Why I Started the Product Manager HQ Community

Many people are often curious about the backstory behind kicking off the Product Manager HQ community so I thought I’d write a quick post outlining some of the initial thought process.

My very first Associate Product Manager role was at a company called Kabam, a web / mobile gaming company that primarily worked with Hollywood IPs, helping to make games for legendary franchises like the Godfather, the Hobbit, Fast and Furious, Marvel, Star Wars, Transformers, etc…

I joined the company in it’s hyper growth phase (it scaled from 300-800 employees in the 2 years I was there) and like many first-time PMs, I was thrown into the fray with very little guidance.

The PM group hadn’t established a formal onboarding program and each PM seemed to run their games / P&L differently, so the first few months were a struggle for me to establish a baseline of whether I was “doing product management correctly.”

Shortly after I joined the company, Kabam became one of the very first massive publishers to make the crucial strategic shift away from web into mobile. As a result, many of the PMs were entering unfamiliar territory where existing web product development processes started to break down when applied to mobile (i.e. release cycles were much longer due to Apple’s stringent 1-2 week build approval process).

Since everyone was busy adapting to mobile and putting out their own fires, it was difficult for me to find a mentor within the company who would be able to dedicate time towards helping me grow into the product role.

Secondly, our product teams regularly collaborated / synced for product reviews which helped to standardize certain practices, but given this was my first product role, I was always curious how product teams at other companies might have approached solving the same problems we were facing as a company.

I chatted with a few product manager buddies at other companies and realized that I wasn’t the only one facing these problems. Other new PMs were having a hard time:

1) Finding a product mentor outside of the company

2) Finding a peer group of PMs to chat with about best practices / ideas

To solve these problems, I first turned to attending as many product events in the city as I could find. However, I quickly realized that these one-off interactions with attendees once a month weren’t enough to solidify the trust necessary to develop mentor/mentee relationships or establish a support group that I could turn to whenever I needed advice.

Additionally, I often came across time-sensitive issues at work and there wasn’t a synchronous medium that I could tap into in order to get immediate feedback.

All of this was happening around 2013, and as luck would have it, an interesting company called Slack had just pivoted into a real-time collaboration platform (the Slack we know today). I fell in love with the Slack platform as soon as I started using it, and realized that it would be an amazing medium to run a live community.

When I first kicked off the community on Slack, it was free to join and I seeded the initial 10-20 members with product manager friends. 

0-200 members:

In the early days, I would DM (direct message) every single member and start conversations to befriend them and learn about what products they were working on. Between a typeform that people had to fill out to join the community and a mini google spreadsheet CRM that I used to store information on each member, I had a nice mental map of who I should be connecting to whom.

I likened a lot of this initial community building to an experience of attending a cocktail party. Think of the times where you’ve walked into a party solo and awkwardly tried to make your way into a conversation circle – frankly, that experience sucks. Now contrast that to a cocktail party where a friend of yours knows everyone and pulls you into circles while saying “Hey everyone, have you met my friend _________?” It’s a much more accommodating experience, and you’re likely to have a better time.

If one member told me about a problem he/she was having when PM’ing an enterprise SaaS product, I would find another member working on a similar product, introduce them to each other, and ask them to both chat about their issues in public channels so that other people could learn from their conversation. To help kickoff conversations and engage lurkers, I seeded questions in public channels (i.e. “Has anyone here tried any product roadmapping tools? What were your favorite ones?”) every single day.

200-1000 members:

At around 200-400 members, I started to see more word-of-mouth growth as members started referring friends and colleagues in the industry to join the community and conversations started to organically happen daily without much input from me.

Personally welcoming every new member in the community became a bit overwhelming (especially because people joined from different time zones when I might be sleeping), so I began to use tools like Zapier and Slack integrations / bots for more sophisticated and automated onboarding messages.

To help engage the community, I also reached out to specific “power user” members who were chatting daily and asked them if they would be interested in becoming community moderators. I created a private group for these moderators, set some light guidelines, and trusted them to help engage with the community and let me know of any “bad behavior”, i.e. spammers or recruiters.

