The Carlos González de Villaumbrosia Hypothesis: Continuing to Learn Is the Best Way to Move Forward in Your Career

Carlos González de Villaumbrosia is the Founder and CEO of Product School, the global leader in product management training with a community of over one million product professionals.

In this episode of the Product Science Podcast, we talk about how Carlos teaches product management, and why reputation is everything.

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Resources

Questions We Explore in This Episode

The Carlos González de Villaumbrosia Hypothesis: Continuing to Learn Is the Best Way to Move Forward in Your CareerHow did Carlos find his way into product management? Why did Carlos go from a computer science degree to business school? What special skills did he have to get involved with Silicon Valley? What was the inspiration behind Product School? Why is it important for Product School’s instructors keep their full-time jobs? What are the gaps Carlos sees in the current educational model? What would a different model look like?

What’s the story behind Carlos’s first startup? How did he get unique speakers booked to talk at his university? What was the pitch he used? How did this teach him how to cold email? How did he spin this model to other cities and schools? What was Carlos’s second company in the education space? What lessons did he learn from these businesses? When do you know that it’s time to move on to the next project?

Why do so many startups suffer from a lack of focus? Why is focus more important than worrying about whether or not you’ve built a unicorn off the bat? What does Carlos tell students in accelerator programs? What does he say to product managers looking to move up in their careers? What are the career paths that Carlos sees?

How did Carlos fund Product School? How did he get his first instructors? What were the challenges at the start, and how did Carlos learn to delegate? What values does Product School have for their culture, and why does culture scale? Why does Carlos always keep part of his calendar open, and how does that help him be more reactive?

How did Carlos put together a board of advisors for himself when he was working outside of the traditional investor structure? What lesson about getting advice did Carlos wish he had learned earlier? How did Carlos maintain a relationship with his manager from his first internship, who is still an advisor today? Why is Carlos obsessed with reputation?

Quotes From This Episode

I believe in life-long learning. I don't understand why we need to study full-time until our mid-20's and then stop and work full-time for the rest of our lives. Click To Tweet The hardest lesson for me was focus. I was trying to solve too many problems for too many people at the same time. Click To Tweet I think that being honest with your team, especially when things are not going well, is what keeps you alive in the long term. Click To Tweet

Transcription

Holly Hester-Reilly: Hi, and welcome to The Product Science Podcast, where we’re helping startup founders and product leaders build high growth products, teams and companies through real conversations with people who have tried it and aren’t afraid to share lessons learned from failures along the way. I’m your host, Holly Hester-Reilly, founder and CEO of H2R Product Science.
This week on The Product Science Podcast, I have Carlos González de Villaumbrosia. He is the founder and CEO of Product School, the global leader in product management training with a community of over 1 million product professionals.
Carlos, welcome.
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Hey, thank you for having me.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, of course. So I always love to hear people’s stories about how they got into products to start, so how did you get started in the whole industry?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Great question, I ask that question a lot as well, because we work with a lot of [inaudible], I would say it’s quite unconventional because I come from Spain, so I actually didn’t know anything about product management or even Silicon Valley. When I was learning about tech. I studied computer science in Madrid, and back in the day, this is what 12, 13 years ago, product management wasn’t an option.
So I just knew, soon enough, that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life coding, and I kind of felt bad because you knew, I was looking around and everyone was super excited about coding, and then the university told me, well, you’re going to start as a software engineer, and if you do well, you’ll become a senior software engineer and then maybe a principal engineer, and I was the only one raising my hand saying, well, is there anything else in store? No sorry, bad luck, you just signed up for computer science, and so my alternative at that time was business school, I know it sounds aggressive, but that’s the only thing I knew, and I also wanted to be in tech, I just didn’t know how and Silicon Valley sounded like a dream to me.
