Hi Shuo, tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hello! My name's Shuo (pronounced like "show"). I'm a believer first, a husband second, and a product leader third. I've had a very nontraditional path to where I am today, but I absolutely love my career.
I'm a huge nerd, so I love to learn, even for fun – podcasts and documentaries are my go-to's, along with nonfiction books. I love to snowboard whenever I can get out to the mountains, which hasn't been all that much lately. I've also recently taken up volleyball so that I can pepper in the park with my wife :)
Can you tell us what you do as a Lead Product Manager at GoodRx for those who are unfamiliar?
I lead Product for the Subscriptions group at GoodRx, which comprises 4 individual product teams (and counting!) that work on different aspects of our paid membership product line.
A good chunk of my time is spent on people management, as I have 4 individual contributor-level PMs as direct reports. That means weekly 1:1s where we connect on progress, plans, and most importantly, blockers that I can help resolve so that my teams can get back to building; regular check-ins to see how my PMs are doing as individual people, quarterly syncs to work on professional development goals, and annual performance reviews.
Beyond managing my direct reports, I try to spend as much of my focus time thinking about strategy for my product line. "Strategy" is a word that gets used all the time when talking about/to product managers, and I think as a result, it's become too buzzwordy and has lost a lot of its meaning. When I refer to "strategy", I mean answering the question "what should we be building?" Gibson Biddle (former VP of Product at Netflix) summarizes it very nicely: product strategy answers the question "how will your product delight customers in hard to copy, margin-enhancing ways?”
The rest of my day-to-day time takes the form of meetings: 1:1 syncs with cross-functional partners, sitting in on product reviews, asking tough questions in metrics/test readouts, representing Product or the Subscriptions group in larger org meetings, recruiting talented PMs to work at GoodRx, running GoodRx's StoryCorps project, and so on.
How did you decide to pursue product management?
I've taken a very nontraditional path to product management :) I know that most PMs didn't start out their careers as PMs, but my path is a bit windier than most. The tl;dr is I went from CS major in college, to medical school, to pediatric residency, to practicing medicine, to tech, and finally to product.
In retrospect, everything makes sense, but it definitely didn't feel that way when I was in the middle of it!
💻 I had a software engineering internship the summer after my freshman year of college that I was woefully underprepared for. Not that it really mattered, though – the startup was acquired a week into my internship, and everyone was immediately laid off. My short experience with software engineering made me realize, among other things, that I didn't want to sit in a cubicle and have work thrown over the fence to me with zero context. I took the next year to ponder my career, and ultimately decided that medicine would give me the human interaction I wanted in a future career while also providing opportunities for lifelong learning.
📚 I decided to join the combined MD/MPH program at Northwestern kind of on a whim, but the MPH degree was hugely influential in giving me a bigger picture perspective that allowed me to think about ways to impact health beyond just the patients I was treating.
In retrospect, hospital medicine was amazing preparation for a career in product management. Hospitalists are ultimately responsible for the disposition of the patient, but have to collaborate and corral a wide variety of cross-functional partners (e.g., sub-specialists, nurses, therapists, dietitians, case managers, social workers, and more) who advise and contribute to the care of the patient.
🩺 I said yes to the right opportunity at the right time. While I was early in my practice, the cofounders of a medical education tech startup asked me to help them build the company. I said yes, thinking that this would be my side gig. Next thing I know, the product and company was taking off, and I ended up moving out to the West Coast to work on it full-time.
As an early startup employee, I had no idea what I was doing was actually product, until I stumbled across a blog discussing product management. Once I connected the dots and saw what a career in product could look like, I was all in.
👋🏻 Then GoodRx came calling, and it wasn't a tough sell for me since I knew about the company and their product back when I was practicing – I used to recommend it to my patients.
Like I said, a very nontraditional path indeed, but I wouldn't change a thing. Each of the steps in my journey gave me a unique perspective and an experience that informs how I approach product management. I very much believe that I'm successful in my role today because of how I got here.
What programs & tools do you use everyday for work? What do you like/dislike about these programs?
1. Google Workspace – Standard fare for most tech companies. I'm honestly just glad we're not a Microsoft org.
2. Atlassian (JIRA, Confluence) – Like most people who use JIRA, I think it's a necessary evil. Things are slowly getting better, but if I had any decision-making power here, I'd run far away.
