Leaving the Nest: Five PM Lessons on Launching Software Products

Anthony Gatti
9 min readJun 21, 2022

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I was a little bit more eager to leave the nest than most
I was a little bit more eager to leave the nest than most.

Disclaimer: These thoughts are my own and do not represent my current employer or any of my former employers. Though informed by my own experiences, the content below is generic and learned both in my current role and through first-hand conversations with other product managers outside my company.

I’ve had the great opportunity to be a part of a team that launched multiple different software products in my last 2.5 years as a product manager. In this post, I’ll share five lessons I’ve learned about the process of shipping a product that I hope will help anyone going through the process for the first time and spark ideas for any product veterans reading.

I have young children and I feel that launching a product is a bit like sending them off to college. You hope that all the blood, sweat, and tears you poured into giving them the best chance at success pays off. You believe you’ve done all the right things. But you don’t really know what the outcome is going to be, nor will you really know until much further down the road. And even if things go off the rails at first, it’s always possible they could come back around in the long run (totally not speaking from my personal collegiate experience on this one…).

But I digress — first and foremost, it’s important to realize that the launch of a product is a beginning more than an end. It is a major accomplishment to be sure, but most of the hard work is still to come. That being said, it’s vital that you’ve done all the major PM work before launch date (like figuring out what you want to build, who its for, validating that such users exist, that they actually have the problem you think they have, that they actually want to solve that problem, that there isn’t already an entrenched solution that you have no chance of competing against, oh and that they will definitely pay for the product, etc…).

So let’s assume that’s all done. It’s still likely the case that the few months leading up to the product launch will be a harrowing time. It’s also a vitally important time, where extra focus and attention must be paid to sanding down the rough edges in a limited time frame — a bad first impression can kill your opportunity, but ship too late and you’ll miss your window. These five things have helped me survive this chaotic time, and I hope they help you.

1. Know the “Why” of the product like the back of your hand

Why are you launching this product? Why does the market need your product? Why this product, built this way, from your company?

It’s important to know why you’re building this product because the thesis of the product is your guide when deciding what features to prioritize, what feedback to expedite, and what tweaks to make when things don’t quite land the way you expect. It also tells you why you should build product A vs. product B, or just keep on trucking with product 1 — and helps you explain the reasons to others.

You probably know the answers to these questions. After all, you’re a product manager, it’s your job to know these things. It may very well have been your idea to build the thing in the first place. But by the time you get to actually shipping the product, it’s likely that the answer to “why” is so self-evident to you that you don’t even think about it anymore. Obviously the market needs your product; why would you have built what you built in the first place?

It’s obvious when you think about it for a minute, but it’s very likely most everyone else doesn’t know the answer to the “why” questions. The market doesn’t know it, your existing customers don’t know it, your salespeople don’t know it until you tell them, the engineers building the product are probably trying to debug major thorny issues deep within the code as we speak, and your executive leadership has ten other strategic items to deal with that day. An easy trap to fall into is to assume that everyone else should just “get it” the way you do. But that just isn’t the case.

Therefore you need to say why you are building your product. Over and over and over again. To the engineers, to the salespeople, to the market, to the leadership, and most importantly, to yourself. Don’t take it for granted, and don’t stay on autopilot. If you find yourself answering “why” questions with “just because,” it’s a great idea to revisit your product thesis one more time.

2. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

This lesson is a natural extension of the first one — because you know your product better than anyone else, it’s easy to forget that everybody else does not. It’s also easy to get frustrated when people ask the same questions over and over that you answered in your meticulously constructed FAQ. There’s plenty you can do to help your cause in terms of information proliferation, but the reality is that the product isn’t going to be as important to anyone else as it is to you.

If you know the why, make sure you tell everyone. Over and over and over again. The reason to do so is not to compensate for the shortcomings of others; rather, it’s a critical part of successful execution on a strategic initiative. The team that’s going to help you execute on your vision for the product in the market (aka the real world) needs to buy into what you’re doing. But expect them to be distracted with the many other elements of their job. Also, expect them not to know as much as you do about your product, to be confused by the details, and to need reminders. That’s just part of the process. It’s no one’s shortcoming — it’s your opportunity to make a difference in your company.

As a PM, try not to let yourself get frustrated when you have to repeat the same information over and over. See it as an opportunity to hone your communication skills and, more importantly, to get good at building consensus and strategic vision within your organization, of which repetition is a normal part. That will have a snowballing effect, and eventually the product flywheel will move by itself.

3. Congratulations, You’re in Sales Now

Ok, so you know why you’ve built what you did, and you’ve told everyone internally about it. Now, it’s time to go to market for real this time. Like Anakin Skywalker in the middle of an already-heated space battle, this is where the fun begins.

