Clement Kao is the Founder of Product Teacher, a product management education company with the mission of creating accessible and effective resources for a global community of product managers, founders, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
Clement is a Product Teacher that offers corporate training, career coaching, self-paced courses, and other professional development services.
For more information on Product Teacher, visit https://www.productteacher.com/
Here we sit down with Clement, to know a bit more about his journey as an educator.
Q. Tell us a little more about the journey of Clement as an entrepreneur – how did you get started? What inspired you?
Clement: I started my career in software product management with no coding background, no design background, and no MBA. Yet, within just a few years, I quickly became a Principal Product Manager earning $400k+ per year working at leading tech startups.
I’m all about creating the most positive value in the world that I possibly can. I decided that the best way to do that was to give others the same opportunity for upward growth that I had, which is why I launched Product Teacher as an entrepreneur to help others succeed in product management.
My personal story: I graduated college with an undergraduate degree in cell biology, and I spent my time as an undergrad in science laboratories conducting academic research. I didn’t know how to code or how to design software, and I had no idea how the software worked or even how the internet worked. I didn’t know anything about managing projects or influencing stakeholders, and I didn’t know how to set a product vision.
But, once I broke into product management, I swiftly rose to the ranks. Within just 18 months, I was promoted from Associate Product Manager to Product Manager, then from Product Manager to Sr. Product Manager, and then from Sr. Product Manager to Group Product Manager.
During my career as a PM, I shipped 10 software products each worth millions of dollars in annual recurring revenue, and I shipped dozens of smaller products as well. Being a PM opens up so many doors for you: I’ve been invited to speak for 100+ organizations including universities and companies, I’ve written multiple books on product management, and my product management essays have been read more than 3 million times around the world.
I want other people to have the same success that I did. In fact, I want them to surpass me. I want to give everyone the foundation I wish I had when I started product management.
Why? Well, when I started as an associate product manager, I didn’t know the first thing about product management. Being a product newbie was incredibly painful for me.
I was so scared that I’d screw up and make the wrong decisions. I hated not understanding the foundations of good product management. I worried about letting down my engineering and design counterparts.
I had terrible insomnia as a newly-minted product manager due to my anxiety, so I threw myself into 16-hour workdays to make up for my lack of knowledge. I spent my free time on weekends reading product management blogs and going to PM events to learn as much as I possibly could.
I did this for months on end. It did eventually pay off… but it definitely wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Once I finally found my footing (but only after months of self-doubt and hundreds of hours of intense study), I rocketed up the ranks and slept much more soundly at night.
I don’t want others to have the same painful, time-consuming experience that I did as an entry-level PM. That’s why through Product Teacher, I’m condensing the knowledge that I’ve learned over the years, as well as the tips and tricks that I’ve shared with thousands of product managers all over the world.
Q. What’s one thing in your routine that you do consistently that has made a huge difference in your personal or business life?
Clement: The most crucial thing in my day-to-day work is to “focus on solving problems at scale.” That mindset shift has made a phenomenal difference in my business life.
It’s not just about how to solve an immediate problem at hand, but about how to solve the problem in the long run.
For example, in terms of helping people break into product management, we’ve had quite a bit of success through our one-on-one coaching sessions. We’ve had the opportunity to double some of our clients’ total compensation by enabling them to break into product management, and we’ve had the opportunity to help people get promoted into executive roles like Head of Product or VP of Product.
But, just doing that is not enough. How can we at Product Teacher help people in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, and South America, even though we’re US-based educators? How can we help them work in a dream job that they love, building compassionate products that solve real problems, all while earning 2-3x more than they used to? And to top it off, how can we do this in an effective and affordable way that doesn’t cost each person tens of thousands of dollars?
That’s why we’ve created scalable video courses that people can use for the rest of their careers. Whether they’re breaking into product management for the first time, or they’re an experienced product manager, or they’re a VP of product, our courses will help them make even more progress than before.
