Clement Kao


Through Product Teacher, Clement Kao serves as a career coach to product managers and product leaders all over the world. He draws on his prior experience as a Principal Product Manager, where he shipped 10 different multi-million dollar products within 5 years.

How will coaching shape the future of product over the next 5-10 years?

As more and more organizations embrace digital products and reposition their product teams as central to their success, product leaders and product managers will need to answer hard questions, overcome novel challenges, and make difficult tradeoffs. To that end, product leaders and product managers can no longer solely rely on peers or informal mentors. They will seek external coaches whose full-time focus is on empowering these product professionals to succeed in a variety of novel situations. Product coaches are trusted authorities who provide insight and perspective on the toughest product challenges that leaders face. These coaches are responsible for identifying action plans, setting stretch goals, creating sustainable accountability systems, and cultivating safe spaces for their clients to engage in candid self-reflection. The best product coaches don’t simply provide short-term solutions; rather, in partnership with the product professionals they serve, they jointly craft long-term roadmaps, cultures, processes, and capabilities. Product coaches provide their clients with impactful skill sets and frameworks that clients likely would not have obtained on their own. Over the next 5-10 years, product coaches will evolve from “a professional development cost” into “a strategic investment into the future of the company.” Companies who thoughtfully delegate upskilling to full-time product coaches will reap the rewards of stronger employee retention, more cohesive ways of working, and more effective products - ultimately leading to improved revenues and profit margins. As product coaching gains traction, some of the most talented product managers in the world will find that they can unlock deeper positive impact by serving as a coach, rather than as a chief product officer. With this new career path in play, we can expect to see an exponential increase in innovation as product coaches cross-pollinate best practices across leading tech companies and fast-growing startups. Coaching will leave its mark on the product management ecosystem. I’m excited to see the trajectory of product coaching in the coming years.

What are some of the most effective frameworks you've used when coaching leaders in your area?

In my coaching practice, I use five key frameworks to empower leaders to unlock latent potential and create outsized impact within their organizations. The first framework is “treat colleagues as customers.” While many product managers are deeply empathetic to the needs of their customers, they sometimes forget to build this same level of empathy with their colleagues. I’ve found that much of the misalignment that happens within a product organization evaporates away when product managers take the time to listen to their cross-functional counterparts and address their pain points, needs, fears, and goals. The second framework is “ship cultures, not products.” Too frequently, product managers assume that the end goal is to ship products rather than to build robust cultures. A solid culture will consistently generate solid products, whereas shipping products as one-off initiatives fails to build crucial cross-functional muscle within the organization. The third framework is “experiment, learn, and iterate.” Many product managers hold an implicit assumption that there’s only one right way to tackle a given problem. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The best product managers understand that context is king, and that there are no silver bullets. They launch new products and new processes, not as the end goal, but rather as a forcing function that enables them to iterate towards a more resilient and customer-centric product culture that creates sustainable profits. The fourth framework is “reframe failure as learning opportunities.” Too often, product leaders hold themselves up to punishingly high standards that then trigger chronic stress and anxiety. I work with clients to embrace a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset, and to treat their own careers as products: there are no perfect products, only products that found product/market fit by rapidly iterating towards solving deep pain. When product leaders successfully reframe perceived weaknesses as growth opportunities instead, they bring confident humility to the table and inspire others to commit to long-term growth, collaboration, and teamwork. The fifth framework I teach is “create value for others before capturing value for yourself.” Through the lens of servant leadership, product leaders can swiftly identify and resolve unaddressed high-impact pain points. Product management is the pinnacle of both people management and problem management, and many product leaders run into day-to-day frustrations in coordinating efforts across various parties. When these obstacles appear, I gently nudge product leaders to consider how these obstacles are caused by the underlying unaddressed needs that their customers, stakeholders, executives, and direct reports have. By using these needs as a compass, product leaders can successfully negotiate win-win outcomes for all parties involved. These five frameworks have enabled me to deliver outsized impact to my clients. See their testimonials here:

What's your best advice for product managers looking to increase their impact?

The best way to amplify your impact as a product manager is to keep this principle in mind: “to capture value for yourself, you must first create value for others.” This principle applies to every situation that you’ll encounter as a PM. When working with designers and engineers, take the time to understand what pains and headaches they have. What processes can you ship that will empower them to do better work? Which frictions can you eliminate for them? What knowledge can you provide them so they feel confident, motivated, and aligned? By creating value for your designers and engineers, they will in turn ship better products faster, enabling you to drive business impact. When working with cross-functional stakeholders (e.g. sales, marketing, customer success, legal/compliance, etc.), don’t treat them as obstacles. Take the time to interview them as though they were your customers, and empathize with them. What are their goals? What’s their biggest nightmare? What pain points have they experienced in working with product managers? By internalizing their needs and playing the role of “servant leader”, you prevent misalignment, reduce friction, and enable them to amplify the positive impact of your products. If you want to play a more strategic role as a product manager, simply asking for a promotion is not the right path forward. Instead, bring your curiosity to the table: find out which unresolved problems are causing headaches for your manager and/or for your executive team. Then, proactively tackle those problems on their behalf. Leaders notice the star players who unblock problems for them, and they’re eager to delegate work to highly-competent product managers.

Anything we should know about you as a thought leader in the area of product:

I’ve written multiple books and best-practice guides about product management, totaling 300+ publications over the last 5 years. My work has been read more than 3 million times, and I’ve received deep gratitude from my readers for addressing their needs and providing them with guidance. I’m honored to serve as “the mentor they never had” and to close the gaps in product management education. My contributions as a product management thought leader have been featured by top tech companies, including Amplitude, Mixpanel, Gainsight, Coda, Appcues, and Mind the Product. I’ve had the honor of receiving the Product 50 award (Amplitude, VentureBeat, G2), the Ones to Watch in Product-Led Growth award (Product-Led Alliance, Gainsight), and the Year in Review Leader award (DISQO). I have also served as a guest lecturer and speaker at leading universities like UC Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, York, and Indian Institute of Management Visakhapatnam. Outside of my direct contributions to the field of product management, I am also an ardent advocate for diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Through Product Teacher’s ongoing interview series “Diversity in Product”, we’re giving historically underrepresented populations a voice in the global conversation around product management. I’m humbled to share that we’ve featured the experiences and perspectives of more than a dozen product leaders from all over the world, who self-identify as BIPOC, women, LGBTQIA, and non-binary. Furthermore, as part of this program, we also donate product management educational materials and resources to the underserved, including aspiring product managers in Nigeria, Vietnam, Kenya, and Ukraine.