How to make the most of mentoring

How to make the most of your mentor

15 April 2020

5 minute read

Ilana Fass, FinTech platform lead at Rise New York, discusses mentoring programmes and how to best work with a mentor.

Ilana Fass leads and manages Rise New York—Barclays’ FinTech innovation community of more than 500 entrepreneurs. She explains the role of mentorship at Rise New York — and best practice for building a solid mentor-mentee relationship.

How does the Rise mentorship programme work?
Our philosophy at Rise has always been to work with every startup based on their individual needs. Our main area of expertise is FinTech, covering both the ‘tech’ and the ‘fin’ of FinTech.

Secondly, we look at enterprise engagement, meaning everything that is involved with working and creating products for large financial institutions.

Thirdly, we help with entrepreneurship in general. How do you start a startup? How do you create a business plan? What should you change in your pitch? We try and make sure that we have experts in all three of those buckets.

How do you tailor the mentorship programme to specific businesses?
Within the mentorship scheme, we've created very specific programmes that our companies can tap into to make sure that they're getting the relevant exposure. So, the first thing is our FinTech Friday programme, which occurs once a month in each of our locations. We bring in eight mentors with a range of expertise and pair them with FinTech startups of all sizes for individual mentoring sessions.

We also have our Enterprise Engagement workshops that happen once a quarter. We take a deep-dive into key issues around enterprise engagement. How do you create a product that will be compliant when your end user is a top-tier bank? What type of controls do you need? How should you think about your sales pipeline?

Lastly, we have our Rise Ambassador programme launching this summer. In that programme, we will have individual cohorts of top FinTech influencers in each of our key regions that are committed to giving individual office hours and time to our member businesses.

What benefits do the mentoring programmes have for founders?
When you're a startup founder there's so much uncertainty. But there are key business and technological building blocks that are fundamental to ensure success. A community like Rise can help you tap into communal knowledge and ensure you get those building blocks in place.

But what’s truly amazing is our mentors. They are coming in with full transparency on both their successes and their failures, hoping they can ensure empowered future entrepreneurs. Rise helps founders get those fundamentals in place so you can be confident you're putting your best foot forward when creating a company. We also find that for the later stage companies we work with, the risk of getting it wrong is even greater, and a mentor can be a great solution to making sure you are on track.

How should you work with a mentor?
There are some key rules of engagement. The most important is to be very respectful of each other's time. You must also understand what benefit the mentor can provide. What is the mentor’s expertise? Are you making sure to be very specific in your questions? You need to do your due diligence on a mentor, too. Read their LinkedIn profile. Get some industry feedback. Understand how they can support you. You need to be as transparent as possible and set expectations from the beginning.

How does the mentoring work?
It changes on a case-by-case basis. If you're looking for a one-off mentorship session—let's say through our FinTech Friday programme—that's a structure that we will set for the founder, so you can sign up through our LinkedIn, Meetup or Eventbrite pages. We will pair you up and create a personalised schedule of mentors for you to meet, in a fast-paced setting. Afterwards, we recommend adding the mentor to your LinkedIn and keeping the mentor abreast of your developments.

If you're having a mentor relationship beyond a set, specific time, I think finding a way to codify it is key. It could be you inviting them to join some of your team meetings, or making sure that you write a recommendation on their LinkedIn, or some shout out from you as a founder on your social media—it’s important to pay back and give credit where you can.

How important is mentoring to the success of startups? 
It can be vital. You need to be able to recognise your gaps, as a business founder and as a business leader. What I always recommend is to look for someone who is where you want to be in five years, someone who you view as a success in the industry. Then it’s about asking the right questions. What were the key mistakes you made? What were the best moves you made? What conversations do you wish you had had along the way? From there it’s really about just building the relationship.

What if you are interested in mentoring?
Get involved! Representation is so important with mentorship. We look to ensure that we have mentors from all different backgrounds to empower entrepreneurs. As a woman in FinTech, I can tell you first-hand how important it is to find a mentor that you can feel comfortable talking to and being vulnerable with—you won’t get anything out of the relationship if you can’t ask real questions. And imposter syndrome is common among all sorts of people. Mentors can help founders have the confidence to realise how much they already know.

The key is to just go in with an open attitude.

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