Episode 141 – Rachel Makool
Introducing Rachel Makool Rachel is a senior community manager at GoDaddy and has been there for five years, managing the online community and other community programs. She’s been a community professional for over 15 years. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and loves to hike, travel, and she’s a collector of many things. She also sells odds and ends online and has done so for 20 years. Show Notes Twitter | @rachelmakool LinkedIn | RachelMakool LinkedIn OpenWeStand Small Business Community Learn and share in the GoDaddy Community Preferred Pronouns | She/Her Episode Transcript Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress. Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives. Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 141. Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Rachel Makool. Rachel is a senior community manager at GoDaddy and has been there for five years, managing the online community and other community programs. She’s been a community professional for over 15 years. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and loves to hike, travel, and she’s a collector of many things. She also sells odds and ends online and has done so for 20 years. Welcome, Rachel. Really glad to see you here today. Rachel: Hey, you guys. Really, really happy to be here with you. Liam: Oh, it’s a delight to have you here. Thanks for joining us. Rachel, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please? Rachel: Yeah. I’ve had a really interesting career path to share with you. I was in one career and then I got into marketing, and then that transitioned into this community profession that I’m in. It’s really been quite a journey for me. I have to say that I’m personally passionate about what I do. I just really love interacting with customers and people and believe that community is such a driver of business and learning and engaging conversation, and a great way to get to know others. Tara: I have appreciated getting to know you in the GoDaddy community, and can sense that that is something that you’re passionate about and really good at. Tell me a little bit about this community idea or this community profession. Because it’s something that I feel is well-known in our WordPress community, because we are a community, but I’ve never really otherwise heard about it as a thing. You’ve done this at other places, I assume. How long has that been a thing? Talk a little bit more about what that’s about and how prevalent it is or isn’t. Rachel: Well, I’m going to date myself here, you guys. I was at eBay the early days of eBay. I joined the company in the year 2000. That was really the start of kind of online communities—people getting together. Obviously, eBay was a new way for people to sell stuff online. People were learning together, and just grew this really powerful and impactful community where people would get to know each other, they’d shared challenges that they were having. Somebody else would try something, and they would share what they tried. It was amazing. And it grew really fast, and it was super inspirational. That really led to us doing a lot of things of trying to get people connected together. One of the things that we found was a lot of our customers were solopreneurs. They were by themselves, they were working out of their homes, and they just they get lonely, and they’d want to get to know other people. Over the course of the time, and I was there for almost nine years, I saw a lot of people become really good friends. Maybe they sold the same types of things, maybe they sold different types of things, but they all had in common selling online and trying to grow businesses. I was personally inspired by these stories, the growth stories of people. They’d start in their homes, they’d have to get a new warehouse, and then they’d have two warehouses and three warehouses and just continuing to grow their businesses. But again, the underlying power of it was that relationship building and people sharing and the excitement around it as their businesses grew. Tara: Interesting. I’ve never thought about eBay as being a community or the first of communities in that way. So eBay people as a whole, they are a community amongst themselves. The people who sell on eBay, that’s you’re describing. Rachel: Yeah. And then also kind of with GoDaddy, very similar. All small businesses, people who are again looking to meet other people, potentially learn some stuff from other people. And then also there’s a lot of people who are experts who have really gone through a lot, learned a lot and they’re happy to share with others, help others, mentor others in their journey. I think as a mentor too, you always learn. It doesn’t stop just because all of a sudden you’ve seen the master something. This year I think in particular for 2020 is a good example of challenges that we all face and how you have to psychologically think about trying new things and pivoting, even if you’re an expert in something. Liam: I think that’s a really valid point is mentors always will keep learning. I’d be really interested just to go back in time. Has social media community building becomes easier? It’s never easy. But community-building online in 2000, what did that look like? Rachel: It was really ruckus, to be honest with you. It’s funny. Again, it was all new to me. I was a