2022 Year in Review: 10 Lessons From My Journey as a Creator and Product Leader
Creators and product leaders have more in common than you think
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For my last post of the year, I want to share 10 lessons from my journey as a creator and a product leader.
Many of the lessons below I learned the hard way. I hope you find them valuable as you make plans for 2023.
Lessons as a creator
Here’s what I learned as a creator:
1. Work backwards from the outcome
Creators need to work backwards from a specific outcome that their customers want.
Who is your customer?
Justin’s customer is aspiring solopreneurs.
What’s their biggest pain point?
Solopreneurs need actionable tips on how to build an internet business.
What’s the most important customer benefit/outcome?
Help solopreneurs launch, grow, and monetize their internet business.
If you don’t have crisp answers to these questions, experiment until you find out.
2. Teach, entertain, understand
Creators need to address core needs and create emotion to go viral.
All of my most viral tweets meet one of the needs below:
Understand me: “FINALLY someone said what I feel.”
e.g., Simple tech migration
But going viral is overrated, because…
3. Consistency > Going viral
Creators need to build a content system that helps them publish consistently.
I tweet almost everyday and publish a newsletter post every two weeks. Here's how I stay consistent despite having a full time job and 2 kids:
I first write a long-form newsletter post.
e.g., My PM interview with Ethan Evans, ex-Amazon VP.
I break up that post up into 5+ short-form social content.
e.g., A tweet with an excerpt on how Ethan recovered after getting laid off.
I schedule my social content weeks in advance.
The above process helps me avoid the "staring at the blank page" problem.
4. Connection > audience
80% of the value from having an audience comes from the DMs.
I made more friends online than in real life this year. Here’s how I build connection online with people I respect:
I reply to their social posts.
I DM them and provide value.
I ask for an intro call and take notes in a personal CRM (Notion).
5. Community is a full time job
Building a thriving community is a big commitment.
I built a 6,000 person crypto community and then downsized it to 60 people. Along the way, I learned that a great community requires:
A mission that you believe in. Unfortunately, I’ve become more cynical about crypto due to the non-stop scams (I still believe in some NFT use cases).
Commitment from a small group of people. It’s alot of work to engage people, host events, and moderate conversations.
The best communities that I’m part of (e.g., Lenny Rachitsky and Daniel Vassallo) all meet the criteria above. If you’re not ready to make the commitment, I encourage you to engage your followers on social as a more lightweight way to build community.
Lessons as a product leader
This year, I scaled a new product from to millions of users with a great team at Reddit. But then the economy crashed and many people were impacted. I started looking for a new job and am lucky to have found one building for creators that I’m really excited about (more on the job in a future post).
Here’s what I learned as a product leader:
1. Build community to build better product
Different PMs excel in different functions. For me, I can’t build good products if I can’t talk to customers on a regular basis and ideally, become the customer.
Community building is a superpower that most PMs are not investing in. Here’s how you can build one for your product:
Create a community. Invite interested customers to join.
Build in public. Talk to customers about their pain points and share product ideas and designs transparently.
Don’t just talk about the product. Talk to customers about their lives and make time to hang out. Community is one of the best ways to build customer empathy.
For more, see my post on community-led product development.
2. Apply the PSHE framework to look up and around
I never liked PM career ladders because they feel like a game of checking the boxes.
The PSHE framework by Shishir (CEO of Coda) simplies a PM’s career journey:
PSHE stands for problem, solution, how to execute, and execute. As PMs become more experienced, they need to start thinking about what problems and solutions the company should be working on instead of just getting shit done.
A mistake that PMs make is being too focused on their product. Given the current economy, a product might no longer be the right solution for the new problems that the company is facing.
PMs (and anyone who’s building products) should look up and around. Speak up if you think you’ve been given the wrong problem to solve or the wrong solution to execute on to avoid getting surprised.
For more, see my thread on the PSHE framework.
3. Find your zone of genius
Over 100,000 employees have been laid off from tech companies already.
This year, I learned how important it is to find and leverage my zone of genius:
Zone of genius: Things you’re great at and and love so much that time flies by.
e.g., For me, an example is building for creators and building communities.
Zone of excellence: Things you’re great at but don’t love doing.
e.g., For me, an example is running growth experiments.
I was able to quickly land a great job because I focused my search on companies that wanted my zone of genius and track record for creators and community building.
For more, see my post on how to land a great job in the tech recession.
4. The ladder is not the only career path for PMs
The default PM career ladder is: PM → Senior PM → GPM → Director → VP. But not everyone wants to manage a large org.
There are many paths to success for product leaders beyond climb the ladder (thanks to Shreyas’ course). For example, I learned to not always take the job with the fancier title. There are other factors (e.g., impact, scope, money) that are worth considering.
5. Creator and employee can be win-win
Many successful creators are also excellent employees.
Some employers are wary of employees who also create content online. Here’s my (admittedly biased) point of view:
You don’t have to be a creator to succeed as an employee. Many of the best product leaders that I know have built a strong reputation with key people who then refer them to exciting roles at great companies.
That being said, creators can help the company that they work for. I’ve personally used my audience to recruit talent, find customers, and open doors for companies.
Companies should be more open. Creators should be free to pursue their interests as long as they do their core job well as employees.
Companies and creators should look for the win-win.
What does success look like to you in 2023?
On Christmas day, my 1-year old daughter woke up with a barking cough and gasping breaths. We drove her to the ER where she was diagnosed with croup, a viral infection that constrains kids’ upper airways and makes it hard for them to breathe.
She’s fine now but this scare reminded me of what’s truly important in life. Too often, we only set goals for our careers. Instead, I encourage you to have a broader definition of success that includes:
The above is how I’d like to think my priorities are ranked. But if I were to be honest, I often get antsy when I spend a whole day with my family without thinking about work or creating content. I need to practice what I preach more in 2023.
I’ll leave you with this. Society has taught us to chase things like money, fame, and status.
But for me, success means being able to spend time on what I want, with who I want, when I want.
I think that’s the best way to create cherished memories that last a lifetime. I wish everyone who’s reading this an amazing 2023.
If you’ve read this far, I’ve spent 50+ hours during the break to prepare my live course for new and aspiring product managers (January 6-8).
Use the code EARLYBIRDPM to get $100 off.