Clement Kao - Founder at Product Teacher ex- @blendlabsinc

Clement Kao - Founder at Product Teacher ex- @blendlabsinc


I’m currently leading a startup called Product Teacher, which is a product management education company with the mission of creating accessible and effective resources for a global community of product managers, founders, and entrepreneurs.

We offer corporate workshops, self-paced courses, career coaching, and other professional development services. We also regularly publish best practice articles on product management through our newsletter.

Through our work, we've helped professionals from hundreds of fast-growing startups and public companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Netflix, Twitter, Airbnb, Tesla, PayPal, Box, Zoom, YouTube, Adobe, Uber, Lyft, Salesforce, Slack, Reddit, Okta, eBay, Hulu, and Spotify.

I founded Product Teacher to democratize product management knowledge. I’m excited to share this valuable knowledge with others and accelerate their careers, and we’re actively releasing even more corporate workshops and self-paced courses to help product managers all over the world succeed.

Before becoming Founder/CEO at Product Teacher, I was a Principal Product Manager at Blend, where I shipped multiple multimillion dollar B2B fintech products. Before Blend, I was Group Product Manager at Movoto building our real estate agent products.

I’ve written multiple books and best-practice guides about product management, totaling 260+ publications thus far. I’ve been featured by 100+ organizations around the world, and I’m humbled to share my experiences here on ProductHooman.

What does your typical day look like?

As a product manager, every day looks different. The key thing to remember is that product managers serve a variety of stakeholders: end users, customers, engineers, designers, and cross-functional counterparts like sales and marketing.

Therefore, the question that we have to ask ourselves as product managers is, “what work will provide the most return-on-investment right now?” By prioritizing the most valuable work, we drive our organizations forward.

That’s why we need to actively decide what to tackle each day, rather than having any sort of “standard” daily routine.

As an example, some days I need to better understand how users will perceive a new product that I want to launch. So, I might start my day with two one-hour user interviews, followed by a 30 minute debrief with my design and engineering partners.

From there, I might then refine my existing product spec to account for our new learnings, and run this spec by my legal & compliance team to check that our new tweaks won’t cause any issues down the line.

Afterwards, I could then compile our learnings across the 10 interviews that we’ve done, and send it to our customer success team and our marketing team so that they can adjust the positioning of our existing products.

I might then wrap up my day by checking on metrics dashboards to see whether a current experiment is still running smoothly, then prioritizing my top three focus areas for the next day.

But, other days, I might have to focus on just a single task.

Some days, there might be a large production outage that we need to diagnose and tackle. I’ll need to first spin up a war room for people to centralize communications, then work with my support team to fully flesh out the impact of the issue.

I’ll then need to circle up with engineering and QA to identify what the root cause of the issue is, and I’ll need to reach out to other PM counterparts to decide which bugfix approach will enable us to resolve the issue without inadvertently damaging their products.

Afterwards, I’ll need to decide on a course of action for fixing the issue, and I’ll need to share an ETA as well as status updates on how our work is progressing.

From there, I may need to work with my information security team, legal & compliance team, and analytics team to pull together an impact analysis, and I may need to work with sales and customer success teams to broadcast communications to our customers to let them know what’s happened and how we plan on fixing the issue.

I might then close out the day by scheduling a retrospective for this issue later in the week, and I might run back through our bug triage process documents to propose process improvements.

Why did you choose to become a product manager? How do you see things differently than the rest?

I fell into product management by accident! Back in school, I had never planned on becoming a product manager.

So, for everyone who’s interested in becoming a product manager, know that you’ve got a huge advantage over other candidates, because you know what direction you’re headed.

As for how I wound up becoming a product manager: my personal mission in life is to make other people’s lives happier, easier, and better. It just so happens that product managers are focused on solving unaddressed pain all of the time!

I originally started as a technology consultant, but then pivoted to user research within my company because our customers desperately wanted a more intuitive user experience. By becoming a user researcher, I could bring their voices and their pain points to my company’s product & engineering teams.