marketer. I came into eBay as a marketer. I actually was hired, which was kind of an interesting connection to my collectibles, I was hired as a collectibles category manager, which collecting is all about community. I mean, people like sharing stuff and selling stuff back and forth and getting to know again people that collect the same kinds of stuff like you. So I came in with that mentality. But it was really interesting. I mean, there wasn’t a lot of real establishment about behavior online. The forums were really super basic. People just got in there and just did it. Then there were really early community managers that helped to drive conversation and just kind of keep people being good. eBay had a mantra of people are basically good, which I always really loved. And I really, really believe that. Tara: It’s a great mantra. Rachel: There’s always in life a small fringe of people that are not necessarily good, but most people are and want to do the right thing. Part of a community manager in whatever aspect of community you’re dealing with is to help people to keep on the up and up and keep the conversation positive and helpful and engaging. Tara: I am curious about the collectors. Can you think of a collector’s group or item group of items that surprised you or that’s surprising? Something that people collect that you might never think of? Rachel: Oh, my God. Tara, you mentioned in my intro I’ve been a collector for a long time, and I’ve sold a lot of stuff online. I mean, there’s stuff that even now, I’ll go to an estate sale, and I’ll buy something, and my husband’s like, “You’re going to buy that? Who’s going to buy that?” And it’s amazing the stuff that I have sold online of things that you would never think somebody would buy, but they do. I sell a lot of ephemera, you know, paper goods, and just crazy stuff. People buy a lot of stuff from hotels, and travel and all sorts of things like that. But I pretty much sold just about everything online except for a car. Tara: And that does happen too. I have a friend that bought a car on eBay. I think of the movie, the 40-Year-Old Virgin when I think of it. Rachel: Oh, yeah. That’s really funny. Tara: There was a store, “Sell it on eBay “or something like that. Rachel: But getting back to one of the things that you mentioned Tara is that, again, people like to come together and they like to talk about things that they’re interested in or passionate about. So a lot of companies have communities now. Liam, you were kind of talking a bit about social channels. The original community stuff was really on these forums. And they started way back in the mid-90s. Maybe even before that. There was a trend in the early 2000s with companies of having online communities. And then this social media thing started to boom, and everybody’s like, “Screw the forum stuff. Let’s just do social stuff.” So that kind of built. Meanwhile, there were a lot of companies that still had their communities. It’s been a very interesting trend now, where a lot of companies have started their own communities again in the last couple of years. And that’s because there’s so many social channels, it’s really difficult for companies to manage all of the conversations. In some ways easier to just have their own community where they can kind of talk and have their customers come and share. It’s always interesting to watch trends of what happens. It’s the same thing like with what you guys do of being part of WordPress community I’m sure. It’s really dispersed and it’s difficult to know for somebody who is newer in it, where should they go? Should they be in this group? This group? It’s really hard to give people advice on where to start because there’s so much conversation going on. Tara: Yeah. And it’s a great opportunity for companies like GoDaddy. I think I recall back when I first started learning about the WordPress community and using WordPress, Mendel Kurland had I think just started as the evangelist, I think, was the official title that he had, which really was like a community engagement professional. And it was a very, very big benefit for me and my relationship with GoDaddy in those early days, because I felt like I knew somebody at GoDaddy who cared about my experience. So I think there are multiple levels of benefits that having community managers, people who are focusing on that certainly is something that’s I think it’s relatively new. I think, in WordPress, it’s become very common. Most WordPress products, hosting companies have these community outreach. Customer service in some way, I guess it is, but it’s expanded so much beyond that. Rachel: Yeah, yeah, it’s really way past that, I would say. For people like what I do, it’s more of, you know, again, engaging people in conversation, having customers help each other, learning opportunities, and again, relationship building. The other thing that’s really interesting about most companies, and I will say this definitely for our company, is you guys might meet me and you guys might hear from me, and think, “Oh, are the rest of the people at the company, do they really have that same energy and enthusiasm about me as a customer.” I’ve worked in, you know, lots of different companies and I have to say that my energy and enthusiasm around customers is very much reflected in the people that I work with. I would not work at our company if I didn’t feel that