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Hey Sifted Reader, 

As people all over the world consider a career change into rhythmic gymnastics or 3x3 basketball, we’re looking at what it takes to change roles at a startup.

How do people make the jump from customer operations or marketing into product? How can you figure out if it's a good idea? And how can you convince your manager to let you make the change?

 Amy and Anisah 🧡

\How to

Move into a product role

Aamir Chishtie was not always a product manager. His first foray into startups was as a performance marketer, which he did for a good few years, before shifting from the marketing to the product team while at fashion tech startup Thread. He’s since worked in product at Deliveroo and is now at edtech startup DataCamp. Here he gives some advice for others wanting to jump into product.

Try to learn (some of the ropes) in your current role. I didn't intend to switch into product; when I joined, Thread didn’t have a PM. It came up organically; I started doing conversion rate optimisation, so that was me working with a designer and an engineer to run experiments — and became my way to learn the ropes. I was fortunate that Kieran [O’Neill], Thread’s CEO, is a big believer in the concept of tours of duty’, which Reid Hoffman ran at LinkedIn. He asked me if I would like to transition into product or stay in marketing after our Series B. But if you’re already embedded in a product team and can shadow the PM, that’s definitely the way to go. 

Find out what your ‘spikes’ are. In product, there are a wide range of skills you need to know. I think you need a couple of ‘spikes’ in different areas — things you’re especially good at — and those will vary from person to person. There were some things I knew from marketing that I didn’t need to worry about — analytics was one, finance another. We would also talk to our customers a lot in marketing, and then work backwards from there; that transitioned nicely to product. But there were loads of things I didn’t know, like the technical aspect and learning the rituals of a product team and how they operate and communicate. How do you talk to an engineer vs. a designer vs. a data scientist vs. your stakeholder? That entire thing is very different from the marketing world. 

Talk to a lot of product people. When I was contemplating switching over, I reached out to product people on LinkedIn and offered to buy them coffee. I asked them what they liked and didn’t like about the job, and what they would’ve done differently in retrospect. Product can be overly glamourised — it is a bit of a tough slog. When it’s going right, there’s no glory; when it’s going wrong, you need to be there to provide air cover for your team. Those are aspects of the job people don’t see. 

Gain your manager’s trust. In marketing, I was always trying to find my weaknesses, strengths and gaps, and reading a lot. I demonstrated my ability to grow in that role — and that gave Kieran the confidence I’d work hard at learning skills I didn’t already have [for product]. 

Try to switch within a startup. Moving companies as a product manager is particularly difficult — the role is different at each company, and the culture too. There’s a lot of benefit to switching into product inside a startup; you have a lot of knowledge of the company already, and know the people and processes. Moving companies to get into product is also likely to come with a reduction in seniority. 

Earn your team’s respect. The engineers on my team are always going to know more about coding and systems design than I ever could. What I can do is learn enough so that I can have good conversations with them and question whether they’re thinking about things in the right way. I did a computer science course through edX, I learned SQL and I share articles on engineering that I’ve been reading; I want to show that I’m not a PM who just cares about the user-facing side of things. 

— Amy

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\On the Subject of...

Changing roles at a startup

🛠️ Getting into product management. N26 lead product manager Lucila Rey is an active member of the product manager community — she helps organise Mind The Product events and is a founding member of Spanish platform Conversaciones de Producto — but she used to be in marketing. Here’s her guide on how to move into a product role. 

👎 “PM is the worst job.” Aamir often shares this Twitter thread from Brandon Chu, VP of product acceleration at Shopify, with people considering making the leap — so they know what they’re getting into. 

🤔 15 things you should know about product managers. They can drown in meetings, lack the power to really make decisions and come up against impossible expectations. Another read recommended by Aamir. 

🤝 Changing careers internally. A startup career coach has some practical advice on how to define the new role you’re after and how to make it happen — including getting all key stakeholders on board.

💪 From pro to newbie. Employees who’ve moved roles at project management tool Asana discuss the challenges of transitioning. 

\Community Journalism

Take our survey: Have you ever worked in a toxic environment?

The right culture is the difference between thriving at work and just surviving. But, too often the intensity of high-growth startups can create a stressful, fraught and unhappy atmosphere.

We’re looking into our readers’ experiences of these toxic environments, and we want to hear from you.

Take the totally anonymous survey.

\People Moves

Infarm is growing a ‘crop genetics’ team. And it’s just hired Pádraic Flood, a plant geneticist who’s previously worked as a research scientist at the Netherlands’ Wageningen University (the foodtech university). He’s tasked with helping the vertical farming unicorn adapt grains, legumes and other staple crops for indoor growing. Fascinating.

Got any people intel you'd like to share with us? We'd love to hear it... 😉 

\Smart Reads

1) How much is too much? Pricing a product is one of the most important steps when launching a company — yet it can feel pretty random. Running surveys about willingness to pay may be the answer. 

2) Venture funding is faster than ever. From more capital on the market to remote working increasing dealflow, startups are getting funded quicker than ever — but is that a good thing?

3) Spanish regulation is killing delivery startups. Spain’s new law requires delivery startups to hire all of their riders. In a market where speed and margins are key to competitive advantage, companies are battling between closing and complying… questionably. 

4) Authentic community creation. This Twitter thread by London VC Forward Partners pulls together some excellent resources on how and why to build community around a company.

5) Build the design system later. This two part series by independent store curator Trouva explores how startups (normally) build a product first. At some point though you need more efficiency and better team collaboration — so how do you retrofit a design system?

Read something you think everyone else should too? Send it on over to Anisah.

\Sifted Talks

How to measure and prevent customer churn

Once you’ve got some customers, the next challenge is keeping them. So how do startups like Otrium, Flipdish and Trade Republic manage it?

Find out from our speakers on Thursday August 19, at 12.30pm BST. 

Sign up, for free, here.

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\Book of the Week

Mastering a Day in a Product Manager’s Life by Annie Dunham

It seems like everyone and their dog is moving into product management — but what does the role actually entail? Here are some things I learned from Annie Dunham: 

PMs aren’t the boss. Although product managers set the product strategy and are accountable for targets, they don’t manage the developers or designers creating the product — they’re on the same hierarchical plane. A key part of the role is cross-department relationship building to make sure people don’t get pissed off. 

PMs spend a lot of their time thinking about what others are doing. This could look like going through a competitor’s user journey, checking out their marketing and newsletters or reading reviews from customers. This helps understand a market and potential customer personas. 

PMs need to over-communicate. The role requires constantly keeping key stakeholders in the loop with the direction of the product. This could be via meetings — recurring one-to-ones, team huddles and standups — or virtual company updates and a regularly updated company wiki. They need buy in and feedback.

This short e-book is a great quick guide on what a product manager does day to day — although it definitely left me with more questions about the necessity of the role than it answered. 

— Anisah


How big should a startup’s team be when it hires a chief strategy officer? 

1-10 people
11-50 people
51-100 people
101+ people


Come back next week for the results!
Amy Lewin
Deputy Editor

Get in touch with her at
She loves a bit of reader feedback.
Anisah Osman Britton
Founder at 23 Code Street

Get in touch with her at
She loves to hear about the latest in startupland.
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