How to Become a Product Manager with NO Experience (Step-by-Step)

Here is a step-by-step breakdown of the Product Development Process, which will help you gain a general understanding on how to create your own side-project to build experience.

Robert Loo
November 14, 2023

Robert like many others, had also been impacted by the pandemic. He previously used to work as a Project Manager at a SaaS company in Shanghai, China, and during 2022, got relocated to Toronto, Canada. Unfortunately, due to the market conditions, they decided to downsize and the company closed part of their operations in North America.

He was at a crossroads in his life at this time, unsure of what to pursue. He initially tried dabbling at coding and enrolled in a software engineering bootcamp, only to come to realize that coding might not be his passion. One day, Robert stumbled across Product Management and realized that this role would be a great fit for him.

He quoted, “Based on my outgoing personality, people skills, and previous business experience, I believe becoming a Product Manager role would be a perfect match”.

Read: Do Product Managers Need to Code?

That’s when he decided to join Co.Lab’s Product Management training program to build his experience and create something from scratch. After finishing the program, Robert wanted to share his experience and help others become Product Managers.

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To make things more challenging, many companies that hire for entry-level roles in 2023 require at least 1-2 years of experience. And the question is: how are we supposed to get experience if we do not have the opportunity to get experience?

The answer is simple - we must start creating our OWN experience. 

If we are trying to transition into the tech industry as a product manager, we must first understand the fundamentals before creating our side projects. 

The product management process consists of a number of steps needed to take a product from the initial concept to launch. 

Personally, I come from a non-technical background, and this is a quick summary of the steps in order to create your first APP!

  • #1: Market Research and User Research
  • #2: Idea Validation
  • #3: Designing & Prototype 
  • #4: Product Development
  • #5: MVP Release

#1 Market Research & User Research

This means, defining a clear problem. One simple way to define a clear problem is to brainstorm your own personal pain points. Pick a problem you want to solve, do some research, and build a solution.

Examples of typical problem spaces could be:

  • Productivity Challenges: Typical problems that I personally have faced before range from Multitasking, Setting Ineffective Goals, Procrastinating (pretty guilty on this one), or Keeping your To-Dos All Over the Place (not organized).
  • Time Management: Research time management struggles, such as task prioritization, scheduling, or goal setting. You could develop an app or system to help individuals better manage their time.
  • Health and Wellness: Look into health and wellness concerns, like stress management, fitness, or nutrition. This could be creating a solution that supports people in maintaining a healthier lifestyle like losing weight or gaining muscle!

Choosing a problem that you are currently facing helps you understand more with the end-user. You can can make your solution more relatable and resonate with users who share the same pain point.

At Co.Lab, I recently worked on a project from scratch, and from the beginning we brainstormed different ideas ranging from a book club, to improving payment features on transportation, to improving safety when traveling in the night.

#2 Idea Validation

Once we have chosen a problem space, we need to validate it, and this brings me to point #2, which is validating the problem space.

Some typical ways to figure this out are through first-hand research or second-hand research (through interviews and surveys), and finding out if there are other existing solutions.

A practical way to put all of this into practice is to document everything in a research plan and write supporting evidence.  Surveys and interviews could be done by asking questions specifically targeting the problem you want to solve and could be gathered both online and in person.

Typically, for these, you could use the power of Social Media, LinkedIn, and also reach out to friends and family.

Since we are just building a personal project, just having some validation from our group of friends or our professional network is more than enough. In my case, I reached out to some close friends and posted it on LinkedIn.

Once you've done enough research, you could start thinking about —

 #3 Designing & Prototype

On a side note: Typically a Product Designer would be in charge of this, but as a PM I'd recommend it is always important to understand the design process. In fact, this additional skill will help you become more valuable and improve your skill set.

If you are stuck and design is not your forte, the best way is to research sources of inspiration such as Dribbble, a website that shows different portfolios of other designers or even checking out apps on the app store that is relevant to your field. Just like the book, Steal Like an Artist, which mentions that creativity is not about starting from scratch but about remixing, adapting, and building upon existing ideas... SO in other words YOU DONT NEED to re-invent the wheel!

Steal like an artist. 10 things nobody told  you about being creative by Austin Kleon

Once you have found your inspiration, consider apps such as Figma, or Balsamiq to create your mockups or wireframes.

In the end, we decided to pursue creating a C2C (Customer-to-Customer) travel app and our main source of inspiration came from Uber and other ride sharing apps.

This is an example of an initial design of the project we were working on created via Figma. Remember, you don't have to re-invent the wheel.

Showing the User Interface of an App. App is asking for basic information.

Once we have an initial Design, we can work with a simple iteration, get some user feedback, and keep working on our design until we can get from lo-fi design all the way to the final design.

Showing the User Interface of an App. Same as the first one, but this time with color.

# 4 Development

You can start developing your APP and you've got two options:

  1. Working with software developers and product designers.
  2. No-code app builders: It helps build mobile applications without writing code, using visual tools and drag-and-drop interfaces such as Bubble and Softr.

I was personally collaborating with a team comprised of a product designer and software developers. 

P.S. You could consider making your APP come to life by digging into your network (LinkedIn) and finding a friend who’s a developer. Developers that could be interested can be those who are looking to gain more experience and this could be very valuable for them too. OR buy them pizza!

Image showing how to send a connect message on LinkedIn.

# 5 MVP Release

Once you get the APP done, then it's about releasing your first version or #5 MVP.

The biggest benefit of developing an MVP is that it allows you to gather feedback and build an improved version. This also provides an opportunity to change a product’s direction (in a good way).

Within our time constraint which was 8 weeks, we were able to release our main feature of the app. 

We named our app SafeJourney, which is an APP that connects solo travelers to safer local public transportation at their destination.

The MVP that we released vs the final design clearly shows that we can still improve. 

But our plan is to gather feedback and keep working on improving the app.

User Interface: Showing photo once a user has submitted an application.
User Interface: Showing how to schedule a meeting point.


Now that we know the fundamentals, just remember that we don’t have to overcomplicate ourselves, as long as we find a problem space we are currently facing or are passionate about! It's just about making sure if other people are having the same challenges, and hopefully it's a sizeable number.

By creating your own experience, employers will value the initiative you are taking and you can share this experience TOO!

I’m sure if you understand these steps, creating an APP and gaining experience will be a walk in the park and will guide your way to improve your skills! Gaining a competitive edge in today’s market seems tough, especially if you are trying to start your career in Product Management without any prior experience.

Are you an aspiring Product Manager? The Co.Lab program is the perfect place to gain real-world, cross-functional experience that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. Follow us on on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn for the latest updates.

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