I recently spoke to the participants at Capitec’s Life 2.0 Hackathon about how working with a mentor can really boost getting your new business off the ground. Here’s some advice on how to approach a mentoring relationship so that you can maximise its value.
Transcript of the talk
Good afternoon, everyone. We are fortunate to have Tumi to speak again today in the webinar format.
She’ll take us through a bit of what she does at OfferZen, and just help you along in terms of your product pitches. Again, just in terms of practicalities, turn off your videos, until the Q&A at the end and then with your questions, please just put the videos on. Tanya will assist us in facilitating this event. I’m currently load shedding, so should be disconnected very soon. But if I don’t see you at the end, please enjoy your time with Tumi. Over to you.
Thank you very much. I’m so excited to be here with all of you. Today’s presentation is on how to prepare yourself for a knockout mentoring relationship. I thought long and hard about what might be useful for each of you, as individuals and as teams now that you’re coming to the end of your hackathon experience with the pitch day happening on Friday. I thought it might be really useful to take a moment now and think about what happens after Friday. A lot of you have spoken about where you want to take your products and your businesses beyond today.
What we’ll unpack today is how do you make sure that the people that you surround yourself with as mentors are really able to catalyse you to that next step in your journey. Before we get there, a little bit about me. Those of you who joined yesterday, you will remember that I head up OfferZen Foundation, which is a not for profit, and our work is around diversity and inclusion in tech in South Africa.
Our mission is to help people from underserved backgrounds thrive in their tech career. And the reason why that is so important for me is my favourite thing in the world is to see people develop and grow and to see what happens when somebody is given a chance to move from one point in their lives to the next. And to watch that magical moment where somebody realises that they could do more than they ever dreamed.
In my volunteering time, I also work with the team at TEDx Cape Town. And there I facilitate workshops with our speakers, as they prepare for the TEDx stage. One of my favourite things there is watching that development of how they came to us right at the beginning with an idea, and how they develop that into a talk that then goes online and reaches many people after that.
And that journey is part of what makes me very excited. Developing people really is one of my favourite things in the world. Besides that, I also love food, I love to travel, and I really enjoy reading. At any one point, you can ask me, what is one thing that I have eaten recently that I enjoyed, and I could probably talk for hours about that. Where is the place that I’ve been to recently that I’ve loved, and what is something I’m reading, that I could share? So yep, that’s a little bit about me.
And as I said, today’s talk is about how to prepare yourself for a knockout mentoring relationship. To take a step back, about why mentoring. At OfferZen Foundation, we realised that for young people coming into the software development space to catalyse their careers, it’s really impactful to have somebody to spend time with you and to empathise with you as an individual and walk that journey with you to get you to the next step.
A mentoring relationship is a really powerful way to do that. Similarly, for a lot of you, as you are working on business ideas, and you’re building products, there’s a lot of information coming at you. There’s a lot of different ways that you can go, in terms of figuring out your customers, figuring out what experiments to run, and how to get traction.
A mentor can really get you to that next level and cut through the noise. However, you need to make sure that you are ready for that relationship. Because so often, there’s so much value left on the table when people say, “Well, I’ve got a mentor, we go for coffee, kind of every now and then and it feels good, but man, I just, I don’t know I want more.”
And once you are prepared for that mentoring relationship, you can really unlock a lot of value. And that’s what I’m hoping that we get through in today’s session.
Let’s start with the truth about building a product or building a business: It’s not straightforward. We think it’s a lot of high fives and before corona, there was a lot of hugging involved. And you go in kind of hoping that that is how it’s going to be. When I was starting out building out the mentoring program, I certainly thought there’d be a lot of that.
But actually, a lot of the time, it can feel like, “Oh goodness, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what to do next. Nobody is knocking on my door for this product that I wake up every morning trying to build. Somebody help me.” That can be lonely, and it can also be confusing because this was supposed to be exciting.
However, it’s Wednesday, it’s raining, and I don’t want to be doing this. A mentor can really help cut through the noise and unblock you. A lot of time is spent on trying to understand how to find a mentor. Where do you find them? Who is a mentor? And, that’s great.
