Meet this week’s Humans of Product, Connie Kwan from Palo Alto, California. AKA Storyteller extraordinaire.
When asked what Connie likes to do in her spare time, she quickly answered “What spare time?” Her days are currently occupied by being a Fractional Chief Product Officer, a class instructor and mother. She’s also an avid traveler and diver. Before children, she used to be in a dance group and was a choreographer. She was always very fond of the Performing Arts.
“I really enjoy improvisation, theatre classes and attend performing arts camp every year. Last year at camp, I attended a Shakespeare class where I performed a monologue of a Warrior Queen beheading someone. There is something so cathartic about letting your evil out.
My interest in theatre actually started a while back. We had a great theatre programme in high school, and I was in every single school production and the choir. I think theatre is a fun way to get out of your own skin and stretch your limits.
“I also challenge myself to do stand-up comedy. You have to own up to who you are when you do comedy and just be okay with it. It is a really hard but good exercise because the feedback is super immediate. It’s different every time as every audience has a different reaction to the joke, and you don’t tell your story the same way every time. It is very nerve-wracking because you don’t know if you’re going to get that laugh or not. You just have to be okay with failure. That’s just part of life.”
With her passion for the Arts, it doesn’t come as a surprise that she is a Chief Storyteller at Product Maestro and sharing her Product-Led journey with thousands of Product teams across the globe. However, Connie’s journey into Product wasn’t straight from theatre, she began as an Engineer.
“My journey started off with an Engineering degree way back in the day. I wasn’t aware of Product Management at all! This was before the 2000s, so this was before Product Management was really a thing. I was in my 3rd year of a 4-year degree when I decided that I didn’t really like coding anymore. My class was mostly just men, and all of them loved being in front of a computer all the time. But for me, I didn’t feel like it was destined to be my life.
So I got around the system by recruiting a bunch of guys into my team. All projects were team-based, so I would recruit my classmates to write the C++, and I would write the pseudocode. This pseudocode is basically a product specification written in code-like language .
I essentially was writing specs, and all the guys wanted to write in C++. I enjoyed writing the pseudocode document that specified what the code does. It was a win-win situation.
I graduated at the end of Year 4, and by this time, I had stopped writing code. I would just outsource it to my peers and would write the corresponding specification.
Fast forward about 3-4 years into my career and I landed a Product Management job. When I entered the job market, I started in marketing, then they were hiring engineers to do marketing for a tech company so I moved there and then I slowly transitioned into Product Management. It turns out that there is a job where you write specs, and not code! It was perfect for me! You could say that I kind of fell into it because. I was doing this job before there was a name for it. It has been history ever since.”
Connie has stayed in Product Management as it is a perfect fit for her. She is a Fractional CPO and Chief Storyteller at Product Maestro, consulting globally. She teaches Storytelling for Product Leaders. She describes her role as a Product Manager as ”herding cats for a living. I help everybody point in the same direction and march together. That’s what I do.”
“Recently, I had a client in New York that does analytics and last year, I had a client in blockchain space that was building a layer two on Ethereum. Prior to that, I advised a number of smaller companies as well and worked on an Edtech product out of China. It is hard to remember all of the projects that I’ve been involved in!
My role is to step in and help Seed to Series B companies on their Product Leadership journey. At Series B, you raise a bucket of money, and you hire a full-time VP of Product. Before Series B though, it didn’t make sense to shell out a big cheque and equity to hire someone full time. You just don’t have enough for a VP of Product to work on.
So I focus on filling those gaps for companies to help them through earlier stages when their need for Product Leadership is a bit more popcorn. My clients tend to be either a Technical Leader, with an engineering background or a Sales Leader who knows everybody in their industry but doesn’t have experience building software products. I act as the bridge to the other end.
I also offer a class called Storytelling class for leaders. I have a storyteller system that I co-created with an Actor and we’ve been teaching 1000s of leaders. We bring in storytelling elements of theatre, into how you talk about your product and the vision for the product.
Product Managers can then use this method to rally their executives, get a budget for building out their idea, rallying their teams, and getting people on board. Fundraising is a hugely important piece of these teams’ work. I specifically work on how you tell a story in a very succinct way, one that really connects with the audience.
The reason I started the storytelling class is that I wish I had such a benefit when I was going through my career. As a minority and a woman, there are cultural barriers to telling my own story and advocating for my work and team. I think a lot of folks feel stalled like I did midway through my career. In fact, 67% of those in a recent survey say they’re feeling stalled in their career. I want to help those people.
Looking beyond the past two years, there have been some impactful projects Connie has been a part of, from creating a product to help smokers quit, to having a profound impact on the growth of future PMs and businesses around her.
”I’m really proud of being able to use technology to create positive behaviour change.
I started a company to help people eat better, however that company did not work out. I then had another chance later on in my career to use technology to help people quit smoking.
At the time, state-of-the-art programs for smokers wanting to quit was only successful at a 10% rate. I wanted to improve this abysmal rate. The programme that we put together would use an FDA-cleared breathalyzer device with cognitive behaviour therapy and live coach available through an app.
It was a three-prong approach. After a lot of hard work, we were able to help people quit at 3x the outcomes! . Not only that, but we helped a larger group than before. Other programs would not take smokers who didn’t set a quit date. We accept everyone.
It is very gratifying for me to use technology to create positive behaviour change and save lives. The rate at which people are dying from smoking-related illnesses is immense. Imagine, every single day 50×747 airplanes crash and kills everyone inside. That’s how many people die from smoking worldwide. We were changing that and saving lives with our product.
Another highlight of my Product career was when I headed up Product for Atlassian’s Marketplace. I love being part of Australian companies! They are a lot of fun.
When I joined we were pre IPO. One of the flywheels that make Atlassian so successful was their marketplace, with thousands of vendors. In the marketplace vendors build products and sell through us. The beauty of this project was that we built a community.
The Community-Led go-to-market approach is very popular nowadays and I was a part of that movement. Our partners are building their business on top of our business. They were thriving because we were thriving.
These entrepreneurs and CEO’s I worked with a while back are now board members, and when I look at their LinkedIn profiles, they are either semi-retired or have put up another CEO in their company. It is very gratifying to see I have had an impact on others and played a role in empowering their business on top of our business.”