Do you ever find yourself wishing you had a place to go to ask for recommendations for restaurants and hotels? Would you like guidance in picking out your next event venue or even your next printer? Cabinet was created to do just that.
Cabinet, an online forum specifically geared toward assistants and administrative professionals was created by former executive assistant, Julia Hawkins. The platform is unique in its “assistants only” approach with advice accessed by category. Don’t see the answer to your question? No problem! Simply start a new thread. Julia even blasts certain threads out to the Cabinet email list. I’ve found myself clicking on an email thread to read recommendations or offer my own two cents.
One thing I absolutely love about us assistant types is our amazing willingness to come alongside one another to offer support and help. This platform is geared toward doing just that! Cabinet is still in its beta testing phase. Don’t let this dissuade you! Go to Cabinet now and request to join. You’ll be happy you did.
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Annie: Welcome to Whole Assistant Research Corner where once a month I will be interviewing a founder of a resource for assistants and today our person is Julia Hawkins of Cabinet. Welcome, Julia.
Julia: Hi, thank you.
Annie: So why don't we start by telling my audience just a little bit about yourself and what it is you do and how you came up with the idea of Cabinet.
Julia: Awesome, sure. So I ... well, starting way back, I moved a lot as a kid, so I don't really have anywhere I call home but I guess I was from Minneapolis; I went to high school. And I moved from Minneapolis to a warmer place, North Carolina, for college, and I studied public policy. And after college, I was really interested in innovation and entrepreneurship and I got an opportunity to work for a venture capital firm. And it was doing something I thought I was capable to do which was being an office manager/assistant. And so I worked there for about four years and the company at the time was going through a transition, which ... like the partners were phasing out or they were getting older and wanting to spend more time with their kids and not on the golf course and so they decided that there probably wasn't going to be much of a future for me at the company, just because there wasn't gonna be much of a future for the company.
Julia: And so I decided it was a good time to go to graduate school, study business, try to figure out what was next for me.
Julia: Yeah. Fortunately got in somewhere, I moved to New York City, I went to a school called Cornell Tech, which is a brand new tech graduate school in New York City on Roosevelt Island, which is a quirky little place. And I went there for a one year accelerated MBA program but there was a huge focus on technology and innovation and while I was there a lot of kids were starting companies and a lot of people were starting companies for the executives. So the people I was supporting at the time at Inner Self, a lot of company people were focusing on this group of people and I just noticed that there was a lot of attention being paid to those people and not much to the people supporting those people.
Julia: So I started doing some research, I went to a conference, I interviewed dozens and dozens of assistants, just listening to them; what were there pain points? Most of them I could relate to and so that was nice. And then I had met an awesome guy at school who was an engineer and he listened to my explanation on why I think we should help emancipated professionals in using technology and he was totally sold. He went to the conference with me, he met all these ... he was one of two guys at the conference out of 100 people there. Very brave.
Annie: Incredible, isn't it? Isn't it incredible just how female dominance the administrative profession is? I've noticed that we're steering a bit more towards being guys or guys are taking on more administrative roles but, by and large, it's a very female-dominated place, for sure.
Julia: Yeah, I know. I had no idea, I looked it up the other day and I mean it's one of the top three professions dominated by women.
Annie: What are the other two? Do you remember what the other two are?
Julia: I believe it was early childhood development or something like that, or maybe ... yeah, something with young kids, which makes sense.
Annie: Yeah, it does. It does. So you're NBC too because I'm currently an assistant at a BC firm in this healthcare ... we do healthcare startups, we work with healthcare startups. So I found that really interesting, I was like, "Oh, I get it." Do you think that your team in BC around all these startups kind of propelled you towards what you do with Cabinet now? Do you think that that played a role at all?
Julia: Yeah, yeah definitely. I think watching entrepreneurs come in and pitch their startups and discuss the future of technology and everything, it definitely got me excited and got me interested in what the potential was for what you could do, right? You see people come in and they're just everyday people and they're starting these businesses and you're like, "Oh, well they're competent, I'm competent; there's not really much of a difference just because we're the people making the meeting happen, printing the documents and setting up the Zooms," and honestly those things, I think, give you a leg up as an entrepreneur because they make you organized and they make you accountable and those are things that I think all entrepreneurs need to be successful.
Annie: I love that. I love that so much. So can you explain a little bit about the Cabinet platform and what it is and what it's for and how it works and that sort of thing?
