Your product, your community, your emotional wheels

About This Episode

Good product managers are customer-obsessed. They build products and features that will solve their customers' problems. But Peter Yang from Reddit argues that great product managers focus on how products make their customers feel. Dive into this episode with us as Peter teaches us all about the emotional wheel and how PMs can learn a thing or two from gaming.

Today's Guest – Peter Yang

Peter Yang is an experienced product manager with a wealth of experience from tech giants such as Twitter, Twitch, and CreditKarma. Currently, Peter serves as Reddit's Senior Group Product Manager for the platform's audio product, Talk. When he's not building great products, Peter is teaching aspiring PMs how to do the same. Peter has sold over 5,000 copies of his book, "Principles of Product Management."


How have you defined product sense for yourself? How have you developed it?

Peter: Product sense is kind of like a fancy word for just understanding what the customer wants and what problem you're solving.

There’s two experiences that come to mind that have had a big impact on me. The first experience was when I was working at Twitch/Amazon. I really liked Amazon’s “working backwards” process. To summarize it, though, I learned the importance of asking a few, crucial questions. When you think about any product; number one, who is the customer, number two, what is the customer problem?

And how do we know that this problem actually exists? What is the most important customer benefit that you want to provide? A lot of products want to provide multiple benefits. But it's very important to focus on the most important benefit. Another thing Amazon does is that they make you leap forward in time and write a press release as if the product has already gone to market.

This practice forces you to talk about a product using customer language. This helps us align multiple stakeholders.

Another experience that had a big impact on me is during my time at Reddit. Reddit is the original community platform. During my time there I started becoming more active on Twitter. There, I came across a concept called “community-led product development.”

Many PMs just ask questions to their customers. But actually building a customer community is a really powerful way to understand what product the customers want, but also to get early adopters to champion your product for you.

Can you tell us more about the benefits of community? What are some of the pitfalls that we should be aware of?

Peter: With community-led growth, you have this almost daily feedback loop with your customers and, usually, it's the people who are most excited about your product that are willing to spend the time to give you feedback and be part of this community.

If they feel like they're part of the journey with you in building the product, once you actually launch it, they will be your strongest champion., right? So For example, as we’re building this audio product at Reddit, the moderators who are involved in this community are the strongest champions for this product.

And it's much better for another moderator to hear the product pitch from a fellow moderator rather than a Reddit PM.

I’ve also noticed that as companies scale and hire more PMs, they become much more metric-obsessed, as opposed to customer-obsessed.

PMs are measured based on things like how many A/B tests they push forward. So, they start to lose touch with the customer a little bit.

Part of that is also due to all the internal stakeholders that they have to talk to, and also even get approval from, to even be able to talk to the customer. For me, the reason that I do product is to talk to the customer and to build what the customer wants.

For founders that have done a few million in ARR already but are just starting to think about community– what tips would you give them when starting out?

Peter: The real magic from community comes from your customers being able to talk to each other. That's the key difference between the community and just doing something like a conference call with your customers.

So, to setup a community, you can use something like Discord or forum software like Reddit. Invite your customers into that community to build your product with you.

You don’t need to have that many people in the community. You can just start with 20 or so and slowly grow it from there. And once you have people in the community, make sure you are active in the community.

Just have authentic dialogue with the customer. You don’t need to be too formal. It’s fine to just talk about Squid Games with your customers.

The important this is to make them feel like they’re part of your team. And I Once you do this, all of a sudden you realize that you’re not limited to your engineers and designers to think for your customer. You’ve extended your team by getting your customers involved. They want to see your product succeed, too. It’s super motivating.

In the past, you’ve said that good PMs are obsessed about customer problems, while great PMs are obsessed about how they want their customers to feel while using the product. What inspired this?

Peter: I did an interview with Rahul who is the CEO and co-founder of Superhuman. They want their product to be the fastest email platform ever made.

But I first reached out to Rahul to just get help with their product. He was more than happy to spend time to walk me through their product and streamline my workflow. It was very impressive that the CEO did this for a random customer.

So that goes back to the point of customer and community obsession. But the real answer to your question comes from video games.

Sure, video games don’t solve any particular customer problem. They’re there for entertainment. But the best games, specifically RPG games, pull on emotions in players. I remember how I felt playing games like StarCraft of World of Warcraft and getting that feeling of joy and accomplishment through them.

People don’t necessarily remember your product for what it helped them do. They remember more about how it made them feel.

So, PMs that really care about shipping something great should care about how their product makes their users feel.

Superhuman has this whole emotional wheel that they use to precisely define what kind of feeling you want people to have while they’re using the product. That’s a good north star to have.

Can you double-click on the concept of an emotional wheel? What kind of emotions are they trying to optimize for?

Peter: The point of the emotional wheel is to get really precise about the emotions your product pulls on in your users.

For Superhuman, they are optimizing for joy. They want to help people get to inbox zero and feel a sense of joy. They don’t explicitly say “joy,” though. They go down the wheel and define joy as enthusiasm, excitement, hopefulness, optimism, accomplishment– basically more nuanced emotions like that.

You wrote a book called Principles of Product Management. We’d love to hear a little bit more about that.

Peter: The reason I wrote that book was because I struggled to become a PM. I failed the Facebook PM interview loop three times in a row.

It was very difficult and eventually I was able to finally become a PM. But I didn't want other people who are trying to become a PM to feel like they were alone in the journey. So, I wanted to share the advice that I learned along the way.

The book is split into three sections. First section is just about the core principles you should have as a PM leader. Things like taking ownership, having high empathy, and more. The second section is all about building a mission, vision, strategy, and a roadmap. This is where we dive into the actual process to build a great product.

And then the third section is about acing the PM interview. So, it's really targeted for people who are either transitioning to product management or new in their career as a PM and helping them get started off on the right foot.

Connect With Our Guest – Peter Yang

Big thank you to our guest, Peter Yang, for joining us on this episode of Product to Product! To learn more about his product thinking, follow Peter on LinkedIn.

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