Have you ever wondered what it takes to turn a bold vision into a thriving educational revolution?
In this episode, Hannah Clark is joined by Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia—Founder & CEO at Product School—to talk about how he defied odds and bootstrapped his way to establishing an avant-garde learning platform that flawlessly blends engineering and business education, all the while emphasizing the power of real-world learning from industry experts.
- The Journey of Building Product School [0:43]
- Product School is the perfect fusion of an engineering and a business school, offering flexible learning opportunities and emphasizing learning from practitioners.
- As he shared his journey, it was evident that Carlos’ passion for lifelong learning and his commitment to providing real-world, practical knowledge has been a driving force in the success of Product School.
Community is a place where people who join can also get value from each other. It’s not about a place where everybody comes to then be sold on something that a company is doing.Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia
- Product Management Trends and Job Security [12:05]
- One of the key topics of the discussion was the evolving trends in product management. Carlos pointed out the increasing prominence of Chief Product Officers (CPOs) in Fortune 100 companies. This trend underscores the strategic importance of product teams in today’s businesses. Even amidst layoffs in the tech sector, product teams have shown resilience, indicating the critical role they play in the company’s operations and long-term success.
- Product-Led Growth and Generative AI Trends [16:23]
- The conversation also touched upon the concept of product-led growth, a strategy where the product itself serves as the primary driver of customer acquisition, conversion, and expansion. However, Carlos emphasized that this strategy should not be misunderstood as bombarding customers with upgrade offers. Instead, it is about adding value first, nurturing the customer, and only then making an ask.
- The final part of the conversation delved into the fascinating world of generative AI. Carlos sees generative AI as a powerful tool that can turbocharge productivity and inspire teams. However, he cautioned against viewing it as a threat or a replacement for human roles. Instead, he sees it as an ally that can help product managers increase their impact.
The role of the product is critical not only because it creates a great user experience but also because it can generate significantly more revenue during times when other marketing channels become saturated and much more expensive.Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia
Meet Our Guest
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia has over 10 years of experience building teams and digital products in the US, Europe, and Latin America. Carlos founded Product School in San Francisco in 2014. Today, the company is the global leader in Product training with a community of over two million product professionals. All of the instructors are Product Leaders working at top Silicon Valley companies including Google, Meta, Netflix, Airbnb, Uber, and Amazon. Designed to fit into the work schedule of busy professionals, all certifications are taught live online in small cohorts.
Find the right opportunity to make an ask, but before you do, remember to give. It’s about adding value first, and the same concept applies to communities—add value first.Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia
Resources from this episode:
- Subscribe to The Product Manager newsletter
- Connect with Carlos González de Villaumbrosia on LinkedIn
- Check out Product School
Related articles and podcasts:
- About The Product Manager Podcast
- A Guide To The Product Manager Career Path + Roles And Skills
- Launching Products
- Product Manager In Digital Transformation: How To Make It Work
- 6 Product-Led Growth Examples: The Companies Doing PLG Right
- How to Transition from Sales-Led to Product-Led Growth
- Product Vision Vs Product Strategy (& Why You Need Both)
Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Hannah Clark: It's so funny to me how product management is such a fast growing occupation that plays such a vital role for the most lucrative industries in the world. And yet the educational path is basically a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Every product person I've ever spoken to has such a wildly different background that somehow led them to product. But if there's one common thread in all of their stories—and maybe your story—it's an openness to learning.
My guest today is Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia, who you might know is the Founder and CEO of Product School. And in the spirit of learning, I was eager to get his take on pretty much every hot topic—from what it took to build a successful startup and grow vibrant communities, to crash courses on the biggest trends in the product world right now. Let's jump in.
Welcome back to the Product Manager Podcast. I am joined by Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia. He's here as the CEO and Founder of Product School. Many of you already know his name. Carlos, I'm so honored that you decided to join us today. Thank you so much.
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: Thank you for the opportunity. Happy to be here.
Hannah Clark: So Carlos, we'll start the way we always start every episode. And I'll just talk a little bit about your background leading up to your founding of Product School, if you can tell us a little bit about that?
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: Absolutely. I am an immigrant from Spain who moved to Silicon Valley chasing a dream, I guess.
I studied computer science and I soon realized that I didn't want to become a software engineer or at least be a software engineer for the rest of my life. That was pretty much the beginning of the rest of the history. Like at the end of the day, Product School, I always say it's a solution to my own problem.
