Today’s episode is a behind-the-scenes look at a massive online community success story — we’re very excited to have Willa Tellekson-Flash joining us to discuss Public.com. Willa is the director of community at Public, an investing platform valued at $1.2 billion with a community of over one million members. She even made the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Marketing list as a result of her and her team’s amazing work!
Community is not just an afterthought at Public. They’ve been very intentional about it from the start, and it is now an integral part of the business. We get to hear all about it from Willa, who leads the team of community managers that's making it all happen.
We talk all about creating safe spaces that encourage conversation around touchy subjects, outlining clear and effective community guidelines, and empowering a small team to enforce the rules and manage a diverse user base. Willa and Jillian also discuss attracting and onboarding new members the smart way and working closely with other departments to shape company strategy.
It was an absolute blast talking to Willa! We know you’ll enjoy this one too, so listen in for some great tips and tactics you can apply to any growing community.
Willa Tellekson-Flash is the director of community at Public.com, the investing platform that helps people be better investors. In her role, she oversees engagement, moderation, and community education, and serves as a key stakeholder across product and marketing teams. Since Willa joined Public in early 2020, the community of investors, creators, and analysts has grown to over 1M members, and she’s built a growing team of community managers dedicated to welcoming and helping new investors learn and build their financial confidence.
Prior to joining Public, she worked in editorial and customer experience roles, and throughout her career, has always focused on creating spaces that allow people to connect in meaningful ways around the topics and experiences that matter in their daily lives.
In This Episode
- Willa’s early interest in creating spaces that encourage conversation around touchy subjects
- Why community is an integral part of the business at Public
- Being intentional about community building from the start
- Supercharging a small team by connecting people with similar interests
- Working closely with the other departments at Public to shape new features
- Encouraging diversity on the Public platform
- How Willa made the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Marketing & Advertising list
- Public's Community Guidelines
- Willa's profile on Forbes
- Connect with Willa on LinkedIn
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo [Amazon affiliate link]
- The Art Of Gathering by Priya Parker [Amazon affiliate link]
The CX 050: Connecting on a Human Level with Willa Tellekson-Flash
Willa Telekson Flash: That was a pretty cool honor to be listed on Forbes 30 Under 30 list. And I think what it said to me was community is really important and we're seeing the value that resourcing community can have at companies, and not only resourcing community with a singular community manager and leaving it at that, but actually starting to build out community teams where there's room for strategic thinking and leadership rather than just a very siloed, individual contributor.
Jillian Benbow: Well, hello and welcome to this week's episode of the Community Experience Podcast, where I, Jillian Benbow, take you on a curiosity voyage with other community builders and hopefully get some great lessons learned, some high value insights on building community, growing community. And this week, I'm talking to Willa Tellekson-Flash, who is the Director of Community for Public.com, which is a community of investors and is a big techy, kind of FinTech company that is different than a lot of the community builders or communities that we talk to. So this is a fun, fun conversation, especially just talking about like the rapid growth that happened for Public's community. They launched in 2019, and between 2019 and 2020, had 13 times growth. They've been very, very invested... No pun intended. They've been very invested in growing their membership with the people you don't traditionally see when you think financial investments, right?
They're really focused on diversity and inclusion. They have a very diverse community, and they work very hard to help people be comfortable with investing and dip a toe, and then get kind of savvy in it in a much more modern way than I think most of us are used to. So it's a great conversation with Willa, especially considering the type of community it is. If they can build a thriving community about financial investment, then my gosh, you can build a thriving community about all sorts of super niche ideas. It's just a matter of finding your people. And we talk about that. We talk about how did Public find this amazing, diverse group of friendly people looking to learn and support each other. We get into that. We get into community guidelines. Of course, you know how much I love a community guideline.
And by the way, their community guidelines are fantastic. If you just Google Public.com community guidelines, you'll get to the help document that's public facing and you can see them yourself. I would say they are great, and something to look at, if that's where you are. If you're trying to beef up your community guidelines, or just want to see an example of really good ones, they're awesome.
We talk a lot about just strategy of growth with keeping the focus of finding the right people, if you will, for your community and just about all sorts of community things. Really, I thought it was great. Here is your official disclaimer that we are going to talk about investing, investments, making money, losing money, all of that. And nothing you hear in this episode is financial advice or investment advice from Willa, from Public.com, and certainly not from me. That's not the advice I should be giving. Look, let's be honest.
So yeah. So buckle up and this is going to be a very fun episode, very informative. I think you will learn all sorts of things. I have a very robust list of takeaways for the outro. I will see you there. In the meantime, enjoy this episode of the Community Experience.
Jillian Benbow: All right. Welcome to this episode. I am so excited to have another Director of Community to talk shop with. This is like my favorite. So without further ado, welcome to the show Willa Tellekson-Flash, the Director of Community at Public.com. Welcome.
Willa Telekson Flash: Thanks for having me, Jillian. Excited to be here.
