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Fareed Mosavat (Growth Advisor): Real Talk about the PM Career from a Growth Veteran
How to look beyond job titles to chart your own career path in product
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If you’ve been in product for the last few years, you probably have a lot on your mind.
I had some real talk with Fareed about how to:
Cross the chasm from product manager to product leader
Help small teams achieve big results
Not confuse the work behind the work with the actual work
Look beyond job titles to chart your career
Explore advisory and fractional roles in product
I think you’ll find your head nodding as you read our conversation below.
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How to cross the chasm from product manager to product leader
Welcome Fareed! I’d love to dive into why there’s a chasm between PMs and product leaders. To start, what are the 4 types of PM work that people can specialize in?
The 4 types of PM work are:
Feature work. Extends the product’s functionality into incremental areas.
Growth work: Helps existing customers connect more with the product.
Product market fit expansion work. A big bet to expand into adjacent markets.
Scaling work. Scaling tech, users, and processes (e.g., trust & safety, payments).
Why is there a chasm between doing product work and becoming a product leader?
Most PMs start in one of these 4 areas and are given more scope if they’re successful.
But what makes you successful as a PM won’t necessarily help you as a product leader.
To make the transition, you need to evolve from:
Doing the most critical tasks yourself → Delegating them to your PMs.
Working directly with designers and engineers → Mentoring your PMs.
Executing on one type of product work → Managing multiple types.
Using the resources that you have → Fighting for more resources.
The PM → product leader chasm exists because all of these transitions are hard.
What happens if you fail to cross this chasm?
You end up falling into what I call the manager death spiral. This usually happens when you only delegate the least important tasks to your team.
I’ve personally made this mistake. So make sure you delegate, delegate, delegate.
How to help small teams achieve big results
Let’s talk about another type of manager death spiral that’s happening right now in tech. Can you describe what that is?
Yes, this spiral is when companies transition too many great IC PMs to management. This leads to bloated product orgs — some even have a 2:1 manager to PM ratio.
These companies would then flatten their org by laying off their middle managers. This is a terrible experience for everyone involved.
I’ve talked about the need for a dual career track for PMs. Why is this so hard to do in practice?
Historically, there haven’t been many very senior IC PM roles. But this is changing.
Companies are realizing that small, empowered teams are often in the best position to build.
So if you're a skilled PM leading a small team, my recommendation would be to tackle projects that top your CEO’s priority list.
Do you have a personal example of leading a small team to achieve big results?
At Slack, I led a monetization team with only 3 engineers.
We identified an opportunity to grow free-to-paid conversion by talking to customers and by running a series of scrappy experiments.
These experimented started showing big results which made us teachers inside the company on monetization. That’s been one of my best experiences as a PM.
Okay, so real talk — working directly with engineers and designers is fun. Why is it perceived as a junior PM thing when many PMs enjoy doing this work the most?
What separates a senior product leader from a junior PM shouldn’t be the number of people that they manage.
Instead, I like to think of it like this:
As a junior PM, you're given a problem + solution and just need to execute.
As a senior PM, you're given a problem and need to define the solution.
As a product leader, you're given nothing and need to define the problem and solution. For example, you might be tasked with finding your org’s next big bet.
I don’t think you need to be a director or VP to handle an unknown problem or solution. There are many problems that are perfect for small teams.
Of course, the real challenge is persuading others to adopt your approach. That's where seniority, leadership, and influence come into play.
How to not confuse the work behind the work with the actual work
As companies scale, it’s easy for PMs to shift from talking to customers to spending all their attention on internal stakeholders. Why does this shift happen?
Don’t confuse the work behind the work with the actual work.
The actual work is understanding customer problems, identifying solutions, and then executing the product. That’s the core of what PMs do.
The work behind the work includes all the intermediate steps — like product briefs, internal meetings, and product reviews. As a company grows, intermediate steps increase because coordinating people across teams is hard.
A great example is the product review. The goal of the review should be to get a group of people together to solve a problem. But as a company gets bigger, it often becomes an optics exercise for people to get visibility from execs instead.
When people start having pre-meetings to get buy-in before the actual product review, that’s when you know that this shift has occurred.
Do you have an example of this from your own experience?
At Reforge, Brian (the CEO) believed that good writing was key to driving clarity around a problem. So we built a writing culture.
But over time, our docs became increasingly unwieldy because everyone wanted to show that they’ve thought about a problem deeply. It took just as much time to write the doc as it did to build the actual product.
As a leader, you must recognize when this work behind the work gets out of hand.
I recently interviewed a Shopify product leader. He mentioned that Shopify PMs sometimes just share a short video and prototype async with execs instead of doing a formal product review.
I love that! Prototypes are much more fun to review than slides or documents.
I think it’s also important to remove layers.
When I was at Slack, we tried to encourage PMs to get the CEO’s feedback as early as possible instead of having multiple layers of approvals. We wanted to empower those directly involved in the project to communicate with all layers of the organization.
Yeah, the best managers don't care if you go talk to their skip level or even the CEO. They’re not insecure that way.
Yeah. Their job is to help you be successful, not to make themselves look good.
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How to look beyond job titles to chart your career
Can you talk a bit about your career journey?
