Hi all, we are excited to share the tenth episode of The Product Management Leaders Podcast with you!
Our aim with this podcast is to connect you with some of the top PM leaders and share their real-world strategies and tactics for building world-class products.
In today's episode, Grant Duncan speaks with Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia, Founder and CEO of Product School, a leader in Product Management training with a community of over one million product professionals. Carlos is also a member of the YPO (Young Presidents' Organization) and Leaders in Tech. He has a wealth of experience in Entrepreneurship, Product Management, Marketing and Engineering. Let’s get started.
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Grant Duncan 0:05
This is the Product Management Leaders Podcast in which you hear from some of the top PM leaders about their real world strategies and tactics for building world class products. It's sponsored by Voximplant, the leading serverless communications platform and no code drag and drop contact center solution. Voximplant enables product leaders and developers to integrate communications into their products, such as embedding voice, video, SMS, in app chat and natural language processing. Join over 30,000 businesses trusting Voximplant. Now let's jump into the show.
Hey, it's Grant Duncan, your host. Today I'm speaking with Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia, Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia, Founder and CEO of Product School, a leader in Product Management training with a community of over one million product professionals. Carlos is also a member of the YPO (Young Presidents' Organization) and Leaders in Tech. He has a wealth of experience in Entrepreneurship, Product Management, Marketing and Engineering. You'll really like what he has to say today. So let's get started. So for your own company, or for the product management leaders you work with, what are some of the most common metrics you track and report on?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 1:21
There are three key metrics that we maintain at a very high level, and they're all around quality. Actually, quality is one of our company values as well. So two of those three are focused on the students and one is focused on the instructors. For the students, we use the Net Promoter Score, or NPS. That's a way for us to ensure that they are having a good experience when they are going through our training. The second quality metric that we use for students is outcomes, we want to really understand where students are before they take our training, and where they are not just right after the training, but six months from now, and then also future years. And the third metric that we use, and this one is for instructors, is what is their recurring rate for them to teach again. So I mentioned all the instructors, they keep their full time jobs. So they do it on the side on weeknights, and weekends and we want to create a good experience for them so they can also teach again, and those have really good benefits for the students and for the company. Because the time that we spend onboarding an instructor is very valuable. So if they are in the system already, and we know they've been successful, it's more likely they're going to be successful again. So that's also a guarantee for the students.
Grant Duncan 2:33
Very cool. What's one of the hardest product decisions you've had to make?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 2:37
A huge decision we had to make was when we decided to move from offline to online. And by the way, this happened before the pandemic. At some point, Product School started as an offline education company. And at some point, we had 16 physical campuses across the US, and also in London and Toronto. So it's a pretty big logistical operation. We decided to open our online campus, campus number 17, and that was online. And we treated it pretty much as another campus. We decided to keep the same price for tuition, we decided to provide the exact same resources to students to maintain the same quality of instructors and everything in between. And what we saw is that online kept growing and growing and growing. And one of the insights that we got from data was that around 30% of the online students were physically located in places where we had a campus. So those students chose to learn online over offline, even though they could technically learn offline. And that was a breakthrough for us. At that time, we started kind of switching the model. And today Product School is 100% online. All of our courses are delivered live online. And the additional benefit to that is that there are a lot of people that don't have access to those product leaders, like most of our instructors, while transit online, they're physically based in Silicon Valley or New York. And we have a pretty diverse student base, not only in the US, but from many other parts of the world. So everyone has access to the same quality instructors, regardless of where they're based.
Grant Duncan 4:16
Yeah, that's so awesome. So it sounds like part of that decision was looking at the analytics there. How do you think about product analytics?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 4:30
Well, I can't imagine a business that is being run, just based out of gut feelings. I understand, as a founder...
Grant Duncan 4:39
Unfortunately, there's still a lot of them.
