On the Launch day of the SLP, Dan Blake explained the class format and asked all the Fellows to choose from the Google Sheets list to be the class CEO. I was interested in few classes; however, I couldn’t mark my name down quickly due to some access issues, only to realise that most of classes were taken and I had only a few choices left.
I noticed the ‘Fellow-Mentor Meet was Greet’ was still available and it was a workshop format. I had managed many events in the past when I was in a Marketing role over a decade ago and since we had 6 weeks for the class, I thought this class was easy to manage and right up my alley. Also given the fact that I am passionate about coaching and mentoring and have done a fair bit of coaching myself, I thought this would be fun and exciting.
Darya Simanovich very kindly agreed to assist me in organising the event. With 3 weeks to go, I thought it was imperative to speak to those who were part of these events in previous years. I arranged a joint Zoom call with Kaitlin Fritz (Programme Leader) and Andras Nagy (Class CEO for 2019/20) to understand the format of the previous years and they both were extremely helpful, and I got to know it was a speed dating format. Kaitlin also very kindly provided me with a list of Mentors from previous years. I was expecting a long list of Mentors and thought it was just a matter of inviting them and we would easily have sufficient Mentors. I received a list of only 14 Mentors, and I was a bit concerned, as we needed 12 Mentors confirmed.
Darya and I decided to split the list and we sent out email invites to the Mentors. After a few days we only had 2 confirmations. This is when I realised that if I didn’t go all out and press the button, things may go down south. I reached out to our SLP Fellows and requested them to invite Mentors in their networks and sent them the email format. We were looking for Mentors with diverse backgrounds such as Angel Investors, Experienced Entrepreneurs, Branding and Marketing Experts, Business Consultants, Coaches and Lawyers.
Within the next 24 hours, one of our Fellows, Evelina Dzimanaviciute gave me a pleasant surprise and said she had 8 Mentors confirmed. This gave me confidence that I can pull this event off successfully. I was waiting for other Fellows also to invite more Mentors from their network, but we didn’t have much luck. I had some leads from the Programmes Leaders, and I reached out to them and with 10 days to go we had 17 Mentors confirmed, which was a big relief as we had originally aimed for 12 Mentors.
With the Mentors confirmed, the focus was now to create a format which would ensure the Fellows get sufficient time to interact with the Mentors and to make the event relaxed, fun, and enjoyable.
I looked at a couple of tools and shortlisted Airmeet and Zoom. Since the session was online this year, we wanted to ensure things were kept simple. I created a team of 5 for this event and on deliberation we decided to go with Zoom and with a simple format.
Format for the session:
Main Session: Mentors will introduce themselves in the main room - max 1 min per Mentor
Breakout Room: There will be 4 Breakout rooms and each room will have 5-6 Fellows and 4 Mentors. The Fellows will introduce themselves and share 'one item on their bucket list that they still haven’t managed to do', as part of our icebreaker. The Fellows will share their main challenges - max 2 mins per Fellow
This will be followed by a short Q&A. Each Breakout Room session will last for 25 mins, before the Mentors will be moved to the next breakout room, to ensure that all the Fellows have a chance to meet the Mentors.
We will have one person managing each breakout room, ensuring the sessions are run effectively and managing the time (Chaitanya, Darya, Daniel and Evelina will be managing the breakout rooms)
Main Room: At the very end of the session, Mentors will share 'one piece of advice they'd give their younger self at the start on the entrepreneurial/professional journey'.
We needed someone who was an expert in managing Zoom and our Fellow Daniel Volovei (manages events on Zoom for his day job) came to the rescue.
The next thing to do was to create a Fellow Brochure (Bios and Startup Ideas) and a Mentor Brochure. I created a PPT template for the Fellow Brochure and requested all the Fellows to update their profiles on Google Drive. I thought this was the easiest thing to collate. Some Fellows were very responsive, whereas others took their own sweet time. This was a bit frustrating at times, as repeated follow-ups via WhatsApp also didn’t help speed things. Eventually, after almost 10 days I managed to create a nice-looking Fellow brochure which was emailed to the Mentors along with the Agenda of the Event.
Creating the Mentor Brochure was a lot easier. I picked up some profiles from the previous year’s Mentor Brochure and we managed to pick the photos and profiles from the LinkedIn profiles.
The Fellow Brochure and Mentor Brochure was essential, as it created a background of relatedness even before the Event. In fact, based on this, some of the Fellows had already researched about the Mentors and were eagerly looking forward to the interactions on the day. The Mentors too got a real sense of the Fellows and their start-ups and were looking forward to the event (some of them had even printed out the brochure).
