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What should a Startup look for when hiring a Head of Product?

May 7, 2023

Hiring a Head of Product for a startup is a critical decision that can make or break the success of your company. This individual will be responsible for guiding the development of your flagship product and leading your product team, so it's essential to find the right fit.

However, with so many factors to consider, it can be challenging to know what to look for when evaluating candidates. In this post, we'll cover some key factors to consider when hiring a Head of Product for your startup.

The importance of choosing a great Head of Product

Having a great head of product at your startup is crucial for several reasons. A Head of Product is responsible for the success of the product, which is the primary revenue driver for most startups. An excellent Head of Product understands the market and the customers' needs and develops a product that meets those needs. They also ensure that the product is of high quality and is released on time - a critical factor when meeting investor expectations! 

If your startup hires a mediocre Head of Product, they may not understand the needs of the market or may struggle to translate those needs into product requirements. The result could be a product that doesn't meet the needs of customers, is difficult to use, or lacks key features that competitors offer. This could lead to poor sales, negative reviews, and ultimately, the failure of the startup. 


What should a Head of Product do?

The Head of Product acts as a bridge between the business side of the company and the engineering team. They translate business objectives into product requirements and ensure that the engineering team understands the requirements and develops the product accordingly. This requires a deep understanding of both the business and technical sides of the company, as well as excellent communication and collaboration skills.

A great Head of Product is also responsible for creating a culture of innovation within the company. They encourage experimentation and creativity, leading to the development of new and better products that meet customer needs and differentiate the company from competitors.


What questions should you ask yourself before hiring a Head of Product?

Before hiring a Head of Product, you may want to ask yourself and others at your startup some thoughtful questions on how you want Product Management function. Develop your interview questions, and a profile of what you would like your Head of Product to look like, based on answers to questions like: 

1.    What is the current stage of our product development, and what are our short-term and long-term product goals?

2.    What are the key challenges we face in developing and launching our product, and what kind of expertise and experience do we need to overcome these challenges?

3.    What is our target market, and what are the key customer needs and pain points that our product aims to address?

4.    What are our competitors doing, and how can we differentiate ourselves in the market?

5.    What are our current strengths and weaknesses when it comes to product development, and how can a Head of Product help us address these?

By asking these questions, you can gain a clear understanding of your product development goals, needs, and challenges, and identify the specific skills and experience required in a Head of Product. This will help ensure that you find the right person for the job and set them up for success.


What are some important factors to consider when hiring aHead of Product?

There are many factors to consider when hiring a Head of Product, and skills to look for. Different candidates may possess different skill levels for each of these depending on their strengths, but in general, Heads of Product should all possess solid:

Communication Skills: This may sound like a given, but many Heads of Product can come across as overly technical when meeting with non-technical team members, and risk being unable to get their ideas across. We suggest looking for a Head of Product who can clearly articulate their ideas and could explain what they're working on to someone outside of your company if they needed to.


Relevant Experience: Look for candidates with experience in product management, preferably in your industry or a similar one. They should have a track record of developing and launching successful products that meet customer needs.


Strategic Thinking: The Head of Product should be able to think strategically and understand the company's overall business goals. They should have a strong understanding of the market and competitive landscape and be able to develop a product roadmap that aligns with the company's vision.


Customer Focus: The Head of Product should have a customer-centric approach and be able to understand the needs and pain points of the target audience. They should be able to gather feedback and insights from customers and use it to drive product development.


Leadership Skills: The Head of Product should have strong leadership skills and be able to inspire and motivate the product team. They should be able to create a culture of innovation and collaboration within the team and across the company.


Data-Driven: The Head of Product should be able to analyze data and use it to make informed decisions about product development. They should be able to track key metrics and use them to optimize the product and drive growth.


Startup Experience: Preferably, the Head of Product should have experience working in a startup or a fast-paced environment. They should be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty and be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.


Should you hire a Head of Product or Chief Technical Officer (CTO) first?  

If you’re considering hiring a Head of Product and haven’t hired a CTO yet, it’s likely you may be wondering – which should you hire first, or which makes more sense to hire if you’re working with a limited budget?

The decision to hire a Head of Product or a CTO depends on the needs of your startup and the stage of your product development. 

A Head of Product typically focuses on defining the product strategy, identifying market opportunities, and leading the product development team. They work closely with the engineering team to ensure that the product meets the needs of customers and the market, but their primary focus is on the product itself.

On the other hand, a CTO is responsible for the technical direction of the company. They focus on the architecture of the product, technical infrastructure, and the technical capabilities of the team. They may also be responsible for overseeing the engineering team's day-to-day operations, ensuring that projects are completed on time and within budget.

If your startup is in the early stages of development and needs to focus on developing the product, hiring a Head of Product is likely the right choice. They will be able to define the product strategy, work with the engineering team to build a high-quality product and identify market opportunities.

However, if your startup has already developed a product and is looking to scale, a CTO may be the better choice. They will be able to ensure that the technical infrastructure is robust and can handle increased traffic, and that the engineering team can deliver features on time and within budget. 

In summary, the decision to hire a Head of Product or a CTO depends on the needs of your startup and the stage of your product development.

If you're interested in learning more about Product Management, check out our other posts on how to prepare for a product management interview and job titles other than Head of Product that are common in the field.

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