Jillian Benbow: I am excited, too. And Willa and I just recently found out we're in the same Accelerator program with Morning Brew, who Kyle was on the podcast a while back. I fell in love with everything they're doing, joined an Accelerator that is happening now, and Willa and I found each other there too. So it's just meant to be our small little community of community builders. I love it.
Willa Telekson Flash: It is a very tangled web, in the best possible way. Small world.
Jillian Benbow: Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. So Willa, you are the Director of Community for Public.com, which is a community of investors, which immediately sounds scary. So tell us what that is.
Willa Telekson Flash: Yeah. So Public is an investing platform that helps people be better investors. And we have a community of over three million investors as of this year. And community is a big piece of that. So as you said, investing sounds scary and it's my job and my team's job to try and make that a little bit less scary.
So in our app, which you can use to invest in stocks, ETFs, crypto, there's also a community feed so that you can interact with other investors, you can ask questions, you can engage with content that's designed to help you level up as an investor, so that you're not just like trying to figure this out by yourself in a dark room, because these things are so much easier when we talk about them with people and when we can have conversations and normalize the questions we have and not feel like we need to know everything.
So our community of investors is there on the platform and sort of like, we're in this together and we're leveling up together so that we can all access long term financial wealth.
Jillian Benbow: I love that. And it is, it's true. Like a lot of investing, things are kind of overwhelming and scary. So to be a platform that helps people invest, but then take a step further and say, "Hey, we have community where together, we can ask these questions and learn." That's fantastic. How did you get involved? I mean, not even just Public, but just in community in general?
Willa Telekson Flash: Yeah. None of us ended up in community in straightforward ways, I don't think. It certainly wasn't something that I was seeking out. But my first job after college was for a reproductive care company called LOLA. They sell period care products, sexual health products. And I was working on their customer experience team, which felt like a lot more than standard customer support because the things that we were talking about with our customers were so personal. And so we had to create a foundation of trust in order to normalize conversations about periods and sexual wellness.
And so while I was there, I feel like I was able to articulate my interest in creating spaces that encourage conversation about topics that are stereotypically taboo. One of my personal beliefs is that shame can't survive the sunlight. And what I mean by that is the more we talk about the things that we're embarrassed about or feel shame about, the more quickly we can eliminate those negative emotions and feel more empowered.
And so at the time, I don't think I really knew what community management was, but that interest is what led me to the community at Public. Periods and money are dramatically different topics, but both are things that we don't, or at least I didn't grow up comfortable talking about or feel like were normal things to talk about. And so I was really excited about the idea of my job being to include more people in conversations about investing and money in general, because whether we like it or not, money impacts all of our daily lives. But I do think that it was that interest in engaging people in conversations about topics that matter to us that led me to an actual job that was in community.
Jillian Benbow: Isn't it amazing? And then you find out like, wait, there's this whole... It's still pretty niche, but like there's this whole industry where I can like do that, which is fantastic.
Willa Telekson Flash: No, I feel like when I was trying to think about what I wanted to do when I grow up, so many of the jobs that now exist didn't exist then. And so it certainly wasn't something that I was like, "Let me look for a community manager title," but it's these little rabbit holes that we go down of things that we're interested in and curious about. And then all of a sudden, it's like, "Oh, that job description sounds like something that sounds really fun to me."
Jillian Benbow: Oh, absolutely. It's kind of like, there's all these different skill sets that may be traditionally in the workforce outside of like customer experience, customer service, I guess like aren't the top bullets on the list of a job description. But then in community, it's like all of them. And I know I found my first community job just being nosy and looking at... Because I like to look at websites' like about page, career page, I just like to see how things work. And through that found like, "Oh, there's a job out there that's actually quite in my natural skill set as a human." I like connecting people and I like being like, "Oh, I have the perfect thing for you and bringing people together and all of that." And I like doing it digitally. It's less exhausting.
Willa Telekson Flash: We all seem to be people who like helping people in different ways and connecting people and skills that feel like I just thought of them as parts of my personality and then saw that translate into work, which was cool.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Well, and I'm so interested. So going back to Public, because like you said, it's an investment website, I think traditionally, they're changing, for sure. So I'm not saying this about Public, but in general, when I think of like a FinTech or like financial investment firms and things and websites and thinking like Charles Schwab and things like that, they're boring. It's kind of like the dentist office of websites. Like you go there for a very specific reason and then you leave, unless you're someone like my husband, who's obsessed with looking at stocks. But like for me personally, like this isn't my interest. It's not my wheelhouse. And so I avoid it because it seems like a lot.
But it seems like Public has really identified that a lot of people feel that way. And so they're trying to make it fun almost in a way, and like you said, supportive, and there's all these different resources. So they've clearly, at some point, decided, "Yep. We're investing in community and this is a big part of our business." I'm curious how that plays out day to day. Like what does that look like?