3. Looker & Amplitude – Data analytics. I actually really like how self-service Amplitude can be once you're onboarded to the service. I believe in the power of democratizing data.
4. Miro – GoodRx's choice for whiteboarding/remote collaboration. It is great to have a higher-fidelity whiteboard to work with than Google Jamboard...but I'm still not a fan.
5. Github – Not necessarily required for PM work, but being able to review and comment on code earns you a lot of respect with your engineering team. I highly recommend it.
6. Figma – The best tool I've ever used for design work. Everyone should use it!
7. Xcode and Android Studio – For UATing our native app builds on different screens without needing a ton of test devices.
Any advice on how to stand out and get hired for those starting off?
I can write an entire essay on breaking into product management, so I'll keep it short here. The two most common ways to break into product are
1) starting your own company and 2) lateral movement.
Entrepreneurship is viewed very positively because successful PMs adopt a similar ownership mentality for their product. You learn to be scrappy, obsess about your customers, and deal with failure as a cofounder – all characteristics that describe successful PMs.
If starting your own company isn't your cup of tea, another well-worn path to product is to get your foot in the door at a company whose product you admire, do an amazing job, and move laterally into a PM role. Data analysis, business intelligence, or customer support are all common entry points since you develop a strong understanding of your users in those functions.
What are some must-have resources (books, tools, podcasts, etc.) you would recommend for your industry?
- Inspired by Marty Cagan
- Hooked by Nir Eyal
- Practical Empathy by Indi Young
- The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
- Alchemy by Rory Sutherland
- Masters of Scale
- HBR IdeaCast
Tools to learn 🤓:
I have a collection of PM resources that is always evolving! Find it here.
What are 3 character traits that would make someone excel in your field?
The top 3 characteristics I look for when I hire PMs are:
1. High agency
High agency is the best predictor of success as a PM. It's best defined as the "fire and forget" characteristic: how large or complex of a problem can I delegate to this person and trust that they'll not only drive to a solution, but rally the team to build it and bring it to market? High agency PMs won't be deterred by lack of resources (at startups), bureaucracy (at big companies), or lack of stakeholder buy-in (everywhere); they'll push through to get the job done.
2. Intellectual curiosity
I look very carefully for curiosity, because curious individuals are the ones who will always be learning, whether it's PM skills, keeping up with industry developments, watching what competitors are doing, or digging into the data to figure out why they're seeing what they're seeing.
3. Strong integrity
Finally, high integrity is essential, and any red flags in this area are absolute dealbreakers. It's impossible to trust a high agency PM if I can't trust that they'll do the right thing when no one's looking.
Most satisfying & difficult thing about your job?
The most satisfying thing about my job is seeing a product being used and loved by real people and thinking I had a hand in making that product a reality. Honestly, there's no greater feeling than that – and in retrospect, it's the biggest thing I was missing as a physician.
The most difficult thing about my job...just one? Haha I'm kidding. 😂 Finding uninterrupted time to focus on deep thinking is a never-ending pursuit – that's definitely one of the most difficult things to get right as a product leader.
What would you like to say to your younger self?
"Don't worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will worry about itself."
All the twists and turns that I've taken in my life and career felt incredibly strange and uncomfortable while they were happening, and for good reason – all of us have an idea of how we want things to play out. Obviously, that's not how life works, but as long as you keep your eyes focused on what's in front of you, say yes to opportunities when they arise, and do your best even when no one is looking, you'll look back and realize that those twists and turns were all part of the plan.
Best advice you've received/heard?
I'll skip past the well-worn advice that everyone's heard before and call out something I read recently that I found really useful: "Actively try to do a bad job." Shreyas Doshi (@shreyas on Twitter) encourages this for the "overhead" tasks that you have to do on a regular basis, and I think it's really great advice.
PMs by definition have more work to do than hours in the day, but not all of those tasks are created equal. The more time and effort you invest in high-leverage work, the better off your team, product, and company will be. To do that, though, you'll need to actively cut down on overhead, and that's where Shreyas' advice comes in. Actively try to do a bad job on those tasks, and you'll most likely end up spending the appropriate amount of time on them, leaving more time for high-leverage work.