User , Startups — 11.10.2022

Hiring Product In-house Isn’t Your Only Option

Investors — stop advising startups that the only way to build a company is to bring product in-house.

Engineering? Fine. But it’s unlikely an early stage, seed or even Series A company needs to hire for product roles.

The math doesn’t add up.

If investors do the math, they’ll realize they’re telling founders to hire some of the scarcest roles.

For months, founders will go back and forth on whether to hire talent or settle for sub-par freelancers that design bad products months behind schedule.

Now let’s talk cost. Imagine founders hire for these product roles. They will now have to pay employees in equity plus salaries which can eat up a seed round in just 18 months.

Additionally, consider the experience. Either:

  1. You hire someone with experience, but it’s not the right kind. Typically, you’ll find someone who’s been with product at a large company, not a startup.
  2. You hire someone inexperienced who makes decisions you won’t know are wrong until your product is generally available and it’s too late.

And this doesn’t account for the fact that most product roles are senior. Most UX designers have Master’s degrees in UX or HCI. And I can probably count on one hand how many product management schools exist. This means that most product talent needs about 3-5 years experience working under others at more mature tech companies.

The longer you wait to hire, the more your product falls behind.

So why are investors encouraging their portfolios to hire product in-house when the math is stacked against them? The roles are scarce, experience is rare, and the cost is too high for roles that don’t warrant 40 hrs/week.

Luckily, hiring in-house isn’t the only option.

I used to advise our startup clients hire product in-house after graduating from our services, especially when the founder gets pulled into more ongoing product needs instead of forward-looking strategy and vision. Or, when the founder is a subject-matter expert but not a product expert.

But given the hiring challenge, founders have to choose if they’ll keep working with us or lose speed to market while they run a hiring process. Those who keep working with us often run a hiring process while we focus our product design and product management experience on their product so they can go to market.

As a digital product agency, we solve all of the hiring issues above. In fact, it was partly the inspiration for the agency itself. As a lead designer on software with an eight-figure ARR, I spent 4-6 hours on actual design work a week. Our talented product management team was under-utilized overseeing dev tasks better left to product owners and scrum masters. Product marketing was a function that hardly interacted with product and brand.

So, Innovatemap was born to address this underutilization of product talent. I went from supporting one software company, to designing for 5-7 at a time — all within the constraints of a 40-hour week. But even more powerful is how we package a group of 3-4 product professionals to design and build an MVP or develop a GTM strategy, all roles that require individuals but are best crafted when collaborative with each other. In corporate parlance, we broke down the silos.

Today, Innovatemap is one of the few ways a startup can access diverse senior product talent together.

The reality is that funding options far outweigh the available talent. Startups need better guidance and advice on building better products. Investors need to escape the traditional “make introductions” model, and instead get more involved and educated in the product space.  

Find out how our product experts can fill critical talent gaps.