Willa Telekson Flash: Yeah. I think one of the things that allowed us to succeed is that we started investing in community early. I was the second hire on the marketing team and came on to really kickstart community building when we were really small. Public launched in late 2019. And I started in March of 2020. And so was there before there was all of this growth, which allowed us to be more intentional about how we were building community. And I think that's really important. I think there are a lot of companies who sort of come in after the fact and they're like, "Oh, we have all these people. We should do something with that." But being more intentional about how we were growing community and having resources behind it early on allowed us to set a foundation for scaling.
But I think you're spot on. Investing is really intimidating. It was something that I knew... I remember when I was graduating from college, it was like, "Oh, I feel like I should invest, but I don't know what to do or how to do that." And my dad used E-Trade at the time. And so I tried to make a couple investments on that, but had no idea what all the numbers meant.
And I felt like I'm a pretty curious individual. I can usually teach myself things when I'm interested enough in them. And so why am I struggling so much to feel like I can do this? And so I felt like when I was applying for this community role at Public, I felt like I was sort of their target audience, someone who wanted to be investing, but found it intimidating. And so sort of took that approach to how I was building community from the beginning of, I'm not here to tell everyone what they're supposed to do. First of all, that wouldn't be allowed, but I'm here to be curious and to ask questions and to hear people's perspectives. And that's what creates an environment that is so fruitful in a community standpoint, from a community standpoint, because it's not some one person there to teach everybody. It's like, that's audience building, that's different. But it's really people who have different perspectives on different industries or different curiosities about certain products and things like that.
And so what our team does, I think first and foremost, is help people find that connection to an identity as an investor. I talk about that as helping people find their footholds. So an example being, if I know that you're really interested in running and your favorite running shoes are Nike, then you can tell me a lot about what you like about Nike as a company. And then you can connect that to the fact that Nike is a publicly traded company. And then you can sort of accidentally involve yourself in a conversation about why you might or might not invest in that company versus some of its competitors.
So I think starting from that very human place allowed us to sort of create trust and create interest and create curiosity before people could be overwhelmed by all these charts and numbers and terms that I didn't understand before. And as we've grown, we've tried to make sure that there's more and more information available to help people go beyond that initial interest.
So, okay. Once you're interested, how can you feel more confident in the investments that you're making? So how can we add content knowing what our community is interested in? And how can we add features to the app too, that help people understand the decisions they're making or understand more logistics of the companies that they're investing in, but staying close to knowing who your members are and having a community team that has a really strong finger on the pulse of what people are interested in or confused by, at any given point, and making sure that that knowledge is really woven into how other teams are working, takes it from something that's just an interest community on the side of a product to something that's really deeply woven into who we are as a brand and as a company.
Jillian Benbow: That is so great. I'm trying to order my follow up questions in order of importance, because there's so many. I'm curious how your team kind of developed that ongoing, the leveling up pieces, right? Like, so the support documentation or the resources, or the gamification, however you did it. So I decide, "Oh yeah, you're right. I'm going to invest in Nike shoes." And then it's kind of like that... or not Nike shoes, I'm going to invest in Nike. Like then what's the next thing I can learn? How can I watch their stock, or whatever it is? I'm curious just how you built that out to provide that support along the way as people got more and more confident and just educated, if you will, in investing.
Willa Telekson Flash: Yeah. I feel like the first thing my Compliance Team would want me to say, that talking about Nike is not investment advice. So I'm going to make that little disclaimer.
Jillian Benbow: They appreciate that.
Willa Telekson Flash: The biggest thing that I think comes after an initial interaction with someone is creating an environment where we're connecting people. And you mentioned that. That's a trait. I think that is common to many community builders. But as our community has scaled in numbers, it's not feasible for, first, it was me. And then we're still a pretty small team. There are four of us. It's not feasible for all of us to interact with every single one of our members.
And so we tried to put effort into connecting people with similar interests or similar curiosities so that if... we keep going with this sports example, if you're really interested in certain athletic companies and we connect you with folks who are also interested in athletics or apparel or any of these things, then in interacting with them, you're learning about the things that they're curious about. They're asking questions about what you're interested in. And it's sort of building this web that keeps growing organically.
But I think another job of our team has been to make sure we're connecting people with resources. And so as our editorial team is adding, we have these shows called Public Live, which are sort of like radio shows and we'll bring in experts, either company execs or industry experts to come in and break something down that's happening in the markets or talk, go deep on a subject that we know people are interested in and then our team can think, "Okay, we know that there's this cluster of folks who's really interested in this topic. So let's make sure that they know this exists." And then they then organically are starting conversations in our community about those topics. And so making sure that both the connections are happening, so people have other people to talk to about the things that are happening and that they're interested in, as well as the resources to inform those conversations, and sort of giving them the toolkit and then letting that continue to snowball in a good way.
Jillian Benbow: I love that. And I love that it's a larger team effort because a lot of times in these tech companies, for lack of a better term, not saying that Public is necessarily a tech company, but you know what I mean, there's a lot of different departments and sometimes, it's very siloed and sometimes, and in my experience, I've seen like the community team kind of gets pushed to the side of like importance and you're constantly having to remind leadership and like leader stakeholders, like, "Hey, we're kind of the backbone. We need support." So it sounds like your company has a very healthy understanding of community being that backbone.
