Get Together

Walking in the user's shoes🚶🏽‍♀️Cindy Au of Kickstarter, Zagat, and Brainly

Episode Summary

An interview hosted by Maggie and Bailey with Cindy Au. Cindy built the early communities at Kickstarter, Zagat, and now, Brainly, the world's largest peer-to-peer learning community. With over a decade of experience, Cindy shared how she learned by walking in the shoes of users, and how she fostered a team of niche experts that served sub-communities.

Episode Notes

“When you work in community, you get to be the person who thinks about the customer all day long, who thinks about people, who thinks about how they connect.” - Cindy Au

Cindy Au set out for a career in academia but soon found herself as employee #9 at Kickstarter. Back then, the community team would review and help write each project submitted to the site. Later as their VP of Community, she oversaw the evolution of Kickstarter as it grew from 50,000 users to 10 million. 

After her experience at Kickstarter, Cindy launched the first community program at Zagat, the restaurant discovery platform. Now she’s the Director of Community & Engagement at Brainly, the world’s largest peer-to-peer learning community.

Highlights, inspiration, & key learnings:

👋🏻Say hi to Cindy and learn more about her work.

📄See the full transcript 

This podcast was created by the team at People & Company. 

🔥Say hi! We would love to get to know you.

We published GET TOGETHER📙, a handbook on community-building. 

And we help organizations like Nike, Porsche, Substack and Surfrider make smart bets with their community-building investments.

Hit subscribe🎙 and head over to our website to learn about the work we do with passionate, community-centered organizations.

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcript is automatically generated, and there may be some errors.

I feel like when I meet a community person, you vibe and you know exactly why. And it's because you've been through the trenches in, you know, it might be a different business, completely different type of company, totally different industry. It doesn't matter. You are on the same level because you have to work with people and people are messy.


Speaker 2: Welcome to Get Together!


Speaker 1: Cause our show about ordinary people, building extraordinary communities. I am your host, Bailey Richardson. I'm a partner at people in company and a co author of get together how to build a community with your people. And I Maggie get together a correspondent, Maggie, and each episode of this podcast, we interview everyday people who have built extraordinary communities about just how they did it. How did they get the first people to show up? How did they grow to hundreds, thousands, more members. And today we're talking to Cindy ow. Cindy was employee number nine at Kickstarter back in the very early days. When the team at Kickstarter actually reviewed and helped write each project submitted to the site later as their VP of community, Cindy oversaw the evolution of the community as a grew from 50,000 users to 10 million. After her experience at Kickstarter, she launched the first community program at and she's now the director of community and engagement at Brainly the world's largest peer to peer learning community.


Speaker 1: Tell me Maggie, why were you so excited to interview Cindy? Well, first of all, Cindy has a decades worth of experience working in community building roles. So I thought it'd be cool to talk to her about insights she's learned in her career from Kickstarter to gap to Brainly. And she's also a very creative person, fast company actually named her one of the most creative people in business. And it shows, yeah, it's so cool, but it really shows in the projects she's worked on. In this episode, she talks about Kickstarter arcade, which was a three day conference. She launched for indie game creators to showcase their products, connect with their fans, test out their ideas. And personally as an English major, I think it's cool how Cindy had a PhD in English and then transitioned to community building after the world of academia. And what's one thing that you took away from our conversation today with Cindy.


Speaker 1: The main thing is that you have to walk in your user's shoes. She talked about how at Kickstarter, everyone was encouraged to launch their own project for Cindy. That was a two year endeavor. She decided to write a book with her sister about historical figure dogs. And she had to go through all the difficulties of staying on schedule, trying to launch a project, coordinating with a team. And it was the ultimate empathy building exercise for her in how to run a campaign and really helped her serve her community better, knowing everything they were going through. I love how you pointed out that she's a very creative person and then got to say that she wrote a book about historical figure docs, thus making the point. Amazing. All right. Let's jump in. Cindy, where are you at


Speaker 3: Cindy? Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm really excited to dive into all your diverse career in community building from Kickstarter to CIGA to Brainly. But first I wanted to start with your life before community building. I saw you have a PhD in English, and then after that you transitioned into working in community at Kickstarter. What was it like for you transitioning from the world of academia, into community building? Were there any personal reasons or motivations behind that?