But the analogy that I like to use is to think about it like, once you’ve found the person that you want to settle down with, maybe you want to marry them. There is a moment where you say I want to think about my wedding. And then there’s a part of you that should probably be thinking, I want to prepare myself for what being married to that person for a while is going to be like, and preparing yourself is kind of like preparing for what being married to that person for a long time is going to be like.
I’m sure you can agree that it’s probably a good idea to spend some time thinking about that. Let’s unpack what that looks like. Here’s how to prepare. This information is information that we share with our mentors and our mentees when they come into the project thrive program. The first question that you need to ask yourself is, are you ready for a mentor?
Unfortunately, not everybody is ready for a mentor at every stage of their career, of their business or their life. Sometimes, you need something else, and that’s okay. It’s really important that you’re clear on whether you are ready for a mentor. And part of being ready means you understand what you can expect from a mentor.
When people come into our program, this is what we explained to them. We explained to them that a mentor is a sounding board to hold you accountable. Somebody that can hold you accountable is somebody who has been where you want to be. For instance, if you want to start a business in telehealth or in the Biomed tech sphere, it’s probably useful to have somebody who’s walked similar or the same journey in that industry. If they’re not in that industry, maybe it’s about scale.
Maybe it’s about somebody who has built a business from scratch has gotten some external funding and has then scaled the business to a point where you see yourself scaling your business. That means that that person also has the cheat codes. While there’s a lot that you will need to learn on the journey, and a lot of this will be you figuring it out for yourself.
They also know the terrain, so they can tell you where the landmines are. So, you don’t have to make those same mistakes yourself. It’s also important to understand what a mentor is not. A mentor is not a teacher. So, it’s not a teacher-student relationship, and we’ll talk about how you meet each other, halfway in a little bit.
But they’re not teachers, they also don’t have all the answers. I would be so bold as to say that somebody who is your mentor, who acts like they have all the answers is probably leading you astray. Being a sounding board for somebody means that when you don’t know you also own that. But let’s think about it.
Why is it important to you? What do you want to get out of it? How can we figure this thing out together? And you’ll find that actually, you as the person being mentored, know a lot about that already. You’re steeped in the business, you wake up every morning, and you do this thing, even when nobody’s asking you to do it, because you have a vision of what this new reality could be with your solution in the world.
Keep that in mind. And then lastly, a mentor is not the owner of the relationship. This is something that we realised with mentees a lot in our program, because we pair junior software developers, with senior software developers, that sometimes they feel intimidated about guarding the mentoring sessions and holding their mentors accountable for arriving for the sessions.
We remind them that they both own that relationship. And as a mentee, it’s important to ask for what you need and to hold your mentor accountable. If you have been given a mentor or assigned a mentor, and you’ve agreed together that you’ll meet for one hour a week, which is the minimum that we ask, ask for that time, if it’s been rescheduled, ask why.
And we work with our mentees to give them the language and give them that backup so that they feel that they can do that. That’s something that I would implore upon you as well about owning that relationship with your mentor so that it’s as collaborative as possible. A great way to do this for starters is to set up a mentoring agreement.
When we come into the program, we give each mentor and mentee one mentoring agreement that they both sign and the mentoring agreement is not a contract. Signing it is not so scary. But what it is a container and that container stipulates very clearly who you are, are you a mentor or a mentee? How will you be in this relationship? What is okay? What is not okay? When will you meet? Will you meet weekly? Will you meet bi-weekly? Who’s responsible for what? When will you deliver it?
Are there going to be meeting notes that need to be shared? Do they need to be shared the day before? Can they be shared an hour before? How rigid or flexible will you be? And we understand that these things take time. And after a while, everybody gets a little bit relaxed.
But it’s also really important when things maybe derail a little bit, that you’re able to come back to this container and say, hang on a second, this is what we agreed to. Can we come back to this and interrogate whether this is still useful for us.
