Tim MacGougan’s product career has taken him from customer service at Bonobos to running the product team at Hinge. Every product manager takes a different path to achieve their long-term career goals. As Tim explains, keeping an open mind for new opportunities is the key to taking steps forward – and most importantly, learning how to facilitate contributions from others when you become a leader.
Product Manager Lessons: Starting Out vs. Leading Teams
Looking back on my career as a product manager, it’s amazing to look at how lucky I’ve been. Furthermore, I think anyone who works in product management needs to recognize how fortunate we are to do this job. As a product executive, I have an even deeper appreciation for the opportunities that I’ve had throughout my career.
First, my time working in startups has a lot to do with my overall development. Simply put, you’re able to work on plenty of projects that you’re not technically qualified to take on. As a result, I was given an opportunity to get in the “fast lane” and take on challenges much earlier in my career.
On the other hand, there are plenty of times when your day-to-day involves tasks that you are overqualified to perform. In the end, this is what makes working as a product manager at a startup very beneficial for career development. Simply put, you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to develop your skills.
When taking on new challenges, it’s very important to get into the habit of shadowing other members of your team on a variety of projects. Being a product manager requires you to make use of a broad skill set. As a result, the ability to expose yourself to a variety of projects and initiatives will go a long way in developing your repertoire.
Furthermore, every product manager must remember that patience is a virtue.
For example, I worked in a customer service role for two years before moving into the product management team. Simply put, you need to trust the process and stay ready for opportunities to come to you. As I can attest, this natural progression is what ultimately got me into my current CPO role at Hinge.
Since becoming a product leader, the biggest change in my day-to-day is focusing on strategy and vision. With this, communication is key to ensure that your team is on the same page. Unlike your work as an individual contributor, you need to work very hard at balancing your general planning with keeping your team informed.
Most importantly, product leaders must realize that they don’t need to be the “best” product manager in the room. Instead, you should be a facilitator that drives conversation as opposed to having all the answers. When I took on my current role, I definitely felt the pressure to “be the smartest one in the room.” In the end, you should work to open up the creative process and encourage your team to contribute as much as possible.
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I build products that challenge the status quo of the workplace experience. I'm also a writer, podcaster, and mentor to college CS students.