As a solopreneur who was so used to doing everything myself, establishing this moderator group was one of the most important lessons for me in terms of learning to let go / not trying to do everything myself and distributing responsibility amongst the community.

1000+ members:

At around 1000 members, I began to notice a trend where over 90% of new members joining would churn after the first few weeks (Slack provides a weekly report of which members become “inactive”). A large part of this was because joining was free, so many people joined out of curiosity and left shortly after. I suspected this trend was also happening because the community was now large enough where conversations were happening daily and it probably became quickly overwhelming for new members who had never intended to seriously engage in the first place.

To counteract this, I replaced my typeform with a new landing page / Gumroad plugin and started charging a one-time lifetime membership fee of $25 to weed out inactives and people who weren’t serious about participating in the community. After instituting the paywall, the churn trend completely reversed.

To help justify the $25 one-time fee, I made sure to include plenty of benefits such as instituting bi-monthly AMAs (ask me anything) with product leaders and working with product conferences / events to negotiate large discounts for community members. The community has since featured AMAs with well-known product people in the industry including Ken Norton (Product Partner at Google Ventures), Josh Elman (Partner at Greylock Partners), Punit Soni (Former CPO at Flipkart), Alexandra Cavoulacos (Co-Founder at The Muse), David Cancel (CEO at Drift), and Ellen Chisa (VP of Product at Lola), amongst many others.

The thing that brings me the greatest satisfaction in all of this is the value that I’ve helped to create in the product management community.

In-person meetups around the world happen organically through initial interactions in the community, and our last San Francisco meetup (which was supposed to be with a small group of PMHQ members) blew up on Facebook and brought in 200 aspiring / current PMs to fill up a local bar. Large enterprise companies such as Intuit have even onboarded their entire 200+ global PM organization into the community and continue to onboard each new cohort of PMs every year.

Over the past few years, I’ve lost count of the number of members who have landed jobs from the community. (I try to save as many screenshots of these moments as I can in a folder on my desktop labeled “Why This is Important”.)

And lastly, I’d like to think that product organizations worldwide have gained real insights into how other teams think about product and have shipped better products as a result.

Writing an Amazon Best Selling Book With a Stranger On the Internet

One fun fact about me is that in late 2015, I met a stranger from Toronto, Canada online who became one of my close friends, and co-wrote / published a book with him called Quora Domination that ended up becoming a brief Amazon bestseller (reached Top 10 in Advertising & Business Skills categories) and #1 in Product Hunt books – all of this happening without ever meeting him in person.

A lot of people are always curious about how this all happened so I thought I’d elaborate on the context behind that experience as well as how we wrote the book.

I’ve decided to leave out most of the details around the publishing + marketing behind the book as that deserves a separate post of its own and this one will be long enough as is.

Why Write a Book About Quora?

In the first year of starting Product Manager HQ, I was eager to look for channels to drive traffic to the website. While browsing the web one day, I discovered Quora, a Q&A website where you could ask any question you wanted and people would write high quality answers in response.

Over a few months, I slowly became obsessed with Quora, both consuming endless loads of content as well as chiming in with a few answers here and there in order to build credibility as a product manager.

Additionally, I’d take every opportunity I had to leave value-add answers for individuals seeking advice on how to break into product management and I’d take any opportunity possible to link back to Product Manager HQ in my answers.

Quora ended up becoming my #1 source of traffic and helped build up the early subscriber base as well as seed some of the initial set of community members (Unfortunately, Quora isn’t quite the arbitrage opportunity it used to be due to more competition and better content moderation bots which are stricter about backlinks).

Quora was also a great opportunity to meet strangers over the internet as they previously allowed users to message others (they have since removed the ability to cold-message another user unless they are following you).

Meeting My Co-Author

In late 2015, I kept reading answers by an individual named Imran, who ran a website called Escape Your Desk Job, which taught others how to write their own e-books (he had already written and sold 50+ Kindle books on Amazon).

Being the curious learner that I am, I decided to reach out and see if he’d be open for a chat to learn about how he wrote and launched these e-books.

