December 22, 2014, exactly 6 years ago today, I wrote an email that would change my life forever. A few months later, it played a role in the most batshit crazy 18 days of my entire career.
It seems like yesterday and a hundred years ago all at the same time. I’ve shared some of this story in my blog before, but there’s a lot more to it, and it’s a story that I personally think deserves to be told. It might seem like some of this was luck, and maybe the timing of how some things worked out was lucky, but ultimately it’s about putting yourself in a position to make the right things happen. Buckle up, because this is a crazy, bumpy, curvy ride down memory lane.
OMG, I Just Shotgunned A Beer With Erica Kuhl! 🍻
Back in 2014, when I was working at Atlassian, I was struggling to connect with other Enterprise Community managers. The meetups that existed ended up being a lot of community managers for startups, and we were solving completely different problems and facing completely different challenges. We started reaching out to other enterprise community managers to get a group together. There were a ton of great folks at our first meetup- Pinterest, AirBnB, Oracle, Twilio, and Optimizely. We invited a speaker from Salesforce to come talk about the work her team was doing, most specifically the Salesforce MVP program (top contributor program). Into my life walks Erica Brynn Kuhl.
Erica, the Senior Director of Community (at the time) who had been building the incredible Salesforce community for several years at this point, explained the ins and outs of the Salesforce MVP program to the group. I still have my meticulous notes from that day. She rapid-fire answered all of our questions. Her ginormous diamond ring on her tiny little hand sparkled as she gesticulated with every answer. She had endless energy. She was spewing rainbows of brilliance while still being funny and casual. I was officially obsessed with Erica Kuhl.
Just a few days before this meetup, I attended the first CMX Summit (a conference for community professionals). I got the CMX Summit feedback survey a few days after this Enterprise Community Managers Meetup, and one of the questions was something along the lines of “who do you want to hear speak at the next summit?” I bet you can guess my answer.
Fast forward to the next CMX Summit in November of 2014. There was Erica, keynoting on the big stage in a very, very cold airplane hangar. After she presented, she bounced over to me (as Erica Kuhl does- if you know her, you know she hops around like a little energizer bunny). She kvetched about her phone almost dying. I offered up my battery and Atlassian-branded charging cable.
Side note: This ended up becoming a theme in our relationship. I was always prepared, Erica flew by the seat of her pants. I was responsible and Erica was crazy. This became apparent during our many trips around the world, and it still makes me laugh. I (responsibly) came prepared with rupees when we went to India. On our day of shopping Erica (as predicted) did not have any rupees. She kept asking me to borrow money and when I pulled it out of my wallet, she’d literally swipe it out of my hand to go run off and buy something. My little teenager, Erica. I started being even more prepared before every trip and every event. Erica and I always lost our voice at conferences, so I’d bring two packs of lozenges- one for me and one for her. Lip balm, bandaids, gum, water, cash- I mean you name it. If you’ve seen Veep, I was basically like Gary, Selina’s body man, who carried around the murse- except in this situation, Erica never asked me to. I just did it because, well, it’s Erica.
Getting back to Erica charging her phone with my battery at CMX Summit 2014. She was grateful that I was able to lend it to her. While she was getting plugged in, I texted my boyfriend (now husband): “Holy shit! Erica Kuhl is using my charger!!” She and I spent the rest of the day in the back of the room chatting with each other. The best way to describe it, well, it was just fun and easy. Later that evening, there was a small gathering for the speakers. I wasn’t a speaker, but I beebopped my way over to that event because David Spinks and Max Altschuler, who were leading the event, couldn’t say no to me. Though I had only known them for around six months, some of the feedback I shared in the feedback survey from the previous CMX summit left a…lasting impression. If you’re interested in that story, check out the Masters of Community podcast I did with David Spinks. Should be posted in January.
The gathering was small, but high energy. Everyone was having a great time. At one point, someone (I won’t name names…but his name rhymes with Rayvid Drinks) called out to everyone that speakers were going to shotgun a beer. Everyone got in a circle, and I can hear Erica in my ear complaining “Oh Geez, Oh God, I don’t know. I can’t believe you’re making me do this. Ohh God, Ok” I really wish y’all could hear me say this out loud- I do an amazing Erica Kuhl impression. We shotgunned beers. She whined that it was awful. It really was awful. Why did we do that?
