Learn From Leaders With Neil Liang
Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer, The CareVoice
Neil is a creative technologist passionate about building innovative technology products. With deep roots in the Silicon Valley tech culture, he has 20 years of experience in product management and innovation design, starting with product management and R&D roles at WebEx (a pioneer in the SaaS industry), and growing with WebEx through its acquisition by Cisco.
In 2009, Neil returned to his birthplace of Shanghai to join frog design, a global innovation and design firm. He spent several years at frog as part of the management team, before becoming GM of Fitch, a global retail experience design consultancy. Before joining The CareVoice, Neil was an R&D and innovation consultant for several technology brands in China. He joined The CareVoice after the start-up’s shift toward insurtech.
Five Questions With Neil
Q1: How did you get where you are today?
I got to where I am today by following where curiosity takes me. Although I grew up studying classical music, my curiosity towards how physical things work led me to study engineering as an undergraduate student.
As I set my sights on a career in technology, it became important for me to understand first-hand how technology products are made. While taking on roles across development, UX design, and product management, I learned that my sense of curiosity can be fulfilled through using technology to solve all kinds of problems.
Looking forward to where curiosity takes me next.
Q2: Something you’ve changed your mind about in your career
That your career growth is linear. Through the education systems that many of us go through, we are taught to seek linear progression in our careers: get good grades, get good jobs, and get that coveted corner office one day and retire comfortably.
I too had bought into this mindset. As a fresh graduate at the height of the dot com boom, I landed a prestigious technology consulting job, only to have it disappear along with the economy a few months later. Suddenly the path ahead did not look so clear. However, this detour forced me to look beyond what my peers were achieving and find the path that made sense for me.
Whether we seek fulfillment, validation, or financial reward in life, it can be found in more ways than one. There’s plenty of awful advice out there, such as “you should do A and B before you do C…” The reality is that there’s really never a “right way” or “right time” to do something. Trust your instincts and take your own path.
Q3: One habit that has the most impact on your life
Reading. I read a lot, mostly to understand how things work, but also to challenge my own thinking. Reading gives us insights into the past and future of the human experience, and can teach us about the world around us, and about ourselves.
I recommend all entrepreneurs to read as much as possible. Books, magazines, articles. Read it all. Reading helps to exercise our imaginations, and helps us better articulate our own view points through the perspective of others.
Q4: Have you met any crisis/challenges in your life and how did you overcome that?
During the first year of my entrepreneur journey, my mental health greatly deteriorated and my depression later relapsed. It became extremely difficult to carry on with daily life, and even more challenging to build a growing company. Because of the social stigma attached to mental health, I continued to stumble my way through this period of life, using any last drop of strength to maintain a functional appearance. Eventually I crashed and burned.
As entrepreneurs we need to balance a lot of responsibilities, likely without much help. In fact, asking for help could even be seen as a sign of weakness in the eyes of our communities. Fortunately, help was always there, I only needed to ask. With the help of friends and family, I finally got treatment and back on track.
Your investors and team members do not expect you to be superman. Know that you’re not invincible, and that you will always need help along the way. Don’t wait too long to ask for it.
Q5: What books do you recommend founders to read?
- Multipliers – Liz Wiseman
- Thinking fast and slow – Daniel Kahneman
Bonus: Key learnings about managing the product team
Product management is more of an art than science. Good product managers can blend their business sense and technical know-how to deliver valuable products for their customers. This means that it’s not easy to spot a good PM. A few suggestions for those who may need to hire PMs:
- PMs need to be strategic thinkers and problem solvers. They should be results driven and a well-rounded team player. Although it is cliché to suggest that the product manager should act like a “CEO of the product,” it does bear some truth. Having this mindset can set apart a great PM from an average PM.
- PMs shouldn’t be only task-driven. That is a project manager’s role. If you have a PM who is only managing tasks, he/she is underperforming
- Product managers don’t necessarily need to have years of experience in the same industry. It is often more beneficial to have a team of PMs who have a balanced set of industry background and experiences.