A life coach reportedly costs an average of $120 per hour, pricing it out of the range of many. Brook Osborne and Claire Shorall have created a platform that gives women access to many of the benefits of the practice without the high cost, commitment, or hassle.
Their startup Topknot is an online alternative to life coaching. It’s a first-of-its-kind personal development club, offering weekly peer-structured conversations designed to drive personal self-growth.
Co-Founder and CEO Shorall said their fundamental purpose is to move women forward.
“We are explicitly creating something that is an entry into the world of personal development,” Shorall said. “Everything that we do is about pointing you in the direction of moving forward in your own life.”
Though it’s officially headquartered in San Francisco, Topknot is a remote-first company with deep roots in the Triangle. Co-Founder Osborne is a Duke graduate and now resides in Durham, as does Topknot’s Head of Community Rae Williams.
Osborne first crossed paths with Shorall when Osborne designed and led professional development at Code.org, one of the largest computer science education non-profits. Shorall managed computer science at the Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, Calif.
Their commitment to creating constructive and unique learning experiences led them to launch Topknot together in February 2020, then raise $650K in a pre-seed round later that year.
Fast forward to 2022: almost 100 people have participated in the platform’s weekly structured conversation called ‘Topknot Time.’ Along with access to a personal online notebook among other tools, members can attend unlimited ‘Topknot Time’ sessions for only $19 a month.
During each one-hour online session, you are paired with a partner and are provided with coach-curated questions and prompts. All you need to bring: a topic you want to explore. Topknot doesn’t dictate your topic.
The Topknot platform houses all of the session details and structure, including partner matching.
All members—each session includes about 10-12 members—can indicate a preference for potential partners on demographic criteria such as age, race, ethnicity, and gender identity. Based on this information and her own personal knowledge, Osborne does partner-matching by hand. One’s partner might switch from session to session so one can benefit from different experiences and perspectives.
“A 45-year-old working with a 25-year-old is going to have a different conversation than two 45-year-olds talking to each other or two 25-year-olds talking to each other,” Osborne said. “Across the board, we really prioritize similar phases of life (when matching partners).”
Additionally, Osborne prioritizes topics that are similar. She said that Topknot wants members to relate to their partner, not give them advice. That’s not the point of the peer interaction.
“It’s a space to hold the structure for someone else to explore their own stuff, not to tell them what to do,” she said.
The startup mainly caters to women age 25 to 45. They are actively recruiting millennial women and non-binary individuals.
While costing a fraction of traditional life coaching, the subscription-based platform is flexible to your schedule and has no set program—it is what you need and when you need it. The first ‘Topknot Time’ is also completely free to see if it is the right fit.
“Growth to me is something that is relative and defined by you,” Shorall said. “We don’t necessarily have a point of view on the optimal amount of time for somebody to come back. Like, it could be once a month for some people. And it could be every week for others.”
There are currently three scheduled sessions per week to choose from, but the platform’s features are ever-expanding. Shorall said they are a community-driven startup and members are the ones mainly coming up with things of interest, such as book clubs and messaging platforms.
As for 2023, Osborne said that from a product perspective, she is looking to enhance the asynchronous support features outside of sessions.
“What does it look like to build the wraparound supports that help you take these actions in your everyday life that you have said you want to take?” she said.
In other words, they are looking for ways to bring the community to life beyond ‘Topknot Time.’
Shorall also said they hope to raise funding and grow their team from three employees to about 10-12. They are also on the lookout for future partnerships with existing communities who want to host a ‘Topknot Time’ specifically for their community.