On Being a PM Intern at a SaaS Startup

Welcome back to the second installment of my journey as TeamLift’s inaugural Product Management Intern!

Over the last month, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to work in a corporate start-up setting, and it hasn’t always been what I expected. In addition to doing my usual Product Management work- i.e. triangulating with design, business, technical development teams, and potential clients, and engaging in user testing and product timeline development- I’ve had to learn how to advocate for myself. As a Product Management Intern, I realized that there were times when I felt out of the loop because there were  meetings reserved for higher-level teams, who were unaware of my skills or interests. This created a disadvantage for me, negatively impacting my performance because Product Management requires up-to-date intel on product development. When I brought this issue to my supervisor’s attention, she was more than happy to bring me in for product meetings with the company’s leadership team. This has helped me perform my duties to the best of my ability. 

The World of Work is pretty different from my academic life. In academics, you tend to have very similar assignments across the board: coding, essays, exams, etc. At TeamLift, my performance is measured by my impact on the team. For instance, when I gained verbal confirmation that a high-powered financial corporation would use TeamLift’s SaaS product, I knew my networking, marketing, and product-thinking skills directly paid off.

There is also less support and structure in the world of work, however I am learning what questions to ask and which tasks to delegate. Overall, I am finding the experience to be educational.

A Sprint Board That I Designed: This is How we Set Goals for Each Team, One Week at a Time! (The Data on the Green Stickies are Redacted for Confidentiality)

Through my work in this internship, I’ve developed a plethora of skills that will be applicable to my future employment. Through my meetings with the company teams, I’ve gained a technical understanding of the operation of SaaS startups. I’ve developed my cross-functional communication skills, learned industry best practices, as well as Agile project and product management. These skills are the cornerstone of a successful product manager, and will serve me well when securing future employment in my field. These skills may also be applicable to my computer science, business, and entrepreneurship courses that I will be taking this coming year.

The best part of this experience, however, is the people skills that I’ve built. Interpersonal skills are considered to be the defining trait of a leader, regardless of field or profession, and are transferable across every sectors. These competencies may be unteachable in a classroom environment, as they require consistent, functional, real-world interactions, either virtually or in-person. Since part of me hopes to be an entrepreneur in the long run, knowing how to assemble a team, effectively communicate, and deliver results by working collaboratively, is key.  The brainstorming, idea generation, agreements and even discord, I experienced throughout my internship will allow me to thrive in the days to come as life takes me to new places and new experiences.

My First PM Role and Life at Teamlift

As a Universal-Category WOW Fellow, I am currently the inaugural Product Management Intern at a tech startup called Teamlift. Teamlift is a software-as-a-service (Saas) company that is revolutionizing the future of work by developing an AI-based skills mapping software. Their product uses employee data and data from project management softwares at companies to identify, validate, and develop skills within that organization. While our official headquarters are in Boston, our team is incredibly diverse, and this summer we are working from across the globe: people are Zooming in from places as distant as Macedonia, the US, and Bangladesh(me!). I can safely say that I’ve learned how to do just about any time zone calculation in my head by now!

When I started my internship this summer, I definitely hit the ground running. Product managers triangulate with UI/UX i.e. design teams, sales and marketing teams, technical development teams, and most importantly their potential clients. And I entered the role as we began interviews to determine preliminary customer feedback, or as we call it, “User Testing”. Prior to actually working as a Product Manager, I assumed that User Testing only consisted of showing a customer a version of the product and then asking them what they thought open-endedly. Instead, I discovered that User Testing is a process with distinct stages. Firstly, we ask a set of unbiased questions to understand the customer’s pain point(more on that below!), and strategize how that can be solved. Of course, we do show our users the product and let them test it. However, in addition to an opportunity for open-ended feedback, I learned that there was a stage in which I needed to ask more specific questions about various features of the product. I also gleaned that Product Managers need to be careful in their phrasing of questions, since the goal of a Product Manager in a User Testing interview is to get responses that are as unbiased and truthful as possible. We need to determine customers’ “Pain Points”: things that the customer identifies as annoyances or problems, either with the product or more generally in daily life. The ideal product will cater to these pain points and assuage customers’ struggles in the sphere of the product. 

As a next step, Product Managers need to collaborate with design and development teams to take new feedback into account. After I’ve synthesized and summarized responses from User Testing interviews, I meet with Teamlift’s tech and design teams to improve our prototype. I’ve learned to use a program called Figma for design management, and I’ve had enlightening conversations with our development team about the AI they’ve developed so far. I’m still trying to grasp AI models more in-depth, since as a Computer Science major and Technology-sphere Product Manager it is particularly advantageous for me to comprehend as many of the aspects of the product as I can. Notwithstanding, my final current task involves visualizing product roadmaps, or determining a timeline for the product from a prototype to a stable release. 

This experience at Teamlift– albeit only one month so far– has been instrumental in helping me develop desirable skills in my field and giving me a glance into the real world of Product Management. Thanks to the fellowships team, and stay tuned!