For each of you on the call today, what I’ll do is I’ll share some of these actual resources with you like a copy of a mentoring agreement, so you can have a look at it and when you do meet that mentor, that you can take them through it. And you can hold each other accountable by entering into that agreement together.
The other really important tip that we give is setting up a regular rhythm for the meeting, the biggest trap people walk into is, don’t worry, we’ll just schedule the next meeting, as and when we feel like it. I guarantee you, that is a recipe for disaster, as and when you feel like it, like in January, when you sign up for the gym.
And you say I’m going to go as in when I feel like it. And then in July, you remember that you’ve been paying the gym, hundreds of Rands every month. This is the same thing. You want to set up frequent meetings, especially at the beginning. And the other thing about scheduling those meetings in the calendar right from the get-go is it makes it really hard to talk yourself out of them.
That feeling when you reschedule a meeting for the third time, that’s the feeling that you’re going for, you don’t want to do it. So, you end up trying not to do it. That’s good. Because the more frequently you meet, especially at the beginning, the more you build that relationship. And even if, after some time, you drop cadence of your meetings, we may start meeting bi-weekly from weekly, which is the cadence that we are okay with our mentoring pairs.
That’s okay. Because you’ve built that relationship. Some of our mentoring peers who’ve finished the program, now check in every month or every other month, and it’s really about that maintenance, and they’ve built a friendship now, so they can check in infrequently, but at the beginning, it’s really crucial. Spend that time together and dedicate that time.
And guard that time, we say to our mentees, keep that time sacred. And we really mean it. Then the other thing that I would really recommend is keeping a collaborative log that helps you stay on track. The collaborative log needs to be at least one of these things, all of these things would be great, but at least one of these things, so it needs to be most importantly accessible.
Some people use Google Docs, and they literally have a Google Doc that says mentor name, mentee name, log, and each date and they just write down whatever comes to mind. That’s perfect. Some people drop voice notes and messages into WhatsApp. That’s fine. The log needs to serve you, not the other way around. The most important part is, are you both okay?
With where the log is, again, the mentoring agreement will help you stipulate that. And, the other important part of it is you can both access it easily. Meeting notes, I recommend you keep in there. Again, be clear on who provides the notes. And when they are provided action items from your chat. It’s really good to keep them in there because they can also feed into meeting notes for next time.
And then questions that might come up for you in your business and your personal life as you’re going. Sometimes on a Sunday when I’m cleaning the house, I think of thoughts that have just come up for me, with big challenges that I’m having, and sometimes I’ll just jot them down in a log that I keep up with somebody, who I chat to bi-weekly.
And actually, I’m due to send her my log today for our check-in tomorrow. Definitely worthwhile. After a time, you can look back on your log and have a look at months ago, a year ago, wow, this is how far I’ve come. Or actually, I keep coming back on the same topic. I think there’s something here, I think there’s something we’re missing. I need to actually figure this thing out in more detail.
A collaborative log is very helpful. And to give you that sense of progress because you’re writing it down. And as we talk about progress, goals, goals, goals, goals, however, it’s a common trap to set goals first. So that’s why I say set goals but not initially.
So, when you meet with your mentor, you will be lured into this wonderful trap that you’re feeling productive. You’ve met them, everything’s going really well. It’s time to set those goals. But actually, goals are very contextual. If you don’t know each other well enough, you might find that you’re missing the point of the goal. And there might be different ways that your mentor could help you achieve your goals if they knew why those goals were those goals.
I’ll give you an example. Imagine that you go to your mentor and you say, Okay, I’ve got a business that I’m running. And we’re doing fairly well. But I’m based in Cape Town. I don’t want to remain in Cape Town. I want to go global. I see myself all over the country.
In fact, I see myself all over the continent. And I see myself having operations in many different cities across the continent. And I see myself, leading teams all over. And your mentor sat there saying this is a very small idea. I don’t quite understand how it goes global. Don’t understand why the continent No, don’t look at Africa. Look at Europe.
