Talent and People Takeaway’s: Seedcamp Product Summit 2021

Last month, we had our annual Seedcamp Product Summit. We were very lucky to be joined by some incredibly insightful speakers from across the product and design ecosystem, including Andy Budd, Kate Leto and Sharon Kean. One discussion topic that kept coming up was how to hire and retain talent — and that makes sense. The people you interview, hire, and ultimately build your company with determine your product’s success. Here are the ten key points I took away from listening to some of our speakers about Talent and People.

1. Invest in the best designers possible, as early as possible

Design often seems to take a back seat in a company’s list of priorities, lagging behind perhaps more tangible fields like engineering. This causes a bottleneck even before founders look to address it. Andy Budd, founder at Clearleft, noticed that even when startups do hire a designer, most decide to hire very junior or grossly under-powered people. Who you hire and when you hired them can send a big message about how you value design, so invest early.

2. Be aware of burnout in team leadership

Especially post-fundraising where significant scale is going to occur, your Team Lead will no doubt spend a huge amount of time hiring talent. If this individual is an inexperienced leader or new to the startup world, it can be a catalyst to what Andy describes as “the new leader death spiral”, during which increased attention to hiring leads to wailing employee satisfaction due to lack of leadership attention. The solution? Plan six months in advance and properly define your recruitment processes, onboarding, professional development pathways and management processes. Having a defined number two to support leadership is another great tip!

3. Communicate down the change and challenges that comes with scale

As an early-stage startup, flexibility and lack of structure are part of the fun and often why certain people favour startup life over traditional career paths. Scale brings with it a need for process, which can kick-start a storming phase, or as Andy calls it, the organisation equivalent of the “terrible twos.” As you begin to see scale, bring your team along for the journey, but accept that you’re going to lose some people along the way, perhaps even your best people.

4. Key attributes of a high functioning Product team:

Andy highlighted in his talk the risk of your product team becoming a “feature factory” as you scale, which can lead to dissatisfaction in the team and highlights a low functioning Product team. Below are some characteristics that Andy believes identify a high functioning Product team:

1. Self Directed

2. Own a meaningful part of the product

3. Are responsible for product delivery

4. Deliver outcomes rather than outputs

5. Some thought-provoking stats:

Kate Leto, ex-Yahoo and the author of ‘Hiring Product Managers: Using Product EQ to go Beyond Culture and Skills,’ shared some really interesting stats, highlighting why it is so important to invest in good Talent and have a robust assessment process because as you can see, not only is there a significant financial risk, but there is a time investment too:

1. Staff turnover costs range from 120-300% of annual salary

2. New employee performance takes 13 months to reach maximum efficiency

3. Only 11% of employees leave because of lack of technical skills

6. Have an equal focus on technical and human skills when hiring a Product Manager

Kate recommends shifting away from 90% technical skills and 10% human skills, to a 50:50 split. As a hiring manager, you need to fully understand in what ways the technical “what” skills as well as the human “how” skills interact together to make up an awesome Product hire. Check out her matrix below:

7. Build a role that matters

Taking the time to sit down as a team and properly define your role is a brilliant exercise, not only for alignment purposes but also to build a transparent job description that will resonate a lot better with the talent ecosystem as a consequence. Kate created her Role Canvas below which is a great template to review:

8. Learn and continuously improve your interview process through retrospection

Kate highlighted the importance of continuously learning from your interview process, through retrospection. Consider doing a role retro during the first month of the hired candidate. Comparing notes on how the role was presented and what the reality of the role is will enable you to build the perfect role brief for future hires. Look through your interview data and think through where are you performing well and where are you falling down using a tool like Metaview, a Seedcamp portfolio company. Tracking conversion rates through the process are a great way to do this.

9. Ask them about something they built

When interviewing candidates for your first Product Manager hire, Speaker Sharon Kean, currently a product director at Seedcamp portfolio company Wise, suggests focusing on a few areas:

1. What type of product are you building, is data, engineering or design more important at this stage? When evaluating a candidate, ask them about something they built, what did they do vs what did the team do? The more specific their answers, the better.

2. Own the details: when assessing a PM, you are looking to completely understand the steps they took to build, or if they teach you something new, that’s even better! There are no places to hide in start up life, so if they can’t handle the details, who will.

3. Pragmatism not polish: Prioritisation and time management around build focus is a core PM skill. Again, when assessing, what difficult trade offs did they have to make? Then ask hypothetically what they’d do it if no constraints.

4. Shared understanding: Communication is a common theme throughout this retro, can they convince you they picked the right solutions when solving a problem with their product?

5. Making good decisions: are they customer focused and what qualitative and quantitative data do they gather to justify their decisions? Again, bring it back to what they built, what product decisions did they make, how did it impact customers and how did they get buy in?

10. What does a start-up Product Manager NOT look like?

A lot of start ups hire the wrong people because they have chased a big brand or don’t fully understand what it means to be the first X hire in an early stage business. Sharon highlighted some traits she things do not make a good first Product Manager:

Get involved in the conversation

The above are the opinions of the speakers, so what do you agree with? What do you disagree with or would do differently? I would love to hear your opinions so reach out at

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