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Discussion on: I'm Vivek Saraswat, investor in Dev Tools + Infra startups @ Mayfield and former product leader @ Docker/VMware/AWS. AMA!

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juliannatetreault profile image
Julianna Tetreault

Hi Vivek!

I have two questions for you:

  • What advice would you give to someone looking to move into a product manager role?
  • What would you consider to be some red flags for you when deciding to invest in an early-stage company?
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Vivek Saraswat Ask Me Anything

Hi Julianna!

  • Glad to see you're interested in PM! I believe the single most important trait a potential product manager can develop is empathy. The PM is the voice of the customer, the bridge to non-technical teams (sales/marketing/ops etc.), and the closest partner to engineering. This requires that a product manager be really, really good at putting themselves in another person's shoes and understanding what drives them. There are several good resources on building empathy as a PM--I have a few links in an article I wrote on building empathy in enterprise product last year. Aside from that, I would spend time working with PMs, and importantly with other related orgs like sales and marketing to understand how each of them connect within the business, as PMs often need to coordinate and fit everything together.

  • There's a definitely a lot that goes into evaluating and early stage company...I wrote up a framework of my evaluation here in case you'd like more details. There's very few straight up red flags, but here are some:
    1) The CEO lies about anything and it comes up later in diligence. This one should be obvious, but you'd be surprised, it happens.
    2) The CEO doesn't know key metrics of the business (revenues, burn rate, etc.). This is part of the fundraise process and should be expected.
    3) The CEO is seriously trying to decide between raising an early stage round or selling the company. This suggests they aren't serious about building a large-scale business.
    4) The CEO is rude or dismissive to members of the Mayfield staff. It's totally fine if folks are nervous or buttoned up. That's ok. But People-First is one of our principles and I won't tolerate that kind of behavior.

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Julianna Tetreault

Thanks so much for the thorough response, Vivek! I found your articles insightful and was particularly interested in the live-fire exercises that you mentioned—empathizing with the customer is incredibly underrated.

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