October 12, 2022

Clement Kao on distribution models and product maturity

Ben Corbett

Clement Kao on distribution models and product maturity

New mobile apps to keep an eye on

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Use new social media apps as marketing funnels

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Clement Kao is a product manager at Blend, a leading FinTech focused on making consumer finance better for everyone. Today we discussed product discovery, and how the right approach can differ, depending on distribution models and product maturity.

Ben: Hi Clement, thanks for joining us! What is keeping you busy right now?

Clement: I’m currently serving as a product manager at Blend. Blend is a USA-based fintech focused on making consumer finance better for everyone. I’ve been at Blend for 3.5 years now, and my current product is focused on improving the end-to-end personal loan experience. We’re making it easier for borrowers to get a personal loan, and easier for financial institutions to originate that loan. Before this, I was a product manager working in real estate tech, building CRM mobile apps for real estate agents to help them manage their transactions.

I’m also the co-founder of Product Manager HQ. Product Manager HQ is an education media company dedicated to providing product management knowledge and career advice. Its Slack community has 10,000+ paid members, ranging from college grads to heads of product, where people share their challenges and experiences to grow alongside one another. Its weekly newsletter has 30,000+ subscribers, and its blog has been read 2.5+ million times, enabling readers around the world to level up their product management skills.

I’ve also published three different books on product management, so outside my current role at Blend I’m focused on contributing to the product community as much as possible.

Ben: Let’s start with your experience as a product manager - real estate and consumer finance are quite different industries. Do you take a different approach to product discovery depending on the industry?

Clement: The distinction is less about the industry, and more about B2B compared to B2C. Product distribution models (i.e. B2B vs. B2C) require significantly different approaches when it comes to product discovery.

While Blend’s product is ultimately used by everyday consumers, it’s not distributed in a B2C fashion. Rather, we work with 250+ financial institutions to distribute our product. That means that the product is distributed in a B2B way, which is similar to my experience working with real estate brokerages to create CRMs for their businesses.

In both B2B FinTech and B2B real estate tech, you want to understand how your customers’ businesses are being run today, what processes they might have, and why. Businesses have processes in place to conduct their businesses at scale, so it’s important when conducting discovery to gain empathy for those users and understand why these processes exist and what users ultimately want to achieve.

Once we understand these existing processes, along with the pain points and frictions that users experience, we can reimagine what a better workflow might look like. We need to consider areas such as compliance, business goals and operational efficiencies to make this happen if we are going to create a new way of working, whether that is through a CRM for real estate agents or through a transaction platform for consumer finance. Ultimately, it is about identifying how we can build functionality to help guide people into new behaviours.

As a B2B product manager, it’s less important to think about what feature we are shipping and it’s more important to consider what processes we are enabling or what new way of working is going to exist. Once we have a clearer view, we can then move on to do deeper investigations with users, understand key trade offs and start mapping new ways of working.

Ben:  Does your approach to discovery change depending on the product life cycle?

Clement:  Regardless of product maturity, the general framework remains the same. The emphasis changes, however, depending on the maturity of the product. With a mature product, if you have implemented product analytics, you can track and measure behaviour.

You can see how users are performing and you can compare that quantitative data with more qualitative discovery. This is helpful when driving iterations and improving a mature product.

If the product is new however, you need to dive really deep into the qualitative side. Analytics does not help you here. You simply don’t have the data because the product has not been built yet. In terms of the general framework, qualitative research is helpful to understand ‘the why’ and quantitative research helps you identify and understand what behaviours are actually taking place. You also want to make sure you are limiting bias and have a representative sample when exploring or investigating something. You are at risk of building for the minority if you don’t have a representative sample, and only rely on qualitative input.

Equally, if you only use quantitative data without having a close connection to users, you will struggle to truly understand their behaviour. If you don’t have a connection with users, their mental model and understand how they make decisions, it will be hard to have a positive impact and transform how people work. It’s about getting the balance right depending on where you are in the product life cycle.

We need to think about more than metrics like monthly active users or revenue. We need to think about how our products can potentially change the lives of people

Ben:  As a product manager, what makes you a bit different? What makes you an outlier?

Clement: I used to be in a customer-facing role earlier in my career, so I really appreciate the issues around user adoption. Having empathy and a strong sense of the customer is something you might not get if you came into product management from design or engineering.

In a B2B context, we shouldn’t generalize our customers and treat them as a single monolith. There are lots of different ways customers might be organised and it is important to understand this to have a successful product.

Project sponsors and executive sponsors have very different needs vs. end users, and we need to keep all of these needs in mind so that ultimately we can empower a company to succeed. There are a lot more people to serve than just the end user if the business is to be successful.

Ben:  You are very active in the product management community. What keeps you enthusiastic about where product management is going over the next few years? What else do you have coming up?

Clement: I want to help product managers grow, which is why I serve in my role at Product Manager HQ. I’m also quite excited about my new audiobook I’ve released, called “Breaking Into Product Management.”

Personally, I’m quite passionate about user impact. As product managers building products, we need to think about more than metrics like monthly active users or revenue. We need to think about how our products can potentially change the lives of people.

I really carry that perspective with me to customer discovery, user interviews, and prioritisation. We have the potential to have a long, lasting positive impact on businesses, people's lives and their finances. I take that responsibility very seriously, and I hope to inspire other product managers to do the same.