Office Hours: From working at a world-class zoo to founding OwnTrail – a social OS – I'm Kt McBratney. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Kt McBratney, Co-founder and Chief Community Officer at OwnTrail, a social OS to help you achieve your next milestone in work and life.

I’m a marketing and tech executive turned founder and professional community builder, and my non-linear career path includes roles at a world-class zoo, community college system, award-winning digital agency and independent film…to name a few.

My professional journey has included big wins like awards, promotions and press coverage, but I’ve also faced obstacles like unexpected layoffs, burnout, problematic bosses and burnout (did I mention burnout?).

I’ve moved across the country three times, and I’ve been working fully remotely since 2017. I'm also a visual artist, writer, parent, and occasional Muppet astrologer.

Ask me anything about building community, authentic brands, marketing ops, how to disrupt the status bro, or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @ktmcbratney!Elphas – please ask @ktmcbratney your questions before Friday, September 16th. @ktmcbratney may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Thank you for doing this!!How have you dealt with problematic bosses?And unexpected layoffs?I recently received an unexpected borderline bad mid year review where the manager used the words “course correction “. I have been with my employer for a decade and with the current manager for less than a year. Also he compared my performance based on only one statistic with a peer (white male) and I’m a woman of color. I have not had a boss say this to me as plainly as that before and I was shocked. We both (peers) have two words in our title that signify higher sphere of influence and seniority and are individual contributors and work remotely. My boss himself is white male and has a reputation of not liking Indian/Asian women. In fact he let one woman of color go earlier this year. I am an older parent and kind of the only breadwinner in the family with a toddler and I work part time.Needless to say I have begun to brush the dust off my resume slowly. I feel I was treated very unfairly. How do you recommend one prepares themselves for the possibility of a layoff? Thank you.
OOf. I have worked with a boss like this, and am so sorry you're dealing with this. It sounds like he is the problem--NOT you! I wanted to share this upcoming workshop OwnTrail is hosting 9/27 for "What's Next" if you're interested:
First off, I am sorry that you are having to go through this. It sounds like a really challenging and unpleasant experience with the recent performance review and new manager. Glad to hear you are getting your resume ready, as you may decide to leave on your own accord and it's a wise move to be ready to actively job hunt if you choose that path.I've had problematic bosses ranging from micromanaging to outright sexual harassment, and I found that taking back control where I could was really powerful. That has looked differently according to the circumstances, but has included being proactively and clearly communicating how I work best so we could build a better working relationship, finding a 'sponsor' within the org to help me navigate the situation and looking for a new role or company when the situation was past the point of repair. Look where you can find control. It's your career, and there are likely several choices that would get you in a more equitable and safe environment.As for layoffs, I recommend letting yourself feel the feelings first. If it stings, it stings and that's ok! You are allowed to have emotions about your career! Once you've processed it, you can move into action. Ask yourself what the right next step looks like for you. Is it taking some time to better identify the type of role or culture you'd like? Is it jumping into working your network? Is it applying to 2 jobs a day?No matter what, make sure you save things to show your track record so you can show off samples or share success metrics when you're ready to jump back into the professional game.
This Q&A is 🔥 Kt! Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us.
Thank you for doing this, Kt!! What would you say are your main takeaways from your experience in community building? Or, what are the building blocks to building a strong community? (excuse the redundancy)And please tell us more about your experience as a Muppet astrologer! 🔮🐸
Community-building is a collaborative process. You can guide the growth, the culture and the outcomes but you do not control it. The sooner you let go of the idea you can control 100% of it, the better!I talk about community building as co-creation. (If you're part of the OwnTrail community, you've heard me say this probably 376 times by now — but it's true!) And a community cannot exist, let alone thrive, wif it extracts value instead of adding it. A community serves the people in it, even when it's connected to a brand or product. Peloton is a great example of this — yes, they are customers but they get value from being connected to other customers and the instructors. It goes beyond a transaction. You may know the saying "everything is marketing"...I believe the shift is happening for many companies (not all! and not all should!) where everything is community. With OwnTrail, community is baked into our marketing, our product decisions, our business model and our values. This creates support for building the community because it's connected to and valued in every department and not siloed away as an afterthought or nice to have.
