I spent a great part of today reflecting on our first anniversary for Twomentor, LLC. Our Entrepreneurial Road Trip™ is about elevating women in STEM and helping companies build mentoring cultures to better retain Millennials. Our journey is well underway.
I love top 10 lists and I love 'lessons learned', so I put down a few reflection points on highlights for the year trailblazing a new company. I don't want to sugarcoat the entrepreneurial process and say it was a breeze. In fact, it has been one of the hardest thing I have ever done professionally. Along with the road trip analogy, there was car sickness, winds that could have pushed us off the road, a few flat tires for sure. There were also open roads of creativity, strong coffee and gorgeous skyline views. I am filled with gratitude and awe in each new part of the entrepreneurial process. To lay a framework of who we are, here is some updated info on what we actually do and what clients & others are saying about us.
10] What Was I Thinking? Yes, it was brave and arguably a bit crazy to "jump off a cliff" and start a business, giving up paycheck and many benefits, but the driving force was a clear vision of social impact and a personal dream for an entrepreneurial future. I have always believed that entrepreneurship is the future and that entrepreneurship is freedom on many levels. That we each are artists of the economy and that if we can, we should build. I am passionate, we are passionate to see more women thrive in the workforce and to better mentor Millennials for stronger engagement and retention (75% of Millennials say that being mentored is crucial to their professional success and often, corporate culture can leave them feeling like a car without a clean windshield to see out of). No regrets overall -- but also I must acknowledge the support of good friends who talked me off of a ledge (more than once) and the overall financial strain it put on my family. Reshma Saujani (Girls Who Code) in her TED talk spoke of the importance of teaching girls to be brave, not perfect. This talk had a profound influence on me and I am glad that I hit the engine hard, even if we had to run on fumes for a few more months than planned.
9] Clients, Clients, Clients. Don't want to run on fumes? You need clients to fuel the engine and occasionally pay a speeding ticket. You really don't have a business without clients, and we now have had fabulous clients that we serve on some of the most important issues facing the country and our workforce. Our clients and stakeholders took us from India (a Leadership Conference), to Silicon Valley, to keynote an InfoComm International (Women in the audio visual industry) in Las Vegas, to an awesome Government Diversity Summit, and to work and chair a major upcoming Global Women in STEM conference in Dubai! We have had meetings in the Pentagon, run flash mentoring sessions (think speed dating) for Leadership Greater Washington, Women in Stone, run official Mentor Roadtrip™ Trainings, and customized mentor action guides. However, If I were to look back, this area was probably the biggest mistake I made with the company. Though we had a litany of wonderful opportunities for exposure, it took 8x more work than I thought it would to secure our first clients. So for other aspiring entrepreneurs, please make sure you have a 6-12 month financial runway before beginning your new venture's operations (Rome wasn't built in one day and neither was Facebook or BirchBox).
8] How do you build a social impact company that adds value to the world, every day? Do you crash and burn trying? I always loved the famous quote by race car driver Mario Andretti, "If I seem like I am in control, I am probably going too slow." We knew we needed to get out there and were on a passionate crusade to teach companies the business case for mentoring. That it's not just "good to do", it's good for business). Although so many corporations have good intentions, many have had a failure to launch story when it comes to mentoring. The word 'skittish' is not inaccurate -- despite legions of research that mentoring is one of your most low-cost retention strategies. Part of this strategy is having a designated staff and a need for metrics to assess return on investment (ROI). Thanks to Ray Chambers and his team at the Amelior Foundation, we were invited to blog for The Huffington Post in 2012 as a key platform to share intensive learning on these issues with dozens of blogs to date and a book in the works. Key topics included: mentoring your interns this past summer, how to build a sponsorship (advocate/championing) relationship, 11 steps to launching a corporate mentoring program, STEM global diversity, and the place where entrepreneurship meets STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math + Arts). We spoke at fourteen conferences such as Women in Technology International (Silicon Valley), had 327 calls with global executives, and also were featured on Technical.ly, Diversity Insight Magazine selected us for 100 Women in STEM, Entrepreneur Magazine, SmartCEO, SCORE Palm Beach, B2B Nation Podcast, AT& T Women Who Inspire Series, and more.
7] Driving to New Heights at the UN. One of the great peaks of our first year was the opportunity to speak at the United Nations and present to 400 Millennials from 85 countries through World Merit in a 7 minute TedX style speech. The participants inspired us with their projects to change the world as they pursue social entrepreneurship, and I encourage all of our readers to learn more about this great organization. We realized that Twomentor, LLC's social impact work falls under three of the UN sustainability goals in particular: Gender Equity (SDG5), Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG8) and Reduce Inequalities (SDG10). To honor my father's legacy of being a refugee and getting political asylum in the US in 1956, I shared parts of his story and why being an entrepreneur matters so much to me. I understand now that entrepreneurship is about building and freedom, and that my father escaped from Hungary to build and to be free.
