StellarPeers Review

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Company Introduction

I generally like to quote the founder’s pitch on the company introduction as it exemplifies how they want to market their product

StellarPeers is a community peer coaching platform that connects and guides professionals to land their dream jobs.

Source: https://www.linkedin.com/in/malenamesarina/

While the intro is bit generic, the landing page specifies more details on what makes StellarPeers more unique than this “interview coaching” niche.

Practice product management mock interviews at any time from anywhere.

Source: https://stellarpeers.com/

StellarPeers allows PMs to practice mock interviews with each other (strangers with similar goals) to land their next PM job.

I could not find any funding information – it’s likely a bootstrap. The site has not been shared in HN (this really doesn’t mean anything, but it’s common practice for founders to do a “Show HN” post. HN is probably not the right niche for this though)

Founder Due Diligence

The founder is Malena Mesarina who has a lot of experience working in product management but also with a very strong technical background. Her LinkedIn description and experience is phenomenal – she has worked in multiple strategic, research and management roles providing mentorship in Coursera and other educational capacities.

You can immediately tell that she is extremely experienced in the field – her Medium has extremely helpful articles on tackling PM interviews with realistic sample questions.

Her post reminded me of Naval’s how to get rich tweet –

Specific knowledge is found by pursuing your genuine curiosity and passion rather than whatever is hot right now.

Source: https://twitter.com/naval/status/1002103360646823936

She has 13 patents and 13 conference papers – some notable patents in HP with her work in data center improvements and conference papers for sense-and-respond systems.

She shares very valuable posts in the technology world in her twitter (and does not overly advertise her own company) – I highly recommend following her twitter if you’re interested in learning what she finds to be important (not sure if it’s an SEO play, but their company twitter and LinkedIn do share similar content). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this though and I respect it.

She is extremely technical (IOS expert in Objective-C and Swift, and have programmed in JavaScript, C , C++, C#, Java, PHP, Perl, Python, HTML/CSS, Semantic Web: OWL, RDF, SPARQL, Text Analytics: NLP & NLTK3 Toolkit, Statistical Analysis: SPSS, Tableau) and also has experience in design/productivity tools: Sketch, InVision, Slack, Asana, Trello, Balsamiq.

Essentially, she can combine her technical knowledge with product skillset, a very strong founder/CEO skill-set.

Market Sizing

COVID has significantly slowed the job market and hiring overall. Many companies are now in hiring freeze. There is a segment of people that have been laid off that are potentially looking for new jobs but overall, there will be stagnancy as demand is much lower.

Generally, a healthy ratio I’ve seen for PM to Software Engineer to Design is 1:1:4. This is likely an absurd that many companies cannot follow and more realistically I would say 1:1:6 is more common. This does mean that there is lower demand for PMs than Software Engineers meaning that the market for PMs is a smaller opportunity compared to the giants like TripleByte and others.

However, strangely enough, during difficult times, precise strategy to prioritize, leadership skills and execution skills are all considered crucial. This could mean that a strong PM candidate could thrive and have more opportunities compared to R&D candidates.

In San Francisco, according to Glassdoor, there are about 4400 PM job openings and 5133 Software Engineering job openings in San Francisco. Indeed shows 8363 Product Manager jobs in the United States and 65,448 jobs in the United States as of Late June, 2020.

I think these numbers can only get better as time passes so the market for product managers is not bad (but it’s also not great compared to software engineering).

Company Strengths and Value Proposition

  • As a product manager with experience working in large companies as well as start-ups, the sample practice questions and answers are stellar. An example is https://stellarpeers.com/design-bookshelf-for-children/. The CIRCLES framework is pretty standard for PM interviews but these practice answers actually provide very in-depth answers as opposed to the generic ones you’ll see in lower quality PM interview websites.
  • The “common mistakes” section in the above article is awesome and something many PMs can mess up, especially without much practice.
  • There is a possible product market fit in this space, although I can deep dive into this in the later section on competitive analysis.
  • https://stellarpeers.com/prioritize-new-product-features-facebook/ is also an extremely high quality content that dives deep into ROI – this would be absolutely a strong-hire answer at Facebook (assuming that someone can really think this through and provide this answer in 45 minutes)
  • The MeetUp events are awesome! These need way more attendees!