Willa Telekson Flash: Yeah. And I think we've continued to work closely with other key teams. So I think the teams that we probably work the most closely with are the marketing team and the product team and the customer support team. Community sits alongside our editorial team. We sort of joint forces on what we call member advancement. And so we overlap a lot there, but also, by staying close to what's happening on the product team and staying close to what's happening with partnerships or brand campaigns. And by staying close to the questions that are coming into customer support, we're all sort of able to continuously inform each other, without anyone getting too far lost in a silo.
Jillian Benbow: The questions that come into community support are so important. Like there's so many patterns and things that can result in fantastically valuable content for community and for, yeah, editorial, like blog posts or articles or bringing in experts, like you said, for the Public Live. Like anybody listening that doesn't already pay close attention to the questions that come in, look for patterns because they're there, and now you have fantastically like super spicy, awesome content.
Willa Telekson Flash: Yeah. I mean, it feels like our team's job is to support that in a different way. So an example right now, it's June right now. The markets have been bonkers. There are a lot of people who, for the first time, are investing in a very volatile market. What the heck is happening? And so we're working closely with editorial to think about how can we support our community and by giving them context and the resources that they need to understand what's happening and how that affects them as investors. It's not just about creating engagement and connecting people, but really thinking about what is the value that we can provide for our community so that they can continue to grow.
Jillian Benbow: That's so great. Yeah. I've noticed a lot of people are experiencing, my family included, where it's like for the first time, all of your investment things are taking a nose dive when they've been climbing over time. And it's like, "Okay, we knew this was coming. Like this happens, it'll be okay. Long term investment, long term." But it is. You kind of have that like dooms day scenario or at least I do because I go through an anxiety, like downward spiral of just like, "Oh my God." But in reality it's like, "Okay. Deep breaths. This has happened many times. It'll happen many more. Like cool, calm, collected."
Willa Telekson Flash: Yeah. And I think being surrounded by other people to sort of have... remind each other of context is helpful, can sometimes prevent some of those spirals.
Jillian Benbow: Oh yeah, absolutely. I want to shift gears a little, although related. So Public has had exponential growth since 2019. I think 13 fold in a year, 2019 to 2020, which is amazing and possibly related. You have a wonderfully diverse membership base. 45% of the community are BIPOC and 40% identify as women as of 2020. I would love to hear, and this, I'm throwing a lot at you. So however you'd like to answer this, but I'd love to hear like just the growth strategy. Is there intention behind having such great diversity? Were there tactics you took to try to reach those audiences? Because I think this is something a lot of community builders are wanting to do and maybe just not even knowing how to do it in a way that's authentic and meaningful. And it seems like y'all figured that out. So I'd love to hear everything. Spill the tea, Willa.
Willa Telekson Flash: I think some of the growth, we were in the right place at the right time, in a lot of ways. When the markets dropped in March of 2020, when COVID hit the US, people were getting stimulus checks, people were at home, people were really curious about investing, and other ways to build wealth and we're looking for social connection.
And so being able to get both of those in one place on our app, I think was what allowed us to be a little bit of a magnet for a lot of folks and to grow pretty quickly in 2020. And then again at the beginning of 2021, there was a lot going on with meme stocks at the beginning of 2021, and a lot of strong opinions about institutions and just sort of the setup of the financial markets.
And we made the decision early in 2021 to eliminate something called PFOF or payment for order flow as a revenue stream, which is probably something that is for another podcast for someone else to talk about, but it brought a lot more people to our app. And I think in those moments of exponential growth, that's when, what you're talking about, diversity and inclusion and promoting a sense or creating a sense of belonging for our investors became really important because it would've been easy to just sort of let it spin out of control and let other people drive the tone and the atmosphere on the platform. And so those were moments where it was really important to us to have a strong grip on what we were building, and what we wanted the norms to be in terms of behavior and in terms of tone.
And so I think a couple things come to mind in terms of how we got there. The first was, we've always had pretty firm community guidelines about how people treat one another. And so there are a lot of behaviors that just don't belong on Public. You can take that to a different social media app, but name calling and disrespect and all these things. Like there's no place for that. This is an investing app. We don't need to get into some of those things. And so we hold our community to those standards. We have expectations that we've outlined since the beginning about how we treat one another so that people with different opinions, different identities can exist and interact on our platform.
The other thing that I think is really important is that diversity and inclusion needs to go beyond your community team in building a community. So that needs to overlap with partnerships. Who's on YouTube, who are on TikTok reading ads about our platform? If it's just one type of person, then that's only reaching one type of audience, and that's not going to help us reach the people that we want to. So even if we're tapping into smaller communities and smaller newsletters and smaller events, that allow us to reach more variety in terms of the backgrounds and the identities of the people that we're reaching, then it's valuable to do those things.
And I also think it's really important to feel like when you join a community, and especially if that's digital, that you pretty quickly see people who you feel like you identify with. When you have like people to follow lists, making sure that you're not just putting the same type of people in those lists or that an algorithm isn't just putting the same type of person in those lists.
