Journey as a Consultant at a large firm vs. Product Manager at a startup

Management Consulting and Product Management are two hot career paths among fresh graduates. Some of you might be confused about which path to choose.

One of my friends who was working as a Management Consultant with me recently moved to Product Management at a Series A startup. So I thought it would be interesting to get her experience to help folks who might be interested in consulting or PM or working at a startup. Over to her.

After spending around 2.5 years fresh out of college in Management Consulting at McKinsey/BCG/Bain, I recently joined a Series A high growth startup in Product Management. I always thought Product Management is a tech job and requires an understanding of tech concepts (I am not even sure of the tech concepts names :P). However, if you have good analytical and problem-solving skills, it is easy to break into product management. Both places are extremely different in a lot of ways.

  • In Consulting, my responsibilities were set. Whereas at the startup, in addition to being a PM (which also comes with a vague job description), occasionally, I have to take up other responsibilities
  • In Consulting, there was a clear hierarchy and reporting structure. Whereas at the startup, there is no well-defined org structure yet
  • In Consulting, I had to understand the client’s needs/problems and solve those. In PM at the startup, I need to understand the user persona, user journey, their needs and optimize our product to meet those
  • In Consulting, we had to make fancy presentations and dashboards. Whereas at the startup, no one cares about the presentation as long as your point is conveyed clear and crisp

Experience as a Management consultant vs. PM

As a consultant, I would work on client’s problems. Personally, I have worked on multiple types of cases such as Cost optimization, Private Equity (M&A due diligence), market research, etc. I used to be stationed at the client site (of course, would include an exhausting level of traveling and benefits which cannot be matched elsewhere :P ). Being a consultant improves your attention to detail, stakeholder management, presentation skills and in fact, brings a great deal of structure to your thought process. Not to mention, in order to get into these top firms itself, one would need a lot of those soft skills and problem-solving abilities in place.

The interview process involves solving analytical or business case studies. You might be curious about how these work. I recommend these interesting articles to get a closer look at the case interview process: EdTech case, Online dating in India, etc.

It is a common myth that one would require a lot of understanding of business or finance (or an MBA) to get into management consulting. I am an engineer and I have no MBA. But I landed a management consulting job and in fact, did well at the firm.

Typically, the work involves understanding the client’s processes/problems, working on optimizing those, looking at the data, coming up with insights on how to improve their business, presenting the findings to the key stakeholders, and in some cases, implementing the ideas at the client’s firm.

All these may seem straight forward but most problems do not have “the one correct solution”. However, you have really smart colleagues and well-experienced leaders to guide you at every step.

In spite of all the great benefits and experience, I chose to leave management consulting. There are multiple reasons. To quote a few:

  • To thrive in a startup environment
  • To get hands-on experience in building something ground up
  • Personally, long work hours and too much travel in consulting is not sustainable in the long run
  • Sometimes the work in consulting is just too presentation-oriented than implementation

Now keeping the startup vs. large firm effect aside, let us look at my work in product management. It is nearly 4 months since I entered this space. So I may not be able to give the right perspective on long-term functioning or sustainability. However, it has given me a lot of learning. Although I have joined in Product Management, the startup environment gave me a chance to do market research, market sizing, etc. for the new product we are launching (just because I have consulting experience :P) and I was even hiring.

As a PM, the objective is to make our product (in our case — an App) as user-friendly and as useful to the user base as possible.

The decision on what to build starts at a company level goal — a few examples:

  • To reach 1M+ DAU
  • To receive 10,000+ orders per day
  • To achieve a GMV (Gross Merchandise Value) of $10M per month by the end of this quarter

At a startup level, the broader vision for the product might be in the hands of the CEO/Founder. However, what exactly to build will still be a PM’s decision. Based on this target for the product, a product manager has to brainstorm on what to build to smoothly achieve the target. Now there is no single answer on what to build. There could be hundreds of ideas.

As a Product Manager, one should look at the user journey, research among the users and the market, understand their needs, and then decide on what to build. After deciding on what to build, he has to coordinate with the designers to get the designs, which are then taken up by the tech engineers to build and release the app. A PM owns this entire process, measures the results achieved from each of these, and presents them to the stakeholders.

You might be curious to know how each of the above steps works exactly happen. I would recommend this interesting article by Taruna Manchanda (SwiggyBytes) on how Swiggy built its Pop feature:

Illustration by Pallavi Bhargava

… these are a few differences (Management Consulting vs. Product Management) among many others. I would not say one place/work is better than the other as this judgment highly depends on individual preferences. But after working at a big organization for over a couple of years, this change seems really new and it feels like the work I do is very important for the growth of the firm. So this responsibility is giving me a fresh sense of motivation to get to work every day.

Hope you find this useful. In case of any questions, feel free to comment!

Also, share this with someone who is planning on making a career switch or deciding on which path to choose.

Follow for more content on the Indian market and cases/interview prep. Happy to hear your suggestions on what I could post. Will help me improve the content I post. :)

Management consultant at Big3 (McKinsey/Bain/BCG); The “h” in “consulting” stands for happiness :)

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