How to Hire a VP of Product for your Startup

Mitchell W. Fox
3 min readFeb 21, 2017


I was recently asked by a startup CEO how he should think about hiring a Head of Product / VP of Product at his startup. Here’s what I shared with him.

Are you ready to hire a VP of Product?

There are two points in a startup’s trajectory when it makes the most sense to hire a VP of Product:

  1. When the Founder/CEO can no longer dedicate the time: Few things in a tech startup are more important than the product, but there are some things that only the CEO can do — these include advocating the company’s vision, fundraising and making financial decisions that keep enough money in the bank, hiring and managing talent, and making things happen, like closing critical sales or landing partnerships. When the CEO no longer has the time to focus on product, it’s time to bring in expert help.
  2. When a team of junior PMs needs leadership: Some particularly product-savvy CEOs don’t hire a Head of Product when #1 happens, but rather bring in one or more junior PMs to help handle the day-to-day product work while owning product strategy themselves. Once this team has grown beyond a couple PMs, a startup may need to bring in an experienced VP of Product to help mentor and coordinate this junior team, guide strategy, and ensure the delivery of awesome products.

Defining the role

It’s important to start by making sure you know the role you’re trying to fill. I typically think of a VP of Product as having 3 core responsibilities:

  1. Building the Product Team: Hiring, mentoring, celebrating, and nurturing the people who make the product successful. Product leaders create a culture where people feel ownership of the products they’re building, and are constantly finding ways to improve and extend them. In my experience, VP of PM does this not only for the PM team, but broader Product (design, engineering, data, QA) team.
  2. Guiding Product Strategy: Leading the exploration of ideas, fostering decision making, seeking data and customer insights to inform hypotheses, and communicating strategic direction and its rationale formally and informally, throughout the organization.
  3. Delivering Great Products: Establishing process, sweating the details, insisting on quality, breaking down roadblocks, coordinating teams, setting schedules, and ultimately being accountable for the creation of great customer experiences.

Marty Cagan (former SVP of Product at eBay) at SVPG share his thoughts in a great summary: The VP Product Role. Ellen Chisa (VP Product, Lola Travel) helps differentiate between the responsibilities of a more junior PM and the Head of Product in The VP of Product vs. the Product Manager.

Decide how to evaluate your candidates

Next, you need to figure out how you’re going to evaluate your candidates. At TurboTax I helped a team revamp our PM hiring process around a few principles:

Here are a couple good articles on the subject:

Source candidates

There’s no single place where great PMs hang out, but there are a few places I would recommend starting your search:

  • Your board and extended network (including the “Talent” lead at more prolific VC firms)
  • Recruiters (some entrepreneurs loathe them, but they help you see a high volume of quality candidates quickly). A few that seem to do a lot of this kind of search: Daversa Partners, Russell Reynolds, and Quest Groups are a few.
  • Your team’s network. “Who were the top 5 contributors at your last company?”
  • Your own jobs page

Have you recently led or been part of a VP of Product search? Other tips you would share?



Mitchell W. Fox

GM at @academia , Former VP, Product @couchsurfing and PM Director @TurboTax , Co-Founder @GoodApril . Outdoor enthusiast and #georgetown grad.