Similar with ads. We did a big campaign last summer and had real community members on billboards and taxi toppers all over New York city. And those were all real community members, but also making sure that it wasn't just one type of person, because then if you don't see yourself on those ads, then you're not incentivized to join the product or to join the platform.
So I think it's something that A, we can always do better with. The financial industry is still very, very white, and also I think pretty male, but there's work being done there. So it's always something that we can do better on, but it can't just be one team's job. And so it's our team's job on the community side to be really firm about how people are interacting with each other so that people aren't put off by fear of being disrespected or shamed or whatever it may be.
It's the marketing team's job to make sure that they're reaching the type of people who we want to be part of our community. And that continues to overlap or to spin off into other directions too. But it was certainly intentional, I think, to answer that piece of your question, to make sure that we were getting involved in events and partnerships and putting boundaries in place to make sure that this space could reach more than just one type of person.
Jillian Benbow: That's so great. I was furiously taking notes because it's one of those things that as you're saying, I'm like, "Oh yeah, that's obvious." But before you'd said it, I hadn't maybe connected it in my head as far as like deciding, "I want more of this kind of person in this community. And so now here's the strategy I'm going to take," versus being like, "I hope people in this... This type of person sees and joins my community," right? It's you have to take action. You have to go for it, right?
Willa Telekson Flash: Yeah. Yeah. It needs to be intentional and it needs to be purposely done rather than just like hoping that people will show up.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, absolutely. I'm trying to figure out what the common kind of moderation issues you would have in this sort of community would be. Like, is it mostly fighting like over which crypto is better? Or like what kind of arguments do people get into, or what kind of issues pop up?
Willa Telekson Flash: It's been a little bit of a journey. I think towards the beginning, there were... I mean, in 2020, there was a lot happening in political spaces. And so a lot of different opinions, which when people have strong opinions about things that matter to them, things can get a little bit heated. And so I think there was some of that early on.
More recently, I think with crypto, there's a lot of spam in crypto. And so thinking about how can we make sure that that stays out of our platform. But I think on a day to day basis, some of it is just people don't realize that they can't really troll people on Public. To have an account and be able to participate in the community space, you have to have a brokerage account and therefore we have a lot of personal information.
And so if someone comes in and tries to be this sort of ridiculous troll, once we catch someone doing it, it's like, you can't just come back with a new email address and try again. But there's still, I think, some people learn that the hard way.
But I think what we have been really lucky to see is that because our community cares about the environment that exists, that it's not just us looking out for negative behavior, but people sort of seeing things that don't look like what is okay, and calling them out and reporting things and flagging them on their own. And I think moderation can only scale that way. Your community has to care and be invested in it, because there are just not enough human eyeballs for us to staff, to do that on our own.
But I think the... Going back to one of your original questions here, money is really personal. And so in the same way that political things get heated, conversations can get heated when people may have lost money or when something wild is happening at a company they've invested in. And so that's where our team comes in and is a reminder of community guidelines sometimes, because there are so many different things at play in conversations about investing and companies that people are investing in because there's the politics of it. There are the business elements of it. And then there's just the inherently personal nature of money that make these subjects matter to people.
But I will sort of close that by saying, it's certainly not perfect. It's certainly a social platform where moderation is required and we have to look out for our community, but I feel very lucky that there are so many members in our community who care about the health of our community, that look out for each other as well.
Jillian Benbow: That's great. It does. It sounds like such a healthy community, and it makes sense, given the topic. The fact that you need a brokerage account makes it very helpful. I assume that you could, hypothetically, if someone was just... or maybe you've done this, but if someone was just continuingly pushing the boundaries, being problematic, you could remove them from the community piece and they'd still have access to their investments.
Willa Telekson Flash: We've worked with our product team and our brokerage teams to build out our own moderation features that work the way we need them to, which is one of the positives of having your community built into your own platform, is that you can add tooling as things arise that you need to address.
Jillian Benbow: That actually takes me to what I wanted to talk about next. So, perfect. Yeah, as you mentioned, your community platform is a custom build. It's you have a product team that did it. I've worked for a couple of those type of organizations as well in my past and tons, great advantages such as like you said, like custom features, whatnot. How hard is that like to... Is it difficult to get what you need? I know talking to product people, what we want and what's possible given the architecture that exists isn't always... they don't always align. In fact, seem to rarely align, in my experience. And maybe it's just because I dream big with feature requests, but I'm curious, how's it going? How does that go at Public?
Willa Telekson Flash: I think the positive is that we're all really excited about what we could build for our community, and what we can do with social features in a way that allow people to continue to level up as investors. I think the challenge is less so differing incentives and more so just bandwidth. I think that's a pretty common thing at tech companies, that there just aren't enough engineers and product designers and any of those things to go around.
So I think what that's looked like for us is being really careful and being pretty focused on documenting the ideas we have and the requests that we have and having conversations with the folks on our product team about what those are and keeping a list of how we would prioritize them on the community side, and when there's sort of an opening with bandwidth to push forward on the ones that we really need.
