Office Hours: I’m the CEO & co-founder of The Commons (formerly Skillful). I’m Loren Cohen. AMA!Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Loren Cohen, CEO and founder of The Commons - where education, mentorship, and community come together to accelerate careers in the Tech industry.

We’re building the career development platform that I wanted when navigating big career changes - from pivoting industries and roles to stretching for a promotion. The Commons is a learning community that you become a member of to gain access to interactive learning experiences, mentorship and a powerful professional network that feels like a community of friends.

I started my career on a very different path - as a corporate attorney at a big firm. Despite investing a lot of time in my legal education, I decided to make a big career pivot into startupland and the Tech industry. Why? Like everyone, I’m constantly evolving and changing. It didn’t make sense to tie myself to a career that I decided on at a young age, despite learning so much about myself in the interim. I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial so I took a giant leap towards that, joining a seed-stage startup to build out the Ops function and be a generalist, wearing many hats! It was fun and chaotic. In summer 2020, I decided to continue taking steps towards my goal of starting a company and officially launched The Commons.

Being a founder is a rollercoaster and to keep me grounded, I make sure to take lots of walks with my pup Arlo, commit to frequent workouts and of course, binge watch shows from time to time (recent favorites: White Lotus, The Split, Firefly Lane and guilty pleasures like Emily in Paris). I’m based in Toronto, Canada.

