- Career pivots
- Design thinking
- Launching a startup
- Ways to figure out what you should do in life
Mollie Amkraut Mueller has an incredibly interesting story, both inside and outside of her time at EY. She recently launched a startup that's helping others design careers they love. Do read the full post!
Sure, I grew up in Seattle (I’m a proud Seattlite!) and moved to SoCal for college at a liberal arts school called Claremont McKenna. I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of business and people, so I double majored in economics and psychology.
I took Intro to Accounting as part of my econ major, and that's what started this whole public accounting thing. I had a couple of really influential accounting professors who got me hooked on the topic. I didn't think too hard about my career during college. I was just excited to get out into the working world, embrace it and do something. The accounting firms came to campus and my professors said it was a great place to start your career. So I just went for it and ended up working at EY. I spent four years there, two and a half in audit and then a year and a half in business development. And along the way did a master's in accounting at the University of Virginia.
Yes, EY had a special program for us liberal arts kids or anyone who came in without as much accounting schooling. It was a really small program at UVA that ran over two consecutive summers. It was a blast, super fun. It was like being back in college. The caveat is that it came with a four year contract to stay at EY, which is a pretty long contract in hindsight. It was free education, which I was never going to say no to, but after about a year in audit I realized audit wasn’t for me, and I still had three years to go.
It started because I wasn’t enjoying audit that much but needed to stay. So I was asking, what else can I do here? I was looking at a bunch of different groups, and got really interested in the business development team. It was this fascinating mix of strategy, sales, and operations. I joined as an account manager, which included managing different accounts and working with our sales executives on things like which clients to target, which relationships to invest in, and how to pitch.
The transition was long, it took a really long time to network my way in and to cut through all the red tape. They don't make it easy to switch departments. But I eventually got into this role and just loved it. I had some amazing managers in BD, people who really looked out for me and helped me with my learning and development. My boss Charlene has been my role model for good management since then. So that was a really great experience.
I really valued my time in public. I think it was the best place to start my career. I learned so much about the world of business from seeing a variety of companies and drilling into how these companies operate. But more than that, I think, public accounting firms are just so professional and the people there are really exceptional. I had amazing mentors, from the seniors to the partners and people who I felt really cared about me and my career. So I think it set a really strong precedent for what it means to be a professional, well-run organization. And I'm really grateful for that.
I was the weird kid who always knew that I wanted to go to business school. I don't know why, I think I just wanted to be a businesswoman and businesswomen go to business school. So the plan was always to do an MBA, and usually people do MBAs in their late twenties. That coincided with my contract ending at EY and I was ready for a big career shift. So the timing was good.
After getting accepted to business school, I still had about six months before school started. I was curious about tech and startups, so while still at EY I started working part-time at a friend’s startup to gain some experience and test out what it felt like to work in a very different environment. This ended up being really helpful in getting startup internships during business school because I had some experience I could speak to, and I learned a ton about scrappy startup mentality there.
The main reason is because my boyfriend, who’s now my husband, is German. We met in the U.S. and we'd been dating for a few years. He was interested in going back to Europe at some point, and I thought that sounded like a really fun adventure so I applied to London Business School and got in. Business school was an easy way to move countries because when you land, you have a bunch of new classmates who become your friends. We always thought we’d live abroad for a couple of years, but it’s now been seven and we’re still loving London.
I joined business school thinking that I wanted to do something in tech and startups, but that's all I knew and that's a huge space. So I needed to narrow it down quite a lot. I did a couple of internships during business school to explore different things, one at a high-growth startup and one in venture capital. The big theme here is that I had a lot of trouble figuring out what I wanted to do. There were two things that really helped me with this. The first was working with a coach who brought structure and rigor to my career exploration.
