Who should a startup hire first? Sales Reps, Engineers, or Product Managers?


This is a tricky question and everyone in Sales, Engineering, and Product Management feel their contribution to the organization is (strategically?) important and hence should be hired first.

Well, let’s take each job category and analyze its importance as it pertains to a startup — of course, we will exclude Operations and Support teams such as HR, Finance, Admin, Customer Support, et al.

Sales: Traditionally, Sales folks believe they are the “darlings” of the organization and sell anything (even stars on the sky!) to sign a deal. What they really do not understand is the ability of their organization to meet customer commitments on product delivery and sustain the product post-sales. So, a lack of understanding of the following items puts them in the back seat to be hired first in a startup: Current product offerings, clarity on roadmap, lack of understanding of the go-to market needs, unable to decide what product has to be proposed to which customer, etc.

Engineering: Well, this is an easy nut to crack. What will an engineer build if he does not know what is to be built? Engineering will need guidance from a market/customer facing team on what should be built. So, Engineers need not be hired first.

Product Management: When any company understands the importance of Product Management, it gives Product Managers full freedom to define and own “Product Strategy” which comprises of the traditional four P’s (Product, Price, Place, & Promotion). We could include another P to represent the market/customer Problem that is intended to be solved. Of course, the Product Managers will work with various stakeholders with supporting research material to build Product Strategy. Engineering will build the product and Sales will then sell it. In effect, Sales and Engineering are really “supporting and execution teams” to Product Management in executing the organization’s product strategy.

So, the winner is Product Management — startups should hire Product Managers first.

Thoughts welcome!

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About Mohamed-Aneez
Passionate about Product Management

3 Responses to Who should a startup hire first? Sales Reps, Engineers, or Product Managers?

  1. Sudheendra says:

    I agree with your viewpoints. However, sometimes depending on the project budget, it may be required that Engineering Team by themselves source for requirements from Customer (because they understand the technical capacity, schedule etc). Majority of the SMEs don’t tend to believe of the fact that Product Management is essential for the Company.

    The prime focus and important question is ‘how’ to do, is the concern for many CEOs rather than thinking about ‘what’ to do, which could be some-how managed

    • passionatepm says:

      Sudheendra,
      Thanks for your comments.

      I agree with you partially. The reason is because a product manager defines “what to be built” and engineering spends time on “how to build”. The end customer is concerned about “what can the product do for me” and not “how was the product built”.

      In summary, the “what needs to be built” is required to be clear from the beginning for successful products.

  2. Sudheendra says:

    Customer would have already known about the product outcomes and expectations out of it, through the interaction with PM during initiation phase. So, ‘what need to be built’ is made clear in the beginning stage itself. Now, the onus is left to the Development team to think and implement ‘how to make it work’.

    As a PM, its of utmost responsibility to interface with Customer at all times, providing updates, adapting to change requirements, highlighting risks and deficiency caused due to certain changeable/non-changeable patterns etc. Hence, customer should always be informed

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