Speaker 1: Yeah, that's a really interesting question. And one that I thought a lot about, especially now that it's many, many years in the past, but I think the reality is that I started out wanting to be an academic. And ultimately I realized that I wasn't right for me, even though there are aspects of it that I really loved, like teaching was my favorite thing. But knowing that, that wasn't going to be the end goal for me, I felt like I needed to figure the next thing. And it's pretty weird trying to go from academic to anything else because you have to be creative about how any of those skills and things that you've learned can translate into industry in any way. The transition that I made was around 2009, 2010, and in New York at the time, there was a very interesting nascent startup scene happening. So the biggest companies that had emerged in New York or Tumblr meetup and Etsy, there was this little company called Kickstarter.


Speaker 1: Not a ton of people knew about it, but they gained some very early traction. And I just happened to have moved to New York around the time that they needed to grow. I saw that they were looking for a community person and perhaps because it was not super well-defined area, it meant that someone like me coming from a not perfect match background, it was okay because you didn't have a ton of people who had previous community experience anyways. So it opened this window for me, where I felt like, okay, the list of things that Kickstarter's looking for, someone who can work with people who can help respond to messages from people who are interested in using Kickstarter, help organize events and get people together. I was like, I can do that. So I applied and it ended up working out, but again, it was a really unique moment in time in the industry where I just didn't have a ton of people with previous experience. So you had to look at different types of backgrounds and be open to that.


Speaker 3: Yeah. It sounds like community building, it was evolving. It was pretty new at the time. So how did you figure out what it means? How did you define it? How did you pave a path when not a lot of people had experience in it before


Speaker 1: It was for sure, a very messy process. I wish I could say, Oh, I just got merged and had this perfect definition. But the reality of it is those of us working in community at the time, walked into an area that needed definition. That definition was created by doing the job, figuring out all right, this feels like community. This thing that I'm right now. Okay. That's community in those early days, very often, especially in a startup environment, community was largely we need users or we have users and we need to help them. We need to figure out how to reach them, how to talk to them, how to learn from them, how to understand everything that they're experiencing as they go through our product experience. And that's not necessarily the core skillset that you're going to find in a product tech side, obviously that also has evolved. But at the time I think that's where the need for community came from. As a result, when people back in 2010 would have asked me what's community, what do you do? I would just say, Oh, me and my team, we just do everything. That's not actually coding the site. And for


Speaker 3: While that was true. Yeah. So it was everything about understanding people meeting their needs. It sounds like you had a balanced product strategy, understanding users, customer success, everything.


Speaker 1: Yeah. Every week it was a little bit different. But at the end of the day, being responsible for the people, the customers, the users,


Speaker 3: How did you approach even starting to grow the community and spread the word, especially because Kickstarter was pretty new at the time,


Speaker 1: There was a horrible recession. This I'm sure everyone remembers. So a lot of people were thrown into a situation where they needed to figure out something else they needed to rethink what they were doing. Kind of make money, how to build businesses. And as a result, Kickstarter the service that we provided, the ability to take something creative, put it out there and just raise money from it from lots of different people in small amounts at the time, that was very, very new and very, very needed. So building community was really more about, we had a service that lots of people wanted and we had no shortage of demand from day one. When I came on, there were so many people interested in using Kickstarter that it was very hard to keep up with actually helping them get their projects up in life. The biggest challenge we had was how do we keep up with this demand? How do we make sure that we can evolve in scale with what we're seeing right now? Because at the time things were very manual. We didn't have a ton of great tools that we could lean on. So that was the biggest challenge. Not actually figuring out how to build the community. It was, Oh my gosh, there's a community that's here and waiting for us to help them.


Speaker 3: That's an awesome challenge to have if people are already so in demand for your product and it's just not supporting them. So how did you manage the information overflow? I'm sure you were feeling with all these people reaching out and needing support. How did you sort through all of that?


Speaker 1: I'm gonna lie. I worked crazy hours in the first few years at Kickstarter hours that I would not recommend to myself today, but that was again a learning experience, right? Where initially someone kind of fairly new in my tech career, at least my thought was okay, I can just handle all this. We're just going to dive in or try to take it all on. And the reality is that we needed support and not just head count, but also process tools. A lot of things that as we got smarter, as we scaled up, as we got more resources, we were able to take a step back and realize, okay, some of these things that we've been doing don't have to be done in the same way. So it was very much a partnership between the community team, the product team, our design team, and to build solutions.