Julia: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so Cabinet is a website, you go there and it's only for administrative professionals and it's a website that connects administrative professionals, kind of like a Facebook or a LinkedIn but it's just for administrative professionals. So every feature is built with admins in mind and so the core feature, it's a message board, it's for people to ask questions and to share information. And right now we have over 150 members in over 40 US cities and they work in a variety of all industries and have a broad range of experiences but the goal, and something we've learned from listening to the feedback from our members is to make it more personalized.
Julia: So, for example, a lot of questions people have are related to things in their industry, like specific trade knowledge, you may wanna ask somebody about ... I don't know, like new regulations around venture capital that maybe your executives are talking about and you're like, "Does anybody know what this means?" Or, "What does this new tax code do? They say everyone seems worried about it." Or even location stuff, so you may just wanna ask people in Chicago what's a good hotel that has a large meeting space for 100 people and a great restaurant inside of it, or something. And those questions not everyone knows the answers to so, as we're growing, we're focusing on using technology to connect, to connect the right people to the right answers; the question askers, the question answerers.
Annie: I love that. Yeah, that's really cool, and I know, for me, I do feel really siloed most of the time because we are a small BC firm, there are only eight employees total, including managing directors, and so, for me, I love a platform like Cabinet because it really does allow me to get online and ask the questions I need answers to. And I feel like our profession is really, really unique in that we constantly are bumping up against a new challenge or a new problem to solve or a new situation that is unique to. And I've been doing this for 17 years, I've been working as an administrative professional and so I can say firsthand that a resource like this is really, really, really useful and helpful.
Annie: So what has worked for you in terms of building your Cabinet community? Can you share a little bit about that?
Annie: How did you compile this group of people who are participating? How are you looking for your people and that sort of thing? And I know you did a beta version; are we past the beta version, can anybody join at this point?
Julia: Yeah, great questions. So I'll start backward. So we're in beta still but we're pretty much open to anyone that is ... so you go to our website, which is joincabinet.com, there's a box asking if you wanna sign up to enter email address and then there's a go waitlist. But I go through the waitlist every week and I try to clear people off of it. I try to do a little vetting, just to make sure that they're actually an administrative prof, because there's a lot of people who are just interested in it and just try to sign up so I'm trying to ... you know, a LinkedIn or look at the company, the email address of the company, and then ... so you can sign up and join, pretty much anybody can join the beta but it does help to keep the numbers kind of contained right now.
Annie: Sure, that makes a lot of sense.
Julia: Yeah, and then things that have worked for us have been just constant feedback loops. So, as you know, every week I send an email asking for feedback and my partner and I give away an Amazon gift card for $25 in a raffle to people who give feedback and that's gotten us a lot of feedback. And one thing we heard from our members was finding restaurants that have private dining rooms or finding ... just finding recommendations when you're booking and managing travel for somebody else is really helpful coming from another admin. So we built profile pages based on that feedback, so when you sign up you're asked to put in your recommendations for ... like Denver, you could put in your favorite restaurants, hotels, car services in Denver that your leaders like so that if somebody who's in your industry is booking travel in Denver they can just search people in Denver, look at their recommendations. They don't have to ask a question to find that feedback.
Annie: I love that. So it's a resource without the board like it's an actual resource for people to go to that will be helpful for anybody. And I know for me I do wonder because my boss travels so much, I'm constantly wondering and he's very interesting in that ... well, not very interesting; he doesn't like to go to mainstream places. He wants to find that little hole in the wall, a very quaint restaurant to eat in and sit in and to have his coffee in the morning, that's what he looks for; the local places that only local people know about. So I feel like, for me, I've been on Cabinet for a while now and I've noticed that there's been a lot of advice that way and a lot of resources that way and I think it'll only grow, I'm really excited about this because I feel like as the platform grows and as more people join it'll only help foster that idea that, "Hey, I can go on there anytime, I can find a cool boutique little place that my boss is gonna like." And he also likes boutique hotels too, so these are kind of harder to find when you're just using Google.
Julia: Yeah, they don't have the advertising. I know, that's the thing with Google, Google's something now and the whole first page is advertisements. You don't even know it, there's this little ad button and you just can't trust it very much. So, awesome, I'm glad you're finding some.
Annie: I would certainly trust an admin above Google.
Annie: Because it's more catered to the needs of what we're looking for and more catered to our executives and perhaps their little Piccadilly's or requests for whatever. So I would go admin to admin before I go just to Google. So I feel like it could be amazing, especially when more people sign up and more people and contributing, for sure.
Julia: Yeah, yeah, I'm excited about that too. And we just added direct messaging now too, so if your executive has little interesting quirks you can always message somebody and be like, "Is this restaurant quiet? He really hates noisy restaurants," that type of thing.