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 4:42
I know. And we're trying to change that. And I think that part of product management and product analytics is really showing the value of data because I understand, especially at the very beginning, it's important to have a strong vision and conviction around a certain idea, but it's equally important to keep an open mind and maintain flexibility. Where we say in product management that we have to fall in love with the problem and love with the solution. The problem we're trying to solve is to help people build better products. The solution is going to iterate, I just give you an example of how we move from offline to online. There are many other iterations that we are making. Yes, to increase the high level of metrics around quality, right? And it's impossible to know these today, like the world is changing. And it will be absurd to try to maintain certain mental models and say, No, this is how the world should learn. Product analytics or in general analytics is helping us make those decisions. We've seen a huge macro trend in product management, which is no code, and how these tools are becoming much more visual. So people who don't come from a technical background who don't know CQL, or databases, they can still access the power of analytics. They can still know what's going on in simple terms, and use that to make their own decision. So if there's anybody out there who's not using data to make decisions, it's their own fault.
Grant Duncan 6:07
And it's time to change. So for you as the CEO of Product School, what does the pie chart of your time on a normal day or week look like?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 6:17
I'm obsessed with this. And I use different color codes for my own calendar. I try to audit my calendar every once in a while to make sure that we're keeping a healthy ratio of certain themes. So first of all, one thing that helps me is to use a calendar for both work and personal stuff. Because for me, what's not on the calendar doesn't exist. So I need to create blocks for my own lunch, dinner. Family time. Yes, it's important for me to prioritize that correctly, and not leave the personal stuff for the end, only if there is nothing else to do. Then within work, I spend a lot of time on talent acquisition and culture, which means we're constantly hiring. And we're trying, I need something I care about, I want to make sure that everyone who joins the organization understands our culture. And that can be, a culture builder is not just they have the right skills to do their job, they can also have the right attitude to contribute as a team. And I also don't want to forget about the people who are in the team already; it's not just about oh, you join the team, and they will forget about you. So I spend at least 1/3 of my time between talent acquisition and culture. The other third is used on product. I'm a product person. And I kind of help that, and I love it. So I actually spend a decent amount of time with my product and marketing teams, reviewing roadmaps aligning on the vision, making sure that we have a plan, and we are making adjustments on that plan. Part of that third is also user research. So I personally like to invest time talking with customers, both prospective and existing customers, because they also inform the product decisions that we make. And the other third is a combination of meetings and day to day maintenance. But this is also a buffer for me to think, for me to be reactive. Because if you pad your calendar, according to your own priorities, that might look perfect, but things will change, right, and maybe there's something that you didn't expect from a meeting or from a user interview or from a candidate, whatever that may be. So I like to keep wiggle room, and then revisit those calendars every week. So we can plan accordingly.
Grant Duncan 8:46
Yeah, that's an awesome structure you have. You mentioned user research being important for you. And for those who don't know, you're very active on social media as well engaging with people. How do you use social as a method of user feedback and research?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 9:06
Yeah, I love social. I think it's a fantastic way to not only create your own brand, but really have direct access to your users. You don't even have to schedule an interview with someone because you can go and listen to whatever they're saying about your brand. So I use it in multiple ways. I actually block time every day to create content. But I also use part of the time to listen, to monitor our brand. And sometimes that means engaging in certain discussions that are happening that I didn't create, for example, there's a lot of discussion forums out there where there are people talking about product management, not just Product School. And I think that's an important distinction because one thing is brand monitoring, which is important, but the other thing is actually keeping a finger on the pulse and know what people are doing, what people are saying, even if you are not being mentioned in that conversation. So forums like Reddit, Quora, a lot of the webinars and interviews that I do on my podcast, are very helpful for me to know what's actually happening outside our own bubble.
