9th December, 2022
When your first community job is also your first job in a startup
Rae Williams spent a long career rising up through big organisations where she often struggled with feeling like a cog in the wheel. She knew that the value she brought to the table was unique. She wanted to go from being an “a” to being a “the”.
But she wasn’t getting the opportunities to show it.
This changed earlier this year, when she joined Topknot as their Head of Community. Topknot is a young startup and Rae joined them as not only their first community hire but also their first hire ever.
Chances are your next community job will be at a young startup, like Topknot. That’s because new startups will be quicker to adopt a community-led mindset than older ones. This means if you’ve never worked at a startup before, you should brace yourself for some shocking transitions.
Rae’s story will help you prepare for some of them. You can listen to her tell it in her own words on the Beginner Maps podcast:
Being a “the” instead of an “a” - energizing and terrifying
Before Topknot, Rae worked as a consultant with some of the smartest people she ever knew. So she wasn’t actively looking for an opportunity in a startup.
But when she was catching up with an old friend who started to tell her about the startup she’s building, she got hooked. She was in a place in her career where she didn’t feel like she was being put in a position where she could show the unique perspective that she brings to the table. So, she made the switch - going from “a consultant” to “the Head of Community”.
While this sounds energizing, it is terrifying too.
As a strategy consultant, her involvement in projects was temporary and limited. She was there for a specific time, to provide strategic recommendations and then move on to the next thing hoping that it works. She wasn’t there to see the execution or directly face the results.
But at Topknot as the head of community, her work is like her baby. She is completely responsible for the outcomes.
Being a coloring book artist who is given a blank page
Rae had always considered herself a “coloring book artist”. She brings her own set of markers, colors, pastels and confidently paints you the most vibrant picture that no one else can. But she needs that starting outline.
This is a perfect metaphor for the work she had done at big companies where her work was heavily structured. Each new project had an outline, a plan and layers of approval process. A coloring book.
On the contrary, her current role is entirely a blank page. And the idea of a blank page used to make her paralysed. This was the biggest hurdle in her transition.
In such moments, what helped her was coming back to the central mission of what they’re trying to do at Topknot and who they’re trying to do it for. You know, the things that got her excited about this role in the first place.
Going from “Ready, aim, fire” to “ready, fire, aim” mindset
At topknot, when she tried to implement new things, she found herself leaning on process as a crutch. So when she would try to pilot new initiatives based on member feedback, she would do research and contingency plan for everything that could go wrong.
That’s when one of her teammates gave her difficult but important feedback. She asked Rae to unlearn the concept of “ready, aim, fire” and learn the concept of “ready, fire, aim”.
You don’t always have to aim before you fire. Sometimes you can just try things, see how it works and adjust accordingly.
This shift in mindset, gave her a lot of comfort when thinking about piloting new initiatives. Past Rae would feel like a disaster if no one showed up to her new initiative. She would blame it on herself for not doing the right amount of planning.
But the new “Topknot Rae” is more comfortable in trying things based on member feedback. She’s going to do everything in her power to make it successful but if no one shows up, that’s okay too.
She has learnt that when you’re in a small startup you have to fail in order to learn. As long as there is something to be learnt from failures, you’re failing forward. And as long as you are ready to fail forward, you’re good.
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