+ Dealing with Impostor Syndrome
Every PM can come up with billion-dollar ideas. Few can drive billion-dollar execution:
Be as close as possible to the work. Don’t go a week between catching up on eng or design status.
Be a human unblocking machine. Be the teammate who figures out the answers to the tough questions.
Drive short build-ship-learn cycles. Avoid endless build periods.
Worship at the altar of speed. Avoid long timelines in steps.
Consider off-cycle releases. Each day waiting for the release train is a day lost.
Involve analytics before building. Ensure the tracking is set up, and you are aligned on the success criteria.
Get cross-functional buy-in early. Don’t let another team derail once you have already begun building.
Put the strategy in writing. Make the thinking clear as day to everyone.
Evangelize broadly. More of the company needs to support than you usually realize.
Empower the team. When designers & engineers can make decisions on how to build, less burden is on you.
Know what you can drop. You’ll have to make tradeoffs to ship: identify must vs want.
Analyze the metrics deeply. Tie back each result to the broader picture.
Track progress to the billion. Regularly measure how you are tracking.
Parallelize work everywhere. Design the next feature ahead of time. Test similarly.
Drive shared ownership of the goals. Ensure your design & engineering counterparts are measured on the same.
Dealing with Impostor Syndrome
So, you’re feeling impostor syndrome as a PM:
The negative self-talk has become prevalent.
“I’m not sure if I’m good enough for this job.”
“I don’t know how I got by in the interviews.”
“I’m bad at this.”
It can eat at you and cause you to fail. I promise - you can deal with it.
1. Realize most PMs have it:
Engineers code. Designers build visuals. What do PMs do? They don’t have clear outputs. This makes PMs highly susceptible to impostor syndrome. Take solace in the nature of the job contributing. It’s not just you feeling this way.
2. View it as a positive:
Reframe your self-talk. You are smart enough to understand what capabilities you need, but don’t have. You aren’t the flip side - overconfident with Dunning-Kreuger. That’s even worse.
3. Harness your humility:
Studies find that you can use your humility to have better interpersonal interactions. Have an “other facing” orientation when you work with others. People with impostor syndrome are great at it. And your coworkers love it.
4. Be objective about your weaknesses:
It’s not that you are in deficit of everything. Get more specific about what you aren’t doing well.
Working with others
Dealing with the workload?
Focus on the specific deficit.
5. Strive for a growth mindset:
Frame your specific weaknesses as “not yet.” It’s not that you’re bad at influence. It’s that you haven’t reached the level you want yet. Instead of finding evidence you are an impostor, find ways to help grow.
6. Focus on using your strengths:
There’s usually a way around your specific weaknesses. Bad at writing? Leverage meetings and chat more. Use a way around it. The beauty of PM is outcomes matter more than outputs. Build your own style of PMing, specific to your strengths.
7. Let the phrase lose meaning:
By labeling and focusing on impostor syndrome, it is pulling you down. Let the phrase lose meaning. Reframe “I have impostor syndrome.” Make it, “I have some areas to improve.”
When the phrase loses its grip on your mind, you can move forward.
Bonus: How to Reinvent Your Product Growth Strategy for the Tech Downturn
In a bull market, the focus is on top-line growth. High growth and high burn are fine. In a bear market, the answer changes.
Your strategy for user growth should go from “as much as possible” to “efficient, profitable, productive.”
How do you get there? The godfather of growth, Andrew Chen, has the answer. These are the four steps you need to take (text is lightly edited direct quotes):
1. Embrace the New Normal
During a bull market, the primary metric that people talk about is just top-line growth. "What’s your year-over-year growth rate?"
However, the new normal is focused on efficient growth. What’s the best way to measure this? Burn Multiple.
Burn Multiple = Net Burn / Net New ARR
In other words, if you spend $10M and gain $5M more in annual recurring revenue, that’s a 2x burn multiple — “Suspect.”
A lot of times, unit economics are hand-waved by product teams.
Costs are excluded from the contribution margin or net revenue calculations that maybe shouldn’t be — like headquarters costs, real estate, and so on. Burn multiple cuts through all that.
2. Cut Your Marketing Spend
The first and simplest thing to do is to cut your marketing spend. And in a particular order:
First: Keep the high ROI channels, cut the low ROI ones, even if they provide volume.
Second: Focus on accountable spend, and reduce ones have a long/fluffy payback?
Third: Rethink brand marketing spend — do you really need it?
3. Laser Focus on your Engaged, High LTV Users
In a hot market, there’s often a land grab to acquire as many users as possible.
If there’s a goal to grow 10% in a time period, the pressure is often to grow 10% by acquiring a mass of new users — most of which will burn off from lower usage. The better option might be to grow 10% by incentivizing higher engagement from existing, core users.
The reason why the core users outperform new ones is that there’s often a central segment of where the product is really working, and then an “Adjacent User” where it only kind of works.
This can become a tradeoff between Marketing versus Product-Led Growth. The former drives CAC, whereas the latter is built on product development costs.
The advantage of growth driven within the product — whether that’s better user onboarding, high impact features, or otherwise — is that they impact a wide swath of users within the product.
4. Live to Fight Another Day
As the image shows, the forward revenue multiple for public companies is down significantly. You need much more revenue to justify the same valuation — what used to be a 15x multiple is now 7x.
Companies need to “catch up” on their most recent valuation, and additionally progress to justify an increase in their valuation.
The easiest way to get there is to take more time, with higher efficiency. Teams must buy more runway, focusing on better ROI and not a “high growth, high burn” mindset.