Community as a Career Strategy

And a review of my tech communities: Kleiner Perkins Fellows, South Park Commons, On Deck, Reforge

In the past month, I’ve hopped on at least 3 coffee chats to talk about South Park Commons as a founder fellow and as a member (not to mention at least 10 asks to learn about the fellowship)

In the past week, I’ve gotten 4 messages asking for tips on how to make most of the On Deck experience.

Every so often, I’ll get an ask about Reforge & whether it’s worth the commitment and dollars.

And, every Kleiner Perkins recruiting season, I get emails from high potential new grads — at least 5 a week leading up to the deadline.

No wonder — my face is plastered on their websites, and I often proclaim how proud I am of being a "fellowship power user."

Unfortunately, I'm not able to respond to all messages despite wanting to help out.

So I thought I’d write about all these communities and send over a beautifully wrapped blog post to these wildly ambitious folks.

Community as a career strategy

But first, someone asked me "Why am I a part of all these communities?"

I call myself a Fellowship Power User and owe a lot of my career to the communities I'm a part of. The ones I list below are the handful that I get asked most about. I'm also grateful to be a part of Dorm Room Fund Female Founders Track, Women in Product communities, Filipino tech communities like Cognity Labs, Together, Launch House, Comma Collective & more!

Being a part of communities has accelerated my career and is a career strategy for these reasons:

  1. Strong brand names

    I’m associated with Kleiner Perkins or South Park Commons even if I don’t directly work for these organizations and I’m not complaining!

  2. Manufactured serendipity

    Watercooler conversations in the form of Slack channels and (now!) IRL events, fireside chats, team building events and more have sparked serendipitous conversations I wouldn't have found otherwise

  3. Masterclass in leadership

    I started my own communities (e.g. Cognity Labs) to attract people to my orbit and to amplify my ability to give back. I threw myself in the deep end to learn leadership and people skills that have boosted me as a leader in my career as well

  4. Access to exclusive opportunities

    My Slack groups guaranteed have an #opportunities channel where people share job posts+. I can apply directly to them or amplify them to my network (to get that referral bonus!) Opportunities I wouldn't have learned otherwise/

  5. Access to people through loose association

    My cold outreaches with the “Hey, we’re both in [community], let's chat?” phrase get a higher conversions by nature of our association through that community

  6. Amplified reach

    My Slack groups also have an #amplify channel where people can post new articles they’ve written or videos they created to amplify their reach. I’ve posted a ton there and got a good amount of responses to my surveys or upvotes to my Product Hunt launch.

Overview

Here’s a quick breakdown of the programs before I jump into the details.

Kleiner Perkins

Who is it for?

New grads or interns who want to get an in in the tech space through working for a portfolio company. KP selects for entrepreneurial and ambitious folks, betting on their eventual desire to start a company (with KP becoming the optional first check)

How does the program work?

You get paired to work with a KP portfolio company. Salary, and return offers are negotiated with that company, independent of KP.

Throughout the summer, KP will host a series of events for you to get to know your cohort members and get a taste of Silicon Valley

How does the application go?

  1. You apply for a specific program (Engineering, Product or Design)

    • Application includes an essay & a list of questions to answer

    • Applications are seasonal (can be found here)

  2. KP Alums and the KP team will screen the applications based on KP values

  3. If you pass that, KP will send your information to KP portfolio companies who will then give a short list of applicants

    • You might receive 0 to an infinite number of companies interested in you

  4. You'll get an interview with all the companies that you select, similar to how you might interview with those companies even without KP

  5. Once you get an offer from that company, you're also now a KP fellow!

How much is it?

Free!

How was Mika's experience?

The KP experience was spectacular. This was my "in" in Silicon Valley, right after college. I had such a great time and some of my best friends (and my-cofounder!) came from the Kleiner Perkins fellowship. The option for a first check is also a very great addition!

The fellowship has evolved since I was there in 2017, especially after the pandemic, so the activities and opportunities to form friendships with other fellows may have changed since.

Reforge

Who is it for?

  • Experienced tech professionals who want deeper dives in growth and product topics to directly apply to their work

How does the program work?

  • 6-week cohort-based program with a mix of offline videos to watch, assignments to apply your learnings and live sessions to engage & exchange notes with other members

  • After the program, you have access to the platform (including digest of question and answers, recordings, curriculum) and the community

How does the application go?

You can apply directly on their website. They screen heavily for strong fit for each program to make sure it's a good experience for you (in terms of where you are at your career, your role, etc.)

How much is it?

It's a $1900+ annual membership, with an option to pay per program. Many opt to have their companies expense the fee since the topics can apply directly to your role.

How was Mika's experience?

If you're looking for a comprehensive and well-vetted curriculum on growth, Reforge is it! I learned A LOT and have a treasure trove of notes that I can look back to. However, it does get overwhelming & a lot of the concepts are easy to forget if you don't apply directly, so I suggest:

  1. Making sure you're at the stage where you can apply the concepts to your particular job so the learnings stick better and actually translate into outcomes

  2. Be focused on what you want to get out of the program and who you want to meet

  3. Explicitly carve out time to participate on the activities

On Deck

Who is it for?

  • The OnDeck Founder Fellowship is for people who are either:

    1. Explorers. Looking to start a new thing and want a group of other folks to go through the motions with

    2. Builders. Already started a new thing and looking for new hires or a community to go through the motions with

How does the program work?

  • Roughly 10-week program, with events hosted by On Deck and the rest of the community

  • Everyone is placed in a Slack group, so you have access to 200 other people in your cohort plus all OnDeck alums

How does the application go?

  1. Apply to your fellowship of choice. Find fellowships here.

  2. Go through an interview. Mine was done with 2 alums. Very chill interview — just be yourself and share your goals!

  3. Get results within a week!

How much is it?