By listening to these pains and doing prototype demos with end users, we were able to launch a new generation of user experiences that were much more intuitive than before. Our customers received these new products very positively, and I gained respect within the organization as a champion of our customers’ needs.

From there, I moved to another company as a user researcher, but then pivoted to product strategy because we found a new and exciting customer segment through our user research. Our user research demonstrated that there were multiple underserved segments, each of which could yield us significant profits, and so I felt I would make a large impact by digging into these areas rather than moving on to a different user research project.

As a product strategist, I identified a course of action for our executive team to take so that we could spin up a “startup within a startup” and launch new products. But, we didn’t have any available product managers at the time to execute on the strategy that I had recommended.

Due to this talent gap, my CEO recommended that I become a product manager to bring the vision to life. So, that’s how I wound up becoming a PM!

My career journey has been about stepping into the gap and solving unaddressed pain. So, the way I see the world is that product managers are uniquely positioned to create value and eliminate pain for so many different kinds of people.

When you build products, you’re solving the pain of your company. Your company is trying to make a profit and stay ahead of its competitors, and strong product managers help their companies move into a position of market leadership.

But, you’re also solving the pain of your colleagues. You make the process of building products easier, more delightful, and more fun over time. You help your organization build the necessary muscle for scaling products, launching products, and deprecating products.

And of course, you’re solving the pain of your customers. By creating products that are valuable for customers, you enable them to focus on the things that matter most to them. Rather than having to struggle through manual processes that are full of friction, they can leverage your product to keep their businesses moving forward.

On top of that, you empower your customers to serve their customers more fully too. A delightful product experience means that your customers’ customers have a faster, deeper, and more complete experience, whether it’s applying for a loan, buying a house, or shopping for goods.

Plus, you’re helping your customers create better working conditions for their employees. When your product is smooth and intuitive, your end users (i.e. your customers’ employees) can focus on building human relationships rather than struggling with software. They can focus on leveling up their skills and rising the ranks, rather than having to sacrifice their time performing low-leverage tasks.

And finally, as a product manager, you can help aspiring product managers break into this exciting field. So many people around the world are excited about becoming product managers, and the current generation of product managers are best equipped to help these aspirants succeed!

What's the one thing that you absolutely love about your job?

I love learning about how people make decisions, it’s endlessly fascinating to me! I treat every single one of my stakeholders as a customer of mine, and I deeply enjoy empathizing with them and understanding their unique points of view.

There’s always something new for me to learn because I’m always looking to make things better for my counterparts.

For example, I learned that my marketing department typically plans conferences at least 6 months in advance. To decide on the venue and the agenda, they need to have clarity on what the theme of the event is, which is why publishing forward-looking roadmaps is so important for our event agendas.

And, I learned that our best salespeople are comfortable with pitching our products’ strengths while acknowledging its gaps. They know that it’s more important for products to deeply solve a real pain, rather than to tick every box on an RFP (request for proposal).

While that means that they might lose some deals in the short term to “products that check every box”, they know that these competing products are unlikely to solve real pain. In other words, while these products claim to solve every problem, they wind up being so shallow that they fail to solve any pain effectively.

Because I know that my salespeople can defend our product stance and aren’t clamoring to have every box checked, I can focus on a strategic roadmap with a clear point of view rather than trying to handle every feature request that comes our way.

I’ve also learned that our support team builds deep relationships with our end users through repeated interactions over time, and that they’re eager to move towards being proactive instead of reactive. I love that our support team is focused on people rather than on issue resolution!

So, whenever I can share that we’ve made a particular feature enhancement due to a specific piece of customer feedback, I’ve learned that I should share this message to our support team. That way, our support team can celebrate our progress with our customers, which then builds trust and excitement in our product.

What are some of the cool things that you are working on currently?

