Tech is a global phenomenon, powering practically every aspect of daily life. For that reason, the tech industry itself has spread across all corners of the globe, with notable tech hubs in The USA, Latin America, China, India, Africa, and Europe.
Product Management is on the rise across the board, but Europe still seems to be a little slow to catch on. Have no doubt, the role is still on the rise, but growth of the role doesn’t seem to be as consistent as it appears to be on other continents.
Nevertheless, European tech is on the rise! Founders and investors are realizing that Europe is the perfect place to launch a product. Despite being a place known for its love of tradition, it’s also the perfect place to make big 21st century risks! Thanks to easy access to social welfare and affordable health care, the people of Europe are starting to take risks, more willing to take the leap of faith on their new project. And it’s paying off big time!
Thanks to tech giants moving their operations to Europe, Product Management has finally been injected into the tech scene, and is starting enter into the conversation. Here, we hope to highlight the unique challenges faced by tech companies in Europe, what the PM talent pool is like, and which cities are loved by product teams.
The Scope of Tech and Product in Europe
It’s always useful to start with the positives, after all this isn’t a brutal takedown of all the hard work that tech professionals do every single day. While the European tech scene may not be as headline-worthy as that in Silicon Valley, it still has a lot to offer, and a lot of untapped potential.
As of 2019, according to a report by Atomico, the technology industry in Europe won $34.3 billion in investments over 4,608 rounds. There are an estimated 6.1 million professional developers, which is more than the estimate for the USA (4.3 million).
London remains the biggest hub for tech, followed by Berlin and Paris. According to the report, “there are now at least 174 European tech companies that have scaled to a valuation of more than $1 billion.”
All of the world’s major global companies have offices in Europe, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Facebook. All of these companies have Product Managers. Many other companies that are making waves in their respective industries are headquartered in Europe, such as Spotify, Skyscanner, Unity, N26, and Intercom. These companies also all have adopted Product Management.
And yet, the ratio of Product Managers in these companies, compared to the ratio in Silicon Valley is quite staggering. On average, there ratio of Software Engineers to full-time Product Managers is 24:1 in Europe, but 8:1 in Silicon Valley. That doesn’t include a few European outliers, where series A and B startups had no full-time Product Managers, despite having 10 or more full-time Engineers.
The question is…why?
You might also be interested in: Prepare for a Product Management Interview at Google
What Challenges Does The European Product Scene Face?
#1 Leaning Towards Tradition
Despite the clear interest of venture capitalists in the European tech scene, and the mass of awesome startups and unicorns on the continent, the stereotype is that Europe is old fashioned and traditional.
Old fashioned may be too harsh, but there is definitely a tendency towards tradition in the bigger tech companies, which provide the larger proportion of the jobs. Project Management still reigns supreme in most of the larger, more established tech companies, as they lean towards more traditional product development tactics.
What you may find, is that many Project Managers in Europe, are actually functioning as Product Managers, just without the title. And without any awareness or curiosity about Product Management coming from the higher ups, these Project/Product Manager hybrids are stuck without the opportunity to transition, or claim their real title.
This harms both Product and Project Management, as there are many talented Project Managers who want that role, not to be shoehorned into another.
In the coming years, especially as thought leadership in product grows, we can expect to see more and more companies adopting Product Management as an established function within their teams. Startups which become unicorns can heavily influence the growth of Product Management, as Spotify has done in Sweden.
Despite Silicon Valley being upheld as the pinnacle of innovation and technology, the Atomico report found that 71% of repeat founders in Europe would not move anywhere else. 14% would move, but only to another city in Europe, and a tiny 8% would make the move to San Francisco.
These founders clearly see the potential that Europe has to offer; its unique blend of tradition, innovation, and talent.
#2 The Talent Pool
It’s very much a catch-22 that Product Management is slow to take off in Europe, because of a lack of candidates with a solid Product Management background. Before things like Product School and our certifications came along, the only way to gain experience in Product Management and position yourself for that role, was to accidentally stumble into it. And when most companies have no awareness of what Product Management is…that’s nearly impossible to achieve.
Now, however, the online product community is booming and companies outside of the US are starting to set up bases in Europe. Product Management is continuing its spread across the continent. Even within Product School’s online cohorts, we’re seeing an increase in applications coming from places like Germany, Hungary, and the UK.
Many founders cite lack of talent as the main reason why Product Manager remains the role which is the hardest to fill. Companies are desperately seeking talented product people, which presents a great opportunity for those in Europe looking to get into tech, but who have no CS degree or coding experience.
If the right applicant positions themselves as having collected the right skillset for a Product Management role, they should find that they have their pick of companies to choose from.
#3 Rural vs Urban
Another important factor which impacts the talent pool in Europe is the split between rural and urban areas.
As is true for most places worldwide, if you want to work in tech you have to work in the city. And while some countries are lucky enough to have multiple tech hubs (for example, the UK has London, Manchester, and Edinburgh), for many places the only tech hub is the capital. In some landlocked countries, people may find themselves living closer to the tech hub of their neighbouring country than that of their own! Unlike in the States where you can relocate relatively easily to a neighbouring state, in Europe that involves a significant amount of paperwork and maybe even learning a whole new language.
This severely limits who is able to go and work in tech, as the capital city tends to be the most expensive place to live in the country. For example, Hungary only really has Budapest as a major technology centre, with almost all of its tech industry centralised in 200 square miles.
Hungarian professionals wanting to work in the Hungarian tech industry must limit themselves on where they are able to live. For those with restraints such as familial ties, moving to the capital may not be an option.
Luckily, thanks to remote working the borders put up between people and their goals, like their physical location, are slowly eroding. Different networking events have moved entirely online, and virtual job fairs allow people to meet prospective employers without having to take a day off work or to travel great distances.
