In several PM Communities I frequent I see people who constantly ask, should I take a job a this series A or B startup, or a job at some extreme scale public cloud or tech company. Every time I see it I’m confused by it because I think of those companies being so far apart in experience that you should spend your time clarifying what you want in a job before trying to pick one or the other. In a hyperscale company there is tremendous specialization for products with billions of users. At a small start up it’s all generalists.

As you go through the scale up process, just about every role goes from generalist to more specialist. This is both a factor of having more people and that specialists can do a thing better than a generalist (hypothetically); and that there is enough work in a specialty area to justify having someone to do that work full time. So a PM in a small startup might be doing everything:

  • Design
  • Discovery
  • Roadmap
  • Strategy
  • Product Marketing
  • Enablement Content
  • Hands on Enablement
  • Data analysis
  • Sales Calls
  • QA
  • Story writing
  • Engineering planning
  • Everything else

As you get bigger and have more customers you start to peel off those responsibilities into folks who focus on them all the time. You probably as a PM move to interfacing with those functions rather than just having that work disappear entirely from your purview.

In late stage startups not everything will go away and which things get peeled off at what time will depend on you customers, industry, company, and your particular talents.

Nothing says you have to devolve into slide decks. But in hyperscale companies if there is a specialization it probably exists as a different role.

Also, I would say most people don’t go all the way up the scale process; I’ve observed that folks seem to like companies at a certain size where they get the right spot on the specialist to generalist continuum for their comfort level matched against the level of support you get from having specialists. Some people like doing a little bit of everything and therefore love startups. Some people like being specialists in infrastructure API design and work on internal infrastructure products at massive public cloud providers. I personally like being somewhere in the middle.

This also isn’t specific to product, all the functions do this. Sales is just the sales person, then you have regional sales, then channel sales, then channels with regions, etc.