A rockstar board helped Julie Kantor overcome ‘startup isolation’

By Marissa Levin Levin_Marissa

“Get On Board” will be spotlighting companies that have successfully implemented advisory boards. If you have a successful advisory board and would like your firm to be spotlighted in this column, please email Marissa at marissa@successfulculture.com. If you are looking to implement an advisory board, we would like to hear from you as well. See below for more information. 

This month, we spotlight Twomentor, LLC, a Washington-DC based start-up that brings mentoring programs and curriculums to the private sector. In the following interview, founder and CEO Julie Kantor talks about how her advisors have championed her and helped her get her startup off the ground.

Julie Kantor

Julie Kantor

Tell us about Twomentor. How long has it been around, and what inspired you to launch it?

Kantor: It was time to put both the words “women” and “men” into “mentor,” so we launched Twomentor, LLC on Sept. 25, 2015 to build mentoring cultures and elevate women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). We work with Fortune 500 companies and small or medium businesses to offer mentor training and consulting.

Today, purpose over paycheck is the top career motivator. More than 75 percent of millennials believe having a mentor is crucial to their professional success. Women can learn the art of being a sponsor and drive greater retention at their companies.

I spent the last two decades of my career building movements. [In my work at] both Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and Million Women Mentors, I saw a gap in mentor education at the more than 500 major companies that I worked with and interviewed about their mentoring strategies.

When did you first implement an advisory board?

Kantor: I implemented my advisory board on day one! I ran a board of advisors when I was at Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship for 20 years, and it was a fabulous and invaluable experience to build with brilliant, awesome leaders who taught me so much. I started bringing on Advisors for Twomentor right away.

What prompted you to do so?  Was it in response to a pain or challenge, was it in response to a growth strategy or goal, or was it a combination of the two?

Kantor: I believe that entrepreneurs stand on the shoulders of giants. Also, I am a people person, and I needed some big brothers and sisters to launch my company with no real safety net. I reached out to rockstar entrepreneurs and people with great knowledge of the HR, diversity and CSR space for corporations. I view having advisors as part of our growth strategy. They help us understand our customers’ needs, and help inform the business model. It also personally and psychologically helped me get through the startup isolation. I felt incredibly supported, and my advisors got me up to bat for many business opportunities.

How many people serve on your advisory board?

Kantor:We are now up to about 15 members. We are blessed with outstanding leaders. It is a diverse group, with individuals that possess a multitude of skills and complementary strengths.

How did you recruit your advisors?

Kantor:One at a time. I have been building movements for the past 22 years, so I knew exactly whom to pick. I have worked with every single one of my advisors, or they have mentored me on an issue integral to the company over the last 12 to 24 months.

How often do you meet? What is the format?

Kantor: To be determined. Right now, I schedule one-on-one calls with our advisors, meet the local ones in person, and send them reports on our progress to date. They do have a desire to connect and meet with each other, so I am thinking through that strategy. We have an incentive model as well in our business development strategy for advisors as we are building. None of them asked for it, but we insist unless it’s a conflict of interest for them professionally.

What has been the single greatest benefit of your advisory board?

Kantor: The greatest benefit is that most of our advisors are both mentors and sponsors. A mentor talks to you, advises you, and a sponsor is someone who talks about you behind closed doors, meaning they champion you to others. I have access to exceptional advice at all times, and I know I have a team of champions behind me.

What advice would you give to a CEO looking to implement a board? 

Kantor: If you can open the space for others to build with you and help inform your strategy, don’t hesitate to build a board. Make sure that they hold you accountable and have a very clear, customized action plan on how they will engage over six to 12 months with your organization. Leverage your advisors as much as possible.

“Get On Board” will also be spotlighting companies that are looking to implement advisory boards, and will serve as an online recruiting center to connect potential advisors with these firms. If you are currently building an advisory board, please email Marissa at marissa@successfulculture.com

Marissa Levin is CEO of Successful Culture, a consulting firm that helps CEOs build excellent cultures. She is the author of Built to SCALEwww.successfulculture.com. Contact her at marissa@successfulculture.com or on Twitter @marissalevin. Contact us at editorial@smartceo.com.

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