way. And the same with our leadership. I feel like they really, really care about our customers and want to do the right thing. But again, the piece of it that I most love is you guys connecting with each other. Tara’s part of a program that I’ve run in the company, and mostly developers, the work that you guys do. The thing that I’ve loved out of the group is the relationships that have formed and the work that is being shared. Whether it’s you guys working on projects together, or it’s you can’t…it’s not the right project for you, but boy, you know somebody else that’s a friend of yours that you can trust that you would be happy to refer that customer to. And just, again, kind of watching other conversations going on the sharing and things like that. I really love that. If there was anything that I walked away from my role, it’s helping to make those connections. Liam: That’s such an interesting role for bigger companies. Because if we think about local business and local businesses doing business locally, it’s all about “talk to Rachel, she can help with this. Talk to Tara, Oh, yeah, she deals with that. She’ll fix that for you.” It was interesting to see companies like GoDaddy and others start to roll out that kind of customer service, community builder, relationship builder all rolled into one where normally it’s a few hundred dollars a year, and you never hear from the company. Like, I’ll buy your product in that and now there becomes a real relationship and it becomes an opportunity to go to the big company and say, “I’m having this problem. Can you help me solve it?” Where if we just gave our money and left it at that, there wouldn’t have the relationship, the company wouldn’t have the interest because they wouldn’t know who we are. And we wouldn’t feel comfortable going to them. So it’s so certainly as a business owner in a tech sector, where there’s lots and lots and lots of technical services that might meet our needs increasingly, I’m steering towards companies that have the support and the relationship where problems crop up or creep up that I can get the support that I need to address them without having to pay an arm and a leg. Always happy to pay for quality service. But just to see that not everything comes back to the dollar and it’s about relationships. So it’s really exciting to see that evolve. And to see it grow in different industries, too, for sure. Rachel: Again, coming back to 2020, and the challenges that everybody is having, it’s more important and powerful, now more than ever, for people to connect in and learn and share, and to not feel alone. I think this year just with COVID and so many small businesses having challenges to figure out next steps and how to do things. Honestly, for me, watching what’s going on…I know a lot of people are still suffering, for sure. But there’s been so many really cool things that have come out of it. People have tried new things and talked to others and gotten some really good ideas. One other things and Tara did this with us, we have a monthly virtual meetup that’s presented by one of our customers to share their expertise on subjects. It’s become a really popular avenue for our customers to join in here. Certainly we have a lot of expertise in our company as well, but you guys are the ones that are doing this every single day. You’re running your businesses every single day. So other people want to hear from you. They want to hear what’s worked for you, what challenges have you had, how have you overcome your challenges. And just the reality of running a small business right now. And it’s really, really impactful for a lot of people. And I know, they’re very grateful when they’re able to hear from people who have expertise. Liam: Running a business in COVID-19 is definitely a challenge to keep it successful. I’m going to use that as a point to ask you one of our signature questions about success. Rachel, how would you define success? It’s maybe you have a personal definition, you have a professional definition, maybe personal. Or maybe it’s a mix of both for you. How do you define success? Rachel: That’s really interesting. I ask myself that a lot. I call it stops and starts in my career. When I look at my journey for my career and I think like overall I’ve been successful, would I have at the stops point what I have felt like I was successful? Maybe not. But when I look back on, and this is why I think it’s really important to always really look back at your journey and being able to take out the parts that you see, like, “wow. That one thing that seemed bad at the time then led me down this path to something really, really good.” Or “I met somebody who really helped to change my thought process, my attitude about something.” So I feel like success changes every single day. Sometimes it depends on your mood. Sometimes it depends on the people you meet and interact with. I think setting goals for yourself is pretty important. But also just know that things happen in life sometimes that put seeming like stop signs up in front of you. As long as you can see around them and understand that there are green lights that happen and then you get to go again. But so much of it is just really attitude towards things. Liam: I especially like the looking back at the journey, I think, especially in a time like COVID-19 and all the other chaos right now that we can lose the