As the product manager of a high-growth startup, my role has evolved quickly over the past four years. When we started the company, in a garage along one of the many Amsterdam canals, I found myself doing everything from writing code to taking out the trash and ordering dinner for the late nights in the office. Since then, our team has grown rapidly and we are now in a beautiful office where we are proud to host global brands—something we didn’t do in the garage.
When I joined MessageBird, it was a small company so we each wore many hats and shared responsibilities. Regardless of the hat we wore at any given time, each person stepped up and took the opportunity to learn new skills to help the company reach the next level of success. As the company has grown, I’ve grown along with it. I started as a developer and now, four years later, I am managing product development for our platform of communications solutions.
As I think back to how I got here, there were three key practices that paved the way. In addition to never saying no to a job—even if it wasn’t in my job description—I’ve found that nurturing these three practices can go a long way to building a career.
Ask the Long-Term Questions Early and Often
When asked to select from a list of 34 attributes that represent their top strengths, 76% of product managers chose “always learning,” and 64% selected “curiosity.” When coupled with a long-term focus, a learner’s attitude is a strong asset for personal growth. At a startup, prioritization of efforts at any time can mean the difference between success and failure. Part of my success was born from simply asking why. Why are we building this now? What customer pain are we solving? Why this focus over that one? Asking why early and often forces a team to slow down and think through whether they are focusing on the right outcomes. And, it’s helped me prioritize my time to have the most impact.
Be a Dreamer, but a Critical One
Whether working as a developer or as a product lead, rallying the team around our mission and potential is critical to success. One of the most effective ways to do this is to dream big—and encourage the team to do the same. Imagining what could be is not only fun, but it helps us aim high. While we dream big, we remain critical of our ideas and open to the input and criticism of others. As we take in new input and ideas, we adjust our thinking but remain persistent on the end goal. To make an impact in a growing company, it’s important to keep one foot planted in solving current customer challenges. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an eye on the future and dream big.
Acknowledge that You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Growth and leadership are recognizing when you don’t have all the answers and having the confidence to admit it. I’ve learned that the best ideas don’t typically come from one brilliant mind, but rather from the collaboration of several minds. MessageBird was founded in the Netherlands which is a very small country. In fact, two hours in any direction and you’re in a different country with a different language and a different culture. As such, we’re fortunate to have over 30 nationalities represented. Naturally, different backgrounds bring different perspectives and different sets of knowledge. It’s a culture that has given us an edge because the diversity of thought enables us to see challenges from very different viewpoints.
I’ve come to learn that not knowing something is OK as long as you stick to the pursuit of knowledge and validation. You will make some mistakes along the way, but don’t get stuck on what you don’t know. Let not knowing drive you to learn.
Embracing curiosity, dreaming big and working together toward solutions are the best ways I’ve found to solve customer challenges and move your career forward at the same time. Hopefully, these tips help you drive yours forward, too.