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  • Writer's pictureHarshal

Landing A GenAI Product Manager Role: Career Pivot

Updated: Jul 4

Pivoting From FT Consulting To A Startup Job

I’m excited to share a career update. I decided to pivot from building my solo marketing strategy consulting business to joining Flex.ai, a seed-stage startup with $30 million in funding. As their first product manager, I will help them build AI infrastructure to make it faster and cheaper for businesses to build GenAI models.

Here’s why and how.

I spent 1 hour 22 minutes writing this post. You need 5 minutes 30 seconds to read this post.

Person looking up and to the right to FlexAI logo.
Person looking up and to the right to FlexAI logo.

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Why Pivot

I faced challenges in my consulting business. I couldn't find the product-market-fit (PMF) or the product go-to-market fit. In simpler terms, I was struggling to find a sustainable process to acquire enough clients at my desired price points for the work I wanted to do.

One possible solution was to focus on sales and delegate the product management and marketing work. However, I truly enjoy the product management and marketing aspects of my work and didn't want to spend all my time on sales. Illustration from Scott Young.

Focus on strengths instead of weaknesses.
Focus on strengths instead of weaknesses.

So, I sought opportunities in a startup where I could focus on product or marketing full-time while someone else handled sales. This was a perfect fit for me.

Challenges To Overcome To Join FlexAI

Several factors could have stopped me from getting this role:

  • No experience in a pre-product market fit startup

  • No experience in a European company

  • No prior work with any employee of this company

  • No experience managing an artificial intelligence product

  • No experience working as a software engineer

  • No work experience in France

  • No experience building a GenAI product

3 Things That Helped Me Get A GenAI Startup PM Role

Three things helped me get the job at FlexAI:

  1. Maintain Relationship: I knew how to maintain relationships. I learned this recently from my work building my consulting sales pipeline. During such reconnections, I spoke with my former manager, who referred me to FlexAI’s CEO.

  2. Interview Skills: I knew how to put my best foot forward in interviews. I did this with recruiters, hiring managers, and potential colleagues. I learned this through my MBA at UCLA Andersons and by teaching interview prep to coaching clients.

  3. Pro-bono Analysis: I learned from doing case studies in business school and from my consulting work. This helped me analyze FlexAI (and other companies I spoke with) and suggest ways for them to move forward. I did a pro-bono analysis of their company, spoke to prospective customers, and wrote a two-pager GTM plan for them.

How Pivot

“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.”

This quote resonates deeply with my journey from 2008 to 2024, because many threads intersected with this opportunity. Image from Tom McCallum.

Connect the dots quote by Steve Jobs.
Connect the dots quote by Steve Jobs.

I created a mind map around FlexAI, focusing on people, the work environment, and my interests. The mind map includes five branches:

  • CEO Brijesh,

  • CTO Dali,

  • Europe (EU),

  • Startup, and

  • GenAI.

Mind Map of flexAI for Harshal.
Mind Map of flexAI for Harshal.

CEO Brijesh

Brijesh’s branch focuses on his background. Brijesh and I studied at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur. We had to be in the top 0.1% to get in. Hemanshu, my former Qualcomm manager, highly recommended Brijesh. Hemanshu also wrote letters to US business schools to support my MBA applications and mentored me in sales (finding clients).

CTO Dali

The Dali branch highlights the CTO’s background and experiences. Dali studied at Stanford with Annie B.P., which was my dream B-school. Annie and I had great professional respect for each other. Tejas, my engineering peer at Twilio, referred me to Annie. Tejas also recommended me for roles at Twilio Billing, Twilio Voice, Hopper, Nabis, and Genesys. Dali prefers a remote-first work environment.

Europe (EU)

The EU branch focuses on the benefits of working in the European Union. I aim to build a network in the EU and achieve a better work-life balance than a San Francisco-based startup. Read more: Why I Moved From San Francisco To Ireland.

Startup Job

The startup branch explores the benefits and challenges of working in a startup. It includes sections like "Full-Time Salary and Benefits," emphasizing financial security. In startups, founders typically own product strategy while PMs execute it. I understand and accept this dynamic.

GenAI

The GenAI branch centers on my interest and experience in Generative AI. I use Chat LLMs daily and launched a product built with GenAI in 2023. See an example: Make ChatGPT Write In Your Style, Your Tone: Step-By-Step Guide 

More About My Role At FlexAI

I've accepted an offer to join Flex.ai, a seed-stage startup with $30 million in funding. Flex.ai is a Paris-based, remote-first company. The CEO is in San Francisco, the CTO is in Germany, and they have engineers in France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and India. FlexAI emerged from stealth in April 2024.

I will be their first product manager, focusing on infrastructure cloud services. We aim to make it cheaper and easier for GenAI and ML researchers to train their LLM/SLM models.

Celebrating The Pivot

My wife and I love celebrating life events with desserts. It appeals to my Feasting Foodie side. Once I accepted the job offer with flexAI, we found time to celebrate with a Hummingbird cake from an artisanal baker.

Celebrating accepting the FlexAI job offer with family and a Hummingbird cake.
Celebrating accepting the FlexAI job offer with family and a Hummingbird cake.

FAQs

I have collated FAQs from my conversations with friends and at meetups.

Where is FlexAI based?

FlexAI is headquartered in Paris but operates as a remote-first company. It is building a deeply technical product and has found experts in niche domains. The team has engineers from various parts of France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and India. The CEO is based in San Francisco, and the CTO lives in Germany.

Will you work remotely?

Yes, I will work remotely from home. The team plans to meet at least once every quarter, potentially more often. For instance, the CTO travels to Paris every other week from Germany.

Are you ok with remote work?

Yes, I love remote work as it enhances my family time, fitness, food management, and work efficiency.

Benefits:

  • It eliminates 1-2 hours of daily commute, allowing more time with my family. Matches my yearly family goals.

  • It provides time for fitness by incorporating short walks between work sessions. For example, I work for 25 minutes and then move around for 5 minutes, repeating this throughout the day. A 20-minute walk after lunch aids digestion and keeps my BMR high.

  • I eat measured food every day. Staying at home makes it easy to store and heat it up without spending extra time. (I cook once weekly, so I don't lose time cooking on weekdays.) Read more on my meal prep here.

  • My personalized work-from-home setup boosts productivity. It helps me sit comfortably and avoid issues like carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain, or eye strain. I use asynchronous collaboration tools daily, including Google Docs, Slack, and Loom video. Read more: Breaking Down My $4,700 WFH Workspace

Challenges:

Do you have experience in Gen AI?

While I have used generative AI chatbots for various projects over the last 1.5 years, I do not have experience in building a generative AI product or developing the technical components of a large language model (LLM).

Future Related Posts

I plan to write a post about my onboarding experience at FlexAI and another post sharing the case study analysis I did during my review conversations with FlexAI. These posts will showcase how I put my best foot forward in understanding a new industry and team for a stealth startup.

Are there other topics you would like me to write about?

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