So I decided to come here with all the money that I saved, I never bought a house or a car, so I just put everything in one basket and come here to study a graduate program in U C Berkeley, and as soon as I came here I had two breakthroughs: First of all, I’m not the only one who’s thinking and who comes from a technical background and thinking business. There are many other engineers, or people in general with technical backgrounds, who wanted something different and I was feeling, at least, refreshed that, okay, there are more people with the same problem, I’m not the only one. But I also met a lot of older people coming from different backgrounds, such as management consulting or finance, and they also wanted to work in tech. They also wanted to get their hands dirtier, but they were feeling very intimidated by not knowing how to code or just working with engineers.
So here we are, two different groups of people, trying to tackle the same problem from different angles, and again I still didn’t even know what product management was, because in business school in two years, full time, I didn’t have a single class on product, or even legal marketing, they did not [inaudible]. It’s crazy, you have at least a third of the class that wants to work in tech, and still, nobody’s teaching us anything about tech.
So after graduation, I continued working. I’m a founder by nature, so I started three companies. Two before product school and all of them in education space, because I kind of have a love/hate relationship with education, as you can tell, and I then realized that, oh my God, I’ve been building websites, mobile apps, building companies, but in reality, everything I learned was on the go, was just by seeking advice, talking to mentors. I was part of a couple of accelerator programs, and that was another moment I said, wow, what if the next generation, or older people, is going through the same struggles and I can accelerate that learning pattern.
That was the inspiration behind product school, which is a hybrid between engineering school and a business school, that hopefully gets the best out of both worlds, and they offer training for people who want to because product managers or grow their product careers, in a much more efficient way. So at the end of the day, I believe in life-long learning. I don’t understand why we need to study full time until our mid-20’s and then stop and work full time for the rest of our lives. So having this type of flexible model, not only allows students to learn as they grow in their careers, but also attract incredible instructors to teach, because I believe that the best teachers are actually not teachers, they are practitioners. And in our case, everyone who teaches a class is a product leader who keeps their food and job with Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, and other tech companies, and that’s where we are today.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, there’re several things you said in there that really resonated with me. I think my favorite was, why do we study full time until we are in our 20’s and then work full time? Wouldn’t it be so great if there was more of a blended model for the rest of our lives?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Right, it doesn’t sound that crazy to me. We were taught a certain mental model that we’ve been all following forever, and it seems like we have to check a box and continue to follow the path, and to be honest, this is not that risky, if you think about it. A lot of people would like to read a book, or watch Netflix, or do whatever after work, or go to a gym. What if you just block a few hours per week to learn something, the same way you can block hours to take care of your body or just have fun with friend or family.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, totally. I want to hear more about those other startups, because I love hearing the journey. What was the first startup you started?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Yes, so I’ve been a rebel by nature since the beginning, and I was actually in college, as a computer science student, and I was a company senior to tech events, but for people who don’t know tech, I was in my early 20’s back in the day, and I was sneaking out, and checking out tech leaders thinking, oh my god, this is so inspiring, I really want to learn from these people.
However, I didn’t know who these people are in real life, so that exactly what I decided to do: Bring some people that I want to learn from to my university, and I’m not talking about just business people, I brought athletes, movie directors, book authors, pretty much anyone who had an interesting story to share, and I just asked them, why don’t you come to our school to tell us what you were doing when you were our age. And they all loved it because they’re used to giving talks in from of a lot of more professionals, but not in front of kids, and we are the ones who needed that inspiration the most. And that was a magical moment because I didn’t do it for money, I just did it fun, I wanted to learn, but it also taught me how to cold email [inaudible], or get together with other people to find sponsors, to find a venue and pretty much create something out of nothing.
And this thing scaled in a very organic way, we started getting other students and other universities, that wanted to pursue the message, so we started to create local groups, first in the same city, Madrid, then in multiple cities in Spain. Then when I went to business school we did the same in Berkeley, then we opened chapters in New York and other parts of the U.S. and here we are with a huge community of rebel students, getting inspiring people in their cites to share their stories. So that was kind of the beginning of my journey. And my second company was also in the education space, as a follow-up, because I realized that doing events is nice, but at the end of the day it’s very inspiring, but what are you going to do tomorrow?