This focus on scalability has enabled us to create so many more success stories than if we had just focused on short-term revenue. In contrast, we could spend all of our time just doing one-on-one live coaching, and that would be an incredibly viable business already. There are tons of one-on-one PM coaches out there who can make a comfortable living by working with a handful of clients each month.
But for me, it’s not about making a comfortable living. It’s about making a real, positive impact in the world, and about creating resources that are 10x or 100x more valuable than the cost that someone pays for them.
Q. Who are your mentors and inspiration? and what knowledge or insight did they give to you that was valuable?
Clement: My biggest mentor is my father, Frank Kao. He’s been an entrepreneur ever since I was born, and he’s been successfully leading his own real estate brokerage business for decades.
To be honest, he didn’t have it easy. He graduated with a music degree in Taiwan, yet he courageously took the leap to come to the United States to provide a better future for his two children. He found that he couldn’t sustain a family on a musician’s pay, so he decided to launch his own business in real estate.
Learning English was difficult, and learning real estate on top of that was even harder. He had a rough time. But he persisted. Once he got his real estate agent license, he focused on creating more value for his clients than others did, which is why his clients love working with him.
My dad didn’t just provide market analyses or home staging advice. He went above and beyond, becoming a friend and a pillar of support for his clients. He taught his clients how to care for fruit trees in their backyard, and he gifted them his own fruit trees – a memorable gift that would keep him top of mind for decades. He did things the hard way but the right way.
During the 2008 real estate crash, my family was under significant financial strain. Yet, my dad and my mom gracefully shouldered the burden, and my brother and I were never left wanting. We grew up in a loving family that made ends meet.
My dad taught me the skill of resilience, and that skill is what has helped Product Teachers succeed. By persevering and focusing on creating so much value that people can’t possibly get anywhere else, that’s what gets you repeat customers and fans for life.
I believe in doing the hard work rather than chasing short-term profits because that’s how my dad grew his business. Empower others to succeed, and they’ll gladly recommend you to others. At the end of the day, word of mouth is what wins!
Q. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Clement: One of our most satisfying moments has been seeing our self-paced courses grow, and to see the positive impact that it’s made on product managers all over the world. We’ve had the opportunity to grow monthly revenue to $10,000+ USD in under 12 months by really doubling down on helping people succeed with affordable, high-quality, evergreen resources.
When I first started teaching product management to others, other founders in my network kept telling me that I had to focus on high-ticket items because they thought there was no way for us to stay profitable otherwise.
But honestly, I can’t bear the thought of charging someone $6,000 for a class when I could provide the same quality at a fraction of the price. As it turns out, having compassion for our students pays off.
Some of our most popular courses cost less than $20 bucks per person (cheaper than lunch for two people in San Francisco), and those courses have helped people earn 30%-70% more in their day jobs.
Once they start earning more, they’re eager to invest further in their own professional development, and they purchase additional courses from us at an affordable price, because they know that it’s worth the value.
The best part is that we’ve been profitable every single month so far, with no signs of stopping.
It’s been fantastic to receive heartfelt testimonials from students who have successfully secured PM job offers, and it’s been awesome to see our approach validated through our revenue growth.
To be honest, scalable offerings are incredibly terrifying because you’re investing all of this time upfront and you have no idea whether it’ll pay off. You spend hours coming up with course materials, you spend hours recording, you spend hours editing, you spend hours copywriting, and you’re just not sure if it’s going to land with the audience until you actually launch.
But, our slow and steady approach to creating high-quality product management resources has helped us to empower others to succeed, and in turn, our customers absolutely want to see us succeed too.
I’ve always said this: “to capture value for yourself, you must first create value for others.” Nowhere is this more true than in entrepreneurship!
Q. How do you market your business, and which tactics have been most successful?
Clement: Our LinkedIn posts have been our strongest channel thus far, as we have 35,000+ followers there who regularly engage with our in-depth free essays on product management.
Our second-most successful channel is our free email newsletter. Every week, we send curated content on product management to thousands of subscribers, and we enjoy a 40%+ open rate on our emails.
