uh-huh, uh- huh. Same goes for any other discipline of marketing, is the secret sauce and you want someone who can show you and demonstrate that they are passionate about that area, that they deliver results before. Like for a product manager, we're not hiring someone who comes from that background but if you were, you're looking at results, you're looking at past behavior.

Speaker 1: Cool. So takeaway is, think about your secret sauce especially if you're hiring product managers.

Speaker 2: Mm- hmm.

Speaker 1: If your special sauce is product, hiring a classically trained product manager probably isn't the best thing.

Speaker 2: Exactly.

Speaker 1: Cool. All right. Quick CTA, we got one this time. We want to do an AMA episode.

Speaker 2: That'd be awesome.

Speaker 1: And we want people to send... well, we always want to do that. So if you have questions that you want us to go through, like today, we had this idea of going through hiring product managers. So fire off your ideas for any dcancel @ dcancel. com.

Speaker 2: Mm- hmm, that's right.

Speaker 1: That's it, okay. So send us things you want us to talk about on the show and we'll do it. If you've enjoyed any of these episodes, go to iTunes, leave a quick review.

Speaker 2: Five star.

Speaker 1: Five star review, five star only.

Speaker 2: Don't front.

Speaker 1: You're picky. What happens if you do a five- star review?

Speaker 2: We'll see. I would say last time you said," I'm still recovering."

Speaker 1: Last time we did interviews and you still have no free time so we'll hold off on that but-

Speaker 2: I'm still booked out for a few months.

Speaker 1: This is a PSA to the people. You could butter him up if you sent in a good question to talk about on the podcast.

Speaker 2: Awesome.

Speaker 1: All right.


If you liked this episode, we bet that you’ll love our blog content. blog.drift.com/#subscribe Subscribe to never miss a post & join the 20,000+ other pros committed to getting better every day. --- "I try to never hire someone who has been a product manager before." On this episode of Seeking Wisdom, Dave dives into David's approach for hiring product managers and why he thinks experience rarely matters when it comes to hiring PMs. Read the full blog post that goes with this episode here: http://bit.ly/hiring-product-managers Follow David on Twitter: twitter.com/dcancel Follow Dave on Twitter: twitter.com/davegerhardt Subscribe on iTunes: bit.ly/SW-Podcast