Last week, Product School hosted Peter Yang, a former Senior Product Manager at Twitch and current PM at Credit Karma, for an exclusive #AskMeAnything session. Peter lent his expertise in building and launching Products from conception. He also provided advice on sourcing success and starting a career in Product Management.
Meet Peter Yang
Peter Yang is currently a staff Product Manager at Credit Karma. Previous to Credit Karmar, he worked in Product Management and Product Marketing roles at Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, and Microsoft. Outside of work, Peter wrote the bestselling book The Principles of Product Management for new and aspiring PMs. He’s passionate about helping the next generation of product managers succeed.
Do you have any recommendations for aspiring SaaS PMs with no Software Engineering background? Do you see it as a big obstacle to overcome?
No. I didn’t have a software engineering background, mine was a math and an MBA background. It does require some persistence – you need to stand out in some other way. In my case, I was able to transition to PM because I had a lot of knowledge of the live video space working in a related role.
What was the first thing you did and decided for the product while working remotely?
I would say the #1 skill whether you’re a remote PM or not is to be able to write well. You need to be able to compose long-form narratives and crisp updates so everyone is on the same page. This becomes more important when you’re remote.
Do you have any recommendations for aspiring PMs starting a job hunt in the current landscape?
My advice for finding a PM job in this climate is to build a network. Reach out to PMs you know in companies you want to work for. Try to add some value and build a relationship with them. You could find opportunities that are not posted on job sites and even if they’re not hiring right now it’s useful to keep in touch.
Having worked in product at so many tech companies, what’s something that you found they all had in common?
I think these skills and attitudes are important to have as a PM no matter what company you work for:
- Obsessing about customer problems.
- Being able to communicate in a crisp manner both through writing and verbally
- Having an attitude of working with your team to find the truth instead of always trying to be right all the time. This will also help you get alignment.
- Being scrappy and resilient – products that you ship will fail and you’ll get constructive feedback. I have to learn from these experiences and keep pushing.
What are your thoughts on gathering information to understand market size before launching a product? Especially when we don’t get relevant data to assume.
You can read industry reports and run customer surveys to understand the market size. But I would argue that market size should not be an important focus. Instead, the #1 question you need to answer when building products is what is the customer problem that I am trying to solve. Try to go deep to understand how your product can improve a customer’s struggle/journey instead of saying this is a $1B opportunity.
What PM advice would you give to your younger self from 10 years ago?
I would have done the following:
- Try different jobs early in my career to discover what I’m passionate about.
- Don’t follow the herd – don’t go into consulting/banking (and PM!) just because it’s the hot job right now. Truly understand what the job is and see if you like it.
- It’s OK for your passions to change over time. People often have 2-3 different careers in their lifetime.
- Take some time to enjoy life/family, work will always be there.
- Once you understand what you truly want, don’t give up and go after it.
I’ve heard that Product Management is about making strategies. Can you expand on that?
Yes, “strategy” is just a fancy word for creating a plan to get from A to B. I recommend the book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. In brief, a strategy should have three things:
1. Diagnosis of the current situation
2. Overarching plan
3. Tactical steps to achieve the plan
More than anything else, a good strategy is about focusing on doing a few things really well instead of going after 10 different things.
What are the top PM questions you’d be asking yourself and your team right now during this crisis?
I ask myself the same set of questions that I always ask when building products. I learned about these questions from my time at Amazon:
1. Who is the customer?
2. What is the customer problem?
3. How do we know that this problem exists?
4. Why is it critical that we solve this problem?
5. What is the most important customer benefit you can deliver?
6. You can use these questions both when building new products and in PM interviews.
What are the best sources that taught you how to be a successful PM that builds products customers love?
I learned a lot from the following sources:
- I observe PMs/leaders who I respect to understand what their superpower is. For example, I worked for someone whose superpower is always being positive no matter how stressful or under pressure she was. I saw first hand how she was able to inspire the team based on this attitude.
- I ask for constructive feedback from my manager and my peers. I try to reflect on this feedback and think about how I can improve.
- I read books about PM and management. Books like High Output Management, Extreme Ownership, Making of Manager, etc are all great reads.
How do I tell if the product I am going to build with my team will work? In other words, how do you make a judgment call on whether I am making the right decision or not?
Write down a clear hypothesis: e.g. We can grow conversion rate if we optimize the shopping funnel. Try to validate the hypothesis in the cheapest way possible and maybe that’s conducting a few UX studies first before writing any code. Or, it could be as simple as asking your teammates for ideas or doubts they have in the product direction, so see if you can run a quick A/B test before you build out the full feature.
When resuming a new PM job what should be on your checklist and also how do you help your CEO redefine or find a vision?
Listen and learn from the team. The worst thing you can do is come in and tell everyone they’re doing it wrong and should do it your way. Try to find small ways to fill gaps and add value. It could be something that your teammate doesn’t have time to do.
If your CEO is specifically asking you to come up with a vision I would still do step #1 and 2 first. After I learn from the entire team and look at all the data/research, then I’ll begin to craft a vision.
Can you elaborate more on your suggestion to “stand out” as someone going into PM through the MBA route who doesn’t have software development experience?
You don’t need an MBA to become a PM. One tip I have is to start publishing materials online (blog/twitter/etc). Try to show your product thinking in your posts. You never know who might be reading. I may be biased but unless you’re in a very technical PM role, I think product thinking, EQ, communication skills, persistence, etc are all more important than a technical degree for being a good PM.
You may also be interested in: Product Management Certification
How would a newbie to Product Management create a strong PM profile with no experience in PM general?
Develop these core PM skills in your current job/function:
- Understanding customer problems,
- Driving execution working with a team
- Communication skills
Start publishing your thoughts online related to products/industries you like. Try to make connections with PMs at different companies so they tell you about new Product Management opportunities. Most new PMs opportunities are not posted on job sites. Try to get internships/work for free if people aren’t ready to hire you for a full-time PM job yet.
How do you usually proceed when you’re creating a product vision?
I’ll share an excerpt from my book on this:
A great mission and vision have three traits:
1. It solves a real customer problem.
2. It inspires your team.
3. It helps people make decisions.
Consider the Kindle team’s mission and vision statement:
“To make available in less than 60 seconds every book ever written, in any language, in print or out of print.”
It’s clear that this statement solves a real customer problem and is inspirational, but let’s imagine how it can help the Kindle team make decisions. Suppose that the team is trying to decide whether authors should be able to publish to Kindle directly, which could hurt Kindle’s established publisher partnerships. But if the mission and vision are to make available every book ever written (instead of just books from established authors), then the decision should be to give every author a chance to reach an audience, even if they don’t have a traditional publisher.
Do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?
As you try to become a PM or grow in your PM career, you will experience failure. Maybe it’s failing to land a job, failing to launch a successful product, or something else. I failed to become a PM for two years before finally making it. But if you can reflect well on your failures, make adjustments, and never give up, then you will make progress towards your goal. And if you make progress, you’ll still be in a better spot than you were before, even if you don’t reach your goal right away.
Did you miss this event? Check out our events page to sign up for the next #AskMeAnything session!