I immediately grabbed my phone and texted my boyfriend (now husband) “OMG! I just shotgunned a beer with Erica Kuhl!” Clearly things had escalated quickly since the previous text about her using my phone charger.
In case you’re wondering, my boyfriend (now husband) is named Eric. I’m not using his name because it’s confusing. Trust me, I know from experience. I had to change Erica’s name in my phone to Kuhl because I kept texting her “😘” and lists of chores that needed to be done that day.
Some Day, One Day, You Might Need Another Enthusiastic Community Person To Join You 🙋🏼♀️
A few weeks later, I put my brave pants on and sent Erica an email- 6 years ago today.
Photo text: December 22, 2014- Howdy Erica, How are you doing? Hope all has been going well! I’ve spent the last couple weeks creating my Community “wish list” and developing the Community Strategy for the next year. I keep finding myself coming back to your documentation to confirm hypotheses and to spark new ideas. It’s really incredible and I can’t thank you enough for sharing. I know I’ve told you this before, but just want to reiterate that you are my Community hero, and the Salesforce community is my north star. Just throwing this out there, but if you ever find yourself looking to hire someone for your team, I would love to work with you someday. It’s really hard to find people that really understand community, and every time I come across something you have written and shared, I’m completely re-energized. Plus, you can shot-gun a beer like a pro, a much-needed skill to be successful in life. :D I know, I know, headcount is always difficult to come by, but I figure someday, one day, you might need another enthusiastic community person to join you…I’m definitely interested. Happy Holidays to you and your family! Cheers, Holly
Photo Text: December 31, 2014- Hi! What a great note — this made my year! Thanks for taking the time to reach out, it’s hard work we do and we have to stick together. While I don’t have any headcount at the moment, it is ALWAYS good to know you are interested in teaming up. We have big plans for the community this year and I think you would make a great addition to our power team. I have some 5 year plans too — the wheels are always turning. Let’s grab lunch and community geek out when I’m there in Jan. Have a great New Year and thanks again for emailing. Erica Kuhl, Sr. Director of Community
THIS IS WHERE SHIT GOT CRAZY. 🤯
Throughout my blog posts, I have shared my struggles with getting buy-in from my manager at Atlassian. The CEOs were (and are) absolutely amazing, but when it comes down to it, your manager determines your fate. And it just wasn’t working. A recruiter reached out to me with an opportunity and it sounded interesting. I interviewed. Another two recruiters reached out to me with interesting opportunities. I interviewed. I got three offers. I picked the one I thought I was most interested in, and I signed the offer. A few days after signing the offer, I started having doubts, but I figured it must be nerves, so I pressed on.
February 2, 2015 was the day that kicked off the craziest 18 days of my career.
I told my manager I was leaving Atlassian. She seemed excited, even giddy, and in that moment, I remember being sad. I was sad that I loved everything about that company except her. After her initial giddy reaction, her response to my resignation was to berate me for hiring someone for the community team a month earlier. She made this person go through NINE rounds of interviews for a coordinator role. It’s not that a coordinator role isn’t important, but this was absurd- for any role, really. She didn’t trust me, she didn’t really like the person I hired, and now she was pissed that I did it before leaving (not that I knew at the time). In case you’re wondering, that hire ended up staying five years and is one of the most exceptional community professionals I know.
We ended the awkward meeting with me giving three weeks notice, making my last day February 20th.
When one of the two CEOs at Atlassian, Scott Farquhar, found out I was leaving, he immediately reached out and said something along the lines of “shit shit shit. I’m gutted. I’m on vacation- let’s set up some time when I’m back” Now, at this point, I’m a community manager at a company of 800. The CEO of this company, who I respect, admire, and look up to sends me this email. I’ve maybe talked to him at length two or three times, but he definitely knew my work. I literally almost fell out of my chair. We talked. I explained to him why I was leaving. He listened. He asked questions. I felt truly appreciated for the first time in a very long time.
