Product Managers: Make $100 on the internet

There is now plenty of great advice, thought leadership, frameworks, newsletters, podcasts, and courses for being a good product manager (this blog included). 

Maybe even too much. 

My simple advice that supersedes everything else is this: First, make $100 on the internet on your own. 

My first job out of college was as a consultant for startups in an incubator in Ghana. While I could give helpful technical advice on how to build their products, I felt like an imposter when advising on the business or approach. I was a new grad who had never started a business on my own, so who the heck was I to share my business advice?! 

Most product managers, especially in mid or large companies, are so removed from the realities of running a software business, but at the helm of opinionated decision-making. PMs now thrive (or drown) in the theories of product building. They can wax poetic about strategy, differentiation, jobs to be done, UX simplicity, distribution, activation, network effects, monetization, ltv:cac, team operation, funding, etc. They can pull the right quotes and zingers from Shreyas Doshi, Stratechery, Lenny, Steve Jobs, or Paul Graham. They can ace Product Sense and Analytics interviews with elegant frameworks like CIRCLES or AARM from Decode & Conquer. 

But most have never made even $100 on the internet on their own!

It reminds me of this iconic scene from Good Will Hunting.

Here's an excerpt of the exchange that captures the difference between knowledge and wisdom; information and experience:  
Sean (Robin Williams): You're just a kid, you don't have the faintest idea what you're talkin' about.

Will (Matt Damon): Why thank you.

Sean: It's all right. You've never been out of Boston.

Will: Nope.

Sean: So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you'd probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can't tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You're a tough kid. And I'd ask you about war, you'd probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, "once more unto the breach dear friends." But you've never been near one...

If this is you, don't fret - you aren't alone and you have a nice low-hanging fruit to propel your product skills. 

My first role as a PM was building my own app business with 10+ apps and $2000+/mo in revenue. I was in the common situation of an engineer aspiring to transition to a PM but couldn't find a way into the elusive and gatekept profession. So I decided to just do the job on my own and learned a lot more in the process, which opened doors to PM roles.

When you try to make $100 on the internet, your theoretical knowledge, frameworks, and strategic thinking make direct contact with reality. You will realize how hard it is to get customers to pay attention, keep them coming back, or open their wallets. It will be a humbling experience. 

When you succeed at making the first $100, try to make a $1000 and a recurring revenue business. Or try to sell to businesses. Or try to build the product on your own or contract and manage some people. 

You will likely fail the first few attempts. You will realize how difficult it is, and how frail ideas and frameworks are. You will viscerally experience the emotional ups and downs that you have only heard founders talk about. 

But if you keep at it, you will learn to identify a valuable problem, niche segment, gaps in the market, a solution, a compelling message, channels, and economics. You will learn to research, position, write copy, market, sell, run ads, follow up on leads, identify a good MVP, get feedback, measure what matters, monetize, iterate, and pivot. You will learn the limits and nuances of all the PM advice out there.  

I guarantee you that you will emerge as a humbler, more practical, more nuanced, and more confident product manager or designer than you will from consuming another podcast, blog, course, or framework. You will even have more fun in the process and maybe kick-start a career as an entrepreneur. 

Oh, and you will make $100 too! 


1. This is necessary, but not sufficient. You still need to know how to operate within a larger company, think strategically, draft metrics, align stakeholders, use frameworks, etc. 

2. Many PMs will feel they can't do this because they aren't technical. You don't have to be technical. You can sell a PDF, a course, a service, or a product from Alibaba. There are platforms and no-code tools that can get you pretty far without writing a single line of code.