Annie: Yeah, I love that. So where do you see Cabinet in five years from now? Where do you see the platform going? Can you just tell us about that?
Julia: Five years, well I hope we're still in business. But I think we're gonna be focusing a lot in 2019 on building out our tools. So we wanna build some tools in the travel, potentially scheduling space, that are catered towards the needs of admins. There's a lot of tools out there for travel and scheduling and all that but I don't know about you but I didn't find ... a lot of my workflow was unique and I didn't find any tools that actually ... like, for example, I don't know if you do this but do you ever, when your boss asks you to book a trip you probably ... I went to Google Flights and I knew what airlines they wanted, so I would put it into Google Flights and I would get a list of 20, 30 flights and from there I would, in email, type up the flights that might be good options based on his calendar and his airline preferences. And I'd type up that email and I'd push send and then I'd be like, "Oh shoot, I mistyped departure and arrivals or something." So, do you do that? Do you send that email?
Annie: I do. I do sometimes. So it depends on the executive but I know, for me, when I first started out in my current position my boss was always having me go in and figure out flights for him but then he actually has, that's his airline of choice, he's got that app on his phone so now he'll go in and he will book it himself, just because it's easier for him and because he'll change his flights frequently and that's easier to manage on the app than it is for me to manage for him.
Annie: The only thing I can think of, like the flights, in particular, I'll do his car reservations, I'll do his hotel reservations, but I do remember how tedious it was.
Annie: ... all that information.
Julia: Well that's great that he's on top of that with flights because yeah, that's hard to manage for somebody else.
Annie: Yeah, but I do. So what's your solution then?
Julia: Yeah, I mean that's why it's great to work with somebody who's an engineer because he's like, "Oh, we can automate that in seconds." You paste the Google link in here and we'll tell you exactly what flights you might wanna take based on his calendar, which we can sync up to, and we wanna also build a password ... a travel profile keeper, basically. And there's a couple of travel profile tools out there but, again, they're not built for a person who sometimes supports multiple leaders and in the admin role who needs to know more than just airline reward numbers; they also need to know seat preferences and meal preferences. And we've talked to a lot of admins who are like, "It's hard to vacation, it's hard to think about going on maternity leave because all this information is all over the place.
Annie: The admin is that centralized person, right? Like the admin is the point of contact and the one keeping it all straight but it would be really great if that admin had some automated tools to help them.
Julia: Yeah, exactly. And so it was easy enough for another admin just to log into his or her profiles or accounts and just be able to access the whole workflow of the admin, in a way. So you could finally vacation.
Annie: Yeah, yeah, I love that, that's really great. Okay, so my final question for you is what is one thing you would tell your junior professional self? If you could go back in time and tell your junior professional self anything, what would it be?
Julia: Oh my gosh, I love this question. So I would probably tell them to do some professional training or even try to access more people in the industry like yourself who are providing coaching and advice. Because I didn't know that those resources were out there, I didn't know there were conferences for admins, I didn't know there were thought leaders who were blogging and sharing content that was helpful, that could help me. So just to research that stuff and start subscribing to newsletters and reading that stuff on the regular. I actually loved your goals ... I forget the name of it but I listened to it a couple of weeks ago on that whole method you use for writing those goals.
Annie: Goal setting?
Annie: Yeah, I love my method for goal setting, it's amazing.
Julia: It's awesome, yeah, I recommend everyone do that. I did it actually yesterday on the plane and it was so great; now I have it all recorded and I can keep myself accountable but also I love the reflection piece of it from last year. So yeah, just staying in touch with these people who are talking about awesome ways to be more organized and more productive, because I didn't do enough of that.
Annie: Yeah, yeah. Well, it's hard when you're going a million miles an hour. It's hard to stay connected with those things until you actually need something and you're like, "Oh crap."
Julia: Yeah, exactly.
Annie: Difficult, even for myself. I've got my productivity method that I like to use and I find myself slipping out of it sometimes because my brain is so full. It's a work in progress, we're all a work in progress, life is an ever-winding journey. So yeah.
Julia: Right, we've gotta be patient with ourselves.
Annie: Oh definitely, totally, yes. And I think that's one thing that administrative professionals are not so good at, we are perfectionists and that patience with our self peace is a challenge.
Julia: Yes, for sure.
Annie: Well thank you so much for coming today and for talking with me, I really appreciate your time. Guys, check out Julia's website Cabinet and be sure to sign up, we need your input. You'll be able to get resources there too and thanks so much for agreeing to interview with me today.
Julia: Thanks, it was really fun. Good to talk more with you.
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