Bringing Community to the Executive Meetings

As employee #9 at Kickstarter, Cindy Au was the company’s second community hire. She rose to lead a team of 30, bringing community all the way to the executive meetings as Kickstarter’s VP of community.

Cindy tells the story of how she built that team, and what led Kickstarter to add community at the executive level, on this episode. Now, more than 2 years out of that job, she also talks about her efforts to find a new, challenging role that moves her career forward. Plus:

  • The “a-ha” moment that happened that Cindy started participating in the executive meetings
  • Why community success metrics were important to Kickstarter
  • How she created a verticalized team structure based around the platform’s strongest categories

Big Quotes

“The types of companies that I like working for are the ones that really, from the beginning, think of community as foundational to their business and to their mission. That is very different from community just being an ‘Oops,’ because lots of people are using this and, ‘Oh my gosh, now we need somebody to put out this fire.'” -@shinyee_au

“We need people in this industry who are willing to step up and, if not outright advocate and ask for a more senior role, at least be willing to take it if it crops up. No matter what role you step into, if you’re stepping into a role where you’re totally comfortable with everything, you’re in the wrong role. We need people to push community farther up the chain.” -@patrickokeefe

“[Community at Kickstarter was] dealing with a large umbrella of issues that all touched pretty much every part of the company. Increasingly, it was turning into one of those things where a lack of insight at the executive level was actually making it harder for us to do our jobs and harder for us to move at a good pace. … We realized that the missing piece at the table was no one was quite there fully advocating for the customer experience, understanding what was happening on that front and then bringing that information to the table. … It was sort of like that silence was deafening, and it really needed to be there.” -@shinyee_au

“In a weird way, [as VP of community at Kickstarter,] I feel like I was a conduit of information. That was a lot of what I did. It’s so weird to think about that as a job, but I do feel like this is one of the things where you have to be comfortable as a manager. You’re not going to do the things that are going to solve the problems. You’re actually going to get the information that will help empower your team, and the people that you work with, to solve the problems.” -@shinyee_au

“When I first left [Kickstarter], I think that immediately what happened was a lot of different companies reached out and asked if I would want to come and lead their community teams. I left Kickstarter because I was feeling a little burnt out and like I needed some time off, but also because I was trying to figure out career-wise, what should my next move be. What comes after this? I talked to a lot of different companies about what would it be like leading their community teams, and even though I liked a lot of the people that I met with, it felt like it was the same job. The exact same job. Just a different product. That wasn’t quite what I was looking for.” -@shinyee_au

“If you have a big enough community where the data is so big, then at some point, you need your own data person, who does nothing but community.” -@patrickokeefe

“A lot of the work that I did at Kickstarter was intensely product-focused. … Sometimes when I tell people that I actually really deeply enjoy working on product, they seem surprised that, coming from community, I would necessarily have those desires. I think that may be some of the, again, differences in how people perceive the work, where ultimately, if you are part of a growing company with a growing community, then most of the challenges you’re working on are issues of scalability. Most of the time you’re not going to solve it by simply putting more people on a problem. You’re going to have to build solutions, and those solutions often are going to take the form of product.” -@shinyee_au

About Cindy Au

Cindy Au has over 9 years of experience working with online communities, building teams and advising tech companies. She was employee #9 at Kickstarter and, as their VP of community, oversaw the evolution of the community as it grew from 50,000 users to 10 million.

Her expertise lies at the intersection of community and product, where she innovates on ways to create user-informed experiences that are beautiful, scalable and capable of working equally as well for an individual as they will for millions of people. Cindy specializes in translating user insights to diverse stakeholders and working across teams to get the job done.

Cindy built and led Kickstarter’s original community organization, and since then has advised and helped other startups build their teams and businesses. In 2012, Fast Company named her one of the Most Creative People in Business. Before working in tech, Cindy received her PhD in English.

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