Another side note: It’s so important to take the time to thank the people that have had a positive impact on your life and career. I recently did that with a few people, and Scott was one of them.
Here’s part of the message I recently sent to him, which describes how I felt about his reaction to me leaving:
“When I resigned, you reached out and asked to meet with me. You asked if I’d consider staying. While it ultimately didn’t work out for me to stay, the time you took to reach out to me, and the thoughts you shared on that call left an everlasting impact on me. I felt recognized and appreciated for the work I cared about so deeply. It gave me the confidence I needed to understand the value I bring and that I never need to settle for less. I have so much respect for you and what you’ve built, and what may have seemed a small, every day gesture to you, is a moment I look back at with pride and appreciation.”
And while Scott is the CEO of one of the most successful companies in the world, and it’s been five years since I left Atlassian, he wrote a heartfelt response. He appreciated my note. Don’t assume that someone is too busy or important to care about you. I can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure the people that have impacted your life and career know what it meant to you. I will always appreciate Scott for the boost he gave me at a time when I needed it the most.
At the end of the call with Scott, he asked me to send him an email with 4–5 things they could do that would convince me to stay. That in itself was flattering, and to be honest, mind blowing.
My list was pretty simple:
- Community Team headcount growth to match company growth- I was working 12–16 hour days to build the community. I was exhausted. Work-life balance didn’t exist, and I could never do on my own what I could do with a team. Especially since Atlassian was growing so quickly.
- Move Community out of Marketing and into Customer Success- I have never thought Community belongs in Marketing. I wanted to be more closely tied with Customer Success. This would also move me under a new manager that believed in community.
- Match the offer I got from the other company- This one is pretty simple. Match the salary I was offered.
- Move to Austin office with no salary adjustment- I was living in San Francisco when we first opened the Austin office. This opportunity was offered to anyone that wanted to move there, but it was only offered for a limited time. No salary adjustment and a stipend for moving expenses. I ALWAYS planned to move back to Austin. When I asked my manager to go, she said the option wasn’t available to me. When I pressed to ask why, she said “I don’t trust you.” Remember, at this point I’m working 12–16 hour days. I’m putting everything into building this community. Her saying she didn’t trust me felt like being punched in the gut.
I started getting really excited when I sent the list off to Scott. I WANTED to stay at Atlassian. It’s an exceptional company with an amazing community. I also started panicking a little because the more I learned about the new company I had signed with, the less comfortable I felt with my decision. I waited patiently-ish for a response that I ended up receiving on the night of Thursday, February 12th.
The email from Scott basically said that he couldn’t make it happen. I was devastated. I fell into my boyfriend (now husband) and started sobbing. I said- WORD FOR WORD- “I guess I’m going to [X Company] now. Unless Erica Kuhl calls me.”
AND THIS IS WHERE THINGS GET REALLY FUCKING CRAZY. 🤯🤯
The next morning, I woke up and as per usual, grabbed my phone to check my email. There it was in my inbox. An email from Erica Kuhl. Remember, I hadn’t talked to Erica AT ALL since I sent her that email (more of a love letter) in December 2014.
Now you may not believe me, but my husband was there and remembers this story the exact same way. I said “unless Erica Kuhl calls me” and woke up to an email from her out of the blue. I screamed. My husband was less than thrilled with the 7am wake up, but he also couldn’t believe what he saw.
Photo text: February 13th- Holly, I wondered if you happen to have the evening of 2/25 open for a drink with a fellow Community geek? I have some changes happening on my team and I would love to chat with you about that. I’m in town speaking at the Customer Engagement Summit and jetting in and out so my time is limited unfortunately. Let me know. Erica Kuhl, Sr. Director of Community
Photo text: February 13th- OooH, The Palace. Very fancy! I will look around and see what I can find in the area. I also have no idea where the cool spots are these days :) In other news, I’ve actually decided to leave Atlassian. I’ll tell you a little bit more about my decision when we chat, but in the end, it was just growing more and more apparent they were not willing to invest in or grow the community program. My last day here will be the 20th. Not sure what exactly you mean by changes on your team, but if you are expanding it, and interesting in chatting with me about that, that’s great news! However, I’ve actually accepted a role starting on the 23rd to build a B2C community at a mobile startup. I’m still really interested in chatting though, like I said before, I’m your #1 fan and would love to be in the know about what you are up to and how you are growing your team. Hope you have an awesome weekend, and I look forward to seeing you soon! Holly
I TOLD YOU THIS PART WAS CRAZY! 🤯
After a little bit of back and forth, we decided to connect a couple days later, on Monday, February 16th.
