Startup vs scale-up product management

By Oliver Wolff — Published

I recently made the bold decision of leaving Zip, a listed BNPL company, for Kinde, a seed-stage startup.

Months into my journey at Kinde now, I’ve noticed some pretty big shifts in my role day-to-day. Here are a few things that have changed moving from a scale up to a startup in terms of Product Management.

Decision Making Ownership

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At Zip, I had my eyes on everything in my remit. I was expected to own any product enhancement or product marketing content related to the features I was responsible for.

At Kinde, every person owns their decisions.

Unlike Zip, every team is trusted with a budget that they will allocate wisely to boost their goals, with no need for procurement committees. Product marketing content is constantly released without my involvement if I’m not needed. Sales constantly communicate directly with engineers for Hubspot integration enhancements, without my involvement. Product enhancements may be shipped without it ever passing by me. Scary in theory but in reality it makes sense.

At the end of the day, every decision at Kinde is made with speed in mind. If every product-related decision had to go through me, we wouldn’t be able to compete in the market.

Customer touchpoints

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At Zip, only the Product triad (PM + EM + PD), UX Researcher, and Customer Support interacted with customers. When you’re part of a large team, a delegation of that sort is a standard approach, and not everyone can spend their time talking to customers.

At Kinde, everyone talks to the customers. We exist to build the business of our customers, and how can we all be capable of doing so without walking a mile in their shoes? Everyone is encouraged to speak to and understand the pain points our customers face, so we can build a truly innovative product.

Product Methodology: Sprints vs Swarms

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At Zip, each team operated in 2 week sprints with quarterly planning cycles. My role was to help frame:

  1. What we are building
  2. Why it is important
  3. How do we build this (from a technical and design point of view)

Kinde is more flexible. We operate in swarms.

Swarms are essentially a sprint, but the timeframe is flexible based on the agreed goal. One swarm might be 3 weeks, and the next is 2. I no longer have to focus on how it looks in the product, but more of my time has shifted to phrasing the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.

The engineers and designers have an immense, deep, understanding of the product. They are more than capable of figuring out the ‘how’, they are the experts after all. I focus more on setting the direction and the road ahead.

The biggest change during the move from scale-up to startup is centered on structure and ownership.

At Zip, we had a rigid structure that we knew worked for our product and most decisions had to run through the PM to reduce the risk factor of poor decisions.

Now at Kinde, we get to act more lean and adaptive to contextual needs. At the end of the day, rigidity will kill an early-stage startup, product success will come from the flexibility that a startup like ours allows. Also, every Kinde team member has to own their destiny and think like an owner. Not only will this boost morale, but it also allows each member to deliver value-add initiatives without blockers getting in their way.

We can all act like owners because we trust one another in the team. This trust is only possible due to a tough technical and cultural recruitment process. One bad apple can rot the whole team.