Female Founder Office Hours: Making the Most of an Awesome Opportunity

A lot changed for me this year. I went from being a solo founder leading an all-women team, to being a co-founder and CEO to two men. I went from bootstrapping a business to finding myself in back to back meetings with VCs and angels, raising for the first time. Oh, my husband and I also decided that being life partners wasn’t enough – we had to be co-founders too.

So yes, when I heard of Female Founder Office Hours last month, I absolutely jumped at the opportunity. If you don’t know about Female Founder Office Hours, read more here.

Two weeks ago, I got an email connecting me with my mentor, Eva Ho. Five days later, I was sitting in her office. I was ecstatic.

Eva and I discussed many things, including our struggles growing up. We had both been so afraid of talking to new people, and didn’t have any mentors to help us get over that fear. I continue to meet founders who struggle with networking and feel anxious about applying for opportunities like FFOH. But these opportunities are incredible. And I’m a strong believer in the popular saying:

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

Here is how I prepared for my meeting with Eva.  I share these strategies hoping that they may help you make the most of similar opportunities.

1. Set the stage

Female Founder Office Hours are 45 minutes long, as are most networking meetings. You need to be mindful of your time together and make the most of those minutes. People will typically spend the first 10 minutes of their meeting getting to know each other, giving background info that could easily be shared ahead of time. And then another 10 minutes go by trying to figure out what to focus the meeting on. Now you have 25 minutes to actually talk.

Setting the stage ahead of time can save precious minutes and lead to a significantly better conversation.

Four days before meeting Eva, I sent her an email. Here is a screenshot:

I explained my intentions for our conversation. I also made sure to share my background with her, and some questions I had.  As a mentor myself, I like to tailor my answers to my mentee’s specific background, and having questions and context ahead of time allow me to be the most thoughtful. Wouldn’t you want to make it easy for your mentor to do the same?

Full disclosure, I totally googled “Good questions to ask female leaders” and chose two that really resonated with me.

2. Let your mentor know you’ve done your research

Doing your research is a given. But most people don’t tell their mentors that they’ve done it. As a mentor, I often find myself asking “Hm, do they already know this about me? Am I repeating myself?” I want to add as much value as I can for my mentees, so it would suck if I told them the same things they could read online.

Do yourself and your mentor a favor – give them an indicator of what you already know, so that they can give you new insight.

In my email to Eva, there are several areas where I indicate having read her story. In person, I referenced what I read and learned, and asked follow up questions so Eva knew she didn’t have to provide additional context.

3. Get to know the human

Your mentor is a human. A human that went through challenges, likely similar to yours, to get to where she is today. She has fears, successes, stories, ambitions. My intention was not to just know Eva, the VC. It was to know Eva.

Eva, the aunt who wants to make sure her nephew is getting the best career advice. Eva, the female founder who swore she would build a company where no one had to worry about their business suits not being nice enough. The awesome mentor of a half-pakistani, half-black young woman.

Be real. Demand real. Authenticity is crucial for building meaningful relationships.

4. Keep it going

The mentee must always follow up with a note of thanks – it is step one for nurturing relationships. But make sure your follow up is meaningful long-term. Discuss next steps at the end of every meeting. What info does your mentor need from you? How can your mentor help you? How can you help your mentor?

And stay in touch! I personally love monthly or quarterly updates from my mentees. It’s nice to know how my advice helped, and what changes have occurred. I want to know how I can be of help again. So send those updates and strengthen the relationship.

I don’t know how Female Founder Office Hours managed to match us so well, because Eva and I had oddly similar stories. She moved from Mozambique to Boston when she was 7. I moved from Pakistan to Palo Alto when I was 7. She was working 40+ hours a week to help her family starting at the age of 11. I began at 14. Both of our parents gave us the same advice:

“They said the only thing you have to do is work as hard as you can, build internal drive, and educate yourself.”

I am very happy to have met Eva.  Thank you Eva and Female Founder Office Hours. If you’re a female founder, and haven’t yet applied to FFOH, I highly recommend submitting an application here.

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