Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Courtney Duffy, Head of Creator Policy Engagement at Patreon
I spoke with Courtney Duffy, Head of Creator Policy Engagement at Patreon, a global creator-founded membership platform and pioneer of the creator economy.
A creative and interdisciplinary person at her core, Courtney’s center of gravity has always sat at the nexus of innovation and impact. In her early career, she spent time in Washington DC training artists to advocate for federal tech policy that was favorable to the creative community. A lifelong musician herself, Courtney loved working on innovation in the creative sector. To broaden and deepen her impact, she earned an MBA at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, which she paired with a Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. .
In returning to the working world, Courtney landed at Patreon, where she leads the company’s creator engagement in internal and external policy development. She came aboard at an exciting time — creators earned $1 billion on Patreon last year alone. Courtney shared her perspective on policy formation, strategic communication, empowering leadership, and advice for her younger self.
Engage people in your policymaking. Policy shouldn’t get created in a black box. To deliver Patreon creators the transparency they deserve, Courtney and her team launched an engagement program to pull back the curtain on Patreon’s policy decision making. Instead of announcing policy updates that are already set in stone, Patreon proposes policy updates and solicits creator feedback and dialogue. Courtney has been pleased — though not surprised — by how creator feedback has enriched Patreon policy.
Encourage verbal discussion. Every policy has proponents and detractors with strong opinions. Courtney said that verbal conversation, whether via phone, Zoom, or IRL coffee, can be much more fertile territory for finding common ground than debating by text, email, or tweet. Aim to get to a place, she recommended, where you can articulate your counterpart’s argument as well as they can. It’s much easier to empathize — and more difficult to assign ill will — when engaging human to human, even if the conversation reaches an impasse.
Be intentional about humanizing yourself. Courtney underscores the importance of putting a face to the name, hosting regular office hours with individual Patreon creators. Recently, she teamed up with Patreon’s Head of Policy to host a livestream with over 300 creators which included a live Q&A. The livestream was a critical step in showing creators that Patreon isn’t an abstract corporate entity but a team of real people who care deeply about creators.
Get to know what makes people tick. When asked how she empowers colleagues effectively, Courtney highlighted the importance of curiosity: What keeps someone up at night? What gets them out of bed in the morning? Give people space to bring their whole selves to work, and position them for success and growth, filling in any gaps accordingly.
Start before you’re ready and pass the microphone. Courtney loved her time at the Harvard Kennedy School. When asked about what advice she would share with her student self, she said to seek out the rich perspectives of those around you, to not be afraid to volunteer a point before a thought feels fully formed, and to carve out space for new or quiet voices in the classroom and beyond.
Courtney is always up to connect with fellow alumni and can be reached at email@example.com.