The second was my experience in a few professional peer groups, both during and after business school. These were groups of professional peers who got together to discuss work topics. I found so much inspiration, motivation, and accountability in these groups, which enabled me to go after the career I wanted, instead of settling for something easier to obtain. I give a lot of credit to these two things, my coach and my peer groups, and helping me find a great job and feel happy at work. And those were the basis for founding Crew, which we can talk about soon, but at that point they helped me discover the world of design thinking and innovation consulting. I did an internship with a small design thinking firm here in London. As I was in that internship, a role at IDEO, who's the leader in that space, opened up. I used my network to make some connections there and ended up taking that job where I've been for four years now.
The role that they hire MBAs for is called business designer. It’s an amazing mix of creativity and business. It is so fun. IDEO is a consulting firm. We do innovation projects for big corporations. We help them build and innovate new products and new services, sometimes whole new strategies and new ventures. We work in multidisciplinary teams. Many of my teammates have traditional design backgrounds, but as a business designer, I'm the one wearing the commercial hat in a team of more traditional designers.
So I'm responsible for understanding the client's objectives and translating their objectives and KPIs into our project plan. My activities include everything from business model innovation, defining value propositions, pricing, setting the long-term vision, strategy, etc. So it's like a business generalist role amongst a team of creatives.
Well, I’ve told you about my game changing experiences with a coach and a professional peer group. Those had been simmering in the back of my mind for some time. Then, through my work at IDEO, I got to know the design thinking process and given my career nerd DNA, I started to realize how applicable design and this whole process is to careers. Meanwhile, I became aware of just how many people around me were questioning their careers and wanting to make some sort of change, but didn’t know how to do so. It all kind of clicked right around when the pandemic hit, and thanks to lockdown, I had some spare time on my hands, so I started prototyping what a group-based coaching program might look like, and now a year later it’s become a real thing.
To explain the idea a bit more, Crew is a group-based coaching program that helps people think intentionally about their careers in a fun, social, and supportive way. When someone applies to join Crew, we match them into a group of six to eight professional contemporaries. When we're matching we try for the perfect balance of enough similarity that they can relate to each other, and enough diversity that they're inspired by very different career types and the different ways people approach their careers.
The current course that we're offering is nine weeks. The crew meets once a week, over zoom, and tackles a different career design topic with their coach and fellow crew’ers. Our activities help people to think deeply about their interests, strengths, values, and potential career paths. We’re currently building out the experience that goes around those sessions, which will include things like an online community, some light tech to enable a great experience, and some post-program offers.
So far we’ve focused on millennial professionals. So people who already have several years of work experience and are thinking about what’s next. Our customers have come from the US and the UK, as well as a handful of other countries. It’s amazing that we can connect people from around the world over zoom, and it turns out that everyone has very similar career experiences. That’s been a really cool insight from our past crews.
I’m also getting a lot of interest from people in their forties and fifties. I think that's a big moment where people reevaluate what they want from their careers. And we’re exploring university students too, so it’s coming time to make some strategic decisions about where to focus!
Our mission is to help a whole lot of people feel happier and more fulfilled in their careers. If we can do this well, then we think working culture, across companies, will improve, because managers and colleagues will feel better about their jobs.
Our vision is to be your trusted professional growth partner across your career. The company you turn to for support with career transitions, accelerations, and all other types of professional growth and support. We’ll do this through our combination of content, coaching, and peer groups. One thing I’m particularly keen on is creating a habit around regular career check-in’s, like the way you go to the doctor for your physical once a year, just to make sure everything's still working.
Alongside that comes really interesting technology. For example, could Crew become your private LinkedIn profile, a repository of sorts where you can track your whole career, including your goals, your learnings, your feedback, and the different skills that you're building.
There are also so many other topics that we'll spin up crews around. Lots of different professional development topics, like how to be a manager, how to take a sabbatical, interpersonal dynamics stuff, the list goes on. So there are a few different directions we could go in. I want to do all of them. We'll see what we focus on.
I have thought about that. I think our model is similar to OnDeck in that it provides lifelong learning opportunities, and creates a community. I really love the way OnDeck describes itself as a university of the future. I’ve always been bullish on lifelong learning. By that I mean extending university and learning experiences across one’s career instead of stopping after college. However there are some big differences between OnDeck and Crew. For starters, our model revolves around the crew, i.e. the small peer group. We think that’s where the magic happens. If you look at YPO or Chief, companies that do something similar for executives, their customers love these small groups. We also emphasize the coaching aspect, we’re similar to BetterUp in that way. And we’re serving a very different market. OnDeck is really focused on founders and the tech world, whereas we’re helping people working in corporates and firms.
So some similarities and some differences. It will be fascinating to see how OnDeck evolves. I’m actually part of ODF10, and really looking forward to the program.
For me, it was a really gradual process. It wasn't like one day I decided to leave and start something. It was like, all right, I've had these amazing experiences that I think are highly valuable to everybody. And I see this problem, which is that lots of people struggle with career stuff and nobody knows about these solutions.
So I saw a lot of opportunity in turning coaching and peer groups into a product. For the last year I’ve just been working on it on the side. I wasn't ready to go all in. I wanted to test the idea and learn a lot about the market. And importantly, I wanted to learn how I found the experience of being a founder. A few months ago I started a sabbatical from IDEO to work on it. Now I'm getting a flavor of what it feels like to be a full-time founder which has been really fun. Though of course, with a healthy dose of typical startup emotional rollercoastering! I’m really loving all the personal growth that comes from doing something so new and different. Learning something new every day really fills me up and energizes me. So that's been the most fun.
I only get one? I'll give you two: be curious and try stuff. By be curious, I mean just get out there and start chatting to people and reading things. Keep track of what's sparking your energy and what’s exciting. Talk to people who have all sorts of different jobs, ask them what they like about their jobs and how they got into it. Just increase your inputs because that will spark new ideas.
Then trying stuff is all about this experimentation mindset. You don't have to jump into a whole new job. Instead, find a way to do it for a day. Do it for an hour. At Crew we talk a lot about the minimum prototype of a new job. If you want to be a zookeeper, distill down the parts of that job. Do you like being outside? Do you like working with animals? Do you like cleaning? Whatever those components are, just go spend a day seeing how it feels. The zookeeper is maybe an exaggerated example but you can see how any job can be broken down into its core activities, and those are things you can learn about. So try tiny experiments to help you figure out what you like and don't like.
I think the main thing is to know that your career will be long and varied. These days, the chances of you starting something and sticking with it for your whole career are slim to none. I like saying that because I think it takes a lot of the pressure off. A lot of people think they have to find their perfect job right out of college or within the first few years. And there is no one perfect job. There are many amazing jobs for all of us. I think just knowing that whatever you do, you can change it, hopefully gives people peace of mind. I’ve made a couple of very big career pivots, so it’s very possible.
I love that question, but I think the answer is no. Even though it did become clear to me that audit wasn't the right move, I think everything you do teaches you something, and is useful in figuring out what you like and don’t like. I've learned something from every step of my career. I recently heard Brené Brown in a podcast talking about the idea of nothing wasted. And I really believe that, I think you learn something from everything and you can turn anything into a story that helps you get the next thing. Always forward progress.
Building motivates me. I think I'm an operator and a builder and a creator. So I'm motivated when I'm doing those things. Helping people motivates me. I think everybody wants impact in what they do. So right now I'm really motivated by helping people figure out what kind of work will bring them fulfillment.
So I don't have long-term career goals per se, because I think it's hard to envision your career past 5 or 10 years. I know that I like building, I know that I like leading. I imagine that my future career will include those two things. But for me it comes back to the mindsets that we've touched on. I think as long as I stay true to my values and keep these mindsets of curiosity and experimentation and collaboration, I have faith that I’ll figure out the right thing going forward.
Life goals - We've now lived in London for seven years and it's important to my husband and me that we find some way to have a cross continental existence going forward, which sounds a bit tricky, but I'm hoping we can figure it out! We’d also love to start a family. My husband is my best collaborator, so when I think about life goals, it's always what he and I can do together.