Speaker 1: And that's something that I really loved about the culture at Kickstarter, especially in those early days, we had amazing technology team. We had amazing product people. Many of the things that we worked on together were about supporting our users, better building internal tools that would facilitate faster communication, the ability to do all sorts of cool stuff behind the scenes. That really was about supporting the people, trying to launch projects, Cindy, because you have a PhD in English, how much did your writing show up in that early work? Was that the ability to read and write well and synthesize and also communicate a big part of your work? Yeah, it actually was writing was an enormous part of what we did, because if I could describe a little bit of what working on community at Kickstarter was in years one and two, someone would write to us with their project idea. And in the early days it literally came in the form of a paragraph. Or if someone was feeling really creative, it'd be the pages of description of what their project was going to be. And then it was our job to read it and then give them feedback in writing. Wow. I had no idea that's wild. So we'd say, Hey. Yeah. Oh my gosh, this was not a high tech thing. It was literally just us having this one-to-one conversation with artists and creatives and filmmakers and game designers. You were like, an insane scale basically.


Speaker 3: Yeah. Right? Exactly. Essay feedback.


Speaker 1: Yes. The writing and the communication was really, really critical. Obviously we got smarter about how we ran that process. And over time, the writing evolved into not just our direct communication with our customers and the folks creating projects, but also the brand copy that we put on our site the way in which we evolved our resources that we created for creatives, all of the different tools that we would put together and put out into the world. All of those things were very much the collaboration between our community team and our brand and copy team.


Speaker 3: I know you've done a ton of projects with Kickstarter and some of them even got you profiled in fast company.


Speaker 1: And he has one of the most creative people in business. What were some projects that you're really proud of that you accomplished at Kickstarter? There's actually two sides to this. So one is as an employee of Kickstarter, we were all encouraged to create our own Kickstarters. Almost every person who's ever worked at Kickstarter has run campaigns. And it's that idea that you often get at companies where it's like, Hey, you really should understand your product, be a user of your own product, but taken to a much more advanced level because running, launching and delivering on a case order project can actually be pretty consuming. So I launched a book project. What was it about? It was a photo book. I ran this project with my sisters. My younger sister is a professional photographer. And my older sister is a designer. We put together this photo book for the concept was we're going to profile the most famous dogs in history.


Speaker 1: And it was all fiction, of course. So we pretended that every famous historical figure from over the centuries had a dog and that the dog was actually the one who did all the cool things. So what seemed to be a very simple project involves taking photos of dogs and costumes, which my younger sister took care of. And then I wrote all the stories. And so I had to create 12 stories altogether. And each of them was a piece of creative fiction around how this dog contributed to these major movements in history. That project took years. We vastly underestimated how hard it would be. It was quite a learning experience. And just taking an idea from conception to full delivery. And it taught me a lot about, Oh, let's just publish a book. It's well, you guys know this. It is really hard to trick yourself into doing it as far as I'm concerned or like I'm just making a little pamphlet and then it just iterate your way into a messy book.


Speaker 1: Exactly. So that was meant to be a very small project where I could work on something creative and learn about how others use Kickstarter and all the trials and tribulations and boy, wow. That really did teach me exactly all the things that our users are going through. We had so much empathy for just, you know, when you are putting yourself out there on video, when you're trying to come up with rewards, when you're getting into something new and you're learning it for the first time, how much patients you need to be able to get through all that and perseverance, but also as a supporter of these projects, it gives you so much perspective on like, Oh, you know, someone has a kid who had a cold and so they're a little late, I'll get an update. And it's like, it's cool. This is life. We get it.


Speaker 1: And that was something that we always wanted to impress upon people where, you know, Kickstarter isn't supposed to be work, right? Like you're doing it because you're passionate about it because you love it. And in that same way, you got to give yourself a little bit of a break because it's your passion project and things don't always go perfectly. So that was a, an example of a project I did at Kickstarter. But then what's also really important are the things that we worked on for the community. And I think one of my favorite projects was this idea I had when the early days where we had a lot of game designers specifically coming to Kickstarter, it was an emergent community where I don't necessarily know that many people realized how difficult it was to find funding. If you were an independent game designer, I don't know that people necessarily realize that there even was this world of independent game design because corporate gaming is such a huge industrial beast and tends to dominate everything.