Company Weaknesses

  • The landing page is not enticing to me. The important content that really drives my attention are the testimonials and a quick introduction on the core product (peer mentoring)
  • It’s unclear how qualified the peers would be – how do I know they are vetted, what companies are the peers from, what makes me trust them?
  • It’s also unclear if the peer interviews are free or not, there is no mention of pricing.
    Because there is a review process (which makes sense to ensure the peers are qualified), the time to value can be too slow. I know there are contents but this site is not the only one with content either so not sure how this helps with retention/engagement. People want to practice interviews so that they can ace their next interview, and the assumption is that, these people are quite anxious and want practice as soon as possible.
  • With the current review process, it’s unclear when the review will go through and what will happen next. At least some kind of demo screen could help so that the user could know what she should expect. The review process is likely manual right now but doesn’t have to be in the future.
  • Do I get paid if I interview others? Or is this a pure P2P system? I’ve mentioned this but the exact process is ambiguous. Maybe the packaging/pricing is still being figured out?
  • Lack of marketing – there are probably lots of opportunities here. I presume StellarPeers would do much better the more user it has (more peers to practice interviews with)
  • The content is great but SEO/SEM is not quite there – I was not able to find the content when searching for the practice interview questions I often see in Glassdoor.
  • Some issues on the website where the text is not visible in certain resolutions can be questionable. Small details like these where the text is not legible in specific resolutions can deter power users, especially PMs that are more detail-oriented.
  • There are opportunities to pivot into other areas that may have higher ROI (executive PMs/referral services, product consultation (not necessarily for jobs).

Competitive Analysis

  1. PMHQ – strong blog content. Also has a course with transparent pricing structure and a very active community/newsletter
  2. Lewis Lin’s books – this is not a direct competitor but these books could deter users from consuming online contents. These books are amazing resources to practice interviews (Decode and Conquer, 164 interview questions/answers). Lewis Lin is also extremely experienced.
  3. PM Interview Prep – Very simple landing page with transparent pricing and exactly how the product works. Instead of P2P model, they use a team of experts and the pricing + what to expect are very clear.
  4. Interviews.Tech – They specifically list out the PMs that would coach and provide feedback. Sessions are more costly than other platforms ($250/session)
  5. Product School – I know people who’ve taken this with mixed reviews
    Udemy/Udacity – Lots of good PM lessons
  6. https://www.productmanagementexercises.com – Mostly people discussing questions and answers (very simple UI and straightforward)

There are obviously other sites like interviewing.io, pramp and others more focused on coding interviews. These companies could easily expand into the PM space as

Why Invest Now

  1. Strategic PMs will be more and more in demand now.
  2. Strong founder with PM and Technical experience with experience in growth
  3. A lot of ways to scale, lack of competition

Final Analysis

PM interviews technically do not require a shared Google doc, or something like CodePad. PM interviews only require video/voice chatting so the entry space for a company to start entering is very low (not that using Google Docs/CodePad is much harder)
Compared to the average quality of Software Engineering interviews, the average quality of PM interviews really depend on the interviewer’s experience.
LVC Suggestions

I’ve worked with with PMs from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Stripe, and Amazon and they generally had different perspectives on candidate strengths and weaknesses (as in we interview the same candidate and the opinions varied a lot). To me, this shows that the interviewees really have to adjust/be dynamic based on the conversations they’re having.

This could be a differentiator in my opinion. When someone wants a job at Facebook, she should receive mentorship and practice from someone working at Facebook. Facebook PMs value when the interviewee understands the FB ecosystem, KPI/OKRs that Facebook care about, how the product works (engagement means likes, shares, reactions).

StellarPeers asks what company the user is trying to interview from. I’d like to see statistics as a user on how many peers have experience interviewing for that company so that I know what experience I will have when I sign-up. Right now, it’s too testimonial driven.

There is so much good content in the blogs, I suggest some of these to be exposed in the landing page (doesn’t have to be explicitly the blogs itself but similar to what PMHQ does)

Pricing/packaging is very unclear to me except the coaching. PMHQ does a decent job at this.

Need a stronger value proposition since people can easily connect via Slack, Reddit, Blind or PMHQ on their own. What differentiates StellarPeers from all the competitors?

The problem I see in this space is that there are many people who don’t feel comfortable doing mock interviews with people they don’t know meaning barrier of entry is still a bit high. These people would love to practice but fear that they would receive very poor feedback. A good feature would be to help ease the nerve of these users, by possibly doing a collaborative session first (answer a PM interview question together) similar to what is done in the meetup.

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