6] A Bluejay Few Into the Office One Day. Out of the blue came a wonderful call from Debbie Kaplan, the COO of Leadership Greater Washington, asking me if I would co-chair this year's class with CEO Doug Duncan. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to work with 63 diverse leaders (1600 graduates) on the big issues impacting the region and see them grow. I am a graduate (class of 2000) so when Debbie first invited me, I wondered how could I possibly take on this big responsibility with my new company, and told her I would get back to her. I stared at my empty coffee cup in dismay. But as soon as I hung up the phone I knew I would absolutely regret this opportunity if I didn't throw the car into drive and JUST SAY YES! The ride is off to a great start -- we had our opening retreat last Thursday & Friday and I reconnected with the program as well as the realization that leaders can leave their egos at the door, connect at deep levels, and commence a journey that is transformational to them and their peers for a greater good. All I can say is that there were a lot of hugs the last day. I am so excited for a powerful year ahead as well as Twomentor is investing, with a front row seat, in seeing others self-actualize. After all, this also what mentoring is really about... a bounce up from Maslow's hierarchy of needs!
5] You Cannot Build Something Great Alone. I am stubborn, I am driven, I can be both an introvert and an extrovert, but having interns and people help me pave the unchartered trail has been both humbling and rewarding. Thank you to my associate Bridget McKeough for being the first collaborating partner in building Twomentor. Thank you Febin Belami, Lauren Bolduc, Matt Curry and Delia Borboune who all remind me what an honor and privilege it is to work with our Millennial generation. Thanks also to Ana Atarodian, Amber C., Gail Zoppo, Erin Cooper for your work. We mentor our Associates and they have been indispensable taking on tough stretch assignments and bringing so much light and laughter to the office. I'm also appreciative of Naomi, our 11 pound white (with just a little butter mixed in) Havanese mascot who joins us at the office everyday and sometimes gets renamed 'Puppy Prozac.'
4] Our Advisors. Twomentor is blessed with some rockstar big brother and big sister 'external' mentors and sponsors that have been generous with both guidance and connections. Tien Wong, Steve Bucherati, Marissa Levin, Sheryl Sleeva, Howard Ross, Frank Howard, Mary Kraft, Jenn Crenshaw, Mario Soncini, Jenna Gebel, Dr. Andrea Hendricks, Dan Goodman and Patty Alper have each helped in a way that has made sense (you can read much more about them HERE). BTW: I want to make sure our readers know the difference between a mentor and a sponsor, as this is a game-changer. A mentor is someone who speaks to you, advises you. A sponsor is someone who champions you, speaks well of you behind closed doors to people in positions of influence. We train people to both mentor and sponsor. If you plan to launch a business or launch your career-in-the-fast-lane, build sponsorship relationships sooner rather than later if you want to get to your destination better, faster, and smarter. An article about our advisors role was published in SmartCEO Magazine thanks to Marissa Levin.
3] The Doors that Opened. So many meaningful connections and deep discussions almost every day. I have never publicly thanked a software before, but I am going to sincerely thank Linkedin for being our technology BFF these past eleven months and helping us train over 120 executives to optimize their Linkedin use (don't wait till you need a job, use it now). Most great leaders we spoke to from hundreds of the top companies and NGO's in the country had another key person they wanted us to meet in 90% of our calls. We do not take that lightly! The power of building and strengthening your network is, well, everything.
2] It Takes Two! We are proud of our name Twomentor. Let me explain why. The performing artist Rob Base is right, It does take 'two' to make things go right and it does takes two to mentor. But most importantly, we found perhaps the only way, to make the word MENtor more inclusive by adding tWOMENtor. Need I say more? You want more women recruited-and-retained in STEM, it's absolutely going to take both men and women stepping up as mentors to create a more diverse pipeline for our future.
1] At one we are walking, talking and still stumbling here and there. We pivot, we burn the midnight oil, we feel energized and ignited in purpose. We hope that we can join you, or you can join us to drive the next miles of a worthy journey -- because sometimes 1+1 does not equal 2, it equals 200+ when we come together.
Julie Kantor is President and CEO at Twomentor. She is also Co-Chair of Leadership Greater Washington. She is passionate about elevating Women in STEM and Millennial Retention through mentorship. She can be contacted via email@example.com or @JulieKantorSTEM