10 Lessons From My Journey as a Product Leader and Creator
Product leaders and creators have more in common than you think
Level up your product and creator skills in just 5 min a week. Join 50,000+ readers:
Today, I want to share 10 lessons from my journey as a product leader and creator.
Some of these lessons took me years to learn through trial and error.
I hope that you apply them to become a great product leader and build a thriving creator business.
Lessons as a product leader
1. Build community to build better product
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.
Learn how to build community and you’ll be known in your company as a customer-obsessed product leader.
For more, see my post on community-led product development.
2. Apply the PSHE framework to look up and around
PM career ladders have always felt like a game of checking the boxes to me. The PSHE framework by Shishir (CEO of Coda) simplifies 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. The market moves fast and 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 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 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.
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 climbing the ladder. 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.
Lessons as a creator
1. Work backward from the outcome
Creators need to work backward 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.
For more, see my post on the #1 equation for making irresistible products.
2. Teach, entertain, understand
Creators need to address core needs and create emotions to go viral.
All of my most viral tweets meet one of the needs below:
Teach me: “OH now I get it.”
e.g., How to make great decisions async
Entertain me: “LOL that’s funny,” | “WOW that’s wild.”
e.g., Forbes 30 under 30
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 post on social everyday and publish a newsletter post every 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 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 of having an audience comes from the DMs.
I made more friends online than in real life this year. Here’s how I build connections 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).
I did many amazing interviews with product leaders from making these connections.
See my interview with Kaz Nejatian (COO Shopify) as an example.
5. Community is a full-time job
I started this post by saying you can be a great product leader and build a thriving creator business at the same time. But there’s one exception:
Building community is a full-time commitment.
A great community requires ongoing engagement from a core group of people. It’s a lot of work to engage people, host events, and moderate conversations.
The best communities that I’m part of 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.
What does success look like to you?
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.
I’ll leave you with this. Society has taught us to chase money, fame, and status.
But for me, success means spending 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 you amazing success and thanks again for being a subscriber.
Upgrade to paid to get your outcomes faster
To level up your product and creator skills faster, consider upgrading to paid.
Free subscribers get:
One issue every Wednesday.
Paid subscribers also get full access to:
💡 Subscriber-only posts, interview recordings, and templates.
🤝 Private discussion threads to connect with me directly.