How Kindness Makes Or Breaks Careers

You don’t break in, you’re let in, as the career trajectory of Etsy design lead Cap Watkins illustrates. Now go return the favor.

How Kindness Makes Or Breaks Careers

Cap Watkins is now the design lead at Etsy, but before that he was a lonesome Louisiana-bred web designer living in Oakland, working from home and not knowing a soul outside his small startup.


Then something changed: He decided to meet creative folks in San Francisco.

“I did the only thing I could think of,” he writes on Svbtle, “I made a list of web sites I thought were well-designed, figured out who designed them, and sent a cold email to the designer telling them I was a new designer in the area and asking if they’d like to get coffee or a beer sometime.”

He sent between 20 and 30 emails. He got one reply.

Daniel Burka, who was then the creative director at Digg, said sure, he’d love to grab coffee. Coffee turned into rock climbing, which turned into a cascade of introductions and friendships. Whether he knew it or not, Burka had facilitated a ton of relationships.

“Suddenly I wasn’t all alone in Oakland anymore,” Watkins writes.


Though he’d be let go from this startup job a few months later, he had friends who could help him find contract work while he sought out a full-time gig. Eventually he was introduced to the folks at Zoosk, and suddenly he was “off to the races,” designing products for millions. And after that, Formspring, Amazon, and Etsy.

The lessons

Watkins writes that he gets “overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude” when he thinks on all the people who helped him–though they totally didn’t have to. So now he answers those cold email messages that come his way every so often–that was him, then.

There’s a lot to be learned from his story:

  • As 99u observes, when you’re kind to people–and thus open up opportunities–you can change their lives.
  • You need a lot of hustle–and coffee dates–to be let into any industry.
  • Kindness is a form of networking.
  • As John A. Daly writes in Advocacy, when someone asks you to lunch (or rock climbing) say yes.

Be Kind

[Image: Flickr user Lali Masriera]


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.


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