The Role CMX Summit Played in Making My Career What it is Today

Holly Firestone
9 min readAug 27, 2020

A Surprise in Vienna 🇦🇹

Bundled from head to toe in our warmest gear my boyfriend (now husband) and I walked into Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. It was December 2013. I had just placed my headphones over my head for our self-guided tour when I felt my phone buzz. I was working at Atlassian, and even though I was on vacation, I was the worst about still checking email.

I opened my email and started to skim — “Community management conference…” “CMX…” “San Francisco…”

I sat down on a nearby bench and read the email three times.

“A conference just for… community managers? There are enough people that do what I do for there to be a conference?!”

I pulled out my personal credit card right then and there. I decided I was going and I didn’t care if I had to pay for it out of my own pocket.

And that was that.

I’m So Excited, and I Just Can’t Hide It 🤗

February 6, 2014, just barely over a month later, I remember pulling up to the event, and I was so excited. I felt like a kid on her first day of school. I remember what I was wearing. White shirt, green jacket, jeans, brown boots, and a bright blue scarf. I remember exactly how the room looked. It was crowded with people in every inch of the space. I just looked around in awe. I couldn’t believe that everyone in the room was there for a community management conference. This was over six years ago, and at that time, community managers felt few and far between. There were a few meetups here and there, but having an established conference made it all feel so much more real. Being in this room was a dream come true.

Some Completely Inappropriate Feedback 🤰🏼

I saw David Spinks and Max Altschuler running around like crazy that day. I remember David’s wild hair (the man bun hadn’t made its debut yet), and I was delighted when he took the stage as the leader of the event. I knew immediately that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary event, and it really wasn’t — especially at that time. The room wasn’t very big (I can’t imagine they expected the exceptional response they got), and we were all packed in like sardines. Random aside: When I responded to their feedback survey after the event, I gave them my very honest and candid feedback. I let them know that the seats were so close together that my seat mates had impregnated me, and CMX owed me child support. I still think I’m absolutely hilarious and revolting, all at the same time. I made it impossible for them to forget me, and we were buddies fast. One of the biggest and most amazing things to happen to my career was related to that feedback survey. Keep reading and I’ll tell you why.

Ah, Push it, P-push It Real Good 🧂🌶

The content that day was absolutely nuts for a first time conference focused on a topic that I had no idea anyone even cared about at the time. I heard some incredible speakers at that first CMX Summit — Dave McClure, Robin Dreeke, Nir Eyal, Ellen Petry Lense — but that’s not the main reason I found it so valuable. We’ll come back to this —

I have been dogmatic about the necessity of community in business for years. I’ve been pushing back since the very first time someone pushed me about community. My first community salary was NOT a living wage in San Francisco. My second community salary was NOT a living wage in San Francisco. My manager at the time had regularly brought me to tears. Community was always last in line for resources. My boyfriend (now husband) asked me if I really felt this was the right career move. I mean, you can’t blame him, right? My boss was telling me that the work I was doing wasn’t valued, which was made abundantly clear by the paychecks being deposited in my account. Not to mention the lack of career growth opportunities. Still, I pushed. I loved the work I was doing and I pushed and pushed and pushed. I did this while teaching myself how to build a community strategy, while managing a community, and while learning how to measure ROI to prove the impact of community. I’m stubborn as hell (I get it from my dear Poppa Larry), and this time, it was definitely the right move.

Let’s just say I was freaking exhausted ALL OF THE TIME at this point. Now, let’s go back to the first CMX Summit. I walked into a room with a few hundred people who were there to learn more about community. When I think about what was most valuable to me that day, it was that I was surrounded by people with which I didn’t need to push back. A huge weight that I had been carrying around was lifted off of me. I finally felt, without a doubt, I was making the right decision about my career. I left feeling inspired and reinvigorated. This was a huge turning point for me.

I Met Someone That Sparkles & Vomits Rainbows 🌈

The Community Manager meetups around this time were nice, but so often they were attended by CMs at startups facing a completely different set of challenges than faced by CMs at large companies. So, with AirBnb, Oracle, Optimizely, Pinterest, and Twilio, we hosted an Enterprise Community Manager Meetup at AirBnB’s office. The first one took place just FIVE days after CMX Summit. I thought I had died and gone to community heaven. It’s actually not too far from the truth — if you’ve ever been to the AirBnB office in San Francisco, it kinda does feel like a crazy afterlife experience. ANYWAY, we invited a speaker from Salesforce to come talk about their top contributors program.