On the Day:
In the interest of time, I had suggested all the Fellows to come on the Zoom session 5 mins early so that we can welcome the Mentors. We had some Mentors joining even before all the Fellows were on the call. Instead of just waiting for the Fellows to join, I started welcoming the Mentors who were already present. By the time all the Fellows joined, we were already 10 minutes behind schedule. We were supposed to have 17 Mentors, but we had 2 dropouts and we ended up with 15 Mentors on the day (one of them didn’t event notify us).
I created an intention slide for the evening and shared the same with the Mentors and Fellows, along with the agenda for the evening.
Mentors to meet and share their expertise and knowledge with the Fellows
Fellows to get a quick feedback on their start-up ideas and advice on their challenges
Fellows to network and learn from experienced Mentors and build relationships to guide them in their entrepreneurial journey.
We started with the wins of the week and it was nice that one of the Mentors also got involved and shared a win of the week (we kept it short to only 4 wins in the interest of time). We then proceeded to the Book Review and I suggested ‘Differentiate or Die’ by Jack Trout and ‘The three laws of performance’ by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan.
‘Differentiate or Die’ talks about how Consumers today have endless choices. Merely working on product quality, processes and customer service is not enough and brands need to find a way to clearly ‘differentiate’ and 'position themselves in the minds of the consumers.
‘The three laws of performance’ highlights how an organisation is a network of conversations, which by default is ‘past’ based and how the already-written future determines and shapes the level of performance and when you transform this to ‘future’ based conversations, you produce unimaginable results.
The next thing was for the Mentors to introduce themselves and share 'one item on their bucket list that they still haven’t managed to do'. This was a nice ice breaker and some items from the bucket list were intriguing. Each Mentor was to take 1 minute on their introductions, however many of them took over 2 minutes. This meant that we were running late by 20 mins already.
We then entered the breakout rooms (Daniel the Zoom expert was managing the allocation and transition of the breakout rooms. Chaitanya, Darya, Daniel and Evelina were managing the breakout rooms). Each Fellow had 2 mins to introduce their start-ups and talk about their challenges and get feedback from Mentors on their start-ups and advice on their challenges. The Fellows were to use their 30 sec-1 min pitch to introduce themselves, but it so happened that most of them didn’t stick to the format (one of the Fellows even played a recorded video instead of using the pitch). This meant the onus was on those managing the breakout rooms to ensure all the Fellows got an opportunity to present their start-ups and discuss their challenges. This turned out to be challenging to manage, with not everyone getting equal time to present. The Mentors were moved from one breakout room to another after 25 mins. With the limitations of Zoom, the smooth transition was a bit tricky at times. Everything was going on smoothly, till the last session. Due to some confusion, the right set of Mentors were not allocated to the respective breakout rooms. After some co-ordination using WhatsApp and with 10 mins of going back and forth, we finally managed to fix the issue.
All this meant that we were unable to manage the exact schedule of the closing part of the event. We didn’t have enough time for all the Mentors to give us the closing remarks and 'one piece of advice’ they'd give their younger self at the start on the entrepreneurial/professional journey' and we had to skip this part.
We used the last 10 mins to thank the Mentors for their valuable time and advice to the Fellows. I finally thanked everyone for giving me an opportunity to lead the event as the class CEO and thanked all those who helped in making the event a success.
Post the event, I sent a nice thank you card to all the Mentors (Sue Jones was helpful in designing a nice card)
In the future I would start preparing for the event 4 weeks prior to the event. This would give us sufficient time to invite Mentors, get confirmations, finalise the format of the event and prepare the necessary collaterals and brochures.
I would definitely get all the Fellows to come 15 mins early to ensure we don’t struggle with time
keeping. I would also recommend getting all the Fellows to prepare 30 secs-1minute pitch. This is the best way to make a great first impression and covey effectively about the start-up. This also helps to present your positioning and brand essence clearly, succinctly and consistently.
It’s pertinent that everyone sticks to the format to make the best use of time and to everyone gets an equal opportunity.
Organising this event was a great learning experience for me personally. One key learning was to reach out and seek help where and when needed. The other key learning was to go beyond your comfort zone and venture into unchartered territory ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. Another key learning was that goof ups may happen, keep your calm and think on your feet and handle the situation. Lastly, I also kept the intention of the event as the background and the focus was on contributing and making a difference to the cohort (the event was not about me having to prove something).
Based on the feedback I received from the Fellows, everyone seemed to have had great interactions with the Mentors and got valuable advice on their challenges. A lot of them have already connected with the Mentors via LinkedIn and have arranged follow-up calls.
The Mentors too enjoyed the evening and I received thank you emails from them. One of the Mentors even posted a message on LinkedIn and tagged quite a few Fellows about the participation in the meetup.
Hopefully this is just the beginning and our Fellows will have an opportunity to interact and seek guidance from the Mentors in the future too and I am sure some of the Mentors will attend the graduation day.
Thank you SLP for the opportunity and a big thank to all the Fellows who contributed.