Product principles for start ups

Key learnings from ANZ’s top product leaders


Folklore Ventures

May 30, 2023

Over the course of 4 weeks and 9 live sessions, 14 product leaders shared their war stories, toolkits, on-the-job learnings and reflections from their careers.

We’ve done our best to sum up a few golden insights offered up by folks from the likes of Dovetail, Canva and Culture Amp throughout the program (psst: to access recordings of the live sessions, join the Chapters waitlist here). 

So, what are the top startup product principles, according to Product Chapter? 

Always validate and over-communicate your strategy

When crafting your product strategy, understand the current state of affairs, identify key challenges, and validate your ideas in order to increase your chances of success. Ensure that everyone in your team is aligned, and if your strategy is not having the desired results, don’t be afraid to modify your approach and ‘turn the ship around.’ 

Get close to your customers by focusing on qualitative (vs. quantitative) research 

Challenge the notion that product development is a rigid and scientific process. Building a product is not a science-backed, peer-reviewed, watertight process – and product discovery should only take a day or so for startups. Rather than mitigating risk, your focus should be on innovating. As startups often don’t have the luxury to utilise quantitative data, tap into qualitative research to understand the target market's underlying motivations, trends, social constructs and emotional states. Or leverage smoke and mirrors tactics to receive early validation before investing significant resources.

Master the art of prompt engineering techniques 

When using generative AI tools, leverage leading questions, specify the format, and ask the model to think step-by-step before providing a final answer. You can also ask ChatGPT, Bard by Google, or GitHub Copilot to suggest prompts around certain topics, so that you’re effectively using the chat bot and enhancing productivity. To make the most of AI models as a Product Manager, check out this cheat sheet created by Joe Bramwell-Smith – one of our coaches. 

Learn to prioritise and and fail fast

Given the need for startup Product Managers to navigate the delicate balance between founder vision and practicality, it is critical to be able to prioritise and say ‘no’ where needed. Key factors to consider when prioritising include the ROI, bespoke vs off-the-shelf solutions, sales-led growth vs product-led growth, and the 80/20 rule. Don’t be afraid to fail fast – even if it means going back to the drawing board and using stack rankings and a combination of data and intuition to make decisions.

Be opinionated and focus on the ‘why’ when communicating with stakeholders 

As the startup organisational tree is often significantly flatter and your proximity to time-poor senior leadership is closer, it’s important to communicate in the most information-dense way possible by focusing on the ‘why,’ what you’re trying to achieve, and how it relates to the bigger picture (this goes for working with other stakeholders like engineers too). In almost all cases, when communicating with leadership it's also better to be right than fast – so cover your bases and provide a through response that expedites time to the right resolution. In a startup context, it’s also important to make gut-driven hypotheses and opinions which are supplemented by the limited data you have access to. Data expedites your ability to fail fast by performing the lightest weight MPV or test possible. 

Bring visibility to and own your metrics 

Ensure that you know key metrics about your product – sign-ups (how many customers you are acquiring, broken down by segments), activation (how many new customers are finding value after signing up and are likely to retain), retention (when your users come back to the product, and when they don’t) and engagement (how engaged your users are with your product by monitoring dormant users and DAU/MAU). For product-led businesses, focus on monthly active users (measuring engagement as a leading indicator for revenue) and for sales-led businesses, annual recurring revenue (measuring revenue directly through acquisition + expansion - contraction + churn). Be sure to build habits in your startup to review and react to key metrics using tools like ChartMogul & Amplitude

Don’t expect to ‘build it and they will come’ 

Be sure to really know your market and be solving your customers’ needs. Engage in beta testing to refine your positioning and understand how customers would articulate the products’ value, play to your strengths and leverage your unique advantages, and set leading, lagging and guardrail metrics to monitor a product’s impact.

Remember that it’s progress > perfection 

When it comes to mental health, it helps to focus on performance, progress and maintaining perspective. Rather than making your product perfect – what are you aiming for, what is the worst possible outcome and what are the odds of this happening? Build trust, have open and difficult conversations, and have empathy for the founders that you’re working with. Know your values and what’s important to you, and have fun! Chances are, you’re in a startup for a reason. 

Product Chapter was a great reminder that as we navigate the complex world of startup product development, success is not a solitary pursuit. 

We couldn’t be more grateful for the generosity and candidness of our coaches during the program, and encourage you all to keep drawing inspiration from the experiences of seasoned product leaders, and applying and adapting their insights to your own product journeys. 

To access our vibrant community of product legends and the full session recordings from the program, be sure to sign up for our waitlist.

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