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Strategy — 11.08.2021

Hiring product in-house isn’t the only option

Christian Beck, Executive Partner, Growth Strategy & Design

The first thing we need to do is to 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 a Series A company needs to hire for product roles.

The math doesn’t add up.

1 PM for every 6 engineers. 

1 designer for every 8-12 engineers.

1 brand designer for every 5 marketers. 

1 PMM for every 5 marketers. 

Do the math and realize you’re telling founders to bring in 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 product months behind schedule.

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

Now let’s talk experience. That goes two ways. 

1) You get someone experienced but it’s the wrong experience. You’re typically getting someone who’s been with product at a large company not from scratch. 

Or 

2) You get someone inexperienced who makes decisions you won’t know are wrong until your product is GA.

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 PM schools exist. This means that most of the product talent inherently has to have about 3-5 years experience working under others at more mature tech companies (of which there are very few outside SF, Austin, NYC and Boston).

The longer you wait to hire, the more behind you get on product. 

So why are investors pushing this on their portfolios when the math is stacked against them? The roles are scarce, experience is rare, and cost is too high for roles that don’t warrant 40 hrs/week.

This would be the end of a really sad story if I closed it here. But this is where the headline comes in – hiring in-house isn’t the only option.

I used to advise our startup clients to graduate from our services and hire product in-house, often 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 we discuss above, founders have to choose if they’ll lose speed to market while they run a hiring process or keep working with us. Those who keep working with us often run a hiring process while we focus our product design and PM experience into their idea so they can keep moving forward. 

As a digital product agency, we are naturally modeled to solve 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 PM 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–well brand was just a thing my company overspent on every 4-5 years when they wanted to make a PR splash. 

So, Innovatemap was born out of this underutilization of product talent. I went from supporting one software company, to designing for 5-7 at a time–all within the same 40 hour week. But even more powerful was 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.

Ok, my sales pitch is over. The reality today is that funding options far outweigh the available talent to work the available capital. Startups need better guidance and advice on building strong products then having to spend valuable time seeking talent in an ever-shrinking pool. This means investors need to branch out from the traditional model of making introductions, to getting more involved and educated in the product space.  

Interested in how Innovatemap can help your startup? Learn more about our approach.

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