So my problem was that as a software engineering student, I became very passionate about leveraging technology in a different way, but in a business context. I wanted to create things. I wanted to use the internet, but in, in school, at least in my school, everything would seem very traditional. And I was being pushed to follow a traditional path to become a software engineer and a senior engineer as if like the engineers couldn't also leverage technology in a different way.
So what I decided to do was to go to Silicon Valley and join business school, which is literally the opposite of an engineering school. And in my pursuit of understanding how to build technology businesses, and then I met a lot of other engineers that were thinking business and they kind of connected with my own people.
Obviously there are many other backgrounds, there are consultants, finance professionals from so many different backgrounds. But the point is that I also realized that business school was potentially too high level. We were reading books, discussing big business, potential merchant acquisitions, but in reality it was striving with how to ground some of those concepts into something more tangible.
And Product School is exactly that sweet spot between an engineering school and a business school where people can build digital products and become product managers.
Hannah Clark: Obviously, this is an idea that you were very committed to from the get go. So what was that motivation that kept you really working on the school? Because it would have taken some time to really get the momentum.
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: I have a love-hate relationship with traditional education. I'm always there and I believe in lifelong learning never fully understood why we are supposed to be full time students until our mid twenties and then at some point we become full time professionals.
And where does learning go? And I believe that should be space to invest in our own minds the same way we can invest in our work, in our family, in our bodies, in our spirit. So, I always wanted to find a way to keep learning beyond just the traditional degrees. At the same time, there were things that I wanted to change based on my own experience as a student.
For example, I not always was inspired by my professors because I believe that the best teachers or professors are actual practitioners. And yeah, Product School, I wanted to learn from the best. So all the instructors that teach with us are actually not teachers. They are a full time product leaders who are actively working at companies such as Google, Airbnb, Netflix, or Meta.
Well, they're mostly based in Silicon Valley. Then the other piece around traditional education that I wanted to change at least for my own during school was the format. I wanted to create something a little more flexible where people can study the site on weeknights, weekends, so they don't have to put their life on hold.
And those trainings can be very specific. So you also don't need to overcommit two, three, four years of your life. And so those are the things that I didn't like so much about my own experience as a traditional student. So I decided to create that school that is not only focused on the topic that I love most, which is product, but also in a way that I wanted to learn, learning from the best in a very compact and efficient way. And also in a way that allows me to continue doing other things with my life.
Hannah Clark: That's really inspiring. And it makes a lot of sense. I think that a lot of us have seen a lot of that thought leadership where you're not always sure if the person is a practitioner anymore and whether you can take that advice.
So I, I really appreciate that perspective. I want to zoom out a little bit and talk about your decision to bootstrap Product School, which is a bit of a different trajectory than some others when they start a business. So, what was the decision about? Why did you decide to go that route? And what are some of the decisions that you made early on that you feel contributed to the success of Product School?
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: So I started a company before Product School. And I did the crew probably too fast. And I learned that wasn't my own definition of happiness or success. Living in Silicon Valley is amazing to me because it allows me to be closer to like minded people and really learn from some of the best.
At the same time I think there's a lot of peer pressure and something that I noticed as a founder was that I was sometimes being measured based on the evaluation of my own business or the number of employees on my own business. And I think when I was younger, I kind of played that game and that just didn't lead to my own happiness.
I was probably optimizing for others. And basically, long story short, when I grabbed up my previous business and decided to start Product School, I first wanted to create something that resonated with me. And as a product person myself, I realized that I wanted to spend most of my time with my users.
I wanted to build something that my users love. I wanted to optimize for them. Not so much for investors or for metrics that ultimately are not the best for my users. And that was the origin story behind, "Let me bootstrap, let me treat myself as a product." Of course, I want to grow. Of course, I want to do it as fast as possible, but I don't want to sacrifice happiness.
I don't want to sacrifice quality. So that's basically how I started. I started teaching product management myself. I was the instructor. I did it in person in San Francisco for a very small group of individuals trying to ensure that these individuals learn how to build products, how to get those product management jobs, and then slowly but surely reinvest every single penny into growing the business.
Hannah Clark: So when you started on that trajectory, how long did it take before you started to attract talent from other Silicon Valley and other product leaders to come teach for you?