At Product Teacher, I’m currently creating self-paced courses to help product managers in a variety of ways. Here are the next three courses that are on the docket!

First, I’m building a course for “Succeeding as an Associate Product Manager.” Many times, associate PMs and junior PMs don’t have prior product management experience or knowledge, and they’re not quite sure how to get started. That creates a lot of anxiety for them on the job.

On top of that, many times they’re expected to “sink or swim” when they first join their product organizations. That’s because many product organizations don’t yet have strong onboarding programs for junior product managers.

So, this course is meant to close that onboarding gap for newly-minted product managers and cover the fundamentals of product management.

It will teach how to conduct user research, how to work with designers and engineers, how to build effective product specs, and how to work with internal business stakeholders like legal & compliance, support, and marketing. We’ll also teach how to manage conflict productively and how to deal with uncertainty.

Second, we’re also actively developing a course for “Establishing Your PM Portfolio.” At the end of the day, product management is all about structured problem solving, and people from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds can all succeed as product managers.

So, the goal of our upcoming course is to help people position themselves with “product management mindsets” even if they don’t have prior experience as product managers. We want to help people craft the most compelling stories possible based on their previous experiences. That’s why we’ll be sharing best practices on how to craft a product management portfolio that will showcase your unique skills and demonstrate that you have what it takes to be an effective product manager.

Third, we’re building up a course for “Excelling in B2B Product Management,” since business-to-business (B2B) products are fundamentally different from business-to-consumer (B2C) products.

Through our 1:1 coaching with product managers, we’ve found that many B2C PM best practices like A/B testing and rapid experimentation don’t always work well in B2B contexts.

That’s why we’ll be teaching key skills such as “how to get customer executive stakeholder buy-in” and “how to use pilots to drive adoption.”

Aside from our self-paced courses, we’re also creating corporate workshops to help product organizations level up across all of their team members.

We tackle topics like how to write winning specs, how to run pilots, how to get executive buy-in, how to manage uncertainty, and how to deal with conflict.

What are some of the emerging trends in your industry that excite you? And why?

I’m excited about three key trends in product management:

  • Democratization of product management education

  • Async / remote product management

  • The rise of low code / no code platforms

First, I’m so excited to see that product management education is becoming more accessible and democratized! In the past, learning how to become a product manager was very difficult if you weren’t in the right place at the right time.

For example, Google’s APM program and Facebook’s RPM programs are best-in-class for becoming a solid product manager. But, a few years ago, if you weren’t able to secure a role as a Google APM or as a Facebook RPM, your chances of becoming a product manager were quite slim since there were few other viable paths into product management.

But, now there are many other ways to get a solid product management education! Today’s product management aspirants have a wide array of options: they can use free resources (e.g. newsletters, blogs, podcasts, conferences), read books, go to school (e.g. certificate programs), or leverage professional training services.

On top of that, it’s great to see the cost of education going down.

Previously, you could only get high-quality product management education by joining synchronous professional training courses that were quite expensive. These courses might take 6-12 weeks to complete, and would cost many thousands of dollars each (ranging from $3,000 to $12,000+).

But, now there are many more accessible, affordable, and flexible options. For example, you can take self-paced courses (like those offered by Product Teacher) to learn on your own schedule! And, self-paced courses typically cost less than $800, enabling so many more people to have access to a new career trajectory.

Second, I love seeing that product management has expanded to include asynchronous and remote ways of working. It’s enabled so many more people from a wider variety of backgrounds to become product managers!

Previously, product management relied heavily on being colocated with engineers and designers, and it necessitated real-time feedback loops.

While that works well for a narrow band of professionals (e.g. young adults without children), that lack of flexibility prevented many other talented people from succeeding as PMs.

For example, single parents were put at a disadvantage because they weren’t able to spend as much time in the office as their non-parent counterparts.

And, for those whose first language isn’t English, they were also put at a disadvantage because real-time feedback loops demanded that they act on the fly, even if they hadn’t fully understood the situation.