Let’s do a refresher on the dates. As of Monday, February 16th, 2015:
- I connected with Erica on the phone.
- I’ve just started my last week at Atlassian with my last day being Friday, February 20th
- I signed an offer with another company and have a start date of Monday, February 23rd
Erica and I connected to talk about the role, and she asked if I could go into the office to interview with her team on Wednesday, February 18th (2 days later). I interviewed with her team. The next day, February 19th, my second to last day at Atlassian, I had a phone interview with Erica’s manager at the time. It was a tough interview, and I was convinced I bombed it. That night was my Atlassian going away party. We went to karaoke, of course. At around midnight, I get a ping on Hipchat from my current manager.
IF YOU THOUGHT THE PREVIOUS TWO PARTS WERE CRAZY, JUST YOU WAIT… 🤯🤯🤯
I wish I had saved the text from this message on HipChat because I’m sure it was pretty entertaining to read word for word. It was something along the lines of “I really appreciate how you’ve handled yourself on your way out… I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I think you should stay… call me in the morning so we can discuss.”
Let’s do another another timeline refresher about exactly where we are at this point:
- It’s midnight- technically Friday morning, February 20th, my last day at Atlassian
- I am waiting to hear from the Salesforce recruiter who said she would call me in the morning, Friday, February 20th
- The company I’ve accepted an offer from still thinks I’m starting the following Monday, February 23rd (I asked for a week off in between but they said no- RED FLAG)
We’re Going To Have To Move Mountains To Make It Happen ⛰
I ignored the message from my manager and went home. The next morning, my last day at Atlassian, I was in no rush to put myself together to get into work. I may or may not have had a few drinks the night before. Another ping on HipChat from my manager around 7am. Something along the lines of “I wanted to make sure you saw my message last night. I think we can give you everything you asked for, but we’re going to have to move mountains to make it happen before the end of the day. Can we schedule some time?”
I agree to schedule time with her at 11am. Then, maybe 10 minutes later, I get an email from the Salesforce recruiter asking if we can speak at 11. I literally can’t make this stuff up. So I then reschedule the meeting with my manager to 1pm.
You have to remember that at this point, I have no idea which of the three companies I’ll be working at on Monday- just three days later. My blood pressure was through. the. roof. 🆘
The Salesforce recruiter calls at 11 with a bunch of questions. No offer at this point, and she didn’t say she had an offer coming my way. Just asked the questions. I should have known, but at this point, I’m not sure what to expect. She said she’d call me back that afternoon. Salesforce knew I was starting a new role on Monday, and if they wanted me to work there, they had to get me an offer by February 20th (that day) at the latest. It was pretty crazy if you think about it. The email from Erica was just one week before, and there I was, hoping to get an offer from their recruiter just 7 days later. If you’ve ever interviewed at Salesforce, you’d know pulling this off would be a miracle.
At 1pm, I hopped on a call with my manager- she was out of the office that day (which checks out, since it was my last day, and she didn’t think she needed to be there, I guess). The conversation was weird to say the least. I started by asking how she knew about the list of things I asked Scott for since she mentioned it in her HipChat message. She told me that after I sent my list, she had a meeting with our CEO, Chief People Officer, and President of the company to discuss my proposal. I couldn’t wrap my head around why so many important people would be on a call talking about what to do with me. This was not a normal practice at Atlassian. Important people were talking about what to do with me because it was important to them. They wanted me to stay. Once again, I was flattered, and I felt recognized and appreciated.