Speaker 1: So this new community of indie designers in the gaming world were showing up and they were amazing. And they all had very similar challenges where they're like, Hey, I have this really interesting game and I've been working on it for years and I really want to find people to play it, which makes sense. Like you literally need other people to test something and figure out if it's working, if it's balanced. So there's these really big gaming conventions that happen all over the country. They're massive. There's one that took place in Boston every year called PAX East, I think 40 or 50,000 people go a year. And it's basically this unbelievable place to showcase a game. All of the big game companies go and have these crazy mega exhibits. It's like Comicon style, huge boobs and tons, and tons of money goes into it. So if you're an independent game designer and you go to something like that, the feeling is no one's going to notice me.


Speaker 1: So the concept that we had was what if we take all of these indie game dividers and developers, and we put them together in collective, under the umbrella of Kickstarter so that we can get them that visibility, that it's going to be really hard for them to do on their own. We created this concept called the Kickstarter arcade. Each year, we would go to this giant convention, rent a big space and basically trick it out so that each of these independent designers had the opportunity to do their play testing, to get their game in front of people. That was so cool to see folks for the very first time, getting that ability to interact directly with their community, with people who would find their game for the first time and literally be like, Oh my gosh, who are you? How did I not know about this?


Speaker 1: That was amazing to see that energy happening in a room. So we started that and we ended up doing it every year. I think we still do it every year. That's probably one of my favorite things that we ever did. It's so awesome because I was reading your fast company mini profile. And it sounds like the three tips you had at the time were think like a newspaper go where the creators are and get users to help each other. And the arcade sounds exactly like that going exactly where all the indie video game producers are getting them to give each other feedback and meet each other in person. So that's pretty awesome. Yeah. Can you talk a bit about the, think like a newspaper part, fast company? You mentioned that you divided your team like a Sunday paper, so you hired specialists, not just for video games, but also film art books.


Speaker 1: How did you come up with that? What did that look like? Yeah, well, that's a blast from the past. This was during one of those critical moments when we knew we needed to grow and scale in order to support the community in the way that we wanted to. One of the things that we knew from very early on is that the world of creative projects, the world of art, the world of music, both games and food, there wasn't a single one of us who was going to be able to really own and know all of those areas. And there was a thing that used to happen in the early days where the categories that I tended to be pretty good with where gaming and technology. So if a project came in and someone was like, I don't understand this, they would pitch it over to me.


Speaker 1: Similarly, if someone pitched a project in an area that I didn't understand, I would have send it over to the who do it better. So we came to this realization like we need to really own this concept of category expertise. At the time, there were something like 17 different verticals. If someone is coming in with a music project, wouldn't it be great if someone who really understands the music industry and the development process and the recording process production, what if someone with that background was the person helping them? Wouldn't that be even better? So that's what we did. It ended up being a really awesome, interesting team. And so that music person that I referenced, we ended up hiring the woman who worked very closely with Amanda Palmer on all of her shows. She knew a ton about how to be an independent musician. And it was amazing having her experience in house. We did that with every category. So


Speaker 3: Good because I feel like creators really want to know people who speak their language, understand what they're going through. It sounds similar to what you were saying earlier about Kickstarter employees, all having to launch Kickstarter projects, having the people with the most empathy and the most experience for what you're going through, being the one who helped you. So you were at Kickstarter for four years. What happened after Kickstarter?


Speaker 1: After Kickstarter? I honestly was a bit of a career crossroads. And I think this is to go back to this on the earlier questions you were asking me about how to define community. I found myself having a really hard time knowing what is community elsewhere. And that was something that I really started exploring, like what is a community job at not Kickstarter? And that was a lot of research. I talked to so many people in the first few months after I left Kickstarter, mainly I was asking them questions like, what's your company? What do you do? What do you care about? I did a couple of more contract gigs mainly to get a better understanding of a post Kickstarter world. I was trying to figure out, do I want to stay in tech? Do I want to stay in community? Do I want to move more into product or operations or some of these fields where there's just a lot more definition and therefore, you know, anyone who has done a job search when you type in a job title, it's always reassuring when you see lots of things return.