Grant Duncan 10:13
Yeah, that's awesome. So how do you determine quarterly goals?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 10:18
This is something that we've been iterating on, a lot, because when I started the company, we were such a small team, that it was much easier to get alignment. Now we are north of 100 people. And that means that we need to create more structure. And we have a new investor, which means that we also need to keep them in the loop and make sure that there is a shareholder communication. So we do this on a quarterly basis, we create strategy sessions, we actually bring in a moderator to help us with planning, because I think it's important to have someone to maintain a healthy discussion to not let your CEO or another executive to just run a meeting. And those meetings, they usually happen at the executive level. So we involve our Chief Product Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, sales executives and operations, myself. And then together we co create what we think are the goals for the quarter. We also have a three year plan. So before we start with a quarterly planning, we like to take a look at the three year plan to make sure that it's in line. But then when we start looking deeper into the quarter, we usually do two or three sessions with a moderator, yes to identify the KPIs. And once we are confirmed, then we like to involve the rest of the team. So it's important to get their input. So we leave that room for them to provide feedback. Once we have that final list of goals, then it's time for each team lead to take that to their teams and break it down even further to create function specific KPI. So we like to follow the OKR model, but we also recognize that OKR can be very intensive. It's a lot of work if you want to do it right. So what we decided to do was to maintain as our descent structure at the highest level for the OKRs, and then keep adding more flexibility for the function specific key results.
Grant Duncan 12:22
Yeah, that's an interesting blend there. How do you advise people on making prioritization and trade off decisions?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 12:30
I mean, I think that's what I do every day, for breakfast, right? So we mentioned before, how data is important to make decisions, but at the same time, too much data can slow you down. So as a CEO, or I think in general, as a leader or product leader, you have to make these trade offs between when is enough data for you to move on and make a decision knowing that you can revisit that decision. It's not like it's set in stone forever. And I think that mindset is really important. Because of course, especially for a team, they want to have clarity, they want to know what's going to happen. And as a leader, it's important to clarify that vision constantly. But that doesn't mean that you cannot evolve not only the vision, but the actual strategy or even the tactics. So just to keep it simple. I've considered some high level strategic decisions, I would differentiate that from day to day decisions. I try to focus more on the first, however, it's true that sometimes there are fires, and you have to put them out and you have to be involved. But for the most part, and I think it's important to create that distance to let leaders lead, to empower them to make decisions. Involve them, of course, in the strategy decisions, but I like to really focus on those strategy sessions quarterly planning, monthly planning, more than what's going to happen tomorrow, or next week with our product sprint.
Grant Duncan 13:56
Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. How do you suggest product management leaders work effectively with engineering teams?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 14:07
That's a million dollar question. And I think it depends a lot on the team, the product team in this case, and also depends on the specific product manager. We've seen how a lot of product managers come from an engineering background, myself included. The good thing in the product management world is that, that is not the only option. I've seen a lot of incredible product leaders coming from business backgrounds, operations, backgrounds, customer support, and even outside of tech. So I think bringing this type of diversity is helpful for the team. It's a good way to represent your user base. But that also influences how you want to have a relationship with your engineer. Because if we're talking about a very technical product manager, you probably have more empathy for your engineers, because you come from that world. Maybe those engineers respect you more by default, because you're one of them. That doesn't mean it's going to get any easier as you grow. But there's a head start. While you can't sit on the side on your business, the leadership style, or your communication style with engineers must be different, right? It's more about really approaching this with curiosity and not trying to step on their toes. The thing originally between engineering and product is absolutely critical, the same way I would elevate the collaboration between product and design and product and marketing. I see this as a triangle. And in general, best product managers are humble people, they are people who are constantly questioning their hypothesis. Yes, it's true that they're very smart. And that's why they're there. But at some point, you can't be telling an engineering leader, what they have to do, or especially how they have to do it, you can't be telling a designer or a marketer, how you have to design or market their product. You probably know enough to be dangerous, but the role of the product manager is more as a coach. You go there to ask questions to try to help to see what you can do for them rather than the other way around.
