There are different kind of Product owners and environments. Both very important in finding a suitable job. In this Blog I will share my experiences working in start-ups and scale-ups, I included the feedback I received from over 250 Product Owners.

Startups – Who are we?

Working at a start-up gave me the ability to experiment a lot and figure out what I liked. This was my first environment after finishing my study. The flexibility, the amount of people and the fast pace of growth brings a lot of challenges and variety. In healthy environments there is the feeling of being part of a family, the common drive to succeed and a collaborative approach to reach for the stars. You can get results fast without complex processes, meetings, and management and with a ‘Just do it’ mentality.


It is a nice place to get introduced to the PO role. The pros of this environment, for many, is the ability to figure out what you like. Positions are not set in stone, so you probably be doing more than only being a Product Owner. You could also be the UX-designer, tester or sometimes even help as a developer. You can experiment and see what works for you. In the start-up the CEO(s) or founders are aiming for a product-market fit.


The cons of start-ups are described as chaotic and uncertain. What I noticed is, that in a lot of start-ups the roadmap and decisions seem to be decided upon by the founders. If you want to be the one behind the wheel, be aware. You could become a backlog manager. Focus is more on the short term, as the company still needs to proof itself and survive. Product strategy can suddenly change without a clear WHY except of the reason that a client needs this.

Multiple hats ‘PO,tester etc’ means not being able to completely cover the Product Owner role. In smaller environments you are probably the only Product Owner. This gives Product Owners doubts sometimes, am I doing it right?

Type of Product Owners

Start-ups require strong personalities and people with the energy to push back and take the lead. You need to be very flexible and able to deal with uncertainty & stress. It takes time before structure is in place and before leaders feel comfortable delegating, so patience is key. The Product Owner role is often transferred from founders, part time task to a full junior position, depending on the budget.

I see most PO’s moving to their next challenge within 1.5 / 2 years as they tend to find a role where they could do more product management and find more autonomy.

Scale-ups – Ready for the next step

In this environment the product has been validated, show steady growth and is profitable. There is a stable base of clients, and the company is growing at least 20% a year. In this phase it’s key making the product and the environment scale able. The company can be supported by investors, or its business model is simply successful.

One of the biggest challenges of the organization is to build a strong fundament to scale and grow their maturity. Kurt Lewin’s change model could be speaking about a freeze moment. Without losing the speed and agility of a start-up. Growth pain shown by leaders that find it difficult to let go and delegate.


The pros consist of less chaos, more structure but still being able to be ‘fail’ fast. I personally love to work at scale-ups. If you can create trust product leaders tend to give you more responsibilities as a Product Owner. In environments where leaders understand product development and have an agile mindset you will be able to thrive.

Experiment, decide on the product vision, strategy and create major impact on the success of the product. A scale-up / start-up environment often comes with certificates / shareholdings, which can be financially attractive if the company is successful. Think about professionals starting at Adyen or


Scale-ups are less chaotic, but they do experience growth pain. Changing organizational structures, people moving in and out, unclear responsibilities and roles. Leaders need to let go and trust their employees, moving to a more self-organizing environment.

Leaders can get stuck in their own success. Because they were responsible for the companies first successes. Not wanting to give employees responsibilities, ignoring opinions and decide everything. This could lead to unrealistic expectations, bad management, mistrust, frustration, and talent leaving decreasing the risk of success.

Companies highly dependent on funding and its shareholders tend to focus on output instead of outcome, as deliverables could mean extra funding. A bad example is Nikola ‘Electric truck company’, that showed it’s shareholders a truck rolling down a hill, people later found out it didn’t have an engine.

Type of Product Owners

Founders of scale-ups tend to attract self-organizing professionals with a medior / senior profile. Fast growth also means having less time to onboard new hires, so they rather have someone with experience. The profile here is an entrepreneurial team player, a visionary with the ability to fix problems and take the lead. Also here a strong personality is beneficial as it takes effort to convince leadership that you know what your doing.

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