My manager told me that she was the reason that my requests didn’t work out. She admitted that she told everyone in that meeting that I was difficult to work with. “But I realized you weren’t difficult to work with. I had put you in a box, and you were bucking. A bucking bronco! You just kept bucking!” She must have said “bucking” ten times on that call. I was floored. Not just because of the ridiculous use of the word “bucking,” but also because I couldn’t believe she had admitted all of this to me. She continued, “I think we can get you what you asked for. Or at least versions of what you asked for. What if you move to Austin in six months and we keep you at your current salary- which would basically be like a raise?!”
At this point I was exhausted, annoyed, and hungover. She waited until my last day to spring this on me and expected me to make a decision on the spot. Not only that, but she wasn’t offering everything I asked for. I was firm and clear. “If you can’t give me everything I asked for, I’m not staying. I also need everything in writing and signed by our President, CEO, or Chief People Officer.” I had zero trust in her at this point. Even if you do trust someone- ALWAYS GET IT IN WRITING. She pushed back, but I wouldn’t budge. The whole time, she was acting like she was doing me a huge favor by bringing this offer to me when she should have been acting like she didn’t want to lose me. I ended the call by saying I’d think about it and get back to her. She said that she needed to know soon if they were going to make it happen.
About an hour later, I got the phone call from Salesforce. I accepted the offer. A few minutes later, Erica Kuhl called me (OMGOMG) to welcome me to the team. I couldn’t believe it. Right down to the wire at 3:00pm on my last day at Atlassian.
I immediately emailed the other company to let them know I wouldn’t be working for them. I don’t love how things played out in that situation. I do wish that I could have told them sooner- especially since I had signed the offer. I know I made the right decision though.
My Atlassian manager called me at 4pm to ask if I was going to take her offer, and I let her know I would not be staying. She asked me where I was going, and I told her. She responded “Good luck having work life balance there!” and hung up on me.
One final looky-loo at this insane 18-day timeline:
Monday, Feb 2nd- Quit my job, gave 3 weeks notice
Monday, Feb 9th- Talked to Atlassian’s CEO. He’s amazing. Emailed him my list of the things I needed to happen if I was going to stay
Thursday, Feb 12th- Atlassian’s CEO said he couldn’t make it happen, I boo-hooed and basically wished at the sky that Erica Kuhl would call me
Friday, Feb 13th- I wake up to an out-of-the-blue email from Erica Kuhl asking to meet up, I tell her I’m leaving Atlassian. We make plans to connect.
Monday, Feb 16th- I connect with Erica. The role sounds amazing. We schedule interviews with the team.
Wednesday, Feb 18th- I do in-person interviews with the team at the Salesforce office.
Thursday, Feb 19th- Atlassian going away party. Late night Hipchat message from my Atlassian boss asking me to stay.
Friday, Feb 20th- My last day at Atlassian
REMINDER: I wake up on Friday, February 20th with no idea which of the three companies I’ll be working at three days later.
- 11:00am Call with Salesforce Recruiter. She gathers info. I think I’m getting an offer, but don’t want to get my hopes up.
- 1:00pm Call with Atlassian Mgr. She tries to convince me to stay. She says the word “bucking” an uncomfortable number of times.
- 3:00pm Offer from Salesforce accepted.
- 3:15pm Welcome call from Erica Kuhl (OMGOMG)
- 4:00pm Call with Atlassian Manager, I say “no thanks.” She is a grumpy pants, and hangs up on me, but I DGAF. I’m used to her antics at this point. Thrilled to be done with her.
- 5:00pm I took one last lap on the beer tricycle around the Atlassian office.
I asked Erica if I could take an extra week before I started so I could take a short vacation (five glorious days on the beach in Puerto Vallarta). She said it was no problem at all (GREEN FLAG).
I knew I made the right decision, and I was excited, happy, and proud.
There’s probably a few good takeaways from this story, but I think the biggest one is: Put on your brave pants and send the email.
What do y’all think? Pretty crazy 18 days, right?
On March 9, 2015, I started my journey at Salesforce, where I would spend the next 5 years building community alongside my hero, and now, one of my best friends in the world, who I love more than I can put into words. 👯♀️
Every year, she and I love re-reading these emails that truly changed our lives forever.
…but more about her in a future blog post 🤩