$2900+ for the Founder Fellowship (wow! much more now since I joined) Check accurate prices for the rest of the fellowship here.

How was Mika's experience?

My two goals from the fellowship were to 1) find a co-founder and 2) find a space I was interested in. I achieved (2), not (1). Eyes were wide open & sparkling when I first started but dwindled over time because of the low signal to noise ratio. While they screen for particular folks, 200 people per cohort is still A LOT! I suggest:

  1. Being very intentional about what you want to get out of the program and reflect that in the events you join

  2. Being intentional about who you want to meet and don't want to meet

  3. Acknowledging that while there are success stories of finding cofounders because a lot of people are in the same stage upon entering the fellowship, cofounder dating is still a very arduous & effortful process and joining a program won't guarantee it

South Park Commons

I talk extensively about the SPC Founder Fellowship in these videos: part 1, part 2. Bellow, I'll talk about both the membership and the founder fellowship.

Who is it for?

  • The founder fellowship is for founders who are in the -1 to 0 stage of building a venture-backable company. You might fit into one of the following:

    • You're still at your full-time job and ready to pounce to build a company

    • You've been hacking at ideas and many different markets for a while

    • You're deep and excited about a specific market but don't yet have an idea

    • Already have an idea you've been brewing on for a while but are open to switching

  • The SPC membership is for anyone that needs to figure out their next thing and needs time and a community to properly do so. We typically look for:

    • Talented people who spike in an skill or area of expertise

    • Community-oriented folks - you give back as much as you take in

    • People who are full-time, actively exploring

Who is it not for?

The founder fellowship is not for:

  • Companies that have already raised a round

  • Companies that are already committed to an idea (& maybe have customers) and just want the funding

The membership is not for:

  • People who are solely looking for a co-founder — while there's a chance that will be happen in SPC, there are other particular avenues just for that.

  • People who are not builders or can't find a way to build (either no-code, code, or via a team).

  • Folks who are already raising a round (just apply to the fund)

  • Folks who are already working or running thie rstartup and not actively looking for a next thing

How does the program work?

The Founder Fellowship:

  • Companies get $400k in funding at 7% equity (values your entity at $5M). The deal is 3.5x better than YC!

  • The philosophy behind the program (and for SPC in general) is intentionality in pursuing your next big thing — even more important. You'll struggle with days.

  • Schedule during the first 6 weeks, or until you raise and decide to move on.

    • Mondays = Founder Forum

    • Day of your choice = advisor meetings

    • Fridays = Workshops & Labs

The membership:

  • Community events with amazing speakers

  • Ability to participate in a coworking space in SF

  • Self-organized events

  • Participation in volunteer activities (e.g. Directly Responsible Individuals are volunteers who run a specific part of SPC)

  • Lead or join a forum about a specific topic (e.g. Creator Economy Forum, Founder Forum)

  • Join building sprints (accountability groups to help you towards your goals)

How does the application go?

More about the founder fellowship process here.

Apply directly for the SPC membership here — ideally find a connection to the SPC community who can refer and vouch for you.

The founder fellowship is competitive (10 spots with >1000 apps per cohort). The membership is selective — while there is no cap, we screen for strong fit.

How much is it?

Founder Fellowship: Free PLUS you get $400k at 7% equity

Membership: Free, with an obligation to give the SPC fund a discount if you raise during or around the time you are an SPC member.

How was Mika's experience?

My experience is colored by being both a Founder Fellow and a Member — it's great! There are really high quality, smart people in the community who are always willing to help, evidence by the self-organizing nature of events & forums. Our mentors and advisors are also extremely genuine and smart folks! The community still feels small & intimate enough that I have a gauge of who's who — I hope that part doesn't go away.

SPC is also still what you make of it - there are no commitments to do anything but what's the point of joining the community if you aren't going to be involved? If you decide to join, I recommend figuring out for yourself if you do need a community of others to support your exploration and that you're willing to be an active member before you jump in.

Which community is for what?

Do you want to break into tech?

  • As a new grad —> Kleiner Perkins

  • As a mid-career+ professional —> On Deck Fellowship

Are you looking to figure out what to do next (& need a community of talented others)?

  • SPC Membership

Do you want to deepen your understanding in your field?

  • Through strong curriculum —> Reforge

  • Through a network of others —> ODF

Are you looking to find similar-minded others in your field or stage in your journey?

  • If you have a specific niche or community —> ODF

  • If you're intentionally exploring what's next —> SPC Membership

Do you want to start your own venture-backed business?

  • Now —> SPC Founder Fellowship

  • In the future —> Kleiner Perkins

Is it worth it?

For KP, SPC FF, SPC M, if you fit the buckets above, then my answer is "Hell, yes!" The only factor to consider is flexible time commitment (since these programs are effectively free). If you're not willing to spend time with people in the community or participate in the events, then there's no point in joining! From my experience, they are not a waste of time.

For ODF & Reforge, my answer is "it depends." Money is a big factor and there's larger time commitment since there are more structured programs and events during the active cohort.

For ODF, I’d recommend being very intentional about what you want to get out of the experience and curating your experience through those goals (same advice MBA-ers might give you before going to an MBA!)

For Reforge, I'd consider the option for your company to expense your learning since it should directly apply to your work. I’d also think about whether you can directly apply it to what you’re doing right now so feedback loops are tighter and the application retains the info better.


👀 Nudges for the week

I started a Youtube channel! What I talk about is evolving but having a lot of fun with it so far and has been an intense masterclass in consistency. Share feedback, and consider a like or subscribe!

Here are some videos so far:

Huge kudos to Lou Zarcal & Misha Reyes for helping me out — absolutely could not do this without them.