An interview with Tanja Lau, Founder & CEO of Product Academy

An interview with Tanja Lau, Founder & CEO of Product Academy

Tanja Lau shares her insights and advice to those looking to boost their career in product management.

How did you get into a product career?

Actually, it was mostly by coincidence. In 2011 I did a post-graduate degree at UC Berkeley in Silicon Valley where I met a couple of Spaniards who were about to start a company. They asked me to join them and I followed them to Madrid. Since I was not fluent in Spanish, I ended up working with the English-speaking tech department as product lead – and loved it. However, in hindsight I have been working in product much longer than that: Since 2007 I had been responsible for different publications and conferences for several employers. Nobody called this job product management back then, but at the core it was still product work and I was able to leverage a lot of my learnings from that time when I first stumbled into a tech product role.

What advice would you give your younger self early in their product career?

Build a network of like-minded product people and find mentors who can help you along the way. Don’t try to solve everything by yourself and don’t think you are the only one struggling. 😊

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given by a product expert?

A couple come to mind, but this is one of my favorites: Make your target group uncomfortably narrow. (Thanks, Nina Schneider!)

What's the biggest mistake you see people make when they want to boost their product career?

When applying for jobs: candidates often don’t bother trying out the product they want to work for. That’s a really big mistake. And believe me: even in B2B there are ways to gain some customer experience with the product before you interview for a job

On the job: waiting for others to empower you. Empower yourself, start thinking strategically, challenge decisions, ask for mentoring within and outside of your company, don’t wait until someone serves it to you on a silver platter.

In general: not treating your career like a product. Have a strategy, know where you want to go, find your candidate-market fit and build your learning backlog.

Any particular advice for women in product?

Make the imposter syndrome your friend, don’t let it hold you back (it will most likely never fade, but it will continuously help you to improve). And when it comes to advancing in your career: Chances are you will never think you’re really ready for the next step. Apply anyway. Also: find allies, support and uplift other women. Sisterhood goes a long way!

What’s the biggest myth about working in a product career?

I’ll give you three.  

Myth #1: You have to be very “techy” to be good at this job. I studied Comparative Literature and I know plenty of people who transitioned to product with a non-technical background. Diversity in teams is key for success and as long as you are open to continuously expanding your skill set and admitting what you don’t know, you can thrive in a product role in the right set-up without a technical background – not in every company, but in many.

Myth #2: There is only one way to do product management. If you’re part of the product management bubble you will hear a lot of buzz words and people can get really missionary when it comes to advocating for specific frameworks etc. In reality, product work and the PM role feels very different depending on surrounding roles, the maturity of the company and team, how product is set up within the organization, the current leadership style etc. Find the kind of product work you like and shine at and don’t settle for less.

Myth #3: Everyone else knows how to do it. I have been running a product leadership circle for CPOs for over four years now. Rest assured: everyone is still struggling, even people with fancy job titles 😉. Product work is very challenging, and I think we can all gain a lot if we stop pretending we have all the answers and try to learn from each other’s mistakes and ideas instead. That is why we are offering regular Fail Nights at Product Academy 😊

Any books or podcasts you’d recommend to fellow product people? Any training or development courses you’d recommend?

There are so many great books, podcasts and product people out there, it’s hard to do all of them justice. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:


Escaping the Build Trap by Melissa Perry

Strong by Petra Wille

Inspired & Empowered by Marty Cagan

Continuous Discovery Habits by Teresa Torres

Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

Running Lean by Ash Maurya

Radical Focus by Christina Wodtke

Super Forecasting by Philip Tetlock, Dan Gardener

Competing against Luck by Clayton Christensen

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings & Erin Meyer


Lenny’s Podcast by Rachitsky

ProcuctTea with Leah by Leah Tharin

The Product Experience Podcast by Mind The Product

Jason Knight

100 Product Strategies by Nacho Bassino

But it is well worth listening to podcasts outside of the product bubble to stay update about what’s new in tech, leadership etc.


At Product Academy, we offer some well-established mentoring programs that are mostly taking place in person and focused on combination of self-paced study, in-person workshops and 1:1 mentoring and coaching by renowned product people from companies like Google, Zalando, Airbnb & more:

  • LevelUp! (for those of you who would like to transition into product from a related role or if you are in the first 1-3 years of your product career)

  • Coaching Fundamentals (for more experienced product leaders who would like to use coaching techniques to better empower their teams)

  • Hypothesis-Driven PM (a great starting point or refresher for PMs at all levels – this is a one-day online workshop where you get to refine some of your own hypotheses in a small group of 12 fellow product people)

And of course there are other great courses out there, for example Leah Tharin course on Product-Led Growth or Tim Herbig’s course on Product Strategy (you can actually get a special discount from me, so DM me if you are interested 😊). Reforge is also offering some really great programs if you’re more into online learning.

Or communities to join?

Our Meetup group Product Academy Switzerland is the one and only 😉. Just kidding. But it is a great place to start building your product network in Switzerland (or our meetup groups in Berlin, Munich or Bern if that’s closer to you). In Berlin, we also host a special Leadership Circle. Apart from that I love joining Product Tanks whenever I visit other cities and am part of the organizing team of Product Tank Bern & Zurich.

Anyone on LinkedIn you’d recommend people to follow?

  • And sooo many more 😊