With the rise of asynchronous, remote product management, we’ve empowered a wider variety of people to succeed as product managers. In turn, that means that our products will have a wider set of perspectives, which means a more compassionate world for all.

Third, low code and no code platforms have enabled product managers to drive significantly more impact and velocity, whether they’re the ones building them or utilizing them.

Product managers who are building low code / no code platforms are enabling a much wider range of customers to build out the functionality and flows that they need. These customers are no longer constrained by the development velocity of the product team, nor are they constrained by their own access to engineering resources.

And, the PMs who use low code / no code platforms can execute on their strategy much faster than before, since they’re no longer as tightly constrained by engineering resources as they used to be.

As product managers, we live in exciting times! There’s no better time than now to kickstart a journey into product.

Do you follow any product/prioritization frameworks when making decisions? If yes, what are some of the top frameworks that you recommend and why?

My tried-and-true framework is the 80/20 rule. What this means is that you can achieve 80% of the benefit with only 20% of the effort, and the remaining 80% of your effort will only reap you 20% of the benefit.

That means that I’m always looking for the highest-impact work to tackle, and that I’m okay with not being a perfectionist. That is, I don’t have to complete every single task that’s on my plate - I just have to complete the 20% of work that really matters.

A related favorite framework of mine to rank initiatives by their return on investment (ROI). To calculate ROI, all you have to do is look at the benefits, and then divide by the costs. In other words, ROI = benefits / costs.

It’s helpful to identify what benefits you expect to achieve vs. the costs that you’ll have to pay, and to identify the efforts that will give you the best outcomes.

What’s the one tool you couldn’t do your job without, and which few people know about?

By getting all of my tasks out of my brain, I can focus purely on execution rather than spend time worrying that I’m forgetting something. The tool that I use for this exercise is Trello - it’s great for keeping track of work!

I use Trello’s Kanban board to help myself stay organized. I use these 4 columns on my board:

  • Top 3 priorities for today

  • Backlog of work

  • Things I’m blocked on

  • Done

Here’s my step-by-step guide for how to use this layout.

Every night, I decide what my top three priorities for the next day are going to be. I rank them from top to bottom, so that I tackle the highest-priority work first.

The next day, I focus on tackling the first priority. I know that I shouldn’t try to do anything else, because everything else is lower-priority and therefore not worth my attention yet.

Once I’ve completed my top priority, I move it to the “done” column so that I know that I no longer need to worry about it.

That said, if that work requires someone else to also work on it, I move it to the column for things I’m blocked on. Essentially, I use it as a “waiting list” so that I remember to check back in with the responsible individual every couple of days until they’ve completed their work and unblocked me. This way, I don’t need to worry about things slipping through the cracks.

Any work that pops up in the day unexpectedly goes to the bottom of my backlog first, so that I can evaluate it vs. everything else that’s in there. Of course, if I know that it’s urgent, I’ll fast-track it into the “top 3 priorities” column.

But, to make space for that new set of work, I’ll purposely kick out the “lowest” top 3 priority item back into my backlog, so that I’m always tackling the highest-leverage work first.

What’s great about this system is that any time I remember that there’s something I need to do (even if it’s in the middle of the night!), I throw it into my backlog so that I no longer need to try to remember. With this system in place, I can confidently move forward without second-guessing myself.

There are lots of ways to make this system a lot more sophisticated! But for me, keeping it clean and simple has helped relieve a lot of mental strain, which then enables me to tackle my work with gusto.

What's something that you learned/realized recently in your work journey that you wish you knew earlier?

I’ve realized that while total compensation (e.g. salary, equity, bonuses, etc.) is important, making a real impact in the world is even more important for long-term satisfaction.

When you focus on doing things that give you a sense of fulfillment, you’ll be motivated to keep investing effort in self-improvement. You’ll grow your skills faster than your competitors, because you’ll be excited about the work that you’re doing. And, you’ll naturally take more risks at work, because you’re eager to unlock more impact for your users and for your organization.