Speaker 1: And when you type community into a job search, you get a lot of strange returns and it can be a really hard thing to go through. And like, I had a little bit of that moment of am I committing myself to something that's really hard or that's going to continue to be challenging. And can I find roles that still embody some of those values and things that I look for in work, the combination of being able to do some contract work and then ultimately working with new startups gave me a lot more insight into what's the scene out there. What does this look like? How are things evolving? And I decided to stay in the community world. That was very much a purposeful decision. There are challenges about working in community that I mentioned before, but there's also the things that I love about it, which is when you work in community, you get to be the person who thinks about the customer day long, who thinks about people who thinks about how they connect.


Speaker 1: So when you find a company where that's critical to how it works, it's critical to the business. Then I think there's something really magical that can happen when you end up having this really amazing impact. After Kickstarter, after doing some contracting, I went to the infatuation and , which is a food company. And food is an area that I would say as a human. Obviously I like food. It has always been something that has a really cool community around it. So that opportunity was one where there was a mandate to create a really awesome community around food, going to the GAD and having this opportunity to take a really revered food brand and build a new community around it. That was something that once again, scratch that itch of like, Oh man, there's this awesome thing that connects people. Is there a way that we can use this team and these resources and the product to help connect people together, help them find more people to dine with. And I thought that was just the most fascinating challenge. When we were talking earlier, before this interview,


Speaker 3: You mentioned you had also started this personal project, dim sum club, and then that ended up becoming part of the GATS, one of their communities,


Speaker 1: Right? Yeah. So I think I even mentioned them, some clubs during my interview process is just like a, Hey, there's this thing I do. But yeah. So dim sum club was a little side project that I invented during one of my many phases in between jobs. I wanted a reason to get people to come together. And for me, dim sum made so much sense because you want at least six to eight people in order to really have a great dim sum experience. I need the variety, the share, like the round tables. Exactly. You can have a good dim sum experience with two people, but you will have a phenomenal experience with six to eight. So I was thinking to myself, how can I find on a regular basis, six to eight people that want to go get done some. And so I was like, there has to be people out there who also want this, but also don't know how to find others who are willing to come together to do this.


Speaker 1: So I put a sign up form up on my website, and then I just tweeted a link and an all these people signed up and then I became very nervous, of course, but this is one of those happy stories of the internet, where I was really quite surprised that people showed up. I was worried that no one is going to come, but people showed up and they were really interested in learning more about dimsum it totally worked. And I feel like it was one of those rare things where things like this, I'm like how they never work. And for some reason it did. And that, again, that to me suggests that especially in the food world, there is a yearning for discovery. And so much of that is tied to other people. It's just not the same if you're doing it by yourself. And so that same concept, I ended up shifting into my role at where as part of building the community there, I wanted an opportunity to get who love food to come together and just try something new. Not only was there dumb some clubs, there was a dinner club, there was a lunch club. It was wild because people were basically strangers would come together and eat. And I couldn't believe that it works again, but I loved that it did.


Speaker 3: And these standards, they're all part of the


Speaker 1: Curator community. We called it the curator program. We started it quite small in the beginning as just this small group of folks who love food, who would participate in some of these events. And again, the thing about community is you really only need one thing that connects everyone and it's okay. If everything else is different, that was absolutely true of this group. It was so diverse people of literally every age from 24 to 70. And yeah, it's just so much fun.


Speaker 3: It's interesting how you mentioned putting dim some club out there and also hosting these dinners with strangers. Like you wouldn't expect people to join, but actually there's a lot of latent demand and people might even just be waiting for these opportunities. I remember we interviewed on kit Shaw who founded tea with strangers and organization that pair of strangers together for tea and conversation. And he was also shocked like when he put it out there, I think within a few days he got 250 people signing up and he ended up committing to them, having tea with tons of people every single day. So yeah, just funny. You never really expect it, but it works out.


Speaker 1: Yeah. Sometimes I think finding that latent desire and just giving it a little structure, pushing people a little bit over to the other side where they're thinking about it and they're nervous, but they can actually do it. If you can get enough people on board, like giving people


Speaker 3: Courage to try these out and give


Speaker 1: Exactly.