And then when there are times when product bandwidth is focused elsewhere, to be a little bit scrappy when we can, the caveat being there are times that things might be needed more urgently and not being afraid to sort of raise voices. And I don't mean raise voices at people, but sort of ring the alarm bell of if there's something that is becoming really urgent, for the community to advocate strongly there.
And so being thoughtful about when we are saying, "This is something that we really need, really quickly," and when we're saying, "Here's a list of our nice to haves and here's why they could have impact. And here's what we think would be great about them," but sort of having that relationship with folks on product so that there's trust that when alarm bells are raised, that they're being raised for a reason, and when there's time to be creative and be innovative and think big, that that's a completely different situation.
So I think there's always room for more things to be built into the product, to make it the most valuable environment on an app for our community. But I think that we've done a good job at communicating the why behind what we're building and at thinking about, "Okay, when we don't have the resources on the product side that we all would ideally like, how can we make sure that we're still continuing to grow with our community until we get sort of that next opening for some more product innovation?"
Jillian Benbow: That was so eloquently put. It's definitely, and I think there is some value to that to any community builder that is working with a product team is, one, establishing that mutual trust to say, "Hey, if I bring something to you, it's not just on a whim, there's a need. And here's why." So if I escalate or, as you said, like speak up about, "Hey, this is something that we need, like we need it. And here's why," versus, "Yeah, it would be nice," which I think we're all guilty of. I'm sure I know I am.
I'm curious, just thinking about, especially because you've been there since pretty much the beginning, is there any feature release in the community that you're just like, "Oh, that was the best?" It was just such a great upgrade.
Willa Telekson Flash: Well, when I first joined Public, the only way to interact with the community was to make an investment, either to buy something or to sell something, which required you to spend money or to sell an investment in order to participate. You could comment, but in order to post, you had to make an investment or make a trade.
And now, we have so many other ways to post or to create content, not only just posting like free text, but also creating charts that are built into the app, comparing different stocks or creating polls to get a sense of what other people are thinking. There are so many more features that allow people to be involved without having sort of a pressure to trade. We feel pretty strongly that you don't want to gamify the actual investing piece because what we've seen historically in the financial markets is that people who are trading consistently don't usually do as well in the long term.
So having more social features that people can get involved with, I think opens up participation in the community to a much larger group of people and creates room for much wider range of perspectives to be shared. And also just makes it more interesting to read through what's happening.
Jillian Benbow: That's so great. Okay. We're coming to the close, to the elusive rapid fire. But before we do, I just want to ask you about something that happened this year. Let's talk about the Forbes 30 Under 30 in marketing. I feel like you know a little bit about that. Tell me.
Willa Telekson Flash: That was a pretty cool honor to be listed on Forbes 30 Under 30 list. And I think what it said to me was community is really important and we're seeing the value that resourcing community can have at companies, and not only resourcing community with a singular community manager and leaving it at that, but actually starting to build out community teams where there's room for strategic thinking and leadership and involvement with leadership teams rather than just a very siloed, individual contributor.
So I hope that in the future there, we won't just be put under a marketing list. I don't technically work on a marketing team, but I mean, it's pretty cool to be recognized for the work that we've done to add a community to something that stereotypically hasn't had one. But I think the additional asterisks there is that community isn't something that I do alone at Public. And there's a whole team of us doing that work. And so it felt like a recognition of what we're all doing, and the effort that collectively is going into to creating this on our platform.
Jillian Benbow: I know I put you on the spot with that one, but it's important. I think it's very easy for us to be like, "Oh, okay, cool." And like, that's a big deal. So congratulations. It sounds very well, well earned. And I really respect what you said about it being your team. That's everything, right? I mean, we are our community teams.
And I agree, someday, the people will realize community is not marketing. But until that day, getting it in marketing is still pretty cool. And if anybody wants to look it up, there's totally a Forbes page about it with a profile. And the accolades that they speak up are the things that we've been talking about in this episode, but I guess not fully talking about. Like, we've talked about growth and that your membership base is diverse and that it's a very welcoming, very well thought out community experience. But what we didn't talk about is Public's valuation is $1.2 billion, which is... I mean, at that point, it's just monopoly money. It's like, is this real? So that's amazing. So congratulations. That's amazing.
Willa Telekson Flash: Thank you.
Jillian Benbow: All right. So on that, after putting you on the spot to embarrass you, but not really to embarrass you, just to make sure people do... that you had received a Forbes 30 Under 30, because we need to celebrate our wins more as women, as community builders, as being under 30. It's been a long time since I've been under 30 and wow, like good for you.
So we are going to move into the rapid fire. I'm going to ask you a question. Kind of just the first thing that comes to mind, sort of answer. There are no wrong answers. Although, I want to ask follow up questions for the sake of time, I most likely won't. Sometimes, I can't help myself. Are you ready?
Willa Telekson Flash: I'm ready.