Most of our marketing is “giving away deep value for free,” and I know that some business leaders balk at this approach. But, loss-leading offerings prove to your audience that you’re an expert in the field and that your paid resources are absolutely worth the cost.
Plus, from just a purely human perspective, it’s great to find ways to help people across all income bands! Whether you can only afford to read free essays, or whether you can afford dozens of paid one-on-one coaching sessions, Product Teacher has something that’s valuable for everyone.
Q. What have been your biggest failures or challenges?
Clement: My biggest challenge has been to find ways to scale our approach to teaching others about product management.
For example, with one-on-one coaching, it’s always so awesome to help individuals succeed. I absolutely love seeing the smiles on their faces when they realize a new approach that will help them overcome a difficult challenge on the job.
But, I always wonder how we can help even more people succeed. The problem with the one-on-one approach is that others might not have the time or the money to schedule an appointment with a coach.
Or, maybe they’re in a totally different time zone, and the availability just won’t work out. For example, a significant portion of Product Teacher’s readership is in Africa and Europe, but since we’re based on Pacific time, it can be quite challenging to find time to meet live.
Every time someone books a live coaching session with me, I view it as a failure. The reason I see it that way is that it’s an instance where I failed to provide them with scalable resources that are valuable and easily accessible, where they’re not bottlenecked by my own availability.
Similarly, we’ve run a handful of high-impact training sessions for companies, including software startups and consulting firms. I push myself to think about how to provide them with highly scalable resources where they don’t need to book time with me to design the curricula or to block their product team’s calendar for multiple days for training.
I want product companies to have access to resources that they can use any day of the week, any time of the day so that their product managers are always ready to tackle any situation they encounter.
Q. How did this challenge set you up for later success?
Clement: Our relentless focus on solving problems at scale has created a flywheel where we continuously improve and strengthen our offerings.
We’ve taken the learnings that we’ve gotten from our live coaching sessions and corporate training sessions, and we’ve used it to craft additional self-paced courses, templates, and resources.
We’re just simply not happy with making one person succeed at a time. We want as many people as possible to succeed in product management.
Due to this approach, we’ve gotten rave reviews from customers who are eager to recommend us to friends, colleagues, and peers. I hope to continue focusing our work at Product Teacher on “deep value at scale.”
Q. If someone was to create a TV show about you, what would it be about and what would it be called?
Clement: I’d call this TV show “Starting Over”, with a focus on taking your learnings from a past life and applying it to new situations. I would want the narrative to empower and embolden others to take a leap and jump into new situations where they’ll thrive more than they’d expect.
I’ve personally started over multiple times. I originally started my career as a molecular cell biology researcher, then I pivoted into management consulting. From there, I pivoted again into user experience (UX) research, and I pivoted yet again into product analytics.
I pivoted yet again from product analytics into product management, and my most recent pivot was from product management into entrepreneurship. Each time I pivoted, it was in pursuit of creating more value for others.
The key underlying theme for every pivot I made was that I brought my learnings from a previous experience to accelerate my success in a new environment.
For example, as a biologist, I had learned how to think in structured hypotheses, how to gather and evaluate data, and how to quickly master new terminology. These skills were invaluable when I became a management consultant because management consultants must also think in structured hypotheses, must also gather and evaluate data, and must also quickly master new terminology.
Similarly, as a product manager, I’ve learned how to identify deep customer pain, how to quickly craft an initial solution, and how to iteratively improve the solution to solve more pain while earning more revenue and profits with each enhancement. I’ve leveraged that exact same skill set as a founder.
One last detail about the “Starting Over” TV show, I wouldn’t want the spotlight to only be on me. I’d want other inspirational stories to be featured too! So many people have started over successfully, and I want to listen to their stories and celebrate their successes.
I recommend that people critically assess their career goals every 2-3 years and decide whether they’d like to continue on their current trajectory, or whether they’d like to make a pivot. Starting over isn’t as scary or as difficult as it looks, because you’re never truly starting over from nothing.