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Getting into Product Management

Clement Kao AMA

Last week, we had an ama session with Clement Kao, Co-Founder of Product Manager HQ. Clement is currently a Product Manager at Blend – an enterprise technology company in consumer lending space. Previously, Clement was the Product Manager for the Customer Relationship Management Platform at Movoto Real Estate, which is the second largest online real estate brokerage in the U.S. Clement started his career as a Business Consultant at Applied Predictive Technologies, which is a leading analytics software company that was acquired by MasterCard. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a double major in Business Administration and Molecular & Cell Biology.

Q1. How has your journey been as a PM? What changes have you observed in the industry?

A1. Fantastic question! I’ll answer this in two parts: first, my journey, and then the changes I’ve seen.

I actually fell into product management entirely by accident. I started as a management consultant, then became a product analyst, and then was asked by my CEO to become a product manager. I never planned on becoming a product manager in the first place!

You can read my full journey here:

In terms of what changes I’ve seen: it’s no longer enough to have only one superpower as a product manager.

What I mean by this is that many product managers are particularly good at one thing. Some PMs are fantastic at data, some have amazing product intuition, some have awesome customer empathy, some are deeply technical, etc.

But, because products are becoming more and more complex, and because everyone is shipping faster than ever, you need to stand out by being good at multiple things.

For example: while I’m good at data, being good at data isn’t enough. The data only tells you “what is happening in your product”, but it doesn’t tell you why.

So, I also had to grow my skill set to learn how to have deep customer empathy, so that I can quickly understand why customers aren’t using my product.

That mix of qualitative and quantitative understanding makes me particularly valuable to my employers.

 Q2. I have been working as a dba since 4 years but now I am looking to change to a PM role without any prior PM experience, how can I start?

A2. No problem! I had no prior experience in product management as well, and I accidentally turned into a product manager!

To get started, I recommend reading my book Breaking Into Product Management, which discusses the key mindsets and skill sets you need to break-in. The book also has an in-depth breakdown of common PM interview questions; and clear frameworks for how to ace those questions.

(If you can’t buy the book on Amazon, you can always get the PDF version here.)

Generally speaking, to become a product manager, you need to demonstrate how you’ll solve pain as a product manager. It’s simply not enough that you want to be one – you have to find a company that needs you to join them.

Jobs aren’t created for people to take them. Jobs are created for companies to solve their internal pains.

So, if you want a PM job, you need to demonstrate to the employer that you can solve their pain. That means conducting deep research about what the employer needs.

I discuss all that and more in this presentation on how to treat yourself as a product. In my experience, people who think of themselves as products are much more likely to become successful product managers!

Q3. How is a Product Manager different from a Project Manager?

A3. Great question! I’ve written more on that here: Product Manager vs. Project Manager

In general, product managers are focused on maximizing ROI, whereas project managers are focused on minimizing risk. Those fundamental approaches then shape their day-to-day work, as well as their career paths.

Q4. What were the PM challenges you encountered in your first 2-3 years?

A4. Generally, the challenges that I faced were that I couldn’t find anyone to mentor me. That made it incredibly difficult for me because I had to go figure out everything on my own.

That means that I needed to learn how to work with engineers, how to work with designers, and how to work with customers while there were millions of dollars at stake. Definitely, I ran into some uncomfortable growing pains there!

That’s why I’m so active in multiple product management communities – I don’t others to have to struggle the way that I struggled.

Here’s an article that I wrote on how to find a mentor. Having a solid mentor will quickly accelerate your ability to drive impact as a product manager.

Here’s an article on how to work with engineers. Here’s an article on how to work with stakeholders. Here’s an article on how to deeply understand your end users.

Without having a mentor, I had to learn all of these myself! That’s why I’m excited to share as much of my knowledge as I can with the rest of the product management community.

Q5. How would you differentiate the role of Product Manager with respect to that of a Product Owner?

A5. Great question! Unfortunately, I’ve never worked with product owners in my own experiences, so I’ll have to refer to other resources.

Here are some guides on the differences between the two roles:

It’s entirely possible that in some organizations, you have no product owners and you only have product managers. For all 3 companies that I’ve worked at, we never had product owners – all of them only worked with product managers.

Q6. How did being a Management Consultant help you in being Product Manager? Since, Management consulting focuses on strategy, operations issues in industry and Product Management of a Digital Product needs ideas and design thinking

A6. Fantastic question!

Being a management consultant helped in the following ways:

  • It taught me to work with high-level executives, both within my own company and with my customers. I’m not afraid of talking to the CEO’s or VPs of departments, because I’ve been doing that my entire professional career now.
  • It taught me to use both qualitative interviews and quantitative data analytics. You can’t succeed as a management consultant unless you deeply understand the qualitative strategy factors at play, while also understanding the quantitative sizes of the market, the business model, etc.
  • It taught me to be empathetic, and to ask “the why behind the why”. When one of your clients asks you to answer one of their questions, there’s a deeper question behind it. Having that level of deep empathy enabled me to think more clearly as a product manager in understanding what my users’ needs are.

Q7. How to understand Profit and Loss statement of Product as a budding PM?

A7. Actually, it depends. Not every product manager is responsible for a P&L.

I’ve worked in multiple PM roles where I was truly responsible for P&L of my product, because I was leading entirely new businesses. (For example, as the current Home Equity product manager at Blend, I own that P&L.)

But, I’ve also worked in many roles where I didn’t have a P&L, because I was a cost center that was focused on driving broad innovation and fundamental capabilities across different product lines.

For example, I’ve worked as an integrations product manager. As an integrations product manager, there’s no profit side to that.

I’ve worked as a platform product manager. There’s also no profit side to that.

I’ve worked as a lender UX product manager. There’s still no profit side to that.

But, the integrations and the platform capabilities and the new UX paradigms that I shipped all unlocked millions of dollars of potential upside for my fellow product managers to capture.

Some roles need P&L mastery, and others don’t. If you’re not yet comfortable with P&Ls, consider tackling these kinds of PM roles:

  • UX
  • Platform
  • Integrations
  • Data
  • API

Q8. If someone is confused between Product Management and Management consulting as a career path, which option to choose to embark on a new journey from existing career considering the future of both? Could you suggest something with Pros and Cons of both to make a decision? E.g. One Pro of Management consulting is that one can open his/her own firm

A8. Pros and cons can be helpful, but that’s not exactly what you’re looking for.

You’re looking for the value proposition that you’ll bring into your own life by taking on one of these two options.

The value proposition is “the bundle of benefits and costs associated with a particular option.” And, the ROI of a value proposition is “benefits divided by costs.”

Rather than trying to come up with a generic framework for “should anyone decide to be a PM or a consultant”, focus on your own specific needs.

What is the benefit that you get by being a PM? What is the cost that you’ll pay for doing that?

What is the benefit that you get by being a consultant? What is the cost that you’ll pay for doing that?

I wrote about a somewhat similar topic here on how to decide whether to get an MBA or not. Use the framework that I provide in the article to assess each role independently, then make your choice!