Before Slack, I was a general manager at Zynga and a VP of product at a Boston startup called Runkeeper. I was itching to return to the Bay Area and immerse myself in a fast-growing startup environment.
I realized that I might have to forgo titles and seniority to achieve my goal.
So I enjoyed Instacart as an IC product manager because I knew that the company could benefit from my growth expertise.
After almost 2 years at Instacart, I joined Slack as a senior PM. My initial focus was on activation, but over time, I took on monetization as well. I ended up overseeing the entire growth team. My growth at Slack was organic and built on trust, understanding, and my ability to deliver results quickly.
I knew it was time to move on from Slack when my role became more distanced from the hands-on work that I loved.
The skills required weren't the ones that I naturally gravitated toward.
So titles or climbing the ladder aren’t my primary concerns. I care much more about working on impactful products and roles that I'm genuinely passionate about, as they bring out my best work.
How do you find companies where you can do your best work?
My best work is with people I trust, enjoy working with, and share similar values.
I have this mental model of "give something, take something" when I think about opportunities. For example, when I was evaluating Slack:
"Give something" is what I bring to the table. I have great consumer growth experience that Slack needed.
“Take something” is what I could learn. I wanted to learn how to build B2B enterprise software.
At Reforge, I went through something similar:
“Give something” is when I started teaching the Reforge growth course. Teaching made me realize that I got along well with Brian and the rest of the team.
“Take something” is when I decided to lead Reforge’s content partnerships. Reforge already had a product leader, so I could learn something else.
I love how you’ve managed your career to focus on what you enjoy doing the most. It’s a far cry from what most people do, which is to optimize for fancy job titles.
It's a luxury to be in the position I am now. Earlier in my career, titles, and progression were important as proof points on my resume.
But as my career progressed, I realized that I needed to love my work, the team that I was with, and the problem that I was solving to do my best work. If any of those elements are missing, my productivity will drop significantly.
Life is short. People will notice over time if you're not doing good work. I don't want to be known for subpar work, so I try to avoid situations where I don’t love what I’m doing.
How to find advisory and fractional product roles
How can people follow in your career footsteps?
First, take some time to reflect on what you enjoy and don’t enjoy doing.
For example, I enjoy solving growth challenges for post-product market fit startups. I don’t enjoy managing large teams or navigating organizations.
Given this, right now I am pursuing two projects:
Building Shortcut Labs startup accelerator with my friend Aaron.
Co-hosting “Unsolicited Feedback” podcast on the product with Brian (Reforge).
Moving forward, I’m thinking of doing more advisory and fractional roles. It seems to be a great way to provide a lot of value for many companies quickly.
Tell me more about the advisor and fractional path. I also spoke to Elena who seems to be thriving as a fractional growth exec. What do you need to pursue this path?
I think you need a few things:
First, you need credibility from a diverse set of experiences.
Often in product discussions, you hear, "This worked for me, so you should do it." That's not always the best advice. Instead, you should have ideally experienced the problem several times yourself so you can tailor your advice to the specific business.
Second, you need to enjoy multitasking and working solo.
You need to change contexts rapidly and pinpoint problems through pattern recognition. The role can be a bit solitary since you’re no longer part of a core team.
I think there's a difference between being an advisor and a fractional exec. The latter seems more embedded in the company.
Yes. It's really about time commitment and the level of embedding.
When you're an advisor, you usually interact with one person in the company — typically, it's the CEO or a new product leader.
As a fractional exec, you tend to be more embedded with the full team and will have Slack or email access. It's a deeper involvement with a higher time commitment. Usually, your job is to help set the team up for success so that eventually, they don't need you.
You’re a podcast host, advisor, and builder now. How do you think all these roles can complement each other?
Each role should reinforce the other.
I don't want to be known just for one thing for the rest of my life. My goal is to keep learning and expand the ways that I can help companies.
The advisory and the embedded work let me see what’s happening on the ground in various companies. This experience can then feed back to the more public host persona or the next advisory role.
Yeah, it's like a portfolio that represents who you are and what you're interested in.
As you grow in your career, there are opportunities to have higher leverage by working across various things versus focusing on just one thing.
Now, the key is how can you maintain this approach and continue to stay sharp and produce great work. For me, I believe I will likely end up in a full-time operating role sometime in the next year or two. I am using this phrase as a springboard to find the right projects that excite me every morning.
If you’re a PM who prefers doing more hands-on work, what’s your best option?
I recommend looking for earlier-stage companies.
There's more risk, just to be clear. To grow your career and have credibility, you have to work on winning products. So there’s some risk in going early stage.
But earlier-stage companies have two things going for them:
They tend to be leaner. You can roll up your sleeves and achieve results.
They haven't defined what a PM looks like. You can shape the role to yourself versus having to fit into a predefined box.
If I were to join Google as a product manager, I'd have to fit their definition of success. If that doesn't energize me or make me happy, or if I'm not good at those things, I can't be successful.
And at an early-stage company, you can shape your work around your style. I always joke that I want to make a box-shaped for me vs. trying to fit into an existing box.
The last point that’s worth repeating is to make sure you're working on a problem that is crucial to the organization and the company's success. This ensures that you have high visibility without necessarily having to manage many people.