Speaker 3: So now you are the head of community for Brainly. Can you tell us what is Brainly for those who don't know


Speaker 1: Brainly is the world's largest online learning community. We have students, parents who come to get help with homework and study help from their peers and experts globally. We have over 200 million monthly users and the U S we have over 17 million monthly users. There are a lot of folks coming to us, looking for homework, help looking for answers to questions. Brainly is actually based in Krakow, Poland and their us headquarters is in New York. So it's a European company, which has been a really interesting experience as well. How'd you decide that Brainly was where you wanted to be for a while. It sounds like you've had a few different experiences since Kickstarter. What was it about Brainly that excited you Braylin was exciting. Honestly, they reached out to me and similar, like if you're not in Europe, you wouldn't necessarily have heard of them before. Especially if you're not a parent, you don't have a kid who does a lot of homework every day and needs help.


Speaker 1: So I hadn't heard of them. And what was compelling was the way in which they framed what they were looking for. When we first started having conversations about community, there was something about their understanding of it that really, really resonated. It was their belief that the success of Bradley had from the very, always been driven by community. And because it is a peer to peer learning platform where students from around the world help each other out, ultimately it's success relies on that community. Being able to stay connected to help each other and to relationships. They reached out at a moment where they're hitting some pretty intense growth and that community more than ever needs. All the things that you can imagine, you know, resources, new tools, new ways to come together. And so having this opportunity to work with a business that has been around for almost 10 years, that has already at scale and has so many learnings that they already have, but are really also open to doing everything in a new way. That was really compelling to me.


Speaker 3: I can imagine the community is very engaged with COVID-19 and students staying in learning what their parents, probably peer to peer learnings, even more fulfilling for them right now. Yeah,


Speaker 1: We've always believed online. Learning is really important. And the current environment has shown that it's not just important. It's essential. There's an added urgency around creating really great tools for students, helping parents, helping teachers that has been made all the more prominent in the past few months, for sure.


Speaker 3: Brainly has 200 million students using it. And you mentioned it's all people helping each other. How did you encourage this culture? And how did you find a community of volunteer moderators who participate on the website?


Speaker 1: He has an amazing community team and they did a really great job building this group of folks who really own community management, we're available in 35 different countries and in 11 different language markets, each of our language markets, as a community manager who owns building that community, creating the vision for what community will be. This is something that was very new for me coming from mainly U S companies where our focus tends to be focused on the U S or if there is an international focus. It's secondary Brandley is very much a true global company. Each market has its own unique ways of operating and the communities are really special. And community managers have a lot of freedom to be able to represent what does my community need? What does it look like here? Part of the success is the fact that we don't do one size fits all approach. We look at best practices and we create frameworks and tools, but ultimately we want our community managers to be able to run with those and do things in different ways as needed because every community around the world can be so different that culture of empowering our people internally has been a big part of why community has gone so well for Brainly over the years.


Speaker 3: Hmm. And you mean empowering internally as in giving community moderators more freedom over what they're doing and freedom to adapt. Yeah.


Speaker 1: Yeah. Both empowering our community management for them to also then empower the community members that they work with. So we have these communities of volunteers in every market and they basically create the super powers of our community. This group is awesome. Cause they're basically the smartest kids on the site and the smartest people on the site, not just kids, we have retired teachers who participate as volunteers. We have people who are actively teachers and just want to blend a hand. That's, what's really interesting about our super user community, where if anyone was smart nerdy person in school, you weren't necessarily the coolest person. And at Brainly, it's the opposite where you're smart and you get to meet other people who really get it.


Speaker 3: What incentivizes these super users to really go all out. Do you give them some sort of label? How do you identify them and why do you think they keep coming back?


Speaker 1: There are a lot of different ranks and incentives. We have a very sophisticated gamification system and it varies depending on which market you're in. Those factors definitely contribute to people answering a lot of questions and helping a lot of other users. But honestly, a lot of it is just driven by this healthy competitiveness that smart kids have with one another, literally challenge each other. It's like, Hey, I can answer like 10 math questions faster than you. It's really fascinating and fun to see happen.


