My Side Hustle Makes Me A Better Employee — Here's How

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Photo Courtesy of Squarespace.

Photo Courtesy of Squarespace.

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If you told someone 20 years ago that they could create an entire business in a matter of minutes, you would’ve been met with skepticism or, more likely, denial. But thanks to new technologies, social media platforms and cutting-edge website-building services like Squarespace, these days you can do just that.

Senior Data Scientist Laura Elsener has gotten familiar with all sides of these advancements since becoming both an employee and a customer of Squarespace. Elsener, who used Squarespace in order to found her stationary brand, nu rule, says that being able to personally identify with her customers helps her excel in her role. And the benefits are two-fold. 

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“I used Squarespace to build my website, and in doing so learned which aspects of the product are amazing or need improvement, as well as what the customer experience is like,” she said.

We spoke to Elsener about what makes her side hustle successful, how Squarespace is fueling her passion and her best advice for job seekers and creators.

Tell us about your job (at Squarespace). What are your main priorities at work?

I’m a Senior Data Scientist at Squarespace, with a focus on Customer Operations. Customer Operations supports Squarespace users through self-help tools and chat/email support. As a Data Scientist, I help the Customer Operations team remain data-driven in its approach to growing and developing Customer Operations. This ranges from projects like testing the effectiveness of new support offerings, to understanding self-service usage patterns. I answer broad questions like “Why do customers request support?” and granular questions like “What is the impact of wait time on customer satisfaction?” Ultimately, my work enables Customer Operations to be increasingly data-driven on decisions large and small. 

What were you doing previously/what has your career path looked like?

I began my career doing social impact investing within a large bank. My group invested in community development projects such as affordable housing and early childhood education programs. Looking to pivot out of finance, I took a role working in supply chain at an e-commerce startup. I quickly learned that I thrive in the fast-paced technology environment. That’s also where I grew my passion for analytics, transforming data into actionable insights that helped create and monitor strategic priorities for the business. My interest in continuing to develop analytical skills to impact strategy led me to my current role as a Data Scientist at Squarespace, where I’ve been for a little over a year now.

What drew you to work at your current company?

A company’s mission is an important factor for me when evaluating an employer. Squarespace’s mission resonates with me, because it’s about empowering people. The exact language is “Squarespace empowers people with creative ideas to succeed.” Millions of people use our product to share their stories, art, products and beyond. The diverse customer base and empowerment/growth opportunities we create for customers keeps me motivated and passionate about working here and continuously improving Squarespace. 

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

I hesitate to hierarchically select a single “favorite” aspect of my job, because it’s really a confluence of things. But if I had to choose one thing, it’d be the people, since people are the underlying foundation of the environment, work and culture here.

The diversity of experiences and interests of Squarespace employees continuously surprises me. We have concert pianists, photographers, chefs and artists that work here. Squarespace does a great job attracting creative and passionate individuals, and that employee base creates a really unique environment. My team is full of lifelong learners who organize talks, share papers and are always willing to share their knowledge with others. I feel incredibly lucky to work in an environment where people are continuously learning and are encouraged to do so. 

Tell us a bit about your side hustle. What do you do, how long have you been doing it, and how do you fit it into your schedule when you have a full-time job?

In 2018, I launched a brand of female empowerment notebooks for women and our allies called nu rule. Nu is the pronunciation of “女”, the Chinese word for woman, and “rule” refers to the fact that the notebooks are ruled. The notebooks have feminist titles like Resting Boss Face and My Feminist Agenda. The first page of each notebook explains the meaning behind the title and the ethos of the brand. I donate ten percent of proceeds to nonprofits helping to empower women, and seek to support women both through philanthropy and positive female messaging. 

I was passionate and excited about the idea, which means it didn’t really feel like “work” and I launched the brand in about a month. After the initial time investment, the ongoing work is extremely flexible and I spend anywhere from zero to five hours a week working on nu rule. Ongoing work includes things like creating new titles, social media marketing and building retailer relationships. This flexibility allows me to vary the time I spend on nu rule based on other professional and personal priorities I have going on at a given time. That being said, I’m excited about growing the brand, so if anything urgent comes up, I’m usually able to make the time for it!

Do you think that being able to pursue your side hustle/passion makes you a better/more productive employee? If so, how?

nu rule has directly impacted my work at Squarespace because it’s allowed me to use and engage with the Squarespace product. I used Squarespace to build my website, and in doing so, learned which aspects of the product are amazing or need improvement, and the customer experience. I bring this knowledge and empathy to my work, which I’ve found immensely valuable. Understanding the end users helps employees be more effective, and a great way to enrich one’s understanding of our customers is by… being a customer.

In addition, there is extensive literature around the drivers of employee productivity. Some of the common themes are around employee engagement and satisfaction. I believe that working on passion projects outside of the office can positively impact an employee’s overall and workplace happiness. Developing and engaging in hobbies and projects is incredibly fulfilling, and can also teach you skills that are valuable in the workplace. 

What’s your no. 1 tip for women who are job searching but are unsure about whether they’re pursuing roles that are “the perfect fit” for them?

If somebody’s struggling to find the “perfect fit” for a job (or something else), I’d challenge them to reevaluate their definition of perfect. The search for a job should begin with a self-evaluation wherein you identify your top priorities for your next role. The purpose of prioritization is to force yourself to consider trade-offs in order to delineate between your must-haves and nice-to-haves. A priority list should be short, with ideally no more than three items. Having a long list of priorities defeats the purpose of prioritization. Force yourself to be constrained and thoughtful at this stage. 

Next, evaluate potential job opportunities through your prioritized lens. This will help you be objective in comparing opportunities against each other. Companies need to sell themselves in order to attract candidates, so will share what they believe to be the benefits and perks of working at their company. Arming yourself beforehand with a personal list of priorities will help you sift through the marketing, ask the right questions throughout the interview process and hopefully land your dream role. 

What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

Early in my career, I was told to “spend social capital.” Social capital is the concept of goodwill, trust and empathy born out of interpersonal relationships and interactions. In the workplace, social capital can be built by developing your brand through a consistent track record. When I received this advice, I’d been working really hard to exceed expectations in my role. I wanted to be trusted with greater responsibilities and prove myself indispensable. I was building my reputation as a strong performer, or in other worlds, developing social capital. 

However, I had no plan or intention to “spend” my social capital. I established myself as a strong performer, but didn’t leverage that to create new opportunities for myself. I learned that this type of behavior is common for young women, whereas other demographics are more comfortable using their social capital strategically. 

Per the advice I received to “spend” my social capital, I started being more strategic and deliberate with my career goals and used my social capital to help me achieve them. For example, I asked to be put on stretch projects in areas of the business I wanted to explore. I asked for more support when I was underwater with work, and eventually built out a team under me. These were some pivotal moments in my career where I leveraged the trust and reputation I’d built to drive change. This advice meaningfully improved and altered my career trajectory, and I’m grateful for the opportunities it’s afforded me. 


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