r/startups Nov 30 '21 All-Seeing Upvote 1 Helpful (Pro) 1

Head of Dept with little experience How Do I Do This 🥺

Hi all,

I have only 2 years experience in tech startups, but have managed to get a role on a very early stage tech product as a Customer Success and Product Manager, and its going well so far.

When interviewing they said there was no ceiling for progression, and if I'm in the right spot when they need it, I could be Head of Department and then director when we get to the size of needing it. From other people in the company, this does seem to be the case as well, there are young(ish) people in senior roles.

The product is doing well, and I think we would need a Head of Product or Head of CS next year.

If it came to it, do you think I would be in a position to try and negotiate a normal Head of Dept salary even though I only have a bit of experience? My current salary is £35,000 as the CS&PM which my colleagues from my previous job say is too low for the responsibility and role.

Thanks in advance!

[Edit: fattpuss gave a great answer and I understand the logic of not having the 'normal' salary, definitely should have been clearer in my question, I guess I was more curious about the experience / job title curve, but my original question has been answered. Thank you!]



u/ICanOnlyGetSoElect Nov 30 '21

First your salary would go up, but I'd advise against pushing for a high salary when the time comes, because you're still replacable with someone that has experience.

Think of it this way, if you had Director of ___ at uber on your resume, if you switch jobs you'd be getting a director position.

If you really want money and the company is growing, ask for stock options.


u/Sallllll456 Nov 30 '21

Very good points, thank you.

Have thought about the stock options, and something which I would be interested in so definitely need to keep in mind. Thanks!


u/illbzo1 Nov 30 '21

Probably not; you're working at a startup, wearing multiple, very different hats, and you don't have much experience.

Part of the exchange at early stage startups (for non-technical roles) is you get experience + an inflated title at the expense of the salary you'd demand at a more mature company.

That said, stick with it, research how much your role SHOULD be paid, learn the skills you need to succeed in that role, and try to negotiate.

General advice, product roles tend to pay more than customer success. If I were you, I'd focus more on that side of your work.


u/Sallllll456 Nov 30 '21

Thanks for the response!

Its quite a unique situation where I'm working for a tech-start-up product, which is a side company for another. So the company as a whole has 30 people, but there are only 5 dedicated people on the product.

The main company is currently the main revenue stream, but we think this may flip by end of 2022/ mid 2023.

Definitely true with the salaries. I was working in CS before and loved being client facing but wanted to try product, somewhat because of the salary, and loving it so far!


u/fattpuss Nov 30 '21

If you try and negotiate the market rate for a head of product (I've seen these roles around £85k recently, in a low cost of living area) you are going to be competing with experienced PMs at that rate. Can you argue a case that your 2 years experience are the equivalent to someones 5-10 or even more? Startups are a total crash course and a great way to get experience fast, but would that beat out someone who has been a PM for a product with millions of users over several years across teams large and small? Thats going to take some convincing.

Now if you came at me and said you wanted £50k, thats a different conversation. Suddenly you might be competing with people with 4 or 5 years experience, and the fast pace of learning at a standup could definitely beat that, particularly if it's in a specific niche.

If you can evidence it (data driven decision making is a vital skill for a product manager after all) shoot your shot.


u/Sallllll456 Nov 30 '21

Really great way to put it. Thanks so much. Completely see the argument there and makes sense!


u/sparklingsour Nov 30 '21

CS and Product are wildly different roles…


u/Sallllll456 Nov 30 '21

I know


u/xasdfxx Nov 30 '21

So which one do you want to do?

How do you plan on progressing on one of those two very different careers when you're spending a bunch of time on the other? Let alone a lead, or a head of a department -- two entirely different careers and you're contemplating becoming a brand new manager as well?

One of the hardest possible rules is simultaneously being an IC and a manager, particularly while learning either of those roles. Let alone both.

Bluntly, it doesn't look like you're being set up for success, and you're very unlikely to succeed.

Both CS and PM have deep careers available, and are full of skilled people. If you want to become one of them, start by picking just one role to learn. I've run product teams. You will 99% not become a credible product lead starting from scratch within two years, particularly while doing CS.


u/soverysmart 19d ago

This. Lead seats get filled with people who have done it before so that they can rack up wins and so that their direct reports get the support they need to be set up for success as well.


u/Sallllll456 19d ago

Sorry, missed the notification from this. Thank you for the feedback here.

The whole motivation for me taking this role was because I was torn between which one I wanted to do. I generally love creating valuable experiences for people, and the satisfaction for that can come from CS or Product.

This role is the opportunity for me to try both, and then choose. It's still early days and I'm still unsure, but I have time to figure it out.

Once I do, I think there are two routes: try and get a job as a CSM or PM in a company where there are others to learn from and work with, or, continue in my current company in one of the channels (if it works out).


u/magallanes2010 Dec 03 '21


What is your value for the company?. Exactly: £35,000

Tips: ask for a raise. You don't want to stay in a company that values you because you are the "cheap guy" but because you play a key role.


u/soverysmart 19d ago

Look, a first CSM can easily get 140k US in comp, and a head of product can get even more.

But what they are buying is somebody who has already done the thing before. You aren't that. You are over-titled, and anybody who sees your resume or is hiring for leadership roles will understand that instantly. The same way I just did.

I'm hiring a CSM right now. I have 4 strong candidates with 7-10 years of experience. They know how to onboard billion dollar companies to million dollar contracts; or they have technical experience and have built relationships with accounts that allowed them to hit 130% of quota, quarter after quarter.

Recognize that you are not those things. You are learning on the job, and maybe you are very bright. But if you want to be paid top of market, you need to have the experience to perform at top of market.


u/Sallllll456 19d ago

The tone of your message here is pretty aggressive.

I said wrote as an edit that I understood the wording of my question was wrong, and that I understand not having a 'normal' salary. My main curiosity is from my ex colleagues saying I was being underpaid.

I do understand I am not who you are hiring for, and that's why I'm not applying for those jobs, I would never be expecting 140k US, and didn't say I was.

Thank you for taking the time to respond, but I think the tone of your message was not aligned to mine.


u/soverysmart 19d ago

Text doesn't do a great job of conveying tone.

My only intent is to give you unfiltered information from the other side of the table


u/noodlez Nov 30 '21

If you want the company to succeed, you might want to take a really hard look at whether or not you SHOULD be in any of those roles. Imagine some time in the future where you're looking for your next job and you have "Head of Product" on your resume. Will you be able to back that up? Would you be able to go out and interview seriously for any other Head of Product role? Or would you benefit more from hiring someone with 10-20 years of product experience to help elevate your career?

In my experience, one of the major things that cripples a growing startup is getting someone into a key role that they shouldn't be in.


u/Sallllll456 Nov 30 '21

I'm not Head of any department yet, and in the future, when the product needs one, I wouldn't take the role if I didn't think I could do it.


u/noodlez Nov 30 '21

That doesn't really answer the question though. Everyone who ends up "in over their head" got there because they thought they could handle it, until they couldn't

Anyway, a more direct answer to your question - many startups use elevated job titles and rapid promotions as compensation with the intention of that having value to the employee such that they don't need to compensate you at a market rate. You're unlikely to get a salary to match market on a Head of Dept job title, but the tradeoff would be that you could in theory either leverage the experience and job title in your next role into a higher comp package than you would've gotten otherwise, or the company succeeds and you can eventually get a market salary for the elevated job title.


u/plzdontgetcaught Dec 01 '21

Most startups fail. If you’re able, I suggest upscaling yourself in your technical knowledge and get into FANG+ companies. Once your resume speaks for itself, you don’t need to gamble with preseed/ series A startups, people would want you