To say that career paths can be complicated is an understatement. A new generation is entering the workforce, and they’re doing it in a rapidly changing economic climate. So how to navigate the working world towards – hopefully – a satisfying and well paid job? Courtney Brand has an answer. The Brooklyn-based founder’s startup the lighthouse is here to be a beacon in the career storm.
Downtown Brooklyn Partnership: Tell us about the lighthouse?
Courtney Brand: The lighthouse is a way to build your career. We’re a tech-enabled platform that helps individuals continue to grow in their careers, whatever that means for them.
DBP: What does that look like?
CB: On our platform, members tell us what their career goals are and we match them with relevant professionals for one-on-one conversations. We also match them with curated guides, events, and resources.
“Building a company is a really difficult process and it’s awesome going into space everyday where we are surrounded by other teams doing exactly what we’re doing.”
DBP: Neat! How long have you been doing this?
CB: The company was officially founded in April of 2018, although I had started a few months earlier, while I was still juggling my full-time job in management consulting at PwC, out of the Shanghai office.
DBP: What made you want to do this?
CB: I really never saw entrepreneurship as something that would be in my own career path. I was just experiencing a problem and was seeing my peers, my colleagues, and my friends experience the same problem. I thought I had this insight that really would be a solution that was in line with what we were all craving and what we were all looking for.
DBP: What was the problem?
CB: The problem I was facing was that, throughout my career I kept coming across what I now call career “intersections.” These were points in my career where I was navigating something and I was looking for insight. One example that really inspired the lighthouse, was that I was going for promotion at work. In all of these key career moments I was super frustrated that I was ultimately still going to my mom and my sister for career advice, and realized there were two problems with going to those people: how objective their advice was, and a gap in terms of industry context that neither one of them had direct experience with. This is something that is very personal for a lot of people, yet we don’t have an easy way to get career insight that is personalized to us and that’s rooted in real, up-to-date industry context.
DBP: So then, is it solving for mentorship?
CB: You still need mentors. We’re really a complement to that, as one person often can’t speak to every single topic. The lighthouse’s network approach means that, in addition to the mentors that you’ve built up in your life, you also have access to this massive network of professionals and resources that can get you the insight that you need.
DBP: What are some of the topics people look for insight on most?
CB: That really falls under three different categories. The first is what I’ll call, “advocating for yourself,” and what that really applies to are things like salary negotiation, asking for a promotion at work, or navigating a performance review conversation. The second category is “growing within your role,” and that’s thinking and planning about getting to the next level. The final category is “transition,” which is really people thinking about a new skill they want to develop. This would be, for instance, someone working in marketing who’s really curious about user experience design. What kind of skills would they need to develop in order to work in that field? What kind of opportunities exist?
“The mission behind the lighthouse is really to empower professionals so that they can feel confident, inspired, and have clarity in their careers.”
DBP: How big is your staff?
CB: We have a team of six.
DBP: What made you choose to work out of Brooklyn?
CB: Partly because of where the team was based. Most of us live in Brooklyn. The other part is the close community at WeWork Labs. Building and launching a company is a really difficult process, and it’s awesome going into a space everyday where we are surrounded by other teams that are doing exactly what we’re doing. That’s really why we chose this spot and why we’ve stayed there.
DBP: What’s been one of your biggest challenges so far as a founder?
CB: Well, fundraising is a totally new skill set for me. But the hiring part is really so difficult, especially when you are hiring the first employees. Those hires are so important because they’re, all of a sudden, half of your company, they’re one third of your company, they’re one fourth of your company. So the hiring decisions can really impact both the culture that you’re building at your company and also the direction that the company goes next. That means you really need to be picky, but at the same time, this isn’t Goldman Sachs, where you can offer the most competitive salary. So it’s this combination of finding people who are incredible individuals, very talented at what they do, and who are also excited about and believe in your vision.
DBP: So how have you done it?
CB: One way is by starting out on a project basis. That’s a way to test out the fit on both sides of the equation. The second way is coming up with the right questions to ask. It’s so important to understand what someone’s career goals are and to understand them as a person, learning what they care about. That way, you’ll also understand if they care about the problem you’re solving for.
DBP: How does the company make money?
CB: Well, membership costs money. But we also work with companies that are looking to invest in their employees and sponsor lighthouse memberships for them. The reason a company would do that is that they realize career development is the number one reason people leave jobs today. These companies are thinking about the future and recognize that in order to “future proof” their company they really need to “future proof” their employees.
DBP: How is the team dealing with coronavirus?
CB: Our team was well built for this because some of them already work remotely. So, between Zoom and Slack and Google Docs, we have the infrastructure already in place.
DBP: What’s next for the lighthouse?
CB: Growing the business and working with more companies is definitely the primary focus. We’re working on a repeatable and scalable sales model, which will help determine what the formula is for future growth and how we then take capital and grow the team.
I’m a big believer that when you feel empowered and inspired at work, that trickles into every single part of your life. The goal and the mission behind the lighthouse is really to empower professionals so that they can feel confident and inspired and have clarity in their careers, and to make sure that everyone has access to that. In the olden days, we always knew what the next step was, we knew we could be at one company for our whole careers. Our careers don’t look like that anymore. To paraphrase a good analogy I’ve heard: Work then was a career ladder. Work today is like a rock climbing wall, an ever-changing path.
Navigating a successful career path is neither simple nor easy. So it could be encouraging that there’s help. Courtney Brand has navigated her own career by way of the East Coast and Shanghai, and now she’s making it in Brooklyn.