That speaker was none other than Erica Kuhl. I was looking at this woman with stars in my eyes. I hung on every word she said. I still have the notes that I took that day, and they are EXTENSIVE. It must have been the fastest I’ve ever typed in my life. She was vomiting rainbows and I had so many questions — how was this tiny person bigger than life? How was she able to hold her little hand up with the insanely sparkly diamond ring she was wearing? (It was a very beautiful 10 year anniversary gift from her lovely husband, and yes, I get distracted by shiny objects) How had I never met or heard of this woman before? Could I get her contact info without being creepy? Will she think I’m cool? How the hell was I going to convince my leadership that we couldn’t go on another day without our own MVP program?

Like I said before, this was just five days after CMX Summit, so just a couple days later, I got the CMX Summit feedback survey. Besides my demand for child support, I also had important feedback on another question. It was something along the lines of “is there anyone you want to hear speak at the next CMX Summit?” Now, I don’t know what I wrote exactly, but if my memory serves me correctly, it was about the length of Lord of the Rings. My memory isn’t great though, so don’t hold me to that. Could have been a few hundred pages shorter. ANYWHOODLE, I had only ONE recommendation — Erica Kuhl from Salesforce. They MUST ask Erica Kuhl to come speak at the next CMX Summit, and then I shared around 100 reasons why.

Always Being Prepared Has Served Me Well 📱🔌

Fast forward to November 2014

At this point, a few months after the previous CMX Summit, my career shot off like a canon. While I still wasn’t really getting support from my manager, all eyes were on community at Atlassian as a whole. I was promoted, the community was thriving, and I had even gotten attention and appreciation from the CEOs. It was a completely different world.

I was elated to join for another CMX Summit. The event itself was great with lots of valuable content, but once again, my biggest value didn’t come from hearing all of the speakers. This time, it came from one very specific speaker. Can you take a guess who that was? If you answered anything besides Erica Kuhl, go drink some coffee. You’re tired.

I spent my time at that event hugging the coffee maker (it was freezing — I tweeted a whitewalker GIF from the event), and jumping back and forth into sessions and chatting with people. At one point, someone bounced up behind me to say hi. It was Erica. We chatted for a little bit, and then she started kvetching about her phone dying. I had a charger on me. Always prepared. Little did I know this would end up being a theme in our relationship — from Erica grabbing rupees from me in India to me always remembering to bring throat lozenges for us at Dreamforce. Many, many stories for another time.😂 I handed Erica my charger and will never forget what I did next. I picked up my phone and texted my boyfriend (now husband), “OMG. Erica Kuhl is using my phone charger!!!!!”

I emailed her after the event, and even though I wasn’t looking to leave Atlassian, I told her how inspired I was by the work that she was doing, and to let me know if a role ever opened on her team. If you read my blog post about my path to finding a new community role, then you know that I believe it’s important to always think about what you want to do and where you want to be next — even if you’re not looking.

You’ve Got Mail 📬

There were a lot of absolutely insane things that happened over the next few months, which was the period of time when I was making decisions about my career. I’ll write about that in another blog post because it’s a really unbelievable story. The most important thing that happened though, is that I got an email from Erica Kuhl on a Friday morning, and by the following Friday, I was hired to work on the Community team at Salesforce.

So This CMX Summit Thing 🙌🏻

The presentations, workshops, and other content at CMX Summit are fantastic. However, the people that attend and the feeling you get by being at an event with hundreds of other people building community are what have left the biggest everlasting impact on me and my career.

⭐️ CMX Summit 2020 registration is open! You can register here! ⭐️

Take A Walk Down Memory Lane With Me 👩🏾‍🤝‍👩🏻

Here’s a video recap of the first CMX Summit, which now feels like approximately 100 years ago.

And a blog post about it written by the amazing Evan Hamilton.

Lastly, some of my favorite CMX Summit tweets over the last 6 years:


Words to live by
Learned this one at the school of hard knocks
It was a love affair from the beginning


Going to CMX Summit is amazing. Going to CMX Summit with your growing team — exceptional.
Erica, Carrie, David- a thread of all-stars!


Well at least I was honest about my hair that day
I didn’t know this guy yet, but I liked what he was about
The day before I moved from SF back to Austin
This was very cool ;)
He actually never turned them back on


Missing in action. I was on a trip visiting Salesforce Community members in Ireland, London, and India!


It always comes back to the Jewish mothers.
This one was tough!


Thanks for the hat tip, Evan!


To be continued…



Holly Firestone

Community Strategist. Currently: CEO, Holly Firestone Consulting. Previously Venafi, Salesforce & Atlassian.