forest for the trees. Maybe we’re not hitting new sales numbers because of the chaos of the economy. But if we set a few moments quietly and reflect and say, oh, well, we learned this and we’ve made a new relationship with these folks, and we survive six months so far of a global health pandemic, and our business is still here, that’s a success. I think that’s really valuable and often overlooked in terms of trying to measure success because it can be tempting to just measure by the numbers. Numbers are part of it but they’re certainly not the whole picture. Rachel: I think that’s a super important point. It’s always really good to have numbers and measure things business-wise. But I also think that from a personal perspective, just being able to look at “Wow, what did I learn from this? And really trying to pull out the good from the bad. I believe once we get past COVID, when that’s going to be, but I think many people are going to reflect back going like, “Wow, there was actually some really good things that came out of this.” A great example for where I live, the bay area has been incredibly expensive for small businesses and has pushed out a lot of small businesses because of rents and all sorts of stuff. Yes, COVID is terrible, and it’s hurt us, but at the same time, I believe it’s going to help small business to thrive more so in the Bay Area now because rents have come down. People who, for instance, in the restaurant industry have been wanting to create restaurants for a long time but couldn’t get into a space because it was too expensive, or couldn’t afford staff or whatever, now we’re going to have an opportunity to come in and start businesses and stuff. I personally believe there’s going to be a lot of really cool stuff that’s going to come out of this over the next couple of years. And we’re going to see a lot of businesses thrive. Tara: That’s great to hear. I like that positive message. I had not heard that about rents going down. That’s really interesting. Rachel: Oh, yeah, that’s happening everywhere. Liam: I would expect it’s probably happening in a lot of places as the global economy realizes, “Hey, we can be productive at home.” Like you, Rachel, I’m really excited to see where all this goes. I mean, because of COVID, we’ve taken that shot from work from home trend and sped it up a million times. And suddenly everybody realizes, we all need to be in this location to thrive as a business. We’re not going to do business the same way. But it’s different. I just want to share just briefly one of the positives of as much as we all loath being on yet another Zoom call, and we’re on a lot of…My own family, I’ve had a great opportunity to do regular Zoom calls with my wider extended family. So I’m getting to see my nieces and my nephews who I would only see once or twice a year. Now I’m seeing them every week, especially the really young ones that change. And they’re loving the digital attention. I don’t know that I would swap it. If we could go back and not have it. I don’t know that I would take that but trying to look for the positives and times of challenge. Rachel: That is so cool. I hadn’t even really thought about that. But that’s really true. Like I had a call with my brother and sister on Sunday—a zoom call. My sister lives in Alaska, my brother lives in Wisconsin, and we maybe see each other in person if we’re lucky, once a year one, every two to three years. So now to actually be able to see each other in person and talk and stuff like that is pretty cool. We wouldn’t have done that before. We’ve never even thought about doing that before. Tara: My family is the same. I’ve seen my kids more now than I did before COVID, even though they live across the country. So that’s true. I wonder though also because we are a little Zoom exhausted, what it means for communities because the communities that we have now are online. Some of my favorite relationships that I have are with people who aren’t in my local communities. So as we talk about communities, we become less engaged with the people across the street than we are with the people across the country or across the state or whatever. It’s a reshaping of community. I hope that we still have the opportunity to have that local connection, the local community to talk to the neighbors and reach out and have that connection as well. But I think that’s going to be harder and harder to maintain as we’re stuck inside. I’m inside in my office. I don’t see what’s going on outside. Rachel: That’s interesting, Tara. I totally believe that it will be restored because people even if you say you don’t…I mean there’s friends of mine that jokingly say I don’t like people. And it’s like no, everybody needs people and it’s good to see people in person. Even like in a city where I live, in my street, our houses are butted up against each other. Sometimes I’ll go for months maybe not seen somebody but I always say like, we have a dog. So getting a dog out for a walk is a really great way to get to know people in your neighborhood. Tara: Unless you have a mean dog like me. You have to cross the street. Rachel: Yeah, that’s not good. Mine’s actually a pretty noisy dog. But that’s a great way to get to know people. We have a park right up behind her house. I’ve gotten to know more people in the neighborhood since we got our dog eight years ago than we did 10 years before that. That’s