The Rise of the Community Leader - Meet Willa Tellekson-Flash

  • The Uncommon Team

    September 1st, 2021

Image of Willa Tellekson-Flash, Directory of Community at Public

Community leaders have a lot in common, like their enthusiasm for teaching and learning, and a passion for building meaningful relationships within and across communities. As community leaders, their goals are similar, but their paths to community leadership are surprisingly diverse and often surprisingly...surprising.

Our series, "The Rise of the Community Leader," celebrates these uncommon paths, the people who took them, and what they learned along the way. Want to connect with more community leaders like them? Join Uncommon.

Meet Willa Tellekson-Flash, Director of Community at Public.com.

How did you get your start in community?

I started thinking about community in a professional sense when I was working in CX for Lola, a reproductive health startup. My favorite part about my job was when I got to have more in-depth interactions with our customers, connect them to educational resources, and learn more about them and why our products were important to them. Talking about periods and sex can feel intimidating, and helping people feel less alone in having those conversations felt incredibly powerful to me.

My first “official” community role came at Public, where I started as Community Manager and now, as Director of Community, lead a team of four community managers. I was excited about the opportunity to lead their community for similar reasons; creating an environment where everyone felt like they could participate in conversations about money and investing seemed like a really important task to me.

That said, I think creating community has always been part of how I view the world. When I was a barista one summer in high school, my favorite part of my job wasn’t making coffee — it was learning about the lives of all of our customers and doing what I could to make their day just a little bit better. In college, I planned dinner parties in my tiny New York apartment so that I could connect friends who I thought would enjoy getting to know each other. When you thoughtfully connect people or connect with people, a lot of magic can happen.

Tell us about the community you currently lead.

I lead community for Public, an investing app whose focus is making the public markets work for all people. We’re creating a place where our community — over one million members strong — can learn about investing and build both their financial literacy and investing confidence together.

What’s a key piece of advice you wish you would have had when starting your community career?

Community building is supposed to take time. I work in tech, where teams often move very quickly. Getting to know your community members — learning about their interests, what they’re hoping to gain from participating in your community, etc. — and putting in the time to make them feel seen and heard, however, aren’t quick items to check off your to-do list. Many community professionals talk about how important it is to do the unscalable things, especially early on, and I wish someone had told me that when I first started. Taking the time to set a strong foundation by establishing strong connections with your community will serve you immensely in the long run.

Investment in community is growing. Where do you see it in 5-10 years?

Interest in community has risen rapidly in recent years, but it’s still often under-resourced. We’re just starting to see increasingly senior community titles, and over the next several years, I think (and would like) to see the normalization of more developed community teams, led by Chief Community Officers. By better resourcing community teams, I’m hopeful that we’ll also see more thoughtfulness around the purpose behind building community, too.

What's your favorite part about working in community?

Celebrating our community’s wins. On Public, I have the privilege of a front row seat to our community members’ growth as investors. When members learn more about investing, build financial literacy, and grow their confidence, some pretty magical things can happen. We’ve celebrated members who have paid off student debt with their investments, or made down payments on a new home or car. Being part of that journey and getting to celebrate that success with them never fails to make me break out in a full-body grin.

What's the coolest thing you've seen community achieve?

Seeing the community come together to help each other is really cool to watch. Whether it’s welcoming new members, helping members find educational resources, or making introductions within the community, when the community shows up for one another, you realize that its value has grown significantly. A few community members who met on Public also recently started their own podcast, and that was pretty cool to see, too.

How do you see your role as a community leader evolving?

When I started at Public a year and a half ago, our community was much smaller and was starting from square one with community building. Initially, my role was primarily engagement-focused. Once I had fully immersed myself in our community (which was much smaller at the time), I started to zoom out a little bit. I became a stakeholder in product conversations about our social features, I set up processes to track activity within our community, and I thought more about education.

At the beginning of this year, I started building out a community team, too, and my role has continued to change as I now function as a people manager. Today, I manage a team of four community managers (they are all rockstars) who contribute so much time & energy to make the Public community an engaging, productive, and fun place.

Looking to the future, I’m really excited to think about harnessing the power of a continuously-growing team to go far beyond the day-to-day pieces of keeping a community healthy & afloat, and spend more time working collectively to experiment with and implement new and creative ways for our community to engage with the Public app and one another.

And now some fun questions we ask our Roomies when they join the team 🙂

Favorite emoji?

🤸‍♀️

Favorite Quote

"Be kinder to yourself. And then let your kindness flood the world." - Pema Chödron

Next travel bucket list items to check off?

Japan — I'd love to visit tea farms, go hiking, and take a cooking class.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Willa! We agree that one of the best parts of community is celebrating our members, and we're so happy to celebrate you today 🎉

We're continually looking to highlight community leaders, voices, and stories—if there's someone you'd like to nominate to share theirs, let us know. See you in Uncommon!

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