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: It took me around two years. So I started the company nine years ago and I bootstrapped for the first seven and a half. At some point I beat the bullet and raised my, so I will talk about that later.
But during the first two years, I was so obsessed with the quality of the product that I wasn't ready to delegate. So during that time, of course, I was in touch with some of these product leaders, trying to understand more about the market. And I don't know if that was the right decision, if I should have delegated a little earlier.
But what I know is that I was very proud of what I was building. And then when I felt that I was ready to let go some of it, I felt really good to see the people that I started teaching, because to be fair, they were much better product leaders than myself. We're talking about people with tons of experience working at some of the best companies in the world who are building products for millions of people.
So clearly they had more experience than me with certain frameworks and with certain scale. But I think there is value, especially at the beginning of a startup to use to do things that don't scale, to really figure out certain products. So you can have a really good understanding of what you need and then start finding ways to delegate while staying close to the product.
Hannah Clark: Okay. This is really interesting. So can you tell me a little bit more about that? Because I really like this train of thought of being able to figure something out more intricately before you think about scaling it.
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: It's counterintuitive because we all want to grow fast and it's tempting to think that you can just throw money at the problem and raise money, hire an expensive executive or super senior person and let them figure it out.
And I wish that had worked like that for me, but it didn't. And that's why I wanted to be very thoughtful about how to scale. And I think that not having a safety net or basically being the face of my own company and knowing that I really have to do a good job in order to earn the trust of these users and leverage these users as my own marketing team, because they are the best advocates to then tell others about their own experience, really put a lot of hefty pressure in myself.
And it also helped me identify specific things that I wanted to improve around the business as the business got some scale. Eventually gets to a point where you want to scale if you want to build something bigger with more impact. But I see value in not accelerating that process. And I think that concept can apply to many other areas of the business.
Even for myself, my previous company, we were more of a B2C company, didn't have a sales team. I've never worked in sales before. I learned how to raise money in a previous company, but I didn't have enough exposure to end customers to actually learn how to explain what we do and potentially close a deal.
Well, I had to figure that out. Obviously, many years later, now we have a dedicated sales team. We have a dedicated recruiting team. We have a dedicated marketing team, but again, spending time with the right problem with the users and trying to really get to the bottom of things is something that I found very helpful for myself.
Hannah Clark: Okay. Well, switching gears a little bit. I want to talk a little bit about branded communities because this is also something that you've really mastered when we're kind of talking about dedicated teams. So we're seeing this massive shift now towards creating these branded communities. It seems like everybody is hopping on this trend and I feel like Product School is a really exemplary example of a company that's done it right.
So I'd like to know a little bit about what your team has done to master building and scaling these communities on so many different platforms.
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: I think following trends can be risky. And I agree now there are a lot of companies that are trying to build a community. And I guess the intention is good, but you can't just replicate somebody else's playbook and expect the same results or better.
I think founders tend to be contrarians and try to get ahead of the game. And when they are right, that's why they find those opportunities to grow businesses. So in my case, I've been building community my entire life. The company that I started before, and even before I started a nonprofit, I've always been very passionate about bringing people together around a specific topic and try to help each other out. So in this particular case, I started the community of product managers at the same time as the company of Product School.
I wanted to be something even bigger than the company where people can find value and it's not just about me then selling something. Of course, there has to be some business model to sustain that community, but ultimately my definition of community is a place where people who join can also get value from each other. It's not about a place where everybody comes to then be sold on something that a company is doing.
They're obviously very different types of community, but specifically in my case, which is a community of practice, we try to be as agnostic as possible. So it's not about just selling a particular tool or product or company. And also trying to give as much value upfront as possible. Today in Product School, over 90% of the resources that we create are absolutely free and available for everyone from books, templates, micro certifications.
They're all available. And there is no hook, you are not expecting for you to become a paid customer. Of course, we would love that. We have paid certifications for people who are really serious about becoming product managers or getting promotions, but that is not required.
Hannah Clark: Makes sense. I definitely have to be more proactive in using some of those resources for myself.
So talk to me a little bit about a trend since there is obviously as the founder of Product School, you folks are very on top of what's going on in the space. I'd love to talk a little bit about some of the trends in the field that practicing product managers should be aware of right now. And I know you have recently updated a slide deck on that and probably even updated it some more since I last spoke to you.
So I'd love to hear a little bit about your take on what's going on in the space right now.