It was very clear other people had this moment, but then when they went back their own lives and they couldn’t implement some of the tactics that they probably heard the day before. So I decided to create a second company as an education market place, similar to what today is Udemy.com or even YouTube, just a place where anyone can teach anything. Our angle was to do this is Spanish and Portuguese, to tackle, not just Spain and Portugal, but also the entire Latin-American market. And it was a fascinating journey… that’s what I did after business school, because I did this for profit, I learned how to raise money to really pay payroll, we were part of three accelerated products with that company back in the day, so one in Europe, then in Chile, Latin-America, and then I came back to the U.S. to be part of 500 startups, so I always say that I’m hyper accelerated.
Holly Hester-Reilly: So tell us more about some of the things that you learned with that business. What problem did it solve for people, and were there any lessons you learned along the way were you realized, oh, actually we kind of has to change our direction a little bit?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: The hardest lesson for me was focus. I was trying to solve too many problems for too many people at the same time. So we created a marketplace to teach anything to anyone, almost like YouTube but for education, without the videos about cats and so on. But at the end of the day, we are a small startup and we don’t have unlimited resources, so it’s really hard to be the best at more than a few things. So I decided, I said look, this was a great learning experience, it was for almost three years in which we did the whole Silicon Valley busy thing, or raising money, growing fast, figuring out how to monetize later, obviously make some customers happy, but not everyone. And then we have to go from B2C model, more towards a B2B profitable model. And then when that company was on track it wasn’t going to be the unicorn that I wish it was, I decided to start my next thing which is Product School.
And I was very clear with Product School, I knew that, first of all, I has to be very specific. I want to solve one problem to one person, and then hopefully it grows from there, but my ambition shouldn’t be that this has to be a unicorn from the beginning. This has to be a real thing for a few people that they like, and then we’ll see. I also didn’t want to spend my life pitching PowerPoints to investors. That was a choice that makes me happier to be connected to the customer and to the product, so that was another thing that I decided to do since the beginning, and I can’t help it, I like growth as well and to think as things as products, so as soon as we see some signs of traction, I also wanted to grow, so six years forward now we have a community of over 1 million product professionals, we’ve graduated to over 10,000 product people from around the world. But those initial concepts were literally the opposite of what I did with my previous company.
Holly Hester-Reilly: That’s really interesting to hear, so I think a lot of products people and a lot of startup founders especially, have a lot of trouble with focus. There’s a lot of, lets solve all these problems, and we need a big market, so we need to solve this problem for this person and this problem for this person, or it won’t be big enough. And I think your story really illustrated that the focus is what get you to the place where you can grow into different areas, where you can expand into different regions of the country or the globe, and go that way. That’s really great. When you were working with the startup before Product School, what was that startup called?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: It was called Floqq. F-L-O-Q-Q, sort of like a flock of birds.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Okay, got it, Floqq. So when you were doing Floqq, what was the size of the engineering and product team?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: At largest we were 35 people, the engineering team was at least 50%.
Holly Hester-Reilly: So did you have any experiences in that? Did you notice how the focus affected the engineers and what kind of impact that had on their ability to develop the product?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Absolutely, and I was wearing a hat of the Product Manager, in addition to other hats at the startup, and I realized that, that lack of focus made the engineers nervous, because we would go from aha moment to, what we thought was another aha moment, but really we thought having enough data or traction to prove some of those hypothesizes, and that placed the pressure of running out of money. It can be good because it keeps you hungry and works hard, but at the same time it also adds an additional level of unhealthy pressure in my case, and also for part of my team because as a founder sometimes, first of all you have access to the entire picture, you know exactly what’s going on, on the engineering front but also on the [inaudible] front.
