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Enzo AvigoCEO and Co-founder at June

29 Jun 23

The 10 Product Books to read if you’re Pre-PMF in 2023

The most read Product Management books are burning Pre-PMF startups to the ground.

“Inspired”? Relevant to large companies.

“Hooked”? You can’t hook people if you haven’t built something useful before.

“The Startup Owner's Manual?”. You’ll be wasting your time filling out canvases when you could be prototyping.

While I truly loved these books - and admired their writers - they're dangerous.

The truth is that 99% of the product management books are not relevant for pre-Product-Market Fit startups.

Founders and product managers waste months reading irrelevant resources and working on the wrong methods. And, as time goes by, runway decreases, they run out of cash and shut down.

If only books on product management books had labels that say “pre-PMF” or “post-PMF".

Until then, here are 10 outstanding product books (and other resources) for pre-PMF and their key takeaways. So you don’t have to waste time on the wrong resources and only pick up the ones that will help your product thrive.

"The Mum Test" by Rob Fitzpatrick

This book is great for learning who to listen to. 🎧

TL;DR: This book will teach you that there are some people you should never listen to, like your mum. It also emphasizes the importance of talking to the right niche for your product, which can help you avoid wasting time and resources.

Key Takeaways

💡 Validate assumptions: The book emphasizes the importance of conducting effective customer interviews to uncover valuable insights. By asking the right questions and focusing on the customer's behavior and motivations, you can validate your assumptions and gain actionable feedback.

💡 Avoid biased feedback: Rob introduces the concept of "The Mum Test," which encourages entrepreneurs to ask questions that don't lead customers to provide socially desirable answers. It helps in getting honest and constructive feedback that can shape your product development.

💡 Prioritize learning over selling: The book highlights the need to shift your focus from selling your product to learning from your customers. By listening attentively and avoiding pitching your solution too early, you can gather meaningful insights and adjust your product strategy accordingly.

"Blue Ocean Strategy" by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim

This book is great for running a competitive analysis 📈

TL;DR: Don’t get stuck into consulting matrixes. Blue Ocean shows you how a circus can be innovative. This book gives you a way to identify your value propositions to differentiate.

Key Takeaways

💡 Explore uncontested market space: The book introduces the concept of blue ocean strategy, which suggests that instead of competing in existing market spaces (red oceans), startups should seek uncontested market spaces with untapped potential. By creating new demand and offering unique value, you can differentiate your product from competitors.

💡 Value innovation: The authors emphasize the importance of value innovation, which involves simultaneously pursuing differentiation and lower costs. By offering a product that stands out in the market and provides superior value to customers, you can attract a larger audience and achieve sustainable growth.

💡 Strategic planning and execution: "Blue Ocean Strategy" provides frameworks and tools for analyzing industries, identifying new market opportunities, and developing a compelling product strategy. It emphasizes the need for disciplined execution and continuous innovation to successfully implement blue ocean strategies.

“Rosie.land” by Rosie Sherry

This book is great for building communities 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧

TL;DR: Until your product is ready, you want your product team to engage with potential users in a valuable way. For that, you can start your own community. Rosie is the best.

Key Takeaways

💡 Importance of community: The book emphasizes the value of building and nurturing a community around your product or startup. By fostering engagement, collaboration, and a sense of belonging among your users or customers, you can create a loyal and supportive community that contributes to your success.

💡 User feedback and involvement: Rosie Sherry highlights the significance of involving users in the product development process. By actively seeking and incorporating user feedback, you can ensure that your product meets their needs and preferences, leading to higher adoption and satisfaction.

💡 Community-driven growth: Building a strong community can drive organic growth and word-of-mouth marketing. The book explores various strategies for encouraging community members to become advocates for your product, spreading the word and attracting new users or customers.

“Story Mapping” by Nielsen Norman Group

This book is great for planning our product. 🛣

TL;DR: Often, teams rely on lengthy requirements documents to move from a vision to a product, but no one has the time to read them. User story maps outline the interactions that users need to go through to complete goals in your product.

Key Takeaways

💡 User-centric product planning: "Story Mapping" promotes a user-centric approach to product planning and development. By understanding your users' goals, needs, and experiences, you can create a comprehensive user story map that visualizes their journey and helps prioritize features and improvements.

💡 Visualizing product scope: The book introduces the concept of story mapping, a visual tool that allows you to map out the user's flow through your product and organize the features and functionality. This helps in managing the product scope, identifying dependencies, and ensuring a cohesive user experience.

💡 Iterative and adaptable approach: "Story Mapping" emphasizes the iterative nature of product development. By continuously refining and adjusting your story map based on user feedback and evolving requirements, you can deliver a product that aligns closely with user expectations and achieves better product-market fit.

“The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries (Chapter 2)

This chapter is great for writing user interviews. ✍️

TL;DR: The second most important thing is to understand how to ask questions. Questions asked with a bias will bring useless answers. Poor questions yield little value. This chapter will teach you how to identify the right questions to ask and how to ask them.

Key Takeaways

💡 Formulate hypotheses: The chapter highlights the process of constructing a hypothesis about your product's value proposition and target audience. This hypothesis forms the basis for your user interviews and allows you to gather meaningful data to refine your product.

💡 Conduct effective user interviews: The book provides guidance on structuring user interviews to extract valuable information. It emphasizes the importance of open-ended questions, active listening, and avoiding leading questions that bias the responses.

