Breaking into Web3 as a PM

Published on
May 12th, 2022
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Peter Yang interviews Jason Shah about transitioning to Web3 product management.
Peter Yang is passionate about helping people make a living doing what they love online. He's worked on creator growth at Twitch, Facebook, and Twitter and wrote a best-selling book on product management. He also creates web3 education at Odyssey DAO and is a PM at Reddit. Find him on Twitter.
I recently interviewed Jason Shah, product lead at Alchemy, about how PMs can break into web3. In our interview, Jason covers:
  • His journey to web3
  • How being a web3 PM is different
  • How to transition to web3
Jason also has his own newsletter and was recently featured in Lenny’s newsletter. I think this interview is a great complement to those resources.
You can read my abridged notes below or listen to the conversation here:

Journey to web3

How did you become interested in web3?
I became interested in web3 in three steps:
Observer: In 2012, I bought some Bitcoin without fully understanding how crypto works. After the 2013 crash, I forgot about crypto for some time.
Learner: A few years later, I discovered Ethereum and got really excited that it was programmable. I started going down the rabbit hole by reading whitepapers and trying out different products.
I realized that a massive change was happening right under my nose and I had to be a part of it.
Builder: In 2021, I had more time at home due to the pandemic. I used that time to learn about smart contracts, Solidity, and web3 development. In mid-2021, I spent 3 months meeting over twenty web3 teams before deciding to join Alchemy to drive product and growth.

How being a web3 PM is different

What skills do you need as a web3 PM?
I think core PM skills like product sense and execution are still relevant. However, there’s a whole new set of skills that you have to learn in web3:
  1. You have to listen and engage with the community. Optimizing conversion and revenue funnels at the expense of what the community wants doesn’t work.
  2. You have to learn fast and execute ruthlessly. In my web2 PM job, I wrote strategy docs that would get an endless stream of comments before anything got done. In web3, people don’t have time to comment on my docs because they’re too busy executing. This space moves fast so you have to stay nimble.
  3. It’s also good to be technical and creative. Being technical helps you understand the infra and being creative helps you define new use cases.
I’ve found that user needs often don’t align with business needs in web2. How is web3 different?
Yes, in web2, it's often company-first instead of community-first.
For example, if you’re optimizing for engagement, you might have a company goal that you want to hit. But often, what you’re really doing is just driving addictive behavior that’s actually bad for users.
In web3, I think there are technical and cultural restrictions that prevent this. For example, protocols and DAOs are expected to make major decisions through an open community vote (e.g., Snapshot) instead of behind closed doors. Web3 also has a WAGMI (we are going to make it) ethos. “We” means not just the team or the company but the entire community.
All of this makes it harder for you to build a product that only benefits a small group of people.
How does the core team interact with the broader community in web3?
Many web3 protocols start out centralized with a core team that has an initial vision. They then decentralize progressively by adding contributors, issuing community tokens, and setting up governance voting. Uniswap and Ethereum Name Service are great examples of this.

How to transition to web3

Let’s talk about how you found a PM job in web3. When I look at web3 companies, many aren’t even hiring PMs. What advice do you have for people looking to make the transition?
My advice is to treat your web3 job search like being a founder.
In web2, the typical process is:
  1. Apply to PM jobs
  2. Talk to a recruiter
  3. Do an interview loop
In web3, it’s less about 'I want a PM job' and more about 'this company has X, Y, Z needs that I can help with.'
Here’s what I recommend:
  1. Do your homework. Start by understanding the space and look into projects that you’re excited about. Don’t worry about whether they have a PM opening.
  2. Join the project’s community and reach out to the team with some thoughts on how you can contribute. Work backward from what needs you think they have.
  3. Don’t wait for permission to start adding value.
If you have low lego and are willing to just start contributing, you will get noticed. Those are two common qualities that all web3 teams look for.
I love how this process is more focused on adding value than practicing product cases or jumping through hoops that have little to do with the job. Can you tell me more about your personal job search?
Yeah for me it started with why. I want to:
  1. Work in web3 for the next 10-20 years of my life.
  2. Optimize for fun, adventure, and impact vs. chasing money or promotions.
  3. Work on a team that impacts all of web3 vs. a specific segment.
I then cut the space into different categories (e.g., DeFi, NFT, tools) and layers (e.g., infra, applications).
I ruled out working for a specific app (e.g., NFT marketplace) or protocol (e.g., L1 chain) because I want to have an impact on ALL of web3. This space is early and I didn’t want to lock myself into a specific ecosystem.
I decided to join Alchemy because the team works with almost every web3 chain and protocol. I wanted to build relationships across the ecosystem that would be really valuable for the next 10-20 years. It’s also a small team full of great engineers and ex-founders.
You were on a path to climb the web2 PM ladder. Was it hard to give up that path for this new direction?
Well, I’m genuinely excited about web3 and feel lucky to be able to take a risk to pursue my passion.
If you’re a smart, hardworking, person with good values, no one really cares if you take a risk to jump off the traditional ladder to try something meaningful. The narrow path that we feel we have to travel on is mostly imaginary. Frankly, I haven’t seen anyone go from web2 to web3 and decide to go back.
If you think about it, the amount of talent that’s locked in web2 companies because of titles or RSUs is insane. Like your GPA, I don’t think it really matters long-term whether you’re L6, L7, or whatever.
In web3, I feel unleashed — I can do my best work freely.
Do you think people should get PM experience first before making the leap to web3?
You don’t need to be a web2 PM before making a successful transition into web3.
If you’re interested in web3, get in as early as possible. Join an early team and start building even without the PM title - it could have a multiplier effect on your career. A lot of web3 teams are actually more skeptical of someone with 10 years of FAANG PM experience.
Can you share three closing thoughts for people looking to transition to web3?
Sure, here are some thoughts:
  1. Learn as much as you can. It’s OK to not understand everything. Ask for help. Talk to friends who are already in this space or reach out to people on Twitter.
  2. Start building. For example, you can use tools like Alchemy to deploy a smart contract or Thirdweb to do an NFT drop.
  3. Be proactive. Instead of waiting to hear from recruiters, you need to be proactive. Seek out teams that you are excited about and start contributing to their communities. You will get recognized and you will find your role.
WAGMI. Thanks Jason!
Comments (2)
Doris D. Schrader
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