And you also have a lot of opportunities because, to be fair, I’ve seen a lot of founders who end up becoming product manages, who end up building another company, they build an incredible network of other founders, but for me is that three or six month run rate, it’s okay, it’s fine. For other people when I was showing them it was like, oh my god, you only have six months, and what if it doesn’t take off?
So I could also tell how the expectations sometimes are misaligned, and it makes sense because as a founder you else have higher upside, you keep more of the equity, so it really taught me a lot about personal dynamics and communication and manage expectations. I think that was the biggest lesson, how to work with people beyond the tech stack that you care using for building the particular product.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Cool, so what do you tell founders today who are struggling with that as well? Have you worked with founders find themselves in those shoes?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Yes, and I’m actually now mentoring other founders through some of the [inaudible] as a student or as a founder, and I don’t claim to have all the answers, I always talk from experience, so I’ll say, hey, I’m not bringing the typical Silicon Valley playbook and that was at least something to say because honestly I’m under a lot of pressure as well when people harass me, how much money have you raised? How big is your team? It’s almost like a way to qualify you, oh, are you a teacher? Well first of all, there’s nothing wrong with being a teacher, but also there’s nothing wrong with not raising money, there’s nothing wrong with having a small team. It’s all about what makes you happy, when I think I try to go to that fundamentals when I see founders running that rat race, chasing money sometimes.
And then I talk about reputation because, yes, this journey is long and I’m only at the beginning of my life journey, but still, a lot of people who are working with me today started working with me two companies ago, maybe as interns and some of the VC’s that invested in me are friends now and they connected me with all their people, not necessarily VC’s or I also help other people in my company to start their own businesses, so I know it’s not easy, but I think that being honest with your team, especially when things are not going well, is what keeps you alive in the long term. I’ve also seen too many founders trying to take advantage of the situation or not being fair to team or VC’s, and in those times you also see that you face off with other people.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, do you think that translates as well to caring about your reputation as a product manager inside a company, even if you’re not a founder?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: I think there’s so much overlap between product people and founders, especially when our founder starts a company because at the very beginning company equals product. And then of course as the company grows it’s more than that, so yes, I work with a lot of PM’s who end up working as founders. I work with a lot of founders who at some point decide to join larger organizations as PM’s. So yeah, that mindset this as very similar in a way because you are building something. You can always decide if you want to build it for yourself or for somebody else.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, then let’s talk a little bit more about some of the lessons you learned along the way with Product School. So it sounds like you already had a lot of hard lessons before you even started, which probably gave you a lot of focus. Tell us more about that journey, you mentioned that you didn’t want to be in the VC rat race, so did you go in a different direction with how to find it?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Yes, so I had a small exit[inaudible] company when we ended up making it profitable, so some of our VCs bought the founding team out and with that little money, I was able to reinvest into my next thing. I cannot help it. I was supposed to take two months off to figure out what to do, but two weeks after, I was already strategizing on building and doing things. And so that allowed me to at least start without having to spend too much time asking for money. And I did something that I could build myself as a product person with over ten years of experience. I was also the first instructor. I love teaching and so I said okay, so I’m going to build the first curriculum. I’m going to be the first instructor. I’m going to find the first ten students, and I’m going to be self-sufficient. And then that will give me options, and then we can always decide what else we can do.
So that’s exactly how I started. All the classes I said before were weeknights or weekends, so I almost had two full-time jobs because I was working Monday through Friday, as you said, and then also on nights and on weekends I was teaching those classes. And I loved it. I really do because you connect with your people in a very authentic way. It’s not just a five minute conversation. You are sharing two months of their journey, and they come to you because they want to get a job, or they want to get a promotion. So I really try to do my very best from the teaching standpoint to the chef standpoint, I would bring these literally to the classes.
