Yesterday at Pendomonium, we had four panelists bring the spirit of the debate club to a live stage. We opened with this week’s question, which led to a lively discussion that revolved mostly around the role of mentorship to the development of a product manager. The argument for a big corporation was that it’s a great place to find a role model that can help a new PM learn the craft, the assumption being that junior PMs don’t come in with a degree in product management. But our panelist Cliff Gilley, who teaches product management at General Assembly in Seattle, felt that with more places offering formal PM education, a big corporation might give a young PM habits that will be hard to break out of.
The majority of you seemed to agree that the startup is the better choice – in our poll, 62% of you voted for startup over a big corporation. Our debaters this week were slightly more equivocal, emphasizing the importance of personal career goals, cultural fit, and leadership.
It depends on what your career goals are. Do you want to work at a large company or a startup? If you want to eventually work at a startup, or at least try it once in your career, you should do it right out of school. I’ve heard the “cut my teeth at a large company and then go to a startup” argument many times, and in my experience, it usually doesn’t happen. People get comfortable, it’s human nature, and your flexibility (financially and otherwise) usually decreases over time. That doesn’t mean that all startups are created equal, and you should be very critically evaluating each startup not only on the idea but also on the leadership and mentors that will be there to help you advance your career as a PM.
Head of Product, ActionIQ
The right big company
I don’t think there is a right answer per se. I am probably a little biased, as I started in a big company, but one that was extremely innovative and had a strong PM culture – Silicon Graphics. It was a great place to start, I learned a lot, worked with a ton of really smart people, and built a great professional network. When I went to my first Series A start-up I had a breadth of experience that was really valuable. But maybe I was lucky to be at the right big company, that is probably the trick, if you can find the right big company, it can be a great place to start.