Aisha Hakim, senior art director at Venable Bell & Partners, and Christoph von Ruexleben, formerly of VB&P, have launched Fellow, an app-based professional community tailor-made for women in advertising.
Forget about likes and recommendations, influence articles and that endless, endless wall of button-down shirts. You know which social network we're talking about.
Fellow, which is delightfully approachable from a design perspective (they're giving away free stickers at the bottom of their website!), connects industry women with peers and leaders in a way that facilitates helpful relationships and mentorship. Community members are paired by experience level, location, topics of interest and expertise. Topics run the gamut, from general relevance to woman-specific workplace challenges. They include career development, salary negotiation, work-life balance, diversity and inclusion, performance reviews, maternity leave and more.
Wieden + Kennedy, Goodby Silverstein & Partners and RPA participated in the Fellow beta period over the past few months. It formally launched at the 3% Conference last week, where attendees were given free access for three months. It is now open to professional individuals and agencies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
"The opportunity to connect with mentors from diverse backgrounds and experiences can be invaluable to advancing the careers of women in our industry," says Kat Gordon, founder of The 3% Movement. "Fellow will enhance users' networks, provide connections and access beyond traditional mentor/mentee relationships."
Fellow's community was created with scalability in mind to maximize the number of participating agencies. Its pricing model goes from free (students!) to less than $9 a month (about the same price as Netflix!), putting the brunt of costs on agencies, since its mentorship offering is the key value. VB&P fully funded and backed its development.
Muse spoke with Hakim and Kate Jeffers, partner and COO of VB&P, about Fellow's origins and future plans. Among the highlights: reclaiming the dudeyness of the word "fellow," Hakim confessing to never having negotiated her salary, and the use of a wedding photographer to shoot its unique look and feel.
Where'd the name Fellow come from? Tell us the origin story.
Aisha Hakim: There are many common obstacles and challenges that women in our industry face, and male mentors, as wonderful and supportive as they can be, can't necessarily always provide advice to women on certain topics. I felt like there was an amazing opportunity to build a community where women could connect and support other women. I envisioned a platform where we could learn from each other, share tools and knowledge beyond our own office doors, and ultimately help each other rise in our careers.
It was important to me that the name of this app-based community would be a statement in and of itself. As I was exploring potential names, I came across "Fellow" and immediately knew it was perfect. Originally defined as a member of a learned society, the meaning of fellow has morphed over the years, and become synonymous with all things masculine—including business and educational communities that have historically excluded women.
To me, naming this app and community Fellow was an opportunity to reclaim the word, and ultimately, lay the path for greater fulfillment and career advancement for women. I love that there is a cheekiness, as well as a bold statement, in this name.
What inspired VB&P to fund it?
Kate Jeffers: We believe in supporting the creative endeavors of our people outside of the day-to-day, and in helping to bring them to life. As an independent company, we're honored to be able to do this, and have funded a number of employee programs and initiatives to date.
When Aisha and Christoph brought us the idea of Fellow, we immediately saw that it could solve a specific challenge around mentorship, and provide significant value to women in the industry. It's been an inspiring process to see Fellow's development as well as the overwhelming response it has received from women across the globe.
Can you describe a typical Fellow user journey, on the student and on the mentor side?
AH: We built the app with the idea that regardless of experience level, everyone has something to teach as well as something to learn. For this reason, we don't identify individual users as "mentors" or "mentees."
When members register, they select three of 12 topics where they can advise others. These same 12 topics are also used to search the community. For instance, if you have a question regarding salary negotiation, you can search for women who have identified as being knowledgeable in that area, then filter based on city, department and experience level. Once you identify a community member you'd like to connect with, you have the option to enter a private chat.
What kinds of goals are you using to measure your success?
KJ: The power of Fellow lies in its user community. The more women use the app, the more effective a tool it will be for them. So, from this standpoint, our success will really be measured by the number of users, as well as the utility and value they extract from it. For this reason, we'll be soliciting user feedback and optimizing the app on an ongoing basis.
Can you share a personal story that would have benefited from the existence of Fellow?
AH: I've never negotiated my salary, which I'm sure will make some readers cringe. I was talking to a male colleague one day, and he shared that when he takes a new position, he always negotiates for more than what was originally offered. That was a lightning-bolt moment for me, and I couldn't help wondering what I had missed out on.
I never considered doing this, and even if I had wanted to, I would probably have lacked the confidence to ask for more myself. I asked my male mentors for tips, but felt like their advice was missing something about the way I would do things.
This is exactly the type of situation where I could have benefited from guidance from someone more like me, someone who understood my apprehensions, and especially, the nuances of being a woman in the workplace. I wished I had someone who could help me navigate these situations more successfully.
What considerations inspired Fellow's user design and tone of voice?
AH: Similar to the name, we wanted the design and voice to feel fresh for this space. The tone has an edge and wit to it, and reflects some of the honest frustrations of women in our industry, while still acting as a rallying cry.
The design is intended to be sophisticated, yet also fun and inviting. I shot the photos in my living room with my wedding-photographer-turned-friend Cara Robbins. We intentionally tried to push against the way most apps are photographed, and to use human qualities that would evoke the Fellow mission and sense of connectivity. I leaned on white space to make the UI feel airy, but added pops of color to ensure that there is the significant warmth that is so critical to the concept.
What are your promotional plans?
KJ: In a few weeks we'll be taking Fellow "on the road," visiting agencies across the country to share a tutorial on the app, and to walk through pricing options and the sign-up process. We'll also be continuing conversations with leading organizations in the industry, like The 3% Movement, who expressed interest in partnering with Fellow and giving their communities access to the app.
Anything you'd like people to know that we didn't ask?
KJ: To state the obvious, we work in a competitive industry, where agencies are "wired" to keep solutions proprietary and within their own walls. But in our humble opinion, if we take that approach with big, challenging issues like diversity and inclusion, we may never get there.
Fellow aims to broaden women's access to mentorship opportunities by connecting women from different agencies across the country and across the world to support and help each other. Yes, it's a bit scary to give all the amazing women in our agency access to all the amazing women at other agencies. But we think it's absolutely worth it.