Back in the day out first classes were in person in San Francisco, and we were renting offices and coworking spaces because I also didn’t want to have any long-term debt or anything. My office was literally a laptop. I convinced some of my friends who work as PNs at Google, Facebook, and other cool companies in Silicon Valley to first work as guest speakers with me then eventually start leading their own classes. And that allowed me to focus more on growth. Like the common theme behind everything that I’ve done is to invest in growth. I believe in long-term. I always say as long as you can pay your bills and be save, but my goal was never to have a lifestyle business, or to just cash out. It was to really build something organically that as soon as they saw return put it back into the community so we can continue growing.
I believe that what we are doing is good, and I have no rush to leave. I think this is my [inaudible] in the future to be honest.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Well it’s something that you’re very passionate about I can tell. So what are some of the difficult points that you experienced on that journey, or were there times when you weren’t sure if you were going to keep going or when you had to face a big decision and how did you handle it?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Well first I think there’s a lot of [inaudible] under pressure because of the environment. [inaudible] People always asking me about how much money did you raise? How big is your team? And did you see the news? So not kind of living in that environment without playing that game, it’s already pressure in itself, but also, yes, just taking about the business for me it was really hard to delegate that to the next instructor. Because it got to a point where I really really knew what I was doing.
I was helping people get jobs and I know where I would go all … and take copies with people if they needed it. It as more than just a teacher/student relationship. So how can I pass that on to someone who’s going to care as much as I do for these students? It was really hard for me, and it took probably longer than it should. At least the first year, I did absolutely everything myself. So that also forced me to create processes and document things and still be there as an auditor, but keeping quality high, I think was the underlying thing here. It’s everything.
I don’t want to sacrifice quality as we grow. So that thing that I just said about me delegating is what I’m facing today when we’re trying to open a new market or continue growing at a different scale. Because now there are many more people teaching. I mean, I don’t teach anymore, unfortunately, because I really love it. I still participate sometimes as a guest speaker. I mentor some students. But I don’t lead any of the cohorts that we run, but we have at least 25 instructors every week teaching in [inaudible], and so we need to have these type of processes. And I think that building that culture, that quality is one of the values in our culture, it was so core to me, that I, it stayed part of the company’s culture. And I hope that we can continue creating that type of culture as we scale, and it’s not reliant on the founder.
Think the very beginning founder culture is a company’s culture for good of for worse, but it gets to a point where we’re 50 people full-time class, or the instructors, where it’s not about me anymore. This is not Carlos School; this is really Product School. So how do you really make sure that you bring on board, not just instructors but also team members full-time that embrace part of the culture. They don’t need to say yes to everything in terms of shaping for the better.
Holly Hester-Reilly: So how do you make sure that you’re doing that?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: I [inaudible] a lot. So this is one of the very few functions that I personally do, recruiting. I obviously, I do the entire cycle, but I am part of the final interview process, which is just pure culture effect. When I talk to a candidate, I’m already assuming that this person has been approved by other hiring managers, and they know what they’re supposed to know.
It’s more about what they think about the future. And I always tell them about, I’m not here to interview you, even though obviously, it is an interview. But I try to be as honest as possible and just talk about what you what. Because the worst thing that can happen is that a few months from now, then we realize that this is not going to work out. At the end of the day, we’re not that big yet. And everything you introduce a new person into a team, it doesn’t matter if it’s a remote team, it’s a big part and makes a big impact. And it’s part of the journey for a lot other people, create connections, and it can really change the trajectory of your business for good or for bad. So I try to make them aware of this, not to scare them but make them feel that you’re going to make an impact.
