Becoming a first-time manager at a startup is hard. Given the intense pace and growth, you are often promoted with limited training and expected to manage people who used to be peers. You are asked to continue to deliver on individual contributor responsibilities – write code, support customers, or sell, while also managing a team. After going through this transition myself, and helping coach dozens of other managers through it, I wanted to put together a curated summary of the best advice I’ve gotten. Let me know what you think:

  • Do: Schedule recurring weekly 30 minute 1:1s with each direct. Book a conference room or zoom/webex if you’re remote. Reschedule as needed; don’t cancel. During 1:1s, listen to their ideas, answer their questions, and communicate key info.

  • Don’t: Expect your team to reach out to you with questions whenever they have them. Best case – they will and you’ll be swamped with emails/slack/meetings, worst case – they won’t.

  • Do: Give frequent and specific feedback on how people can improve and what impact this will have Example: “Next time, prior to jumping right in to the demo, ask the prospect how they solve the problem today. This will help you understand their situation and frame the demo to their needs.”

  • Don’t: Be scared to share your knowledge and feedback. Good people want feedback on how they can do better! When you do give feedback, don’t make it vague ie “be more collaborative”.

  • Do: Create an attitude and culture of just getting it done, even if it isn’t officially your responsibility. Praise people for taking risks.

  • Don’t: Make get annoyed if people make decisions you think are “yours”. Slapping people’s wrists for doing work is demotivating to your best people.

  • Do: Contextualize the work your team is doing. Help people understand why it matters to the company and how it fits in to your strategy. Focus on the why. It’ll give them meaning in their work and, more importantly, help them make the right decisions.

  • Don’t: Hoard corporate information about strategy and then micromanage your teams tasks.

  • Do: Form real relationships with people who work for you. Know their spouses + kids names, where they live, and what they are passionate about (in and outside of work). We are still people at work, not just employees.

  • Don’t: Misunderstand the relationship. This is a professional relationship based on you helping them succeed and adding value to your company. Always remember this, whether you are in the office or at any social engagement during or after work. Drinking is absolutely not an excuse to act unprofessionally (this applies to co-workers too, but is absolutely imperative with directs).

  • Do: Treat management as a skill, like programming or sales, to learn and improve upon. Start with manager-tools podcasts, a fantastic resource. Suggestion to also read Google Way and Rework

  • Don’t: Assume management or leadership is something innate or, worse, that it doesn’t matter. If you don’t set aside real time to manage your team AND to learn how to be a better manager, you and your team will end up stressed.

  • Do: Ask for and accept feedback on how the company could work better. Better yet, find ways to make it easier for your team to be successful. If you’ve been at the company for awhile a great way to help is to use your network within the company to solve conflicts.

  • Don’t: Indulge whining. Everyone can use a manager who helps them refocus on getting things done instead of complaining. As startups struggle with growth we have a tendency to romanticize the prior stages “Remember when we used to…”. Fine to remember the good old days, but keep people focused on the future.


  • Do: Repeat yourself often. “Say something 7 times and half of your people will say they’ve heard it once.” Mark Horstman – management guru from Manager Tools cited above. Great reminder to over communicate, especially on corporate strategy.

  • Don’t: Say something once in a meeting (or a slack / email) and expect everyone on your team to have understood all the intricacies and impact of your communication. What do you all think?

  • Note: many of these ideas came from manager-tools podcasts. I cannot recommend them strongly enough for any new manager!

  • Note2: this is obviously inspired by Ben Horowitz’ Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager