In This Issue:
- Maxing Out on Mentorship
- Featured Event
- Q&A With Weerada Sucharitkul
- From the Philippines to Your Fridge
- Startup Law Blog
Maxing Out on Mentorship
Five Unwritten Rules for Polished Mentees in a Pandemic-Focused World COVID-19's promise for improving women’s health
By Lena West
Business Growth Strategist
Lena West is a master mentor. A truth-telling business advisor who is often referred to as an "entrepreneur’s secret weapon," Lena shows womxn entrepreneurs how to discover their inner CEO and build a business that loves them back. When we put out our call for mentors for Project W’s 1:1 with Black Founders initiative, Lena was one of the first to respond and give generously of her time and wisdom. But, a successful mentorship is a two-way street. The role the mentee plays is just as important as the role of the mentor. We asked Lena to share her guidance for how to be a great mentee and to maximize the success of the relationship with your mentor.
Googling "get the most out of your mentorship" yields no less than 35,000 search results littered with various articles – most of which is recycled advice from 1995. Which is great, if you wanted to get noticed in 1995. But, what's that supposed to do for you now in world that seems to be living on an axis of change?
Don't get me wrong, some of those old guidelines still hold fast: be on time and prepare for your meetings, respect your mentor's time, ask how you can help them, and on and on. But, these suggestions are de rigueur, and most experienced professionals who have garnered the attention of a potential mentor wouldn't dream of doing anything less.
The real challenge, then, is knowing how to stand out from everyone who is already on their best behavior ... in the middle of a pandemic.
I've been on both sides of the mentorship table. My longest mentor relationship has been going for 25 years – it began well before my career officially started. I've also mentored people, mostly womxn, officially and unofficially, for the span of my 15-year career. As a mentee, I've gotten it terribly wrong (one of my former mentors left me flat-footed in a restaurant because I hadn't learned how to respect her time), and I've really delivered the goods (I landed one of my mentors coverage in The New York Times). And, as a mentor, I've had amazing experiences with seriously brilliant individuals and, well, let's just say, not so much.
With that in mind, here are some uncommon tips to get the most out of your mentorship. Actions, if done right, will catapult you to the front of your mentor's mind when it comes to next-level introductions and opportunities.
- When you reach out to your mentor, be sure to ask a specific question. When I say specific, I mean that in two different ways. You probably know not to ask broad-based, wide-swath questions like: "How do I get into broadcasting?" But, what you may not know is to ask a clear, direct question. Don't send 'FYI' type messages (unless specifically requested by your mentor) or messages that just 'dump' a problem in their lap. The role of your mentor is not to solve your problems for you. Rather, they're there to help you make informed decisions. In order to support you in doing so, they need to know which options you're considering. A good example is: "I have an opportunity to do X for Y Company. My concern is Z. I can either do A or B. Based on what you know of me, which would be the best option? I'm leaning toward B, because ... and I'm open to see how I might think about this differently." Do you see how specific and succinct that request for direction is? Speaking of succinct...
- Practice communication economy. No one wants to open an email or DM filled with 10 paragraphs of stream-of-consciousness style writing – and definitely not during a pandemic when schedules may already be off-kilter. No one has the time, energy or bandwidth to read, comprehend and then reply to a long-winded message. (And, if they happen to read your verbose message on a phone, your message looks even longer!) Think TL;DR and get to the point. Most people "bury the lede" – they actually get to the crux of the matter about two paragraphs in. Edit your writing so you arrive at your point faster. If you simply must communicate a large chunk of information, use a tool like Loom instead. Loom allows you to send either a video or audio message via email – and make sure your Loom message isn't longer than five minutes. If you're being mindful, you should be able to make your point well within that time frame. The same goes for leaving a voice mail message. Figure out what you want to communicate prior to calling so you don't ramble.
- Do a contraction and 'that' audit on written messages. Write how you speak, conversationally. You wouldn't say, "I hope you are not still feeling unwell." You'd say, "I hope you're not still feeling badly." Also, each time you've used the word 'that' see if you can remove it and have the meaning and context of your writing remain the same. Most of the time you can. Until you get used to it, it may sound weird, but it makes your writing sharper and easier to understand. Try it.
- Don't use disempowering language about yourself. You don't have to self-aggrandize, and you don't have to be self-depreciative either. There's a good amount of space between those two extremes; find your sweet spot. We're all bombarded with horrific pandemic-related stories online and on television, so it's downright exhausting for a mentor to have to constantly remind you your questions aren't "stupid," you're not "bothering" them, or you're not "weird." Ditto for diminutive language. It's not your 'little' project; it's your project. You're not "just" participating, you're participating. Be humble and take up the appropriate amount of space energetically. You don't have to apologize for your lack of experience, so don't.
- Do NOT put your mentor on blast. Most mentors have very abundant lives and schedules. Sometimes, to say yes to you, they must say no to someone or something else. When you tag them on social media or drop their name inappropriately in your day-to-day conversation, you risk inadvertently tipping their hand. One of the best things you can do for your mentor is respect their privacy. This means being tight-lipped about when and where your meetings occur and even their content or their duration. Find something else to talk about with your colleagues and friends. If asked, it's perfectly OK, to say, "All aspects of our meetings are confidential," and keep it moving.
Clearly, this list isn't exhaustive. It's not meant to be. Rather, it's meant to help you stand out and be the polished professional you are, by leveraging the right mix of common sense and emotional intelligence (not the weaponized kind).
Things have changed in business and in the world. Professionals, including your mentor, typically have fewer reserves, less spare time and even less emotional bandwidth. Make supporting you a joyful part of how they pay it forward, as opposed to yet another obligation.
Lena West's razor-sharp business acumen is the well-hewn result of more than a decade of hands-on experience as an award-winning serial entrepreneur, writer, keynote speaker, business strategist, filmmaker, and grant maker. Lena is the Founder of CEO Rising®, an online business accelerator and digital media platform that provides ambitious womxn entrepreneurs with the three growth tools they need most: coaching, community, and cash.
Women Entrepreneurs Boot Camp
- WEB gives female founders the foundational learning and skills they need to position their companies to raise that next round of capital.
- Learn more: https://dwtevents.com/WEB/
Q&A With Weerada Sucharitkul
CEO & Co-Founder, FilmDoo
Weerada Sucharitkul is the child of a diplomat who has lived in many countries around the world and now calls the UK her home. In April 2019, Weerada joined us in New York for Project W’s Women Entrepreneurs Boot Camp. We asked Weerada to share how her life as an immigrant shaped her vision for her company and helped her overcome the challenges of being an entrepreneur.
Question #1: Can you tell us how your background influenced you to start your company?
FilmDoo is actually an extension of who I am, embracing the three things that I’m most passionate about: films, cultures and entrepreneurship. I’m also proud to say that FilmDoo is the result of having a diplomat father and an entrepreneur mother – a father who showed me the world and a mother who showed me how to do it all!
Although I initially studied International Relations at university, I eventually developed my career in Finance and Business as a Management Consultant working with large-scale transformation projects. However, the burning desire to help raise cultural awareness and to connect the world led me to start FilmDoo – using technology to build bridges rather than divide. In this way, my foray into entrepreneurship brought together my international interests and background with a passion for technology and innovation.
People often ask what the name FilmDoo stands for. FilmDoo, a name that my mother gave to the company, actually means in Thai “to watch a film.” From the very beginning, I wanted to have a non-English word -- especially a Thai word -- that highlights the strong international focus of our company and how we connect the world through films.
Question #2: How has being an immigrant helped you throughout your journey as a founder?
There are many shared similarities between an immigrant and an entrepreneur. For both, you need patience, perseverance and a strong commitment to a vision. An immigrant is someone who is looking to start and build her life in a new country. She needs to believe that there is a better livelihood for her and her family in a new land. An entrepreneur is someone who believes that her product or company will help achieve a vision for a better world. The path for both often involves hard work, a long arduous journey and plenty of sacrifices away from their families and loved ones, with only faith and strong conviction to guide them.
It is no coincidence that in the UK, half of the fastest growing businesses have a foreign-born founder. In the US, we see a similar picture, with immigrants and children of immigrants founding 45% of the top Fortune 500 companies, generating $6.1 trillion in annual revenue in 2018. As an international entrepreneur, especially a female immigrant entrepreneur, you have all the odds stacked against you from the start, without your family and support system close by. But it is also this very same tenacity that will help propel these entrepreneurs to successfully bring their vision to the world.
Question #3: What is unique about the market opportunity in the US that makes it so attractive to immigrant founders?
Historically, the US is known as “The Land of Opportunity.” Although the current political climate makes it more difficult for migrants and international entrepreneurs, I fundamentally believe in the creativity, entrepreneurial drive and positive outlook that continues to embody the American spirit. Despite the national reckoning with systemic racism currently taking place, the US is still one of the most diverse workplaces and communities in the world, creating a rich and innovative talent pool. In addition, with a population of over 320 million, the US is one of the largest markets in the world and provides a large attractive entry market for many entrepreneurs, especially foreign entrepreneurs, to launch their businesses and to gain the growth and scale needed to expand internationally.
Although FilmDoo is currently operated out of the UK, it is because of the US market opportunity that I am actively looking to expand and take FilmDoo to the US later this year. Programs like Project W are a great introduction for international entrepreneurs to the US startup ecosystem, and I encourage female entrepreneurs who are looking to do more in the US to take part!
Question #4: What were some challenges you faced as an immigrant founder and how did you tackle them? What advice would you give to fellow immigrant founders who are facing similar challenges?
The reality is it is much harder to be an immigrant founder when you do not automatically have the right to live or work in a country. So, I started by working at large corporations that could help me achieve my residence permit. That also enabled me to gain experience and build up my skillsets and network that would support me when I was ready to launch my own technology startup. It took me over eight years – and much passion, enthusiasm, drive and perseverance -- before I was finally free to launch my company.
We are living in unprecedented times. Around the world, we are seeing international travel being restricted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic while nationalism is on the rise. New policies in countries such as UK and US will make it increasingly difficult for migrants, foreign entrepreneurs and even international students to build businesses that create jobs and opportunities in the local markets. Consequently, immigrant founders now face even more challenges.
My advice is to not focus on the additional difficulties that we immigrant founders may face. Everyone is born with their own set of cards. Fate may determine the hand of cards that you are dealt, but how you go on to play – and win – that game of cards is your destiny. The only person that you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. Put your energy into positivity that will channel you, your vision and your company forward. The additional difficulties and challenges that you face today will only make you a more successful entrepreneur. After all, true success is not a zero-sum game.
From the Philippines to Your Fridge
What my mother's career as a food chemist can teach us about entrepreneurs and immigrants
Manager of Library & Research Services, Davis Wright Tremaine
Mark, Project W ally and Manager of Library and Research Services at Davis Wright Tremaine, is the child of an immigrant mother who, like Weerada Sucharitkul, faced enormous obstacles coming to a new country and carved out a life for herself. Mark shares his reflections on his mother's journey and the importance of the immigrant experience in shaping innovation in the United States.
My mother retired last month, fifty years after first setting foot on American soil. Officially, this is her second attempt at retirement. She tried several years ago and failed rather miserably, but not for lack of trying. On her first attempt to retire, my mother took up new hobbies, rediscovered some old ones, and put in more than her fair share of time giving chase to and spoiling her grandkids. But my mother felt that she still had more to give – and that she could be more helpful to more people – by returning to her professional life as a chemist. And so she did, mentoring young scientists, and supporting younger female colleagues in particular.
In the few weeks since her re-retirement, and in this new time zone that the pandemic has established in our collective headspace, I've been examining the nexus between my mother's work ethic and the forces that shaped her larger worldview. One aspect that I have underrated is the profound interconnection between the immigrant experience and entrepreneurialism. As an immigrant, you observe things from a unique perspective and find opportunities that the locals tend to overlook. You study and prepare. You brace yourself for the unknown and take a gigantic leap of faith. You appreciate what you have earned. You clear the path for others to find livelihood. All of these are hallmarks of entrepreneurialism.
My mother's own path had some rough patches, to put it mildly. She was the first in her clan to leave the Philippines. On one hand, she was as strong a candidate for success in the U.S. as any immigrant, equipped with an engineering degree and, like many Filipinos of her post-war generation, enamored with the idea of America. But immediately upon arrival, she learned that America up close is a different story, and nothing could have prepared her for the daily onslaught of conflicting ideas and customs and standards. No one bothered to tell her ahead of time that women wouldn't be showing up at the office for a few turbulent days in the 1970s. None of her professors warned her that she would someday have to hide her engineering credential in order to take a few important steps up the corporate ladder, nor did they warn her that the chemical industry was a boy's club and would remain that way for most of her career. No one gave her a toolkit on work-life balance, and especially not the chapter on juggling infant kids, elderly parents, and an epic commute. No one handed her a playbook on petitioning for her family back home to receive green cards.
She took on all challenges, large and small, with equal fervor. The unforgiving Nor'easters, the arcane bus connections, the array of mysterious New Jersey deli meats. The subtle, condescending racism (mostly in the leafy suburbs). The outright, grotesque sexism (mostly at strip malls and car dealerships). Learning when to confront, when to walk away, she taught her kids when to do the same.
More often than not, my mother's entrepreneurial spirit, combined with her relentless drive to pay it forward, has prevailed. While earning distinction as a flavor chemist (whose contributions to the food industry likely reside in your pantry or refrigerator right now), she managed to fetch her parents and all of her siblings from the Philippines, start a small retail business, volunteer to teach English as a second language, establish a library in her hometown, and travel the world a few times over.
While each immigrant's path is different, the contours revealing the effect of immigrants in the entrepreneurial space are well defined. Immigrant entrepreneurs have outnumbered U.S.-born entrepreneurs in each of the past 20 years. In 2017, immigrants were almost twice as likely as their U.S.-born counterparts to become entrepreneurs (Kauffman Foundation, 2018 National Report on Early-Stage Entrepreneurship). In 2019, a study conducted by the New American Economy Research Fund found that almost 45% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
Whether Andrew Grove, Sergei Brin or the owner of the bodega in your neighborhood, many immigrants are creating jobs for themselves, their employees, and through contractors and suppliers. Immigrants are also among the most groundbreaking innovators: developing the microprocessors that fueled the personal computer revolution, providing people with access to volumes of data unimaginable 20 years ago or, like my mother, quite literally diversifying food and drink options in supermarkets around the world. A natural flavor specialist, my mother created hundreds of tastes for consumer products ranging from breakfast cereals and teas to ice cream and late-night snacks.
At a time when our country is closing – rather than opening – doors to immigrants, the contributions immigrants have made to our economy and our society cannot be forgotten or, worse, willfully ignored. Immigrants like my mother who choose to come to the U.S. and then use the lessons learned on their immigrant journey to drive enterprise and opportunity have been essential to past successes and remain the promise of America's future.
Startup Law Blog
- Subscribe now to Davis Wright Tremaine’s new Startup Law Blog for thoughts and commentary on the law of startups.
- Learn more: https://www.dwt.com/blogs/startup-law-blog
- Elle x BossBabe #PitchYourBiz Competition
- Inclusive Recruiting Mini-Course
- StartOut Growth Lab Fall 2020 Cohort
- First Round Capital’s Fast Track Program
- Free Legal Consults for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and Women-Owned Businesses
- Free Virtual Negotiation Trainings for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and Women-Owned Businesses
- PepsiCo’s Food & Beverage Recovery Sprint
- Lowenstein Sandler VentureCrushFG
- Courier Fresh $50K Fund for Black Founders
- Fundraise from Home
- Equality Can’t Wait Challenge
- She Means Business Incubator
- Techstarts Seattle Accelerator