Learning moment: When sending any cold message / e-mail, try to bring immediate value-add to the recipient. In this case, I went through his website and made sure to point out a pretty major bug which prevented a user from going through his desired subscription flow.

Secondly, I made a point to call out my own project at the time (Product Manager HQ) to show that I was a do-er, not a talker (if you don’t have a specific project to talk about, try to point to some previous experience or work you’ve done in the past – coming to the table with any sort of credibility can’t hurt).

Imran and I ended up scheduling a 1.5 hour long Skype call where we chatted about the projects we were working on, his Kindle book writing process, and how we were both using Quora to drive traffic to our respective websites. Most importantly, we spent a good amount of time talking through some of our personal values and got to know + trust each other.

Every now and then, I’d check in and send him an update to let him know what I was working on. Sending these quick updates on my progress not only helped me stay accountable but also continued to build rapport / trust despite the fact that we had still never met each other in person.

A few days after my update, he sent me the message which kicked this whole thing off:

A few things to note here, Imran had already written 50+ books at this point and he could have chosen anyone he wanted to co-write this book with him.

However, by this point, we had already chatted a few times, knew that each other were hard workers who could get sh*t done (we each respected the other’s projects), and again, most importantly, trusted each other.

Secondly, in our chats, both of us had been avidly using Quora for awhile at that point and we both loved the website, which would make writing a book about Quora much easier to complete.

We were also aware that popular writers were using Quora as an avenue to drive millions of views to their writing and get published in major media outlets such as Fortune, Inc., Forbes, etc… so we were eager to decode these strategies and share them with others.

The Writing Process

The next day, we chatted again and confirmed a few necessary items around work / revenue split. Everything would be 50/50 split, including work effort and potential revenue.

Learning moment: It seems fairly obvious in hindsight, but anytime you decide to kick-off any project / business with a potential co-founder, you MUST have the necessary conversations that no one likes to have around equity, revenue, and work effort.

Imran and I trusted each other but we still had this conversation and solidified everything in writing before kicking off the rest of the process.

We then threw up a shared Google Drive and begin outlining our plan of attack: specifically, hammering out a table of contents for the book and divvying up chapters that we would be responsible for writing.

Apart from high quality content, we started with 2 specific goals:

  • Finishing the book content within 2 weeks
  • Writing 1,000 words each (for a total of 2,000 words between the both of us) every single day

This wasn’t our first rodeo working with other people on projects, so we knew how easy it was to let a project fall through the cracks, especially when one person’s calendar got busy.

Setting these target goals were crucial for time-boxing our work as well as providing an exact daily word target. An added benefit of the word number goal was the accountability it provided as neither of us wanted to disappoint the other if we didn’t hit our word goal for the day. #guilttripftw

After splitting up the chapters in our table of contents, it was pretty straightforward for us to execute individually without wasting any time with meetings (I’m a big fan of Jason Fried’s efforts to spread the message around eliminating unnecessary meetings) and we hammered out 14,000 words into a shared Google Doc by the end of the week.

After finishing our individual chapters, we spent the remaining week:

  • Conducting + transcribing interviews with Top Writers on Quora as bonus book content, which added another 6,000 words
  • Hiring a copywriter off UpWork to review and fine-tune some of the writing
  • Doing a bunch of other work to prep for launch (this piece involves a lot of the actual execution behind getting the book published on Amazon / print + marketing / launching – as mentioned in the beginning of the post, I’ll leave this for another post)

In case you’re wondering how any of this might be relevant to you, below are a few of the more memorable skills I took away from this experience (and motivation for you to do your own project):

  • How to work remotely on a project with someone else without ever having to meet in person
  • How to publish both Kindle + print versions of a book
  • How to hire and manage freelancers on UpWork to help streamline / automate manual work
  • How to create a marketing strategy around a book launch to drive continuous book sales over an extended period of time

Co-authoring Quora Domination was one of my favorite experiences so far (I’m sure there will still be countless more) and a great chance to exercise my hustle muscle with Imran, a stranger on the internet who became one of my close friends.