It’s far more advanced. There are more opportunities there. You’ll get more networks there. There’s VC funding there. If they don’t understand that maybe you have a pan Africanist history where you’ve got parents and grandparents from across the continent, or that you have connections with the tech ecosystems in Nigeria or in Kenya, they might miss the importance of that goal in your life.
We say to mentors and mentees who come into the 12-week program, we say, we know it’s 12 weeks and it sounds short. But spend the first three to four weeks just getting to know each other as people. Then, once you feel comfortable that you’ve gotten to know each other, revisit those goals that you thought you wanted, and figure out together now that each other, how you might work together to break down those goals into actionable items that you can work towards.
And then again, depending on the length of your mentoring relationship, some goals, you may knock out the park if there are small, actionable goals. Some goals are small and actionable, and they lead to bigger metier goals. That’s okay too.
The important thing is progress. That’s ultimately why you set them, right? So, that you can see that actually, what, I want to go global. I want to open that next office, I want to get to the next customer segment. But today, I need to focus on this thing, because I see where the future is. And to get there, I need to focus on this thing now.
For some of you, you’ll start with a very focused customer segment, and in some of the teams, we’ve chatted about this online to say, make sure your customer segment is super focused, for now. It’s not to say in the future, you might not dominate the whole industry. I hope you do if that’s what you want. But for now, figure out what a small goal is, that will get you that step closer, as long as that step closer is contextually relevant to you. And you understand what that means. And your mentor can help you do that 100%.
That’s really the crux of it in terms of preparing. And as I say, these resources, I will definitely share with you about how to prepare and think about that mentoring relationship so that you’re really getting the most out of those conversations that you have.
But I want to leave you with a final thought: remember that you and your mentor are actually on a learning journey. I say this to everybody. Everybody is on a learning journey. So, the more that you both you and your mentors, the more that you show up for each other, you show interest in each other. And you are using this as a two-way relationship, the more that you will get out of your relationship. And the more that they will really help you be a catalyst in your industry, and the more that they will get you closer to the next step in your career and in your business.
And I wish you all the best of luck. And I’m going to open up to questions now, and hearing if there are any questions, based on the material that I’ve shared so far. Great. Are there any questions? I’m going to stop sharing my screen so I can see all of you on the call. Hopefully, that works. Are there any questions?
Audience member [24:54]
Hi Tumi, I’m sorry, I’ve got a crying baby in the background. But I’ve got a question, can somebody have a mentor who’s not necessarily in the same industry that they want to explore? Or is there a difference between a mentor and a life coach?
Sure, yeah. In my mind, those are two different questions. I’m going to answer them separately. The first question about, can you have a mentor in a different industry?
Yes, you absolutely can. And there’s a lot of good research that says that a mentor who comes from a different industry and can actually give you really good insight that someone in your industry may have missed. For instance, I work in tech, my advisor who I chat with weekly is a tech leader.
However, I do also seek out advisors in the non-profit space, I seek out advisors who do community development work. And I find that an interdisciplinary approach helps me broaden my view of the problem I’m trying to solve. But I’m also very intentional about what challenges are they helping me think through.
In your industry, they might be able to help you figure out, how do we do this particular thing? Or how do I overcome this particular challenge? But a mentor who comes from a different industry might be able to help you figure out something else. So, yes, there’s a wonderful book by a man called Tim Ferriss. He talks about having a Tribe of Mentors, it’s an audiobook as well.
It’s quite a long audiobook, but it’s a physical book that you can also get. And the idea behind a tribe of mentors is having that plurality gives you that broader, more holistic view that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
And then the second part of your question, the difference between a mentor and a life coach, I do think they are different. A coach is generally somebody who, well for starters, they’ve studied coaching, and they are able to give you more guidance, and they are knowledgeable.
Basically, the main difference that I would say between a coach and a mentor is a mentor, has been where you are before and where a coach is guiding you through something. In that way, that’s been the stark difference I’ve seen, I’ve had both. I’ve had a life coach, and I’ve had a number of mentors, and my life coach, I pay them. This is the other difference.
