Having a mentor tops the list of wants for many entrepreneurs (as well as employees and intrapreneurs who are actively seeking new ways to contribute to their work environment and advance their careers). But when the “ideal” candidate with the experience and know-how to provide guidance as a mentor is too busy or too remote, what’s a mentee with a question to be answered to do?
Entrepreneur Misti Cain challenged me on this very question, asking me to rethink what 1:1 mentoring can be. 1:1 mentoring in the digital / mobile age can mean subscribing to a blog or YouTube channel or newsletter or podcast or online course. It can be as easy as following someone on Twitter. It’s more engagement than the random “like” and less commitment than a lifetime of scheduling coffee dates.
Misti’s “rethink” 1:1 mentoring is the right approach. In the digital age of personal brands, mentoring doesn’t have to be the pursuit of a lifetime commitment to meet IRL. Rather, it’s the quest for answers — wherever you may find them.
And Misti’s approach to mentoring got me thinking about my own “mentors”.
Investor Joanne Wilson (aka The Gotham Gal) became my mentor around the summer of 2011. We both had been invited to participate as advisors at a roundtable pitch event for female founders. Three women were pitching that night (a tech founder, handbag designer and custom carpet designer). It was the first time I had actively participated in such an event, so I was observing my peers around the table as much as I was listening to the pitches. As each founder presented, Joanne was direct in her questioning, forthright with her opinions and honest (some would say rather blunt) with her reactions to the product or business model (or both).
In Joanne, I immediately found my guide and role model on how to be helpful to entrepreneurs.
Since that evening, I’ve avidly read Joanne’s blog, followed her on Twitter, attended WE Festival, become a member of the WE Festival community and been fortunate to interview her on more than one occasion (36/86, Apple Store, BroadMic). No, I’ve never asked Joanne for a coffee date or to be my mentor, nonetheless, she’s played that significant role in my growth as an investor in early-stage companies and participant in the New York City tech ecosystem.
As my own ability to provide 1:1 mentoring has decreased in direct proportion to the focus I’ve needed to put towards the publication of my first book, I regret I can no longer take mentoring coffee dates or participate regularly as a startup accelerator mentor, however, I see that I continue to mentor in the way envisioned by Misti — and in the way I’ve been mentored by Joanne:
- I’m active on Twitter as well as Instagram, Tumblr, G+, LinkedIn and Facebook.
- I post on Medium and to LinkedIn.
- I have a Facebook page.
- I blog each month for Turnstone.
- I have a column on Inc.com.
- I conduct Innovator Insights interviews.
- I send out a newsletter every week.
- I hosted the first two seasons of the BroadMic podcast.
- I moderated the Meet The Innovators series at Apple.
- I keynote, interview and speak on panels. I keep an updated list of speaking engagements posted on my LinkedIn profile (and tweet them out too).
- I answer questions on Levo.
- I keep office hours at Grand Central Tech.
- I conduct workshops for the Canadian Tech Accelerator.
- I volunteer at the YWCA of NYC’s Girls Geek Club.
- I advise the Women In Tech Summit.
I recognize I still need the sage, experienced advice of others as my career moves into its next phase. Beyond Joanne, where else am I regularly seeking mentorship? As my focus turns to community, the future of work and networking in the digital age, I frequently turn to:
- Creative Mornings monthly breakfasts (IRL when I can or more often than not, downloading the podcast of missed breakfasts).
- Steelcase podcasts and research.
- Tom Peters’ tweets, videos, and posts.
- The Intern podcast.
- Cloudpeeps blog.
- TED talks.
- Tara Hunt’s weekly Truly Social videos.
Plus I keep a keen eye on my friends who are authors (Aidan Donnelly-Rowley, Gretchen Rubin, Danielle Laporte, Jonathan Fields, Elmira Bayrasli, Tiffany Dufu and more) as they have navigated the unchartered path I am just writing.
And then there are select, close members of my own network, the mentors who I tap into regularly when I’m puzzling on a “how do you deal with” or “have you ever experienced” or “what do you think about” question. You know who you are….you just didn’t know I considered you mentors.
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