We've interviewed dozens of founders for a new series on product-market fit.

Kelly Watkins

Board Partner

Building a startup from 0-1 and beyond is full of hard questions. And as a startup advisor, and now Board Partner at First Round, I like to think of my work as making space for all kinds of tough questions to be explored. It takes courage for founders and startup leaders to face the unknown, invite thornier conversations, and open themselves up to the sorts of answers they might not expect. Hard questions speak truth to power, invite change, expand possibilities, and get us closer to ourselves, our goals, and the people around us.

As a Board Partner at First Round, I tap into my own experience as a CEO, an early startup hire, and an operator at a number of fast-growing companies to coach First Round founders and leaders as they navigate the thousands of tough questions that face their business (and themselves). I partner with people on getting the fundamentals right — like defining the optimal strategy, effectively running the business, and creatively winning the market — and on more difficult paths too. I bring expertise in product-led growth, marketing technical products, running distributed teams and companies, and more to the table.

Most recently, I led Abstract as Chief Executive Officer, culminating in an acquisition by Adobe. This role was my real-life MBA, as our first product was rapidly losing ground to Figma and I took the position just two weeks before COVID-19 shut down the world. With an all-new executive team at the helm, we pioneered a four-day workweek that gave employees flexibility in their schedules, while also increasing our shipping velocity across departments. In less than a year we took a second product to market, which helped drive Adobe’s interest.

Before Abstract, I worked as the VP of Global Marketing at Slack where I created Slack’s “Where Work Happens” brand strategy, helping the business grow to more than 10 million users globally, and leading expansion efforts internationally and into the enterprise, among other things. I was also one of the first marketing hires at GitHub, with a focus on brand and product marketing. In addition to building marketing from scratch, I worked to relaunch GitHub Enterprise, driving growth for GitHub inside of large companies, and helped introduce GitHub to new language and framework communities and to developers outside the US. Other, earlier gigs include a few years spent as a brand strategist, a side hustle designing and building websites, and my work in nonprofit communications. I’m currently on the Board of Directors at Honeycomb (previously on the boards of Abstract and Docket), and I invest in early-stage startups building developer tools, sales and marketing software, and products for niche industries through Curmudgeon Ventures.

Outside of work, I’m a big fan of travel, trying out new restaurants to get my spicy food fix, sunny weather, and the Oxford comma. I’m also working on launching a new social club in my local area of Marin, CA, for folks looking for connection amidst our new work-from-home, post-pandemic normal.