3 Quick Product Insights from TradeMe’s Trent Mankelow

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Leading the Product; our favourite annual event for hearing Product Managers give away their roadmaps and tactics for success is on again this October. In preparation for the day, we’ve asked keynote speaker; Trent Mankelow, Chief Customer Officer at New Zealand’s most successful startup; TradeMe, for 3 quick product insights:

When do you know you have Product-Market fit?

This is actually a harder question to answer than you might think. I started a company 10 years ago that has had a revenue curve that is very steady, up and to the right. Where was the hockey stick, the exponential growth, the clear indication in the graph when we hit product-market fit? This isn’t a zombie company – it has thousands of customers (including the likes of CNN, Facebook, Tesco, Disney, etc) and millions in revenue. So, maybe it’s actually better to assume that you never have fit. Bezos talks about Amazon perpetually being at ‘Day One’, so maybe you should take that attitude too, and never assume that you’ve found the perfect market or that you’ve created a product that fully satisfies the needs of that market.

When should you hire a Product Manager at your start-up?

Chances are that you have already hired a PM for your start-up – you! Founders often create a company for the express purpose of building a product, and tend to have a good vision and excellent day-to-day product spidey senses.

So, maybe a better question is when to hire a CEO to replace the founder. In my experience, founders don’t always enjoy the more business-y side of start-up life – dealing with boards and funding and people management and all the rest. So one very legitimate approach is for the founder to step back into a CPO or CTO role and hire someone else to run the business.

This isn’t likely to happen until the company has proven that it’s onto something – which usually means post-revenue. Experienced CEOs will care about their reputation and want to know that the company is making stuff that people want to buy. Similarly, in order to get an experienced CEO, you’ll need some cash in the bank, so chances are that the company has had some sort of funding.

What skills should I look for in a Product Manager?

A good product manager is a good product manager – the skills you want are the same regardless of whether you are hiring a PM to work in a 20-year-old company or a 20-day-old company. However, in a start-up do need someone who has a bit of hustle, a bit of mongrel and a willingness to be a jack-of-all-trades. You need people in a hurry and who are dissatisfied with the status quo – you don’t always need or want that in an incumbent.

One word of warning though – there is a lot of jargon in our industry, so test potential product managers if they start talking ‘lean’ and ‘jobs-to-be-done’ and ‘MVP’. “Have you ever read Lean Start-up? Can you explain what an MVP is? When might you not go for an MVP-style approach?”



Trent Mankelow is the Chief Customer Officer at Trade Me, New Zealand’s leading online marketplace and classified business, used by over 750K Kiwis a day. For the last two-and-a-half years, Trent was Trade Me’s Chief Product Officer, responsible for the product management practice used by 22 PMs across the business.

Hear Trent and more legendary product minds from fitbit, 99Designs, Bupa and more sharing learnings fit for startups and product people alike at Leading The Product, held in Melbourne and Sydney this October. Organised by Brainmates and SEEK, Leading the Product is a single-day, single-track conference with a focus on product management, thought-leadership, emerging trends, personal development and networking.

Friends of BlueChilli access $50 off the ticket price; deets here. Get in quick, as word on the street is it’s close to selling out. See you all there!