Grant Duncan 16:02
Yeah, great points. You also mentioned design and marketing as being key to that triangle. Anything you'd want to mention for collaborating with design or with marketing?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 16:14
So each team will require their own style. And I wish I could say, well, there is this magic template that you can follow, every single team will love you. But it's a bit of a science, and it's just a little bit of an art. So depending on your own personal experience, depending on the experience of the team, depending on the entire situation, in general, you probably have to adjust. And I would even go further, I have seen product leaders who use different styles, even within the same company. They might have different engineering teams, and they have to make different compromises just to make sure that things seem to float. And I think it's good to put it on the product manager, it is easier for the company, if the product manager has to adjust to how different teams need to go versus imposing on the teams what you really want to see. I think it takes a lot of empathy, it takes a lot of humidity. But at the end of the day, we are there to support them, we cannot do absolutely anything without them. In product, technically, you don't code, you don't design, you don't market, you don't sell. So you need the team to be aligned in order to accomplish a common goal.
Grant Duncan 17:25
Yeah, agreed. And I think for B2B companies, maybe, to add a fourth leg to the triangle, sales is probably also a key person to collaborate with as they're hearing more of that direct customer feedback as well.
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 17:42
Totally. And we've seen a trend in product. Some people call it product led. Which means really empowering your product to allow users to get value directly, even without interacting with the sales teams. And that doesn't mean that our company doesn't need our sales team. So maintaining that relationship with the sales team to really create a healthy relationship. So they know that product is here to help. Product is here to add value, to qualify users, and then of course, introduces at the point where the user needs it.
Grant Duncan 18:17
Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. And I think that product led growth, although it's growing in popularity, is not a completely new concept. I think it can help so many other parts of the business as well. Like you think about marketing or sales now knowing who's actually using the product, or who's now quadrupled their usage of the product. Well, maybe it's worth the conversation now. Or maybe you speak to them differently. It's such a key concept these days.
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 18:50
Yeah I find, really we are both buyers, but I find product management fascinating. Because it is a generalist role, first of all, you're wearing multiple hats. It is hectic, because one day you're talking marketing, maybe you're then talking sales and engineering, then design, then go back, maybe you even have to interact with finance and legal because there's something on the terms of service that need to be updated. So it's not for everybody, clearly. But it's fascinating for people who want to wear those multiple hats, they want to learn enough, they want to move fast, and they also like coordinating efforts. So it doesn't come without challenges. That's why we're seeing in the market that first of all, there are a lot of companies hiring product managers, which is really reassuring for us, we train product managers so we want to make sure that there are enough companies out there hiring them. But that doesn't mean that it's easy. Being a product manager comes with a lot, a lot of responsibilities and ultimately a lot of CEO's come from a product background. They call themselves product people which means that product is at the table, product is here to stay and is a key function for any company, regardless of their industry. This is not just for high tech companies, and this is not just for Silicon Valley.
Grant Duncan 20:02
Yeah. How do you think about creating that kind of customer engagement within your products? It's kind of closely related to the PLG idea.
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 20:13
Yep. So here's a misconception that I've seen way too often, when we talk about growth. We tend to think of growth as top of funnel, meaning number of people who sign up for your product, number of emails that you have on your database, number of followers that you have on your social media, but that is just a vanity metric. The new growth is retention, because without retention, without making sure that your users actually come back and get value, you won't have a sustainable business. So I like to look at growth in terms of the entire funnel. Yes, I want to know how many new users we are acquiring. But I don't want to stop there. I really want to know what's happening with them. And ultimately how many of them are becoming paid customers, recurring customers, and so on. There's so many different channels, tactics, we can talk about, in terms of how to create a healthy retention for the users. But it starts with a healthy onboarding. Because when a user signs up for something, that's one step. That's good. But how do you make sure that they actually get what they were promised? How do you make sure that they are set up for success, so they can come back in the future without you pushing them too hard? That's usually called user onboarding. And I see more and more companies, especially product lead companies that are investing time and resources, just to ensure and to measure what's really happening after sign up. And before paying.
