A Journey from the Stacks to a Startup

Reading to a student at the Asturias Academy in Guatemala on a volunteer trip with Librarians Without Borders.

My story starts in Toronto, where I was born, grew up and studied. Before I jump in too far, here’s a quick background: I studied music at school, where I spent hours perfecting my Euphonium skillz. I realized very quickly that the  life of a professional musician was not the life for me after developing a serious repetitive strain injury while practicing for a gig at Carnegie Hall. So, one day after a brilliant suggestion by my Euphonium teacher, I decided that I would focus on becoming a totally badass Librarian.

Becoming a Master of Information & Mapping the Sounds of My City

After graduating with my Bachelor of Music degree, I started studying for my Masters in Information. I found my happy place focusing on reference, outreach & community engagement in libraries and archives, and also spending hours pouring over rare books and manuscripts. I enjoyed being the person behind the scenes going through dusty old boxes of books and artifacts, preserving history. I also loved being with people and helping them find answers to their questions using my search engine ninja skills, directing patrons through the stacks on their quest for knowledge, and helping create a sense of community around the library as a place.

It’s this side of the coin where I find the most connections to community management. In my humble opinion, librarians are the ultimate community managers, so given the opportunity to flip the focus from offline community building around a library to online around an awesome product, I was totally game.

Jump forward to the end of my degree. I’m busy googling “Jobs in Europe”, because it was time to try something new.  As luck would have it, there was this cool thing called a Community Fellowship happening at SoundCloud and I was chosen to be their first fellow. My task was to create an audio project using SoundCloud, so I created Sounds of My City. I was able to visit and work alongside the incredible Community Team in Berlin and that was it for me. I quickly realized that I should probably move to Berlin and pursue a career in Community Management at a startup.

Along came Gidsy

At Brandenburger Tor during my first visit to Berlin, while I was a SoundCloud Community Fellow

In September 2011 I packed up all my things and left home. One day, I came across a Community Internship position at a cool startup called Gidsy–a marketplace for activities–that had just launched. After a few interviews with the awesome founders, I landed the job and had an amazing opportunity to help grow and support a community from the ground up. After a few months as an Intern, I was hired full-time in March and have been lucky to lead Gidsy’s Community Team since June 2012.

Gidsy is a platform for anyone, anywhere to offer & book unique activities, so without a community Gidsy would be nothing. This understanding keeps us motivated to continue working on new product improvements and staying focused on what’s best for our users.

At an early stage startup, you constantly face unique challenges and opportunities. How do we kickstart and grow a community? How do we best support and engage with our users? What are our next steps & how do we keep the momentum going? For me, this means providing A+ customer support, reaching out to awesome people to tell them about what we’re building, providing engaging content on our blog & social channels, and working with an amazing (and growing) group of super passionate Gidsy users we like to call Explorers. Practically speaking, I do all of this with the support of an amazingly talented team and the help of tools like Desk, TextExpander, HootSuite, Sparrow, Instapaper and Asana (among others).

Inspiration & Next Steps

Some of the Gidsy Team, after an amazing mushroom hunt in the mountains outside Salzburg.

For inspiration I turn to places like Brain Pickings and Exp.lore and Etsy’s amazing blog, but I am also very inspired by the work of  my CM peers here in Berlin and abroad. Since many of the challenges and milestones we reach at Gidsy are new to us, I find it helpful to see how CMs at other companies I admire – like my friends at SoundCloud – have handled similar things. I really believe that as startup employees we’re all in this together, so sharing knowledge and tips, as well as stories of success and failure can help everyone stay motivated to continue being creative and focused in their work. As a newbie CM, it’s crucial for me to be a sponge and learn as much as I can from those around me.

I’m still in very early days of my career and I cannot wait to help grow the Gidsy community (we’d love to welcome you!), as well as participate, collaborate and learn alongside my fellow Community Managers. Thanks so much for listening to my story, and feel free to say hello to me on Twitter, Tumblr, SoundCloud & Instagram.

Photo cred: Katie Needs

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About the author

Katie Needs

Katie is the Community Manager at Gidsy in Berlin, a place where anyone, anywhere can book and offer unique experiences. Originally from Toronto, she's an ex-librarian, archivist and Euphonium player, an amateur cook/baker & blogger, and a recovering McDonalds and French Macaron addict. Say hi on Twitter @katieneeds

DavidSpinks moderator

Interested to hear more about your idea that librarians make for great community managers.

I was asked recently if there were any professions other than marketing/PR/comms that tend to make for a good community manager.  Thought it was a really interesting question, hence my interest in your librarian idea (=