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: I love this topic. In fact, one of the free resources we create is an annual report titled The Future of Product. The reality is that the future is changing so fast that they would realize we couldn't wait for the next edition in order to start making updates.
So happy to discuss some of the things that we've been noticing in the industry right now. So I can tell you the first one and most important is the rise of the chief product officer. Today, last time we checked over 33% of the Fortune 100 companies have a chief product officer. That is huge because most of the companies in the Fortune 100 are not high tech companies based in Silicon Valley or New York. Companies in oil and gas, consumer packaged goods, management consulting.
It's not obvious that those companies will be hiding such data roles. And the reason behind that is because every company or many companies are becoming software companies, regardless of the product or service they sell at the end of the day. So as these companies go through this type of digital transformation, they are investing very hard in upscaling, in creating detailed teams and the product team is becoming more strategic than ever.
Back in the day, product was associated with just technology or engineering, basically a bunch of people. At the end of the process where marketing and sales is selling something, and then when the deal is closed, then these technology people come and try to deliver. Today, that is not at all what's happening. Product is a strategic partner. It's at the center of the organization.
Users are using the product way before they decide to become paid customers and that's something that we are seeing consistently across the board.
Hannah Clark: Tell us a little bit about the product management field. It's you know, before it seemed like it was undefined and has really just emerged as a specific role, and then all of a sudden it seems like the role itself has exploded.
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: Yeah. I've been evangelizing and on product before it was cool. I remember nine years ago when we started the company that most of the students would come to us asking questions such as what is product management? Or why should I care about this?
Can you show me more about the value of this type of role? Today, this is not a secret anymore. In addition to the stats that I shared with you, if you go to LinkedIn, for example, I was checking the stats this week. It's over 75,000 open jobs in product management. That's incredible. That's mainstream. So it's not just about companies hiding a chief product officer.
It's really companies investing in the entire career rather than the entire product teams. So that's an amazing opportunity for people who are considering to have an impact in this type of companies. It's not easy. It definitely requires experience and skill, but it's also an unbiased, it's also very gratifying.
Hannah Clark: Do you think that people who are entering into product roles or starting their education to become product managers have anything to fear as far as the layoffs that we're seeing in the tech sector right now?
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: This is a really interesting point because if I were just reading the headlines, I would fear. Right? And you look at especially this type of high tech companies such as Google, Meta, Salesforce, Amazon, doing layoffs for over 10,000 people, each company and many other companies, different sizes. What I would like to share with you is the underlying information that we've seen in terms of how those massive layoffs are affecting the product team.
So when we did that research for companies such as Amazon and Meta, we identified that people working in product where, so the delay of the only 4% of the amount of people that were laid off by those companies were actually working in product. We're seeing that product teams and engineering teams are some of the most resilient teams to this type of layoffs.
Why? Well, this is because these are the teams who are building the longterm value for the business. These are the teams who are literally, you need to keep happy the most, especially in this time. And obviously I hope there are better times for the economy, but even during this time, we are seeing that more and more companies are still hiring PMs. And even the ones who are not hiring PMs are definitely trying to keep their product teams intact.
Hannah Clark: Absolutely. And speaking of delivering value, something that you had mentioned before was users being your best source of marketing and word of mouth being some of the best tool that you can have to grow your product.
What kind of information can you share with us about CXs as a distribution channel?
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: I always say that you cannot fake an excellent customer experience. And that is another big reason why product is so important is at the end of the day, even if you've heard amazing things about something, you still want to see it by yourself.
You want to use the product. You want to feel the product. So that is something that you need to get right. Because even if the homepage looks beautiful, once you start using the product, if you don't like it, or you don't find enough value, you are not going to renew the product. And at the same time, if you find a lot of value, you might consider to upgrade because you want more of it.
So the role of product is not only critical because they are creating a great user experience. It's also critical because it can generate way more revenue in times when other marketing channels are becoming saturated and way more expensive, such as paid acquisition.
So in that sense, product leaders are implementing a strategy called Product-led growth, which in simple terms means leveraging your own product as the main distribution channel. It's identifying what are the users that have most potential to upgrade and find opportunities within the product to create those prompts so they can do it. And hopefully they do it in an automatic way so they don't even need to interact with humans to make it happen so it can be as smooth as possible.