This is not what large companies tell you, oh. Like we’ll start up within a startup, right? No. This is a real startup, and maybe when we’re 5000 people, there are other things, but we’re 50. We all know everyone by their name. So if this feels like a fit, then let’s keep talking, but if this is not enough or too much for you, then that’s fine. Let’s all stop here.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. So you mentioned how hard it was to delegate as well. What are some of the lessons you learned along the way about doing it even through it’s hard? How do you do that?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Well there’s no way around it. That’s number one. [inaudible] and looking back I wish I had looked at those things earlier. At the same time, I’m happy that I was able to keep up with the quality, but it’s true that we are also presenting people with the opportunity to learn what’s in your mind. So I’m asking that the process if perfect today, but definitely we have stronger process around delegation and I have other people who can raise their hand and say, hey, I’ve got this. Like enough is enough. So I appreciate having type of pushback sometimes, because as a founder I get very obsessive about certain things, especially the ones I care the most about or I think that I’m good at or really proud of. Go to market is what I love, so bringing strong leaders that I can really trust, and I spend a lot of time actually building that relationship to make sure that I can trust is a huge lesson learned for me. And obviously when I hire someone good, I’m thinking, oh my god, I which you were here earlier.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Are you at the point where you also help other people with their delegation skills?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: I try to. The same way I mentor aspiring PMs or existing PMs, I try to keep part of my agenda open to be proactive, I mean reactive, because I also made that mistake in the past of really packing my calendar to recite exactly what I have to do today, tomorrow, and almost the entire week. And while that could make me productive on paper, that would make me blind especially because there are other people who need me, or might need me. So I try to keep a better balance now 50/50 where the absolute things that I can do that I cannot delegate with keeping some flexibility for people to have a one-on-one, yes listen to them to be part of certain meetings. So I try not to impose other things so it doesn’t feel like I’m micromanaging, but I try to spend time, yes, of serving and asking questions. And if I see an opportunity to help and the other person is receptive, absolutely.
And sometimes the help doesn’t mean, oh, Carlos is coming here to give me a piece … I don’t have a crystal ball, or my silver bullet to say this is exactly what you have to do. But I try to be more of a resource finder, so if I don’t have the answer I can find someone in my network who might help and I think I’m getting good at that. Now I am also [inaudible] those types of relationships because instead of saying, oh, I need to give you the answer, no, no. Let me check with triple-check with people. Even if I think I have the answer, I think it’s so healthy to run certain ideas by people within the company, but also outside the company.
In our case, particularly, I also seek advice. When I started, I didn’t have a board, because since we didn’t have investors, technically we didn’t need a board. I realized that this is not just for investors. This is for us. And the beautiful thing about not having investors is that when I create a presentation for advisors, I don’t need to set a dream. I can be perfectly honest, because at the end of the day I’m responsible for this and I’m applying my own pressure. So the same way I try to be resourceful for others, I seek advice and I have no problem asking.
Holly Hester-Reilly: That’s great. So how did you go about putting together a board of advisors for yourself when it wasn’t that traditional investor structure.
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: So I didn’t do it for the first years until we moved to a certain size that we realized that we didn’t know the answers to a lot of things beyond just products. So I would say, again, that I wish I had done this earlier, first of all. But it’s also an interesting journey, because hiring an advisor is not just hiring someone for coffee, to give you one or two hours of their time. It’s really engaging a relationship. You have to on-board this person properly. You want to make sure this person really understands and cares about the business. Yes, you compensate them, but at the end of the day, a lot of the advisors, or the best ones I’ve seen, they do it because they love the founder or the team behind the product. It’s not just because of the equity or the cash. I’m talking about this startup level. It’s not the advisors at public companies.
So I realize that it might hurt. And I treat it like any other hiring process. And it took me time, and actually it ended up working and we have advisors who I know for years maybe we knew in a different capacity. For example, my first internship, my manager there is now my advisor in marketing. He’s a person who actually showed me what product management is. And it’s incredible that 10 years after we’re still working together. This is because we have a really good time working and learning from each other. So I’m a big fan of keeping relationships, not just of keeping the commercial interests, just because it’s also your reputation. You never know. If you’re here for the long term, you really need to do the right thing. And it’s all about really being honest with people.