It’s critical at this stage that you go out and find your users. The reality is that many customers aren’t going to be interested in trying your new product until it’s more fully baked so you need to find the customers who (a) have the problem you believe exists and (b) are amped up to solve the problem in new and interesting ways. Some of this is part and parcel of the proverbial chasm crossing. But the extra hard part here is that you have to sell the product to these users.

“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this. I’m not a salesperson, I like technology and architecture, not convincing people to buy my product because it’s Oh So Good for them!” But here we turn to the “if not you, then who?” question — and it’s not very likely to be your sales team. There’s a couple of reasons for this:

  • For salespeople, a new product is also a potential hindrance to the health of the account due to the instability you might introduce with new, less battle-tested functionality.
  • Salespeople are incentivized to go for the big bucks (as you also want them to), and it’s not likely someone is going to pay you big bucks for a new, non-market tested product.
  • Good sales organizations are predicated on process, discipline, commitment, and timeliness. Your new product hasn’t been sold by anyone, so there’s no process or template to follow; your engineering team is just figuring out how to build its features efficiently, so committing to delivering functionality within a viable timeframe is difficult to swallow; and if your need is as burning as it seems, your customer wanted the product a year ago.

All of this to say, it’s unreasonable to expect the normal sales function to hit the ground running with the new offering. They will get there, and there’s a lot of extra work to be done between you, the product marketing team, and the sales enablement team to make the product launch as smooth as possible for the sellers.

But the bottom line is that you, the PM, get to sell the product. You get to lay the groundwork for the go-to-market motion for your product. I, for one, have a lot of room for growth in this area, but I’ve learned it’s important to see it as an opportunity to expand my skill set in an area I haven’t invested much in throughout my career. You can either own the fact that you get to sell now, or you can shy away from it. The latter can be a real killer to everything you’ve worked for thus far.

4. Find The One

The good news about this “now you’re in sales!” business is that you really only have to do it once, whereas real salespeople get to do it over, and over, and over, and over, until their quota gets raised and they get to do it even more. What you really need is to find your product soulmate — the user who really wants your product, is super excited to use it regardless of its warts, and, most importantly, wants to give you a huge amount of feedback about what works and doesn’t work.

This person is invaluable, and deserves all your attention, for a few reasons:

  • They will very quickly prove whether or not your product is ready to ship.
  • They will give you real world feedback on what’s necessary to add to take your product to the next level, often in new and interesting ways that you didn’t expect.
  • If you listen, they will show you how to sell the product to others — because they will sell the product to their own people.

Note I’m not talking about beta testers here — that happens earlier, through the research and discovery phase. At this stage, you want to look for people who will actually put your product into production, or at least contemplate it. That’s a different beast entirely from the baseline tinkering that you’ll get from the super-early adopters. What you’re looking to gain insight on here is not the basic thesis of your product, but on the viability of what you’ve already built. Is it ready for prime time? Do you need to make any more changes? What is the one major thorn in your side that needs to be resolved as soon as possible, and how can you expedite the remediation?

At this point, you learn what it will truly take to capture a market segment with your product. You must be prepared to iterate. But you also must remember, along with the engineering team, that you’re in the big leagues now; it’s no longer hackathon time. This isn’t high school — you’re on your own now, and what you do matters.

5. Be Brave — The acne will fade

Ok so now your product is out in the real world, studying to become a mechanical engineer or save the world with their sociology research. But the product still probably has plenty of acne — those not particularly appealing spots that you really hope no one notices but you are convinced they are constantly looking at anyways. It’s natural to feel some anxiety and distress here. But it’s important to be brave and step out into the world.

It’s also natural to feel frustration about all the things you know are suboptimal in the product, and to watch the users hit those potholes in the road. But this, too, is an opportunity to learn. Like acne, it’s very possible that even though you think it’s bad, the user might briefly notice and move on. If it is a hangup, you can fix it, it will just take time — just more than you wish it would. But that’s part of the growing process. In time, the product will blossom into exactly what you hope it will be, as long as you stay focused, work as a team, and listen to your users.

Bonus — Make sure you celebrate

Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to celebrate the release of your product. It’s out there in the world! All the effort you and the team put in to get to this point has led to this moment. There’s much more still yet to do, but it’s important to stop and smell the roses. Seeing people use your product for real is an incredible feeling (obviously along with the sales revenue hopefully still to come). Stop, take a moment, and celebrate the journey, and the people you take it with — that’s what makes it all worth it.

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Anthony Gatti

I’m a product manager at a technology startup. I write about lessons I’ve learned about PM and building successful organizations.