But at the same time, these product leaders are looking for ways to identify this type of users, not only to encourage them to upgrade, but also to spread the word to other users. And maybe some examples I can give you right off the bat could be Uber, classic Uber app, right? That a lot of us use for sharing rides or for going somewhere, you can invite your friends and you can get an economic incentive. And then your friend also benefits classic referral program. Well, you will only do that if you are having a good experience. You would never want your friend to have a horrible experience, you know, going from point A to point B.
So this whole term around product strategy or product-led growth is really evolving. But at the end of it, it's about treating product as much more than as a support function that comes after sales, but more as a line of defense that can really provide value to users even before they become paid customers.
Hannah Clark: That's so fascinating. And I know everybody right now is so interested in product-led growth and how to do it effectively and how to create those experiences that are going to be effective at bringing new users in.
Do you have any other insights on product-led growth as far as strategic methods that people can be looking at if they're, say, if their product-led growth strategy has not been as effective as they thought or things to evaluate?
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: Absolutely. And I also have examples on what not to do. Because sometimes with this type of trends, like we're talking about community before, and now we're talking about product-led growth, they become misunderstood, right? And everybody wants to jump on the train and start doing it just because my neighbor did it and it worked.
And product-led growth is not about spamming your users with offers to upgrade. It's not about bribing your users to start sharing your product with your friends. It's not about identifying that there is someone from a company that just sign up for your product and start bombarding that person to ask for an introduction to company CEO.
So there's a lot of science behind the scenes on how to actually provide value, nurture that user, understand who that person is, and then find the right opportunity to make an ask. But before you make an ask, you have to give. I think it's about adding value first. That same concept will apply to communities. Add value first.
Hannah Clark: I suppose it's always that time to value, you know, adding value and adding it as quickly as you can. So I wanted to sort of end on a note. I think that everybody is always thinking about, you see it all over Twitter or X or whatever you want to call it now, is generative AI. I think that this is such a fascinating and fast evolving field.
And I'm sure that I'll ask someone else a month from now and they'll give a completely different answer. But for the time being, what are you seeing as far as trends in generative AI, both on the development of products, as well as how product managers can use this technology internally to make their lives easier?
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: Yeah, we're touching all the hot topics created to product. Gen AI is definitely important. And I'm right now wearing the student hat. Because I look around, I also go to X and LinkedIn, and I see so many experts giving advice. And I'm thinking, how is that even possible? Like this thing became mainstream relatively early.
Obviously AI has been around, I remember when I was a student in computer science, I took an AI class. This is 15 years ago. So you have to put things in perspective, but it's true that AI is now, especially Gen AI, much more mainstream. And now we're understanding use cases that can be leverage right away that are making business impact and don't require technical background.
So in that sense, I think this is very powerful. But I also think it's important to not overreact to this type of trends and start thinking about, Oh my God, how can I get rid of 90% of my team? Because that is not the point. I mean, maybe there are some opportunities for optimizing certain areas.
I'm not saying no, but I, the way I like to think about it or the way I'm approaching this for my own company is let me learn about how we can turbocharge our own productivity. How can we increase our own impact? How can we inspire the team to use these as an ally instead of as a threat. So at the end of the day, the way Gen AI is working today, maybe it changes, but I see it more as a bunch of smart interns that are able to do a lot of work very quickly. So I don't see those interns suddenly replacing very senior roles, at least not for now, but I see them as a really powerful army that can turbocharge you.
Hannah Clark: I'm very aligned with this way of thinking about generative AI because having used it also in my work, I feel as though now everybody is almost managing a team. Like you have to be playing the manager role. You still have to be an expert in order to use it effectively. So I appreciate that we're aligned on that.
Carlos, this has been such a fantastic conversation. I really appreciate you making the time to come and join us today. But for those who want to keep up with you and keep following you after the episode, where can they find you online?
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: LinkedIn. I'm very active there, so feel free to connect with me there and I do my very best also to respond. I blow time every day to be in touch with people and on social media as well as my own community. And then if someone wants to enjoy some of our free resources, just go to our website productschool.com.
Hannah Clark: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for your time, Carlos.
Carlos Gonzáles de Villaumbrosia: Thank you.
Hannah Clark: Thanks for listening in. For more great insights, how-to guides, and tool reviews, subscribe to our newsletter at theproductmanager.com/subscribe. You can hear more conversations like this by subscribing to The Product Manager, wherever you get your podcasts.