Holly Hester-Reilly: That’s fantastic. Did you find any advisors who were people you didn’t know already and how did you go about finding them?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Yes. So I really, I’m still working on the level of sort of asking for help. And obviously I go to my first degree network first, but in some cases they also don’t know all the answers and they can connect me with other people that they trust. So really investing time in coming up and asking for advice with these people and asking for an additional connection, of course, making sure that you are going to give value. It’s not just that you’re asking for help and not following up with them. I’m very strict with that. Like if someone connects me with another person, I definitely reply first within 12 hours. I make myself available. I follow up after that meeting, I make sure to say thank you to the person who made the introduction.
I think closing the loop, that’s how I call it. It’s very important, saying thank you at the end interaction. Just double-check that everyone understands. It might sound like a waste of time for some people, but it’s absolutely critical especially now that we don’t have the opportunity to handle it in person. And it’s a learning process and some of the advisors that I had 5 years ago don’t work for what I need today, and I think that’s also fine. It’s important to recognize that the same in startups, when you hire people not everyone is going to continue the journey with you forever. When you engage with an advisor, it’s fair to have those conversations [inaudible] to know exactly what the expectations are because at least in my case, I also had to either remove advisors, or add new ones and still manage to be on good terms with everyone.
Because it’s not about, let’s find another advisor. No. It’s really trying to get to an understanding because you never know if you will have to advise that person in the future, if that person will commit to advise you later, or if there’s a mutual friend that … I’m obsessed with reputation much more than every. I think that maybe that’s because I’m growing up. I also have two kids, so I try to …
Holly Hester-Reilly: I thought I heard one in the background at one point. How old are your kids?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: One and three.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Oh. Beautiful. So you were saying that you’re growing. Maybe it’s because you’re growing up but this matters a lot to you. How do you think, I’m curious now, how do you think the kids have affected you. Have they affected how you do your work?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: So the same way I told you in Product School I learned focus, like how pick a specific problem and hopefully solve it for a very few group of people, first when I got married, I had to learn to split my time. Before I was all about work. Everything’s a distraction. I’m here to hassle, and I learned the hard way that you can also have to be happy, and working more doesn’t really make you more productive. Sounds like a cliché, but I actually learned it the hard way. So the next iteration was when I had one kid, and then two kids just breaks all the processes for me. So I’m excited for me to pick those problems that I need to tackle because I just don’t have as much time as I used to.
Holly Hester-Reilly: I’m laughing because I also have two kids too. So I’m like, ah yeah. Two kids broke all the processes. Do you feel like now that you have more reason for that balance. Is that a net positive for you?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Definitely. I’ve never been happier and healthier. It makes me, now that I have to think about other people that are around me, not claiming to have the secret formula by any means, but at least it pushes me to be more productive at work, because I just don’t have a plan B, I just can’t procrastinate. But also it makes me try to be more present when I’m not at work because I know that this time if precious. So I think that I’m learning how to, I know in product management we all say you have to learn how to say no. Well that’s on steroids as well.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Absolutely. That’s awesome. Are there any other things that you want to share? Whether it’s for product managers? I mean I guess we haven’t really touched too much on product managers trying to get promotions and things like that, but it’s a part of what you help people with, right? So how do you do that?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: You know what’s really interesting, that when I started 6 years ago, a lot of people asked me, what’s product management. Is this product management, or is this a coding bootcamp thing? You don’t code, or how does this work? There was a lot of misconceptions and still are, but now I think the market has accepted this concept and recognizes it, the need to have people as generalists in tech, and way beyond tech. Because at the end of the day, we’re using products. And it’s not just for high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, banks, and some of these companies, every company that want to play needs some type of software to collaborate. So I think that timing helped us a lot to educate that market. But at the end of the day we [inaudible] and trying to create or grow that category.