💡 Iterate and learn: By continuously iterating your hypotheses and testing them through user interviews, you can refine your product and improve its market fit. Learning from user feedback and adapting your product strategy accordingly is crucial for startup success.

"Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug

This book is great for product design. 🎨

TL;DR: This book teaches you that great designs are obvious. It’s full of examples that can help you understand how to make your product design stand out.

Key Takeaways

💡 Simplicity in design: The book emphasizes the importance of simplicity and usability in product design. By minimizing cognitive load and making your product intuitive, users can quickly understand and navigate it without having to think too much, resulting in a better user experience.

💡 Clear and concise communication: Steve Krug highlights the significance of clear and concise communication in design. By presenting information, instructions, and feedback in a straightforward manner, you can help users accomplish their tasks efficiently and reduce frustration or confusion.

💡 User testing and iteration: The book encourages incorporating user testing throughout the design process. By observing and gathering feedback from real users, you can identify usability issues and make iterative improvements to enhance the overall user experience of your product.

"The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups" by Paul Graham

This article is great for launching your product. 🚀

TL;DR: If you haven’t launched something you're ashamed of yet, then read this article. It highlights the common mistakes that startups make during a product launch and how to avoid them.

Key Takeaways

💡 Focus on the right problem: The article emphasizes the importance of identifying and solving significant problems that customers are willing to pay for. Avoiding the trap of solving trivial problems or building products without a clear market demand is crucial for startup success.

💡 Execution over ideas: Paul Graham highlights the significance of execution in building a successful startup. While ideas are important, executing effectively, iterating quickly, and adapting to market feedback are key factors in turning an idea into a viable and scalable product.

💡 Customer acquisition and retention: The article emphasizes the need for effective customer acquisition and retention strategies. Understanding your target audience, acquiring customers efficiently, and providing an exceptional customer experience are essential for sustaining growth and building a successful startup.

"Agile Product Management with Scrum" by Roman Pichler

This book is great for working with engineers. 👩‍💻

TL;DR: There are many ways to apply scrum, but this book focuses on how to build a backlog, organize a sprint, QA, and respect deadlines.

Key Takeaways

💡 Agile product development: The book introduces the principles of Agile and Scrum methodologies in product management. Embracing an iterative and incremental approach, collaborating closely with cross-functional teams, and delivering value incrementally are key aspects of Agile product development.

💡 Product backlog management: "Agile Product Management with Scrum" highlights the importance of maintaining a well-groomed product backlog. Prioritizing features, refining requirements, and effectively communicating with the development team are crucial for maximizing the value delivered by each iteration.

💡 Continuous learning and improvement: The book emphasizes the need for continuous learning and improvement in product management. Regularly reviewing and adapting the product strategy, incorporating user feedback, and fostering a culture of experimentation are essential for delivering a high-quality product that meets customer needs.

"ReWork" by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

This book is great for building a great product culture. 💜

TL;DR: This book is full of gems to set up a healthy culture that supports your product delivery. It offers insights into how to create a productive and supportive work environment.

Key Takeaways

💡 Simplicity and minimalism: "ReWork" advocates for simplicity and minimalism in building products. Stripping away unnecessary features and focusing on what truly matters to customers can lead to a more streamlined and effective product.

💡 Embrace constraints: The book encourages embracing constraints as opportunities for creativity and innovation. Limited resources and constraints can inspire alternative solutions and force prioritization, ultimately leading to more efficient and focused product development.

💡 Work culture and productivity: "ReWork" delves into the importance of fostering a healthy work culture that promotes productivity and autonomy. Encouraging a results-oriented approach, avoiding unnecessary meetings, and providing a conducive work environment are key factors in building a great product culture and driving success.

“Lenny’s Newsletter”, Lenny Rachitsky

This newsletter is great for iterating. 🔁

TL;DR: Lenny shares benchmarks to measure success. This will help you figure out if you're into something or not.

Continuous learning and iteration: "Lenny's Newsletter" emphasizes the value of continuous learning and iteration in the product development process. By staying informed about industry trends, user feedback, and market dynamics, you can iterate on your product strategy and make informed decisions.

Leveraging data and analytics: Lenny and his guests often highlight the importance of leveraging data and analytics to drive product decisions. By collecting and analyzing relevant data, such as user behavior, metrics, and feedback, you can gain valuable insights and make data-driven iterations to improve your product.

Embracing experimentation: Lenny encourages embracing experimentation as a means to iterate and optimize your product. By testing hypotheses, trying out new features or ideas, and gathering feedback from users, you can make informed decisions and continuously improve your product's value proposition.

Final Thoughts

I wish we could put a label on product management and business books for “Pre-PMF” and “Post–PMF”. It would save a lot of founders a lot of time.

Not everyone needs to learn how to conduct great interviews or learn the principles of Agile. I’m sure you and your team already have a lot of these skills - so don’t run and pick up all the books I mentioned here.

Instead, focus on learning and iterating on the things that will get your product to shine in the hands of customers.

And don’t spend all your learning time on reading either.

Find great mentors, join online communities, and follow the most inspiring leaders in your industry. Sure, you can learn from your mistakes, but why not skip ahead and learn from the mistakes of others?

Sharing our mistakes is something we’re really not shy about at June. We recently shared our journey to Product Market Fit and our challenges with being a small remote startup competing with San Francisco giants. And we will continue to do so!

I hope the list I shared today helps you figure out which resources to spend your time on, and that it helps you on your journey to Product-Market Fit!

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