Jillian Benbow: Okay. First question, Willa. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Willa Telekson Flash: The first thing that I remember wanting to be is a firefighter, but mostly a teacher.
Jillian Benbow: That could be a fun little hybrid. You could teach fire safety. Anyways.
Willa Telekson Flash: Yeah. Not sure where the firefighter piece came from, but a teacher was what I wanted to be for a much longer period of time.
Jillian Benbow: Nice. How do you define community?
Willa Telekson Flash: Community, I think is a place where you feel like you belong. And it's a place where you get value not only from what other people are bringing, but also what you're contributing. But that belonging piece, I think, is really important.
Jillian Benbow: Indeed. Indeed. All right. Pretend you have a bucket list, if you don't, but what is something on that so-called bucket list that you have done in your life?
Willa Telekson Flash: Oh, that I have done? Learning a second language. I speak French fluently and lived there for a year when I was 16, but young, curious, early teenager self wanted to see the world, as so many of us do. And language felt like a tool to unlock some more of that.
Jillian Benbow: I love that. Where in France did you live?
Willa Telekson Flash: I lived in a city called Rennes, which is in Brittany. So north and west of Paris, just under Normandy.
Jillian Benbow: Beautiful. Okay. And then the flip of that, what's something on your bucket list that you have not yet done, but you hope to do?
Willa Telekson Flash: I think if money were no object, I would build an in-person community space. I love making beverage concoctions of the tea sort, and I've always wanted to open my own sort of coffee shop community space. It's gone through iteration. Sometimes, it's a coffee shop and ceramic studio. Sometimes, I want to get licensed as a masseuse and have... there would be a like wellness practice as part of it. But I live in New York city and the spaces that have made New York feel smaller and feel like home are coffee shop, cafes, et cetera, where I can just exist. And so I've thought about what that would look like if I had my own.
Jillian Benbow: I mean, please do it. I really hope you achieve that. It sounds amazing. Especially like a ceramic studio, plus coffee, plus massages, plus hang out, like take my money.
Willa Telekson Flash: Got to focus the scope of that business plan at some point. But we'll get there. We'll get there.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I mean, do you though? It's like in Japan, they have like owl cafes where it's not just cafe, there's owls you can hang out with and then there's cat ones. And it's like, if that can work in Tokyo, surely.
Willa Telekson Flash: Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: Surely.
Willa Telekson Flash: Just dream a little bit bigger. Exactly.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. What is a book you wish everybody would read?
Willa Telekson Flash: I love reading. And then like, choose... I'm like looking around at my bookshelves. I'm like, what have I...
Jillian Benbow: It's kind of a hard... It's like an easy question, but also a very hard question.
Willa Telekson Flash: A really hard question. The book that I've given people the most that's fiction is Girl, Woman, Other, which I read a couple years ago and was just a really powerful and beautiful story. And then the non-fiction book, especially in the community space is The Art Of Gathering by Priya Parker. So that's two, not one, but-
Jillian Benbow: That's okay.
Willa Telekson Flash: ... that's what I would go with.
Jillian Benbow: Definitely more is more when it comes to books. All right. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live?
Willa Telekson Flash: That's another one, where I'm like how to choose only one? I'm only answering this today. Today, it would be Amsterdam. I spent six months there when I was in college and I love biking. I love being close to other Scandinavian countries. It's a super cool city. People are really friendly. People are really welcoming. You don't feel like a foreigner, so it would maybe be there.
Jillian Benbow: Nice. Okay. You're doing great. Final question. Willa, how do you want to be remembered?
Willa Telekson Flash: A good friend. And I think that expands into a good sister, a good partner, a good daughter, et cetera, but at the heart of that, a good friend.
Jillian Benbow: That's the mic drop. All right. Well, this has been fantastic. I'm so glad we get to connect in just regular things for the next eight weeks, I think, I don't even know, with the Morning Brew Accelerator. Well, first let's do Public first. If people want to learn more about Public or join, what should they do?
Willa Telekson Flash: It's a very easy URL, Public.com. Exactly how the word sounds, P-U-B-L-I-C, Public.com. You can download our app there and learn a lot more about that app.
Jillian Benbow: I'm so impressed they got that URL. That's like that in and of itself is amazing. And then more importantly, Willa, where can people follow you, find you on the internet, if they want to learn more and see what you're up to?
Willa Telekson Flash: I am @Willactf on Twitter, Willa Tellekson-Flash on LinkedIn. And if you do download Public, Willa TF on the Public app.
Jillian Benbow: Excellent. Thank you so much for being here today, Willa. This has been so great. It's so fun to talk to somebody in community, but in like just a totally different aspect or industry that is using community. So I think this was highly valuable to everyone listening. I know I had a great time.
Willa Telekson Flash: Really appreciate it, Jillian. It's always fun to dig into the things that we're immersed in all day long, and excited to continue to watch the community world grow.
Jillian Benbow: Me, too.
