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In the past decade, interest among MBA grads towards tech companies has drastically gone up. If you are one of those, take a pause and ask yourself “why”. Of course, there are upsides; the tech sector is growing faster, pays well, has a much better work-life balance than finance, private equity, or consulting. But at the same time, do remember that you spend almost 50% of your waking hours at your workplace, so you must as well enjoy it. If you enjoy flashy presentations, regular travel, or an opportunity to think about big M&A deals, then these things come much earlier in your career on the east coast than that on the west.
Why Product Manager
Product Manager is the dominant choice for an MBA grad. That does not mean this is the only possible role. Anecdotally speaking, getting into a PM role at Google is harder than a Software Engineering role. And if you are an international student looking for visa sponsorships, then some tech companies are not willing to do that for the PM role. Lastly, if you are not from a Computer Science/Electrical Engineering background, it is harder to get shortlisted and clear interviews. My goal is not to discourage you from applying but make your expectations realistic.
Beyond Product Manager
Facebook, Google, Apple/Amazon, Netflix (FANG), and Microsoft are big businesses. They deal with a wide range of functions such as real estate to supply chain to short-term/long-term cash management. There are all sorts of finance-world equivalent roles beyond the PM role. I won’t be surprised if Google pays more in real-estate rents than say, WeWork. All big companies engage in regular M&A as well and have a full-time team staffed for that. Cisco, Apple, and Google, in particular, are known for M&A. Also, many companies have roles like Product Strategy and Product Marketing Manager. These roles are similar to Product Manager but attract much less attention since these titles do not look as coveted as the Product Manager. You can use these roles to get in and then can transition to a Product Manager role later.
Beyond tech companies, many venture firms, both domestic and foreign (like Rauketen and Softbank), invest in US tech startups. And for that, they hire analysts, principals, and associates. The job responsibilities range from scouting to deciding on the deals.
Does company size matter?
I like quantifying companies in three stages – stage 1 (pre-product market fit), stage 2 (post-product market fit, growth stage), and stage 3 (mature companies like FANGs). Do note that in a big company like one of the FANGs, you will find products that are in stage 1, stage 2, or stage 3.
If you need visa sponsorships and have loans to pay, then stay away from stage 1 companies. The risk-reward ratio is more skewed towards risk here. If this succeeds, even a small acquisition can net you a million-dollar or two easily.
In a stage 2 company, the likelihood of broad responsibility is higher. You could be doing inside sales one day and scouting for a new office lease the other. If you are willing to take the risk, then the long-term financial rewards are much higher here. If you need visa sponsorship, then you should join a stage 2 company with a non-US office as well. So, in case you don’t get an H1-B before your OPT expires, the company can move you to one of the international offices. Confirm this after getting the offer letter and before signing it. Some companies like GitLab have a strong remote culture; this can be extra beneficial to someone concerned about visa sponsorship issues.
In a stage 3 company, your role is going to be much more structured, narrow, and focused. The company won’t die overnight and would likely have international offices to move you to in case the visa situation does not work out. One caveat for those looking to apply for permanent residence (green card), join a company that did not do layoffs recently and is not planning to do in the next year. If a layoff happens, then the permanent residence applications from that employer are usually rejected by the USCIS.
B2B, B2C, and marketplaces
B2C, Business-to-consumer startups, in their pure form, were thriving in the valley till about 2015. The users have swayed away from installing new apps, and more prominent companies have become good at making the whole startup a feature in their product. So, in 2019, software-only B2C exists, primarily, inside FANG and Snap. Two exciting classes have emerged beyond software-only B2C. One is prosumer (professional consumer) companies like recently-IPOed like Slack and startups like Savvy. The other exciting direction is the D2C, direct-to-consumer, startups like allbirds, and brandless.com. D2C, in my opinion, requires a lot of operations and marketing experience. I notice more B2C startups focused on India, Latin America, and China than the USA these days.
B2B, business-to-business, are all in rage today. From Google cloud/Azure to small companies like Narmi, a lot of companies are capitalizing and building products for other businesses. While B2C is about understanding consumer psychology, B2B is about understanding the needs of another business.
How to apply
Don’t apply directly for an off-campus opportunity. Go via a referral. The referral route ensures that you will get a response, even if it is a rejection. Most of the time, direct applicants never get a response. And you don’t need to find someone you know. You need to find someone willing to spend 5 minutes submitting your resume internally. Culturally, it is not frowned upon to provide referrals for acquaintances. And if you get hired, the person referring you will make a referral fee, which is usually a few 1000$.