Through my journey, I’ve spoken to and supported hundreds of people in navigating big career challenges (we have over 1000+ alumni!). Ask me anything about career growth, navigating career transitions, breaking into tech, how to strike up a mentoring relationship, or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @lorenabbey!Elphas – please ask @lorenabbey your questions before Friday, January 20th. @lorenabbey may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Loren, thanks for being willing to share your expertise! I have been trying to break into fem tech but find it difficult to make connections/network when i know absolutely no one at these companies. I try cold-emailing & sending notes on invites on LinkedIn but for the most part it amounts to nothing. What are your tips for networking in unknown territory? Thanks!!
I have this same problem! I don't live in a major tech area for in person events and my experience is confusing to tech people without explanation. I have tons of directly applicable skills but no one is even responding back to hear the narrative.
Hey Sarah & Kayla! To the extent it's reassuring, I hear questions like this a lot - try not to take it personally, though admittedly that is easier said than done. A few reframes/suggestions that may be helpful:-Put yourself in the shoes of the person on the receiving end of your message. It's likely they get a lot of them. What would make a message stand out in your inbox? It should be thoughtful, respectful and clear (concise!)-Have a clear 1-line about yourself - this should tell people what they need to know about you. Your 1-liner will differ with the context.-Remember, this message is about THEM not YOU. Do a quick check for how many times you're using the word "I" or "me" in your message, instead of "you". -Make it easy for them to say yes! Ask if you can send a few questions over asynchronously, or if they have 15 minutes of time for a quick call, at their convenience. One of our mentors at The Commons put together this cold outreach template - I really like it! A few more tips for cold outreach & conversations that I've found to be helpful:1. Be specific: Asks and conversations that lack explicit purpose can be awkward and don’t lead anywhere. To make the most of everyone’s time, be specific with what you’re hoping to learn. That shows preparedness and respect - those are the type of people that others want to rally around. 2. Make it actionable:** Conversations that lead to actions generate positive returns. Follow-up and tell your mentor or peer what you learned from the convo and how you’re going to put it into action. Don’t forget to close the loop! 3. Be gracious: Show up on time, say thank you (obviously!) and return the favor: ask how you can help then (and follow through on it). That’s how you build relationships. Lastly, take advantage of online communities (like The Commons) and events! These are GREAT ways to meet people, and give you a reason to connect with them 1:1 afterwards. They're especially great if you're not in a major tech hub.
Thank you for supporting us, Loren! I love what The Commons is doing because I've been there.I'm a copywriter and content marketer for companies building communities. I'm also a former teacher with a Master's in Education. What pain points do you think my wavy career journey could help solve to best support companies in their community growth?
Wow - what a cool career path! I think your career path would be well-leveraged at EdTech companies generally! Outside of that, I've seen people with teaching backgrounds pivot into roles on learning & development teams at companies, to help them create & operationalize internal learning programs - I could see your copywriting, content marketing and teaching experience all being extremely applicable to that. Lastly, community manager roles are growing in popularity as more and more companies see the benefit from a growth and retention perspective of building communities of people who use (or want to use) their products.
Hi Loren, thank you for all you do - The Commons is so needed! I am curious about how it works with scholarship partnerships because it's such a great way to help those who may not be able to afford the courses access opportunities. How do you pick the companies you want to sponsor and how much do companies typically sponsor?
I 100% agree! Typically, companies who sponsor scholarships are aligned in wanting to provide access to education & opportunities to different underserved communities. You can learn more about our approach to company partnerships and scholarships here:
Hi @lorenabbey! Thank you for sharing your experience. I have several years experience in fashion tech. For the past few years, I have been at home raising my son and started CX consulting with solopreneurs part-time. My son is in school full-time now and I am looking to join an organization again. I’m struggling with understanding my value and how my skill sets can be best utilized as I have mastered and expanded my knowledge new tools and skills as an entrepreneur (and project managing mother 😉). Do you have advice for reentering the workforce after years of entrepreneurship and not selling yourself short due to imposter syndrome?
Thank you for sharing your story Loren! Inspiring and motivational! I am currently a leader in People Operations and evolving into a business operations role. I am curious about tips, resources, and best practices you might share as you experienced building out ops at a start-up. Thank you!
So nice to meet you Loren! Thank you tons for doing this Office Hours with us this week, really appreciate it.Loved reading your story and can agree that we're so much more than our careers and it's important to see what's out there and experiment.We in fact have TONS of career switchers here on Elpha so The Commons seems like an obvious fit for them. We have a wide range of career pivoters: from people wanting to transition completely into the tech industry at tech firms, or startups in non technical roles e.g someone who used to be a librarian or a teacher and now exploring customer success at a tech company or someone who was an IT administrator for the Mayor's office and now going through a Full Stack bootcamp to join a startup and many more examples)For these people what do you recommend in terms of balancing things out: from building the "technical" skills (eg learning to code for the tech roles, or practicing the behavioural interview for the role in the case of the teacher trying to do Customer Success) to networking: we always say networking is keyBut at what point do you go from the loose convos with everyone to taking the networking more seriously and be more intentional about it?
Thank you so much for joining the Elpha Office Hours Loren! Your platform seems very interesting. How do you get the mentors for your platform?
Thank you! When we first started, we reached out to people who worked at top tech companies. But since then, we've acquired most of our mentors through word of mouth (other mentors referring their colleagues) and through graduating our mentees to become mentors! We do also accept applications here!
Hi Loren - from a fellow Torontonian! Thanks for sharing your time, story, and perspective with us. I'm curious to know:1. What drew you to the legal profession originally?2. How has your training and knowledge from law school then working as a corporate attorney translated into your roles afterwards? Thanks!
Hey Tiffany! Nice to see a fellow Torontonian here :) 1. A few reasons but the top 2 were: 1/ I did (and still do) believe that a legal education is valuable - it taught me how to think critically, write concisely and synthesize large amounts of info; and 2/ being a corporate attorney is a fast-paced job where you learn a lot and work with smart people - that sounded very appealing to me (and still does - but you can also do that in Tech, at startups, etc.)2. Whether it's law, IB, or consulting, I truly believe there's value in a professional services skillset. Typically, those roles require a very strong work ethic, an ability to deliver high quality under pressure and tight timelines, and considerable stakeholder management. Those skills will help you standout in almost any other role.
Thanks for sharing your story. The Commons sounds like dynamite! I’m as a boot camp grad and serial mentor, I’ve yet to find well run mentorship programs for women looking to get into or starting out in an software engineering role. Do you think you’ll expand to cover this discipline? Also, any advice for how to make it as a mentor? Thanks 🙏
Love that, Christy! Right now, we're focused on non-technical roles because I think it's an underserved market - there's a ton of awesome coding bootcamps out there. But maybe one day!
Hi Loren! I liked hearing about your journey because it makes me feel not so alone. I took a leap into a pre-seed mental health app startup as their digital content marketer. I'm wearing lots of hats and feeling an immense amount of pressure to outperform so my part-time role turns into a full-time job. One of my key roles is acquiring members for our MVP so we can prove the concept to investors and get funded.The reality is, building a brand without much money takes time. What would you consider most important for me to focus on during this early stage?
Kudos to you on making that leap!! Startups, especially pre-seed ones, are generally stressful work environments - there's a lot of pressure on each individual because teams are small and stakes are high. The added pressure of turning a PT role into a FT one is a lot. I've been in your shoes and feel for you! I'd prioritize learning as fast as you can - running (scrappy) experiments in short periods of time, learning from them and either (a) expanding on them if they're successful; or (b) pivoting to the next experiment. I've found that to be the best way to learn and move quickly, without feeling like you need to be doing everything at once. Remember to communicate a lot with your manager (founder?) and take regular stock of your learnings - this will help show how much work is being done to grow your brand and acquire customers, despite the inevitable fact that not everything will work! Sounds like a really interesting & challenging role - best of luck! Rooting for you.
Really appreciate your advice here and love the idea of giving myself permission to pivot and run fast experiments. Thanks also for the tip to communicate a lot with the founder. This helped me feel validated in what I'm working on. Gratitude to you!