What you need to know to get started in Silicon Valley
Maisy Samuelson / @msamuelson / msamuelson@gmail
•Why Silicon Valley?
•Why Product Management?
•Getting a PM job
•Classes to take
•Staying up to date
Why Silicon Valley?
• Get to build stuff
• Meritocratic (no set
• Growth industry
“Software is eating
• Work w/
• Flexible lifestyle
• High Risk/Reward
• Few obviously
• Limited location
choices (SF, NYC,
Role of a Product Manager
1. Product Strategy: deciding what product to build
2. Execution: project management
3. Leadership: convincing executives to give you
resources and engineers/designers to build what
4. Make your product succeed (not a 9-5)
Great product managers are:
• Smart (learn quickly), truth-seekers, motivated
Key to success is choosing great companies
Wrong seat on the right plane is much better than the
right seat on the wrong plane
Good companies have great people whom you can
learn from, work with again and who will recruit
other great people
Battlefield promotions, halo effect
Don’t work at a startup for the sake of doing a startup!
Choose 1) smart people, 2) good product 3) good brand
Don’t assume that smaller company means greater impact
Sweet spot: high growth, funded startup with team in place
(15-200 employees). Still a lot of equity and career growth
A company with 75 people and market traction is much
more likely to be successful than one with 2 people and a
It’s even harder to start a software company if you have no
industry experience and don’t have a network
Getting A Job
Read my book (www.learnproduct.com)
2. Identify good companies (Quora, LinkedIn TC, VC portfolios, ask around)
3. Find and connect with people who work there (warm lead versus cold lead)
4. Try to get any job you can there and switch to product
5. Get the words Product Management on your resume (Amazon internship)
6. Approach companies with specific ways that you can help solve a problem
they have (i.e. wireframes for how you would improve a specific part of the
site). SV companies value doers more than talkers.
7. Build a product prototype (e.g. weather app)
8. Learn coding basics
9. “Check your MBA at the door.” An MBA is not necessarily a positive in SV
Classes To Take
• You should understand how to build websites/mobile apps. These four
classes get you 95% of the way there. They’re a lot more work than GSB
classes, but grades don’t matter and they’re totally worth it.
Read my book (www.learnproduct.com)
CS106a: Programming methodology in Java (take this in the spring
of year 1, so you can take CS142 in the fall).
CS142: Webs Applications (Only offered in the Fall and need to
take CS106a first. This is the best class at Stanford).
CS193P: Developing Aps for iOS
CS106B: Programming abstractions in C++
Learn SQL, html and CSS on your own (lots of good web tutorials)
D-school classes look good on a resume
• Check out iTunes U, Coursera
Staying up To Date
• Fred Wilson
• Brad Feld (@bfeld)
• Chris Dixon (@cdixon)
• Paul Graham (@paulg)
• Aaron Levie (@levie)
Newsletter (fundraising &
• Bill Gurley (@bgurley)
Sidecar, Lyft , TaskRabbit, AirBnB
Consumerization of the enterprise
Asana, Box, Zendesk, RelateIQ, Evernote, Dropbox
Stripe, Square, CardSpring, Google Wallet
Pinterest, Spotify, Quora, Pulse, Prismatic
Fab, TheFancy, Etsy, One King’s Lane, Nasty Gal, Warby Parker, Quirky,
Edmodo, Coursera, Udacity
Phone as remote control
Uber, Homejoy, Grubhub
The Internet of Things
Snapchat, Whatsapp, Viber
Topics to Research
SEO (app store and web)
SEM (spend $20 to experiment buying google adwords and FB Ads)
Analyze Business Models: How does X make money?
Technology buzzwords (HTML5, JQuery, NoSQL, Bootstrap)
iOS and Android platforms and apps. What does each platform allow
developers to do? Characteristics of top performing apps? App stores?
Download a bunch of apps and observe design/mechanics.
Alexa, Comscore, Compete (monthly page views, uniques visitors, time
on site etc)
AppAnnie (iOS and Google Apps)
AppData (Facebook apps)
Getting A Product Job
PMs are risky hires for companies because they control very expensive
engineering resources and make decisions that can make or break a
business/product. To mitigate risk, companies look for people who already
have PM experience and a technical background. If you don’t have both, you
need to be strategic:
Write a sample spec for the company and make wireframes using Balsamiq
Here’s a spec template.
Exhibit these traits ... Intelligence (“you can’t fix stupid”), product sense,
ability to lead engineers without direct authority. Check out Ken Norton’s
famous blog post on how to hire PMs
Get hired for an easier role and do an internal transfer (only realistic if
company <100 people)
Take the CS classes on the later slide and build something
Get a summer job at Amazon/Microsoft. It’s useful to have the words
“Product Manager” at <Company people have heard of> on your resume
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