Grant Duncan 21:46
How do you suggest PM's deal with failure?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 21:49
Wow, that's such a rich question, right? I can tell you how I try to deal with failure. And hopefully that can be valuable for other people out there. And you know, I'm sure you've heard this from a lot of people saying, Oh, failure is great. And you have to fail fast. And the reality is, nobody really wants to fail. It's just part of the process. But nobody wakes up in the morning saying, today I'm going to fail fast, right? Like, you want to win. So I like to rephrase that and think more about learning fast. You can learn from winning, failure is not the only way you can learn. But obviously there are certain lessons you can only learn from failure. So for me, failing is not okay, or for just failing. For me, it's about failing, and learning something from that failure. So as long as we can create that loop, and create high enough frequency, I think that's when we can create more value, when we can stand up and we can win also faster.
Grant Duncan 22:55
Yeah, great point. So that reframing of failure to focusing on learning. So you're obviously very connected into helping PM's grow and learn. What would be some of the top communities or books or resources that you would suggest people plug into or read to continue learning?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 23:18
Well, I have to talk about our community and not just because it's ours. That is because this is the main reason why I started this company. Product School is a community first and foremost. And over 90% of our resources are absolutely free and available to anyone right away. You go to our website, you can join the community, you can start accessing job opportunities, discussion forums, books, we produce 1000 events per year, we do conferences, career firsts. And the list goes on and on. All of that is available. Because I believe in access to education, I unfortunately didn't have this type of access when I was getting started in my career. And I think it's good to start with something, and then take it from there. Because if I give you a list of seven other communities and books, that can be too much information. I think the way I approach learning, when I when I try to master something new is, I try to identify who are the best, in terms of people or what are the best communities. And I go, and I take some time just to see what feels right to me, right? Like, what are actually the people that resonate the most with what I try to learn? What are the resources that work best for me? Not everyone learns the same way. And then once I know a little bit more, then I can decide what my next step should be. So I will encourage everyone to check out our website and decide for themselves. Specifically speaking, we have a book called The Product Book: How to Become a Great Product Manager, that I think is a really insightful guide for people who are curious about this world, and maybe they never had the chance to apply product management. But there are many others that you can check out. And then if nothing works for you, and you still have that question, and I can be helpful, feel free to ping me on social media. I'm very active, as Grant mentioned, especially on LinkedIn.
Grant Duncan 25:10
Yeah, you guys have a ton of resources. That's great. So if I give you a magic wand, and you had one wish to solve any product management problem, what would that be?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 25:22
Well, I'm very focused on, very passionate about education. I think that is the real equalizer. And that's what I've been trying to do my entire life. I've been a student, I'm still a student. I'm a lifelong learner, as I like to say, and in this particular case, connecting education with employment in product management is absolutely necessary. We're talking about the future of work, and how are software companies, and how everyone's working remotely, and more and more companies are offering their products and services online, but who is actually building those products? Who is actually creating this type of internal collaboration? Who is leading this type of retail transformation? Well, today that's called product management. And funny thing is that there's no school, no traditional education. It's not optimized for helping people get a job in product. So that is the problem that I've been committed to solve. And I will continue doing so.
Grant Duncan 26:23
Yeah, love that. Any last parting advice you'd want to share with listeners?
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia 26:30
No, I just want to thank you again for your time. And open my DM's for anyone in case I can be helpful. I actually committed to keep my inbox to zero on LinkedIn. So if you message me, I think you should hear back from me within a week, otherwise I wouldn't be doing my job.
Grant Duncan 26:53
That's awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on Carlos. Really appreciate your insights today, have a good one.
Thanks for listening to today's podcast, and thanks to our sponsor, Voximplant as well. If you're looking into how to improve your communication and customer engagement, check them out. Lastly, if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review and tell your friends, so that others can find it more easily. Have a great day. And feel free to reach out to me, Grant Duncan, if you have any questions you want asked in our next episode.