This means that the doors of opportunity are opening up for those wanting to work in tech without having to make the move to the big city.
The Experience of Being a European Product Manager
Just because the growth is slow, doesn’t mean that Product Management in Europe is a dead end! Far from it! Europe has its own unique startup culture, which shouldn’t be thought of as lesser just because it is taking a different path to that of Silicon Valley. Europeans, as always, are doing things their own way.
When we spoke on The Product Podcast to Kaarel Kuddu, Head of Product at Transferwise, we asked him about what his experience was like as a product leader in Europe.
“I’m in Tallinn, Estonia. And I have interviewed product managers from every continent I think, over the past five years, and a lot of the bigger countries. This is what I have seen is that there are actually very cool product managers globally. I’ve been very happy to see that. I think as well in product management in TransferWise we probably have at least 20, 25 different nationalities. What I’ve seen is that in Eastern Europe, it’s more difficult to find like people with a very solid product manager background.But we have a lot of very good business analysts, systems analysts, data analysts, and people with like a very good technical background, who have quite a bit of creative thinking as well.
So I think that’s why we have a strong understanding of how systems are built, and then we have been able to kind of onboard these people into product management quite nicely.
We now have a lot of very experience product managers as well, here in Eastern Europe, mostly in our offices in Hungary…these people are mostly from Estonia, Ukraine, Russia, and some of them are from Hungary as well. And then in London, there is of course more product talent available because there’s just more tech companies there. So London is I think, where quite a lot of our product managers are situated. So that’s been a good market for us. We can hire product managers there quite quickly.”
7 Cities Product Managers Love
1. London, England
London takes the top spot on many lists for tech in Europe. Perhaps because of its close ties to Silicon Valley, and the attention it receives from venture capitalists, the English capital is home to the largest percentage of Europe’s unicorns.
London is the financial capital of Europe, making the perfect home for hot new FinTech names like Monzo and Revolut. Product Managers looking to move to the big smoke should keep their eyes on Babylon Health, Farfetch, Deliveroo, Culture Trip, and MagicLab.
2. Berlin, Germany
You can’t possibly talk about tech in Europe without talking about Berlin!
Tech lovers from all over the continent migrate to Berlin to be a part of the exciting startup scene. It’s a relatively affordable place to live compared with other parts of Europe, and seems to be the closest in atmosphere to the startup scene in Silicon Valley. More innovation, means more Product Management.
You’ll find a huge variety of exciting and notable Berlin based startups, such as HelloFresh, Omio, SoundCloud, Blinkist, Babbel, and Zalando.
3. Paris, France
The city of love, lights, and product!
While not yet a big player on the world stage of tech, European product people know Paris to be a rapidly growing hub of innovation in the music, EdTech, and IoT spaces. While one of the more expensive places to live on this list, Paris is an endlessly liveable city, with a multicultural community set to make anyone who relocates there feel right at home.
Paris is the home of many great companies for PMs, such as BlaBlaCar, Deezer, OpenClassrooms, and Happn.
4. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
14% of Amsterdam’s workforce are working in tech, at over 2,000 different companies. With a sizable pool of developers, it’s no wonder that companies like Uber and Amazon have pretty major tech development teams based in the dutch capital.
Amsterdam is also home to a range of FinTech startups, incubators, and accelerators. As well as having their own homegrown success stories, non-EU companies like Nike, Netflix, and Tesla, use Amsterdam as their EU headquarters.
5. Lisbon, Portugal
We can speak from personal experience when we tell you that the product community in Lisbon is thriving. Our in-person events of years past were always full to the brim with amazing, passionate product people.
Web Summit (aka Glastonbury for geeks) was a huge hit for Lisbon in 2017, with product people travelling from all over the continent to attend. It injected a much needed boost into the Lisbon tech community, which is becoming one of the fasted growing ecosystems in Europe. The city is ver affordable to live in, and well connected to the rest of Europe, making the perfect home for new startups.
6. Dublin, Ireland
9/10 of the worlds top global tech companies have set up a base in Dublin. Why? IT jobs account for 9% of all jobs in the city, proving it to be a fantastic source of talented professionals.
Dublin is home to big names like Airbnb, eBay, Facebook, HubSpot, Amazon, Google, IBM, and Intercom. Product Managers here are spoiled for choice!
What we can expect to see from the tech scene in Dublin is more branching out into various “new disciplines including fintech, med-tech, automation technology, sports-tech, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology.”
7. Stockholm, Sweden
Spotify. Need we say more?
Actually, yes, there’s much more to say! Sweden became one of the more innovative countries in Europe seemingly overnight. Stockholm currently has more unicorns per inhabitant than any other city on earth.
According to Lifesum founder, Henrik Tortensson, “we call it the Bjorn Borg Effect. You suddenly have this person or company that comes along and shows the world that it can be done. Overnight, Sweden was extremely good at tennis. It was like everyone was playing it.”
You won’t have to look very hard to find an impressive list of startups, such as Klarna, Tink, Storytel, Acast, and King.
What Does The Future Hold for Product Management In Europe?
So is there hope for aspiring Product Managers in Europe? Absolutely!
We can speak from personal experience about the passion and hunger for product in Europe. Before 2020 hit and all of our events moved online, we had thriving communities of product people in Amsterdam, London, Edinburgh, Barcelona, Munich, Paris, Athens, Lisbon, and so many more.
(PS: Our events may not be happening in person anymore, but they’re still happening! Check out our online events calendar!)
While these communities have had to move online, the people are all still there, with the same willingness to learn more, the same desire to connect, and the same talent for product management.
There are also plenty of exciting tech companies of all levels, across all industries, desperately seeking Product Managers! And if anyone knows what to do when there’s a gap in the market…it’s a Product Manager.
So what’s the next step? Check out our Product Management certifications!