Speaker 3: Yeah. Nice tapping into that human instinct and making it work for Brainly. Exactly. Now you've had a decades career in building communities. So looking back, what have been the most fulfilling parts of community building goals for you? I'm sure a lot of listeners are working in community building roles now, or curious about what it looks like. What have you learned and what have you enjoyed the most


Speaker 1: Hands down? The best thing about the last 10 years of working in community for me at least has been the people that I have worked with and the teams that I've gotten to build and see continue on in their own community careers. That still makes me feel really, really proud of all the things I've done. Looking back, obviously in any career, there are many mistakes and there are moments where, especially in community, it can be frustrating. That's something that we all have to be really transparent and acknowledge. I feel like when I meet a community person, you vibe and you know exactly why, and it's because you've been through the trenches in, you know, it might be a different business, completely different type of company, totally different industry. It doesn't matter. You are on the same level because you have to work with people and people are messy in your earlier days of my career.


Speaker 1: Those things would stress me out and they would wear me down. And as I grew into more management roles, I realized and recognize that what the responsibility of someone in management and community is, is to take that energy and recognize its value. The fact that you are dealing with people all day long, how can you actually lean into that? How do own that and how do we make that more important to the business than other people recognize? One of the things that I think a lot about for people, especially early in their career is to not limit yourself to what you've been told your role is or what others think it is. Because oftentimes, especially in early community, there's this sense of, well, we brought you on to do this one thing, just please do that. And I think that's a really disadvantaged way of thinking.


Speaker 1: You're closing off opportunity. I think a lot about what I could have done differently. And that's, how do you learn more about the different departments that you work with and how do you bring community to them? Because that is something that is really valuable and that's where things can get really exciting where people are like, Oh, wait, you do this thing. And you understand people and I'm trying to create some marketing campaign and I'm struggling with getting the message, right? And that's exactly where when you start to put these things together, you can actually show how powerful community can be when it's a part of all of these different strategic areas. This is


Speaker 3: A little bit tangential, but it's interesting understanding people. You've mentioned several times as a really big part of a community role. And I was an English major too. And I was drawn to that because I loved understanding people, dissecting characters, really reading into what they're saying, and I can see that coming full circle. Now this is a big part of your job and it's common in English. It's coming in community building. Yeah. The humanities have


Speaker 1: A strange, not necessarily clear direct path into community, but it actually is a pretty relevant background. In the past couple of weeks, I've been thinking more about, could community become a thing that you actually develop and do an academic program? Is that a teachable skill and the way that you might get a marketing degree or an MBA. And I know that there are people working on this more, that would be an evolution that could be really interesting because there are so many folks that start in the humanities and that would be such a cool path to go down. If you could bring it to them at the time that they're still in college.


Speaker 3: Yeah, it's crazy. I mean, people cannot imagine all the different career paths that humanities can take you to as go wrapping up question. We did talk about advice and lessons you've learned. How about skills and traits that you feel like really make a good community manager or a good head of community. What should people be looking for?


Speaker 1: I tend to think a lot about the right type of mindset in addition to the whole laundry list of hard skills, soft skills. But I really think of a community person as someone who is always prioritizing people, but in a way that is savvy and works well with what the business needs. This is something that does take practice. It takes exposure. It takes a willingness to think about community, not just as giving your customers happy, but actually thinking about how it ultimately is what can help drive success of a business. So I think someone having that balance of really understanding people, the customer really prioritizing them in all of their decisions, but also a willingness to take the time to translate that into other parts of the business so that different departments and people can understand the value that you bring. Because honestly, at this time there's a lot of internal advocacy that happens in community and it's necessary to keep moving it forward.


Speaker 1: So that is a part of the job as much as taking care of people and being creative and being quick on your feet and being resourceful, all that is really important too. And something that honestly, I did not ever think that I would think of this as very important, but over time it's become something that I'm glad I was forced to have to be. And that is just painfully organized and really good at project management. Because when you're building big programs, when you're thinking through how to take something small and make it very big, there are so many phases and so many different directions and so many different teams you have to work with to make that happen. Having the ability to be really flexible, good at project management and cross functional is huge. If you want to connect with Cindy, you can reach that's, Cindy


Speaker 1: If you want to find out more about the work we do, as people in company with organizations, helping them get clear on who their most important communities are and how to build with those people, head over to our website, people Also, if you want to start your own community or supercharge one, you're already a part of our handbook is here for you. Is it get together to grab a copy. It's full of stories and learnings from conversations with community leaders like this one with Cindy and final thing. Do you don't mind if you enjoyed this episode, this interview we'd love. If you'd review us or click subscribe, those things help get these interviews out to more people who are curious to learn about community building. Awesome. Thank you for listening. See you next time. Thank you.