Jillian Benbow: thatAnd that was the episode with Willa. My goodness. I have so many key takeaways from this conversation. I'm going to try to keep it brief, not my strong suit, but let's just dive right in. I think one of the things that really stood out for me, and hopefully for you as well, is just this idea of helping people to find their connection to whatever your community's about. So in the Public.com case, this of course is helping people find their connection to investing. And Willa used the example of figuring out... I mean, it's a puzzle, right? Like there's a member, "What are their interests? Oh, they're into running. Okay. What kind of running shoes do you like? Ooh, you like Nike running shoes? Well guess what, that's a publicly traded company. So let's look at them because you have an interest adjacent to that."
So it'll be more interesting to look at Nike's stock and see what the board of directors at Nike are doing versus say, Taco Bell, which just came out of my... just fell out of my brain, Taco Bell, don't ask.
So that, right, we can all do that. What is it that the people in our community can connect to, that then we can have them associate with our community and get value from our community? I think that's beautiful. I definitely this idea of start at the human place and then branch out from there versus just expect people to jump right into something, especially if it's complicated, right? The concept of investing is intimidating. It's complicated. There's charts. There's graphs. There's forecasts. And some people take to that, like a duck to water, and other people want to light it on fire and run away.
And so figuring out what kind of person that human is, right, and then figuring out how to best connect it for them and where they are, it makes a lot of sense. And it makes me think about school, right? And Like think about how much you could have learned if that's how your education was, that someone looked at you and said, "Well, they're interested in these things. So we're going to bring that into teaching them how to do something. We're going to start with that human place, and we're going to help them find their connection to algebra or whatever." Point being, I think we can all take this and look at it under the lens of our own community, and potentially help people in our community kind of do that, quote unquote, member advancement.
Something else that we touched on semi-briefly is just the importance of paying attention to the questions you're getting, not just in your community. If you have an inbox, if people can email you, reply to your newsletters, things like that, what questions are people asking? And which ones... Sometimes, they're questions because your newsletter or whatever it is, forgot to answer that in the content. But sometimes, it's just something that you're like, "Okay. People are definitely confused by this thing. Can I create a blog post, a resource within my community about it?" Because it's obviously a stumbling block. That is a treasure trove. As I said before, treasure trove, what questions are you getting?
We pay close attention to this at SPI. I realize we're very large, as is Public, but that doesn't mean even as an individual with the community, we can't be paying attention to the questions that are coming up and then create resources and content around those things.
I really especially love how the Public team at large went around really holding community guidelines and therefore the behavior in the community at such a high mark. As we all know, I love onboarding. I love community guidelines. And I think something about everything, setting that tone from any kind of external advertising or how the company at large talked about community, but also the CX team really driving the tone, really understanding what they were building and modeling and maintaining behavior norms, that's everything. It's everything.
And if a community where you have to have a brokerage account and your financial information linked to it, if they're having community guideline issues, then of course the rest of us will, right? I mean, that is a high stakes community to be messing around in and pushing boundaries. But of course, it's going to happen. It's the world we live in.
So really having very clear guardrails on how to participate in my house is just paramount. And anytime someone brings it up, I will bring it up in the takeaways, because it's just a huge part of a healthy community. There will always be arguments. There will always be people, personalities that don't get along. It's our job to make sure those people can, if they're willing to play by the rules and it's just whatever, like that people can exist in a community. Much like in your neighborhood, there's probably a neighbor that's kind of annoying. We're not going to kick them out of the neighborhood. We have to learn how to live with them peacefully.
And so our job as mayor of our community now in the digital, not in the neighborhood, our job is to keep the peace, but keep the safety as well and make sure people feel heard and loved. And you know, in a digital community, we can evict people, if we need to. So we've got that power.
So many other things. I think I want to just specifically talk about something that I think is amazing and so smart and obvious, but also do we do this, and it's invite the people you want in your community to your community. It's like getting a party all set up and hoping people will show up versus sending invitations out, right? And so I think Public did this in a very smart way with their partnerships. So if you're going to have a YouTuber advertise, talk about Public, not just necessarily going for the biggest name in investing or whatever it is, go for the person that looks like or is like, or is really, the type of person you want in your community. That is genius.
So as promised, lots of babbling here. I hope you had the same takeaways or maybe you had totally different ones. Let us know. Hit us up on Twitter @TeamSPI or hit me up personally @JillianBenbow on the tweets, on the Twitters. I'd love to hear your thoughts. What did you think about this episode? What were your takeaways? Also, if you haven't already, please like, subscribe and review the show, wherever you listen. That'll help us continue to grow our audience of community builders. And then we can just have a big party, all of us. You're all invited. Community builders unite. And on that, I'll see you next Tuesday.
You can find Willa Tellekson-Flash on Twitter @Willacff find her on LinkedIn by looking up her name, Willa Tellekson-Flash. And of course, she's on Public.com. Check her out in the Public community.
Your lead host for the community experience is me, Jillian Benbow. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our senior producer is David Grabowski. And our editor is Paul Grigoras. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Theme music by David Grabowski. See you next Tuesday.