You’ll be able to capture the benefits of a positive “snowball effect”: you’ll gain new skills that enable you to tackle new problems, and tackling new problems will help you gain more skills. Even better, as you master more and more skills, you’ll naturally increase your earning potential as well!

So, over the long run, it’s more important to pick something that you want to change in the world, rather than focusing on short-term earnings.

What's the one mistake you've made and will advise others not to repeat?

One big mistake I made early in my PM career was trying to get to pixel-perfect parity for my mobile apps on Android and on iOS. I was too focused on trying to get my features to be 100% consistent with one another, and I failed to think critically about what my users wanted and needed.

Here’s the context for the mistake that I made. I was in charge of building mobile apps for real estate agents, and I tried to force the same UX designs on both platforms even though that wasn’t what our users were used to.

As an example: on iOS apps, the tabs on your app have labels and icons, but on Android apps the tabs typically only have icons.

And, for iOS, tabs are typically at the bottom, but for Android tabs are typically at the top.

iOS and Android have different native functionality, and I should have respected that both for user consistency as well as engineering speed and reliability.

But, I hadn’t thought about this issue at the time, so I forced my engineers to align our features to the iOS standard.

While that wasn’t a problem for our iOS app, I caused multiple bugs on our Android mobile app, and I saw a notable increase in user complaints from our Android users. I was trying to force them to use an iOS-native layout when they were much more used to an Android layout.

I wish I had been more thoughtful about the context of my users, and I wish I had deferred to my engineering teams’ expertise. It’s okay to break the rules around “consistency of design” when we build for different mobile platforms.

My suggestion for product managers: empower your engineering counterparts to speak up and to challenge your decisions. Ask them to explain their rationale for why they disagree with your approach, and you’ll prevent making the same mistake that I made early in my career.

What are some of your biggest inspirations that help you get up and do your best work?

My biggest inspiration is my end users and their feedback! As the Founder of Product Teacher, I’m so lucky to have product managers as my customers. Product managers are thoughtful, humble, and ambitious, and they’re such great people to work with.

Personally, I love seeing product managers make a positive impact in the world, and I’m honored to be in a position where I can accelerate their careers.

Most of our offerings here at Product Teacher are based on the questions that people have asked me over the years.

Every time I get a new question, it motivates me to understand and master new topics. Then, I take this knowledge and scale it across tens of thousands of readers, students, and mentees.

I really enjoy packaging knowledge for a variety of learning styles! Whether it’s a self-paced course or a podcast, a live event or a written article, I want to be there for the product managers who want to boost their careers.

I’m lucky to love the problem that I’m tackling! It helps me resonate deeply with the needs of my customers, and it inspires me to do my best work.

What would you recommend to people who want to start their careers in your space?

Too frequently, I see people begin from a position of selfishness, where they say “how can I become a product manager?” rather than  “how can I solve the pain for an organization?”

Here’s the key mindset to success in product management: treat yourself as a product, and treat the organization that you’re targeting as a potential customer. By using this more selfless approach, you’ll be able to position yourself more effectively for the role.

Remember that companies only open new job roles because they’re facing a pain that they can’t solve with their current workforce. If they can find a candidate who will solve that pain, then they’ll hire them. If they identify that a candidate can’t solve the pain, then they won’t hire them.

Therefore, as an aspiring product manager, always look for the pain that the company has, and identify how you will solve their pain through your experiences and skill sets.

On top of that, make sure to focus on applying for only one company at a time, rather than trying to shotgun your applications across multiple product management organizations.

Remember that companies are looking for candidates who will be the best solutions for their specific pain. The problem with the shotgun approach is that when you apply to dozens of companies at once, you don’t have the time to customize your resume and cover letter for each.

