Claire Shorall is the Cofounder and CEO of Topknot, an online life coaching alternative for women+ where structured peer conversations lead to real personal growth. Prior to founding Topknot, Claire was a national award winning teacher and led computer science education for Oakland’s public schools. She also was an investor at Neo, a venture capital fund backing exceptional engineers. Outside of work Claire loves running fast, mentoring young people, thoughtful discussions over delicious meals, and following Olympic sports even in non-Olympic years. Claire is originally from Pittsburgh, PA and currently resides in San Francisco with her partner and two pets. She graduated from Rice University in Houston, TX, where she competed for the Owls in Cross Country and Track.
Where did the idea for Topknot come from?
My cofounder and I met when we were both working in computer science education. At the time, she was the most remarkable leader of adult learning I’d ever met and I was a teacher turned district administrator bringing computer science to schools where it had never before been taught. Both of us have gifts of creating beautiful learning environments and inspiring people to do hard things. Once we teamed up, we used those gifts to help people learn about themselves and move forward intentionally. Personal development felt important to make accessible and affordable to all because we’d both benefited immensely from coaching, and could recall times when we would have loved a coach but couldn’t afford one. With Topknot, people get the benefits of life coaching without the cost, hassle, or upfront commitment.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wake up early (before my partner and pets). I make coffee and listen to a podcast. If I am going to run, it also happens in the morning. I always eat a big, somewhat elaborate breakfast — it’s my favorite meal. Then I get to work. I try to keep some days meeting free and then load up other days with calls and meetups; I find the context switching to be jarring. I am responsible for end-of-day pickup for my dog at daycare, so that’s a welcomed opportunity to close my day with a walk. After that point, I spend time with my partner, cook dinner, and read or watch sports. I find that working at night doesn’t come easily, so I never force it. Stepping away from work at night unleashes me to be more productive during the day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I love drawing out my ideas on paper. I am rarely without a notebook and markers. I use color, arrows, and designs with what may appear to be reckless abandon, but it has meaning to me. For much of my career, my work was siloed, and I was the only one who had to internalize my plans. Now, I have to bring my ideas to a broader group. I am getting better about honoring my own messy process, and then transferring it into a form that makes sense for others.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m pro the increasingly candid conversations my friends and colleagues are having about their mental health, self care, and boundaries. At least in my circles, the taboo seems gone.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I live an “early to bed, early to rise” lifestyle. As our team is split between California (me) and North Carolina (everyone else), this schedule opens more opportunities for collaboration with my East Coast colleagues.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’m not a huge fan of advice and think that people over-index on what others tell them. With that in mind, I’d give my younger self permission to ignore advice that didn’t serve me sooner.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Teenagers are the best type of humans, hands down. I taught high school for over a decade and I thought the world of my students. Teenagers straddle child-like curiosity and adult awareness; they push the boundaries, but are reasonable; they have an adorable amount of angst. They’re just my favorite.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Get in the habit of asking yourself hard questions and moving forward with intention. For me, this happens primarily in two spaces: executive coaching with my cofounder and my company’s core activity, Topknot Time. In both, I often uncover ways that I am showing up that support and hinder our chances of success. I am forced to get clear on my priorities. I find opportunities to live and lead with greater alignment to my values. A nice side effect is also that my relationship with my cofounder is rock solid. Everyone deserves support on their journey, and entrepreneurs a little extra.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Our product is new, and therefore needs explanation. We’ve found that partnering with blogs who are able to explain Topknot and provide additional context skyrockets our sign-ups. It’s often a personal narrative about the impact that Topknot has had that pushes someone over the line to try us out.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Failure is an underrated tool for learning. I am actually trying to fail more and faster these days. A recent failure was trying to put together a partnership program with several different organizations at the same time. They all had varying needs, and we couldn’t address them all at once so some of them fizzled out or said no. This failure was instructive. We now have a better sense of the types of partners we’re looking for.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
My neighbor keeps tempting me to start a food truck that caters exclusively to dogs and shows up at various dog parks across the city. Knowing how much I spend on my pets, I am sure it would crush. Now the idea is unleashed (pun intended).
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Definitely on dinner with a former student. It was great to catch up and eat well. In general, I’d prefer to spend my money on good times rather than things.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I love a tool called Journey that allows you to create a suite of materials to showcase your company, product, etc. When I’m in fundraising mode, I share a blurb, deck, and an intro video with prospective investors. It’s rich information upfront that allows us to showcase a lot about who we are as a company and as builders, which allows people to opt-in if they’re interested and skip a call if they’re not.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
If you’re a manager — or in any position of support, mentorship, or leadership — I highly recommend Co-Active Coaching: The Proven Framework for Transformative Conversations at Work and in Life by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth. When you pick it up, it gives off textbook vibes. Push past it! It’s such a good read and it fundamentally changed my communication style and my understanding of formal and informal coaching relationships.
What is your favorite quote?
I didn’t have one for my high school yearbook and I still don’t have one now.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.