Meet the Next Gen Builder: Peter Yang, Principal Product Lead at Roblox

Join Francois Ajenstat, host of the Next Gen Builders podcast, as he explores building with empathy with guest Peter Yang, Principal Product Lead at Roblox

July 11, 2024
Brynn Haynam
Brynn Haynam
Sr. Director, Brand Marketing
Text saying "Empathy-driven growth" with Peter Yang's headshot and title

One of Roblox’s core values is “respect the community.” Principal Product Lead Peter Yang empowers Roblox creators through innovative tools and robust analytics. He constantly engages with creators, using their feedback to shape products in what he coins “community-driven development.”

What does this look like day-to-day? Peter spends half his time talking to customers.

But if your calendar is a dumpster fire or your strategy looks like a Sisyphean cycle of product frameworking, you know firsthand that spending this much time with customers is a luxury. This begs the question: When so much of the product manager (PM) “work” isn’t actually building solutions customers love, what can you do about it?

Peter sat down with Next Gen Builders podcast host Francois Ajenstat to answer this question. Peter lends his expertise from a decade in product management at companies like Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and Twitch. He also offers nuggets of wisdom he has gleaned from his conversations with industry experts on a manner of related topics that he shares with more than 85,000 subscribers in his Creator Economy newsletter and podcast.

If you’re interested in empathy-driven growth, listen and subscribe to this week’s episode of Next Gen Builders on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube.

3 lessons in building better products

Peter’s journey through some of the most influential tech companies has had its share of ups and downs. He shares three lessons he’s learned from some of the projects he has worked on.

1. Pay attention to how customers are already hacking your product.

At Twitch: “We noticed streamers organically directing their audience to other channels at the end of their streams,” Peter explains. “This behavior was already happening, so we built Raids to make it more fun and safer. It quickly became a hit. Peter’s success at Twitch is a prime example of his ability to turn user behavior into product features that enhance the overall experience.

2. Ask if this is the right customer problem to solve to also serve your business goal.

At Reddit, Peter took on the challenge of launching Reddit Talk, a live audio product. Under his guidance, Reddit Talk grew to millions of users, bringing people together for conversations on everything from dad jokes to relationship advice. However, this experience also underscored the importance of aligning product initiatives with broader company goals.

“Despite the popularity of Reddit Talk, it was eventually canceled because it didn’t contribute to the overall growth strategy of Reddit,” Peter reflects. This hard-earned lesson emphasized the necessity of not just creating engaging products but ensuring they drive the company forward in meaningful ways.

3. Focus your efforts on one product that actually matters.

At Roblox: Peter works on tools and analytics for Roblox creators. For analytics, it’s easy to just keep shipping more and more charts and stats. But, creators don’t have the time to look at everything. Instead, Peter created a vision to guide every creator to take action to grow their creations and focused the roadmap on delivering insights that help the creators take action.

Though his retrospective offers great advice to PMs, when talking about better ways to build, it’s also important to consider the present and future state. Peter offers his take.

The PM role is changing

The reality of today’s PM role isn’t what it should be.

In Peter’s Behind the Craft podcast, he spoke to Adobe’s CPO and Chief Strategy Officer Scott Belsky about the best designer and PM collaboration, to which Belsky indicated that the best collaboration is if it’s the same person doing both.

Peter agrees that the talent stack is collapsing. Over time, product managers, engineers, and designers were bifurcated into separate roles with varying goals, but should really have the same goal in making the product successful, he says.

He feels similarly about Product Marketing Managers and PMs. To him, it doesn’t make sense that a PM just hands off the product to marketing at launch when, as a PM, you have to have a clear understanding of how the product is positioned.

“I can see these two roles combining more and more and potentially becoming the same role in the future,” he says.

He thinks 10 years from now, that teams will become smaller, with less bloat and layers. Because:

“In some ways, we’ve kind of lost what the focus of the job is,” he says. It’s the customer that matters at the end of the day.

“In some ways, we’ve kind of lost what the focus of the job is.”

—Peter Yang, Principal Product Lead, Roblox

Spend more time talking to customers

Too many PMs are not prioritizing their time in a way that reflects customer-centricity.

Peter points to another recent conversation he had with Fareed Mosavat, a former growth leader at Slack, where Fareed said that you have to make sure not to confuse the actual work with the work behind the work. The actual work is: Understanding the customer’s problem, identifying a solution, and executing it.

“At a big company you have these PM career ladders, you have all these boxes you have to check—be strategic, be good at communication—and then you have some sort of metric you're trying to push,” he says. And then there are all the meetings and frameworks.

“Frameworks are maybe 1% of the stuff that you should do,” Peter says. And though frameworks can be helpful in structuring your thinking about the strategy, a PM’s role isn’t about the process. It’s about the outcome.

So, how can you make more time for the outcome? Peter offers some practical advice throughout the episode.

Peter Yang’s tips on protecting your time for customer-centricity:

  • Don’t make talking to customers a big deal. It can be as low-key and casual as a direct message thread.
  • Talk to customers from ideation through launch to help derisk your projects.
  • Close the feedback loop with customers even if you can’t prioritize their feedback initially. Listen to them, summarize their feedback and be transparent so they feel heard and you build trust for future work.
  • Use calendar blocking to reserve your best deep-thinking time for focused work.
  • Don’t default to a meeting. Try to chat and work through asynchronously first.
  • Don’t send or accept a meeting without an agenda and context.
  • Use AI to save time and make your work more efficient. He likes to summarize customer feedback into key takeaways and next steps with Claude, and to summarize and make his writing more concise.

Use AI to save time and focus on what matters

And speaking of AI: In the PM’s future, AI will play a crucial role in reprioritizing focus on the customer by handling repetitive and time-consuming tasks that often bog down product managers.

"Imagine a world where AI manages the mundane aspects of our work, from summarizing customer feedback to generating concise reports. This would free up PMs to dive deeper into strategic thinking and creative problem-solving," Peter elaborates.

By reducing administrative burdens, PMs can dedicate more time to understanding customer needs, experimenting with new ideas, and iterating on designs. "It's about shifting our focus from managing processes to driving innovation," he says.

According to Peter, the ultimate goal is to create a work environment where product managers can thrive, continuously learn and push the boundaries of what’s possible.

"I see a future where the role of a PM is more dynamic, impactful, and fulfilling. By using AI to automate mundane tasks, PMs can focus more on high-level problem-solving and maybe even helping to ship product themselves."

Tune in to Peter’s story

Listen to this insightful episode of Next Gen Builders to learn more about Peter Yang’s approach to empathy-driven product management, and the valuable lessons he has gleaned from working at some of the world’s leading tech companies.

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About the Author
Brynn Haynam
Brynn Haynam
Sr. Director, Brand Marketing
Brynn Haynam is a brand builder who's always had a passion for the intersection of art and data, and for building world-class creative teams. Before Amplitude, Brynn built and led a brand team at Medallia and helped grow the business from startup to a publicly traded company.

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