like a mini-community of people that have dogs that have gotten to know each other. But I like that a lot because I live in a place that has earthquakes. I just go like, “If we were to have a big earthquake, it’s good to know people that are in the area, right in the neighborhood.” I don’t think that’s going to go away. In fact, my prediction is once we get past COVID, and everybody feels more comfortable gathering, we’re going to see a trend back to people gathering in person in their neighborhoods and doing fun stuff together because we’re all going to be like star for it. Tara: I love your positivity and optimism. It’s hitting me at a perfect time. Rachel: Oh, good. I’m glad. Tara: Thanks. Then I’m going to take you on to another question while you’re on a roll with all this great happy stuff Do you have some advice that you’ve heard or taken and implemented into your life that you’d share with us that’s been helpful or meaningful for you? Rachel: Yeah. One of my things that I say, and has really happened to me many times is when one door closes, look for new doors to open. I have found people who have that attitude definitely have new doors that open for them. I’ve also had people who I’ve known who do not have that attitude and continually seem like they feel like they have no doors opening for them. I believe in positive energy. If you have positive energy, no matter how down, you may feel at a certain point in time, as long as you’re open to new opportunities coming your way, that things will come your way. You have to do some work. You can’t just sit back and hope that something’s going to come your way. You got to go for it. I’ve certainly had multiple times in my career where something has, again, seemed to be bad, something amazing has happened. That’s actually kind of how I got into doing community as a profession. Liam: I love that you said “look for new doors to open.” Your further explanation, it’s not that new doors absolutely will open in easy, relevant ways. But they will open if you look and you consider your options and maintain a positive and open mind about what a quote-unquote, “good door” looks like. I love that. I just love that. Life is what you make of it. We can be handed the short end of the stick a lot. But sometimes the short end can prove we’re useful pry bar for the metaphor is going. I’m not sure. Rachel: Yeah. It’s been really interesting. I’ve had some people in my life that I consider negative people. I tend to try not to surround myself with that energy. But they’re constantly saying, like, “This didn’t work. This didn’t work. This didn’t work.” And it’s like, “God, maybe you need to have an attitude adjustment.” Because who wants to deal with that—that kind of negative thing?” And also, you guys are small business people, but for people who are wanting to stay and working for companies and are looking for a job, you got to put yourself out there. I said that always. You got to get out there. You can’t just sit back and hope somebody’s going to call you about a job. That might happen but it’s more of an odds play. The more you get out there and talk to people, the better chance you are going to have to get your next job. It’s the same thing with small businesses. If there’s something you really want to do, go out there and figure out how to do it. Start small. Trying to do grandiose plans from the very beginning. That’s really hard. But if you start small and talk to other people like you guys, you can make it and do it. Tara: Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. That’s definitely true for small business too. You really have to go out and put yourself out there as well. It takes a lot of a lot of confidence to do. Well, Rachel, we are wrapping up on time here. It’s gone by so fast. I love chatting with you. I’m really grateful that you could join us today and share so much positive energy. Good time for that. Thanks for doing that. Where can people find you online? Rachel: I’m on Twitter. You can find me on Facebook. You can find me on LinkedIn. I will put out a shout. We have an Open We Stand LinkedIn group, which I’d love everybody to join. It’s a growing group. We have a weekly meetup that we do that’s driven by a guy named Adam Griggs. He just interviews small business people and their stories. So, I’d love for you guys to be a part of that. Liam: Rachel, it’s been a real pleasure to spend time with you and to get to know you a little bit. Thank you so much for joining us. And as Tara shared, I’ve really enjoyed your positivity and the energy that you’ve brought to this conversation. Thank you very much for that. Rachel: Yeah, you’re welcome. It’s funny over my career, people always say to me, like, “Oh my God, you’re so positive” and I always joke and say, like, “I come home and beat my husband. You have no idea.” But all of us have challenges. I truly do believe that if you surround yourself with positive people, no matter how hard things are, you’re going to be okay. Let’s just get past 2020 and then just move on. Tara: Be hopeful. Rachel: Yeah, for sure. Tara: All right. Thanks, Rachel. Thanks again. Bye-bye. Rachel: Thanks, you guys. Have a good rest of the day. Take care. Liam: Bye. Tara: Bye. Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com. Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves. 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