Now there’s much more education resource around [inaudible]. It’s not just about, oh, how do I get product management job? It’s also, well I got my product management job, now what? That’s after I question that I think part of the solution is, I’m kind of glad to hear, is that product now is it’s own function. Before you used to report to marketing or maybe technology to a CMO or to a CTO. Now we see the roll of the CPO, chief product officer. We direct report to the CEO. And in many cases, the CEO is actually a product person, someone was working as a [inaudible] helps and creates a product culture within an organization. So I’ve seen three paths basically just to keep it simple.
One is [inaudible]. I’ve seen PMs becoming founders, founders becoming PMs. There’s no right or wrong order here. That’s on the corporate ladder. I’ve seen too main paths. One if the individual contributor path, and the other one is the people manager path. So for individual contributors, and I’m glad to see that now there are more principle product managers with product leads that are being compensated as much as a group product manager for example. And I think that’s very important because I made that mistake with engineers, promoting a software to a CTO when a really good IC and making a really bad manager. Now at least I see companies that have the opportunity to give good PMs the chance to grow and get rewards for that without feeling the pressure of, oh my god, now I cannot be in the wings. Now I don’t have to start managing people if I don’t want to.
So that’s one option, but the people manager option is the one that we are sending. The group project manager eventually VP of product, chief product officer, or CEO.
Holly Hester-Reilly: So how do you help people who are looking to move up that pathway?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: The first, we have three certifications. The first one if corporate manager certificate focused on inspiring PMs to get that first PM job. That’s very tactical. So we use a lot of the frameworks and teach the hard skills that people need to do the job today. How to read a roadmap, how to run a user interview testing, and so on. But it gets to a point, once you get that down that there’s a huge disconnection between hard and soft skills. So the other two courses we called Product Leader and Product Executive certificates are all about those soft skills. Really, the problems that we discussed in the beginning, interpersonal dynamics, how do you communicate, how do you earn that trust or that respect, especially because you are not technically the manager or engineer or designers. And then there are other things, I wouldn’t call it hard skills, but things that you can learn about how to set up a product strategy.
And I think it’s very important for folks who cannot come back to school, that don’t feel that, oh my god, now I’m a student and people are going to look down on me. Actually not. You are here to train your brain the same way you train your body and this is not going to stop you from anything, and it’s a good thing. We don’t know all the answers, especially as we grow up in our career. I always joke that the very beginning, we’re always asking for what is the playbook? Then it gets to a point where, and here’s the playbook. And then as you grow even more, you’re like, okay, there’s no playbook. How you we do this together? So coming with that type of attitude and low ego is very important if you really want to be a good people manager.
Holly Hester-Reilly: I love it. That’s fantastic. And I agree, those soft skills really make the difference when you’re going up in the career ladder. That’s what ends up mattering a lot there. Do you have any favorite advice that you like to give people who are trying to go up in their product careers?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Yes. So for starters, I always say build something. Because there’s never been a better time in history to build something. Now you don’t need to be a software engineer, or PHC. You don’t need to know how to code, basically. There’s a lot of good tools out there, but for people who are trying to lead, what I say is lead. Don’t ask for permission. I’ve seen this happening a lot. When I give promotions, and I’ve seen other managers the same, the person who gets the promotion is usually someone who’s been active as a leader before the title. Someone who’s been looking for those pockets of opportunity to help someone. Or even if that person doesn’t have the answer, he’s been the resourceful person who finds someone who does have the answer.
So if that’s the people that I’m looking for, that’s the people that really other people look at too. So yes, it would be great to have the official authority, but before you need to earn that respect and that can only be done by you own action. So don’t ask for permission. Leaders lead.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Absolutely. So the final thing that I want to ask is just where can people find you and find Product School?
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Yes. Well I’m active on social media, especially on LinkedIn. My last name is so complicated, so I hope you can write it down after, but if not, just search Carlos Product School, and you will find me there. And of course, for our company just go to productschool.com. I’m very happy we’ve got that domain early on.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Awesome. All right, well thank you so much for your time today. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you, Carlos.
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia: Same here. Bye, bye.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Bye.
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