Muppet astrology! So I love the Muppets, and I started doing what I call Muppet astrology readings where I tell people who their Muppet character "signs" are. So like you have a zodiac sun, moon and rising sun, I made up (I think? I've never heard of anyone else doing it!) this practice of doing this with my friends randomly. And I love being able to be myself on social media and not just some "brand" of a one night I decided on a whim to offer Muppet astrology readings to whoever wanted one on my Twitter account. People did! It's just a fun way to share some insights on my read on someone's vibe, based on nothing but their Twitter profile, and show that it's ok to be silly sometimes and share your unexpected interests with the world. Sounds like I should do a session soon to celebrate this AMA...keep an eye out for the post over here!
Ha love this! I will be keeping an eye out for that session!
Hi Kt!! Excited to have you here – your journey is inspiring!What were some unique challenges or rewards you experienced from your marketing role at the zoo?And on the topic of burnout, what are some ways you cope with or regain energy after a period of burnout?
Working at the Omaha Zoo (which is so worth a visit!) taught me so much, especially as my first post-college role. Nonprofits and startups work with limited resources, so I learned how to do a lot with fewer resources. When you can't just apply budget to a challenge or opportunity, you get to get creative! It's something I've applied in every other role since.My role at the zoo was as a generalist on the marketing team, so I got hands-on experience in everything from PR to event planning to ad buying to volunteer coordination. I learned I am really good at wearing multiple hats and that I don't have to specialize to have a successful and fulfilling career. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, working at a conversation-focused organization taught me that we can — and should! — care for our world no matter what our role is. Whether you had an office job or took care of the animals, we were all expected to stop to pick up and dispose of litter when we came across it on the zoo grounds. It was all our responsibility, not just to keep the environment clean for guests but to model taking care of our planet. Almost 20 years later, you'll find me picking up garbage mid-stride pretty much wherever I go.
Oh much to say but I'll keep it brief (or try!). Recovering from burnout for me includes 3 things: creativity, rest and perspective. I've started doing morning pages every morning to tap into my creativity without the pressure of an outcome and I've found it gives me new perspective on what's stressing me out — and sometimes clues me in that I'm stressing to begin with! The book The Artist's Way does a great job of laying out how and why to start this daily writing practice.I also get outside daily. Like, touch grass and keep myself off a screen! And rest: rest is healing, it is transformative, it is important. I've worked hard to learn that resting IS productive, it is active, it is doing something. Burnout is a moving target for me (see the last milestone on my trail on OwnTrail for proof of that!), so this list is always changing. I'd love to hear what's worked for you all!
Thank you for such a thorough response, Kt! Such a great point that burnout can be a moving target for some. What rests and what burns you out can change so much depending on what your job is at a given moment.
In this Wayfinding chat (, I loved the point that if you decide to be a founder of your own business, you can reject hustle-type expectations and set your own culture. In tech, I've often felt that pressures around unrealistic expectations for team output have come down from unrealistic promises leadership has made to the board. What are your thoughts on reconciling these issues for a founder who needs to raise money?
Great question Erin! Part of the reason I wanted to become a founder was to challenge what's often a default to hustle culture and prove by example that we can build successful businesses while not jeopardizing our physical and mental health, relationships and other things that make us whole people. This goes against what many founders and investors are used to, and when you're fundraising it can feel a little like living with a foot in two different worlds. It helps to acknowledge this duality to start!Practically speaking, here's what I've found helps maintain anti-hustle culture while fundraising in an environment that almost expects you to grind 24/7:1️⃣ Embrace anti-hustle culture as a team sport! When you're working with a team with healthy work-life boundaries, you are accountable to model that for them and they can hold you accountable if you start to slip. 2️⃣ Be prepared to demonstrate the value (and outcomes!) of working smarter, not harder. For me, this has looked like everything from having articles bookmarked on the neuroscience case for work boundaries to examples of how we handle urgent issues at OwnTrail to KPIs that show our traction and team retention. Investors love data, so have your receipts ready to roll!3️⃣ Do your own diligence with investors early on. If they are giving you signals that they expect you to work 90 hours a week no matter what or have a reputation for overworking their own teams, it might not be a good fit even if everything else checks out. The best investor-founder relationships are about more than the check, and the ones who dig your values will be far more useful (and less stressful!).