And they have studied, they are a certified coach. A mentor has built businesses before built products before. And they are really able to help me navigate those pitfalls more than my life coach. My life coaches ask me different questions fundamentally than what my mentors ask me.
Audience member [28:50]
Makes sense, Thank you so much, Tumi.
Are there any other questions on the line? I see folks who are a bit quieter than we had yesterday. Should we go around with different teams that seemed to work well? Any questions from the different teams about how you might lean on mentors to get you to the next step in your business or product journey?
I’ll also, just take it that I’m very good at explaining how you can prepare yourself for the mentoring journey. And that’s okay, too.
Oh, I do, I’ve got a question. I’m super curious about how many of the teams currently make use of advisors at the moment as they’ve been kind of going through their business journeys, just out of curiosity, I’ve mentioned that I’ve got an advisor, mentors, a life coach. I’ve got a lot going on, but I’m curious about others on the call if they’ve got those supporters in place.
Audience member [30:38]
I’ll answer that, if reading the appropriate books in terms of where we’re at in the business, counts as having advisors, then I would say yes.
Audience member [30:57]
Because, in our team, we are at a point where everything is all very new. And we are leaning towards collecting our information in the form of books, reading up what we call the research document, and so forth.
Audience member [31:15]
And you ourselves as mentors. Like, where one is stronger in a particular area, then, we go to that person, for example, if we are looking at scaling the business very soon or sometime in the future, then obviously, we are reading up books around scaling up. We are, not at a position where we are making use of physical mentors, where it’s actually a person. But we are using the information to serve as mentors to get us, to our next level, of greatness, if I may put it.
Audience member [32:01]
So, when you feel confident enough in terms of what it is that I do. We will then start the rallying in, the necessary guidance, in the form of a mentor.
That’s a really great point that you raise, actually, and thank you for responding. I have a very short story about that exact point. We once had a mentee, who said to us exactly what you were saying, he said to us, I read a lot.
I think I’m covered because, I read a lot of information and there’s a lot of YouTube videos, isn’t there a way that you could just send me some YouTube videos and supplemental, and I’ll be fine. And I definitely agree. For instance, I recommend a Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss, as a book, however, one of the things that we ended up chatting about with that person is the videos and books definitely help.
And there are so many out there, you could read them every single day for the rest of your life and still not get through all of it. But one of the things for me that has been really powerful and mentoring relationships I’ve had is somebody who can cut through that noise and also just distil what it is, that is useful for me at that time.
And what’s interesting is with one of my mentors, he’ll say something, and then after a while, I’ll go through a book, and then I’ll find that thing that he said, just by chance, but he has read those books, and he’s been there before. And he was able to share that information with me in context at that time that I needed it.
Because, by chance, I would have found it. But when I found it, I could have made all sorts of a mess, on my way to find it. And I guess, that’s, that’s my big lesson, and I’ll leave with you is, that’s why I found that approach to be quite helpful to say, I still read, I still listen to the podcasts, and I still do all those things. However, finding somebody who is just able to listen to me say back what I’m saying because sometimes I say things that make no sense.
And then they’re also able to share information with me that I probably would have found. But at the time that I need it, it has been most useful to me.
Audience member [35:13]
Tumi are you a coach or a life coach? Or a mentor?
I am a mentor. I’m certainly not a certified coach. Just to be 100% clear, I am not. There will be a point in my life where I consider it and potentially get a certification. That’s within the realm of possibility. But I am a mentor, and I spend as much time as possible working with people as I said, upfront, developing people is my favourite thing to do as far as I can. That’s how I think about myself.
Audience member [36:03]
After the hackathon, or maybe through hackathon? How do we ask you to maybe, spend some time with the team or us? And what would that look like?
Yeah, for sure. So actually, I’ll stop sharing my slides. But when I do share them in the channel, you’ll see the final slide has got my email address. You’re welcome to continue chatting with me on teams, I am there. But when you look at the slide deck, you’ll see my email address was also there. You are welcome to email me there as well. Good luck, everyone.
If you’re keen to find out more about developer mentoring, check out our guide.