That means that you’re never the best fit for any company. There will always be some other candidate who has customized their resume and cover letter for that exact company, exact role, and exact pain. That candidate who personalizes their application is the one who will win.

Furthermore, by focusing on a single company and a single role, you can schedule coffee chats with employees at that organization. That way, you can secure warm referrals from within the company, which then helps usher you into the interview process.

Human testimonials override automated resume screenings. When you have social proof, where an employee at the company supports your application, you’ll move farther with the hiring manager than a candidate who doesn’t have that social proof.

Last piece of advice: don’t be afraid to ask for help and to seek resources! If you want to get started in product management, drop me a line at clement@productteacher.com and let me know that you found me through ProductHooman.

Any new companies you know of that you think are going to make a big difference, which we should keep an eye on?

Yes! I curate a product management jobs board to showcase the highest-impact, most compassionate product management organizations. I share my methodology here: https://www.productteacher.com/articles/a-more-compassionate-pm-jobs-board

The link to the jobs board is here, we regularly update it with new postings:

Product Teacher Job Board

Outside of our jobs board, here are 5 organizations that I think anyone in the product space should be watching.

Lemonade (https://www.lemonade.com/) has transformed the insurance industry, including renter’s insurance, homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, pet insurance, and life insurance. Their product is so much easier to use than traditional insurance companies, and they give back a large share of their earnings to the communities around them.

The Centre for Effective Altruism (https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/) has changed the nonprofit landscape for the better. They use rigorous evidence-based methodologies to vet the highest-impact nonprofit organizations, and they accelerate funding and talent around the world.

Founders Pledge (https://founderspledge.com/) is an incredibly successful organization that has unlocked positive impact all around the world by partnering with entrepreneurs and founders to give effectively to charities.

The Mission Asset Fund (https://www.missionassetfund.org/) empowers struggling families to take control of their financial lives and is actively working to change the landscape of finance and fintech. They provide millions of dollars a year in 0% interest loans and help people build strong credit scores.

Momentum (https://givemomentum.com/) is transforming the way that nonprofit donations work, by scaling their impact across a variety of nonprofit organizations. Rather than have each nonprofit reinvent the wheel when it comes to building donations flows, Momentum has built scalable, secure, configurable technology that enables each nonprofit to shine.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

We’ve created a "Solving the PM Interview" self-paced course that has helped candidates secure roles at both leading public companies (e.g. Amazon, Google, Redfin, etc.) and fast-growing startups. You can find out more about it here:

Solving the PM Interview - Product Teacher

We also run a monthly PM masterclass to dive into key topics here:

Monthly PM Masterclasses - Product Teacher

And, we also have a free weekly product management newsletter to help folks gain new skills and perspectives at work. You can sign up for the newsletter here:

Articles — Product Teacher

Are you open to people new to the industry reaching out to you for help?

Please reach out to me over email at clement@productteacher.com, I’ll do my best to answer your questions and share relevant resources!

Unfortunately, I can’t do unpaid coffee chats since I’m investing all of my spare time into Product Teacher. That said, I do have a paid mentorship program that has helped people obtain new jobs and get promoted at work.

Brought to you by

Olvy is an AI-powered feedback management tool designed specifically for Product Managers and UX Researchers to better understand their customers' needs at scale. 

Read our case studies with LottieFiles, and ReadyPlayerMe.

ProductHooman Podcast

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©2023 - Olvy Inc.

Brought to you by

Olvy is an AI-powered feedback management tool designed specifically for Product Managers and UX Researchers to better understand their customers' needs at scale. 

Read our case studies with LottieFiles, and ReadyPlayerMe.

ProductHooman Podcast

Follow us On

©2023 - Olvy Inc.

Brought to you by

Olvy is an AI-powered feedback management tool designed specifically for Product Managers and UX Researchers to better understand their customers' needs at scale. 

Read our case studies with LottieFiles, and ReadyPlayerMe.

ProductHooman Podcast

Follow us On

©2023 - Olvy Inc.