Between closing deals and rapidly growing her team, Heidi Holmes, co-founder of Mentorloop, took time out of her hectic schedule this week to talk to me about growing a global day one startup. Mentorloop is the cloud-based software platform that makes great mentoring relationships more accessible, consistent and effective. Fresh out of Startmate, the company has experienced phenomenal growth over the past year and is showing no signs of slowing. Lucy and Heidi have customers spanning government, universities, enterprise and associations and have ambitions to extend beyond this and completely change how we think about mentoring.
How did you develop the idea for Mentorloop and what drew you both to this problem?
My first venture, mature age job board Adage, definitely fed into Mentorloop. I was sitting on a huge database of talent, very knowledgeable people whom weren’t necessarily looking for traditional work and mentoring was something they were open to. However, there was nowhere to refer them. When I looked into how mentoring was more broadly being deployed across organisations it was clear that while mentoring was highly valued, it was being poorly executed. Here was a problem that could be solved through a tech solution.
How did you become co-founders? How did you know each other?
Lucy and I actually went to high school together and have been friends for over 15 years. When I initially saw the underlying problem I approached Lucy for her perspective given her experience as a digital project manager. She was immediately able to not only understand the problem but also architect how we could solve this problem via an online platform.
What are some of your strengths that have helped you build the company so far?
Since day one we’ve had clearly defined roles and having known each other for a long time has definitely helped in ensuring we are comfortable with open communication!
While our combined experience covers business development, sales, PR, marketing and digital, I think it is our determination and resilience that has really helped us in our startup journey. It’s rare to be an overnight success so sometimes you just need to be able to survive the journey long enough so you can prove what you are doing is worth doing.
What was the catalyst that made you both take the plunge and start Mentorloop? What would you be doing if you hadn’t started it?
We officially went full time and ‘all-in’ on Mentorloop in June 2016. This was only after securing some initial paying customers and closing our first round of funding.
I’m not sure what I’d be doing — for me it’s not a luxury I can afford to think about. Mentorloop in my mind has to and will be a success!
How did you get your initial funding to get Mentorloop off the ground?
We bootstrapped the initial development of the MVP and then sought out pilot customers who we were then able to monetise. Once we had 3 paying customers that had stayed with us over 6 months we decided we needed to raise capital to fast track development and invest in some marketing activity to take Mentorloop to the next level. Having had some informal conversations with VCs and other investors, we quickly realised that our best chance of securing initial funding was to approach private or angel investors. So we decided to run our own private round where we pitched to family, friends, private investors and angel networks. After 6 months we closed our round raising $300k at a $2m pre-money valuation.
What resources have been most helpful to you in starting up?
For me, my first start up Adage was the best business course I could have taken. It taught me not necessarily about the things I did right but more about what I should do differently next time.
What has been the most surprising part of running your own company? What were you not expecting?
I’ve found the general startup community to be very a very supportive and collaborative network. However, what I’ve found most surprising in more recent dealings with successful entrepreneurs is how open and transparent they are actually prepared to be, especially with sharing the things they have done wrong. They don’t sugar coat things and aren’t at all embarrassed by their mistakes — they almost wear them as a badge of honor! Which is another learning in itself — don’t be afraid of making mistakes — just make sure you learn something from what you did wrong and do it differently next time.
Who have been your greatest mentors in this journey so far and what are the key things you’ve learnt from them?
I’ve been fortunate to benefit from many mentoring relationships throughout my career — people I still turn to advice for on an ad hoc basis who have specialist skill sets. More recently our investors have proven to be great mentors — those who have had previous start up experience, have the battle scars to prove it and the insight to challenge us to push harder and think differently.