Carlijn Schoutens: An Olympic Speed Skater's Take on Mentorship

Two weeks ago, Carlijn Schoutens, long-track speed skater for the United States of America took the line in Pyeongchang, South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympics. In that moment, she probably had a number of things running through her mind: the state of the ice, her race strategy and chasing a medal. Years of training, dedication and hard work added up to bring her to that moment. Another important, but perhaps less tangible factor had played a role in helping her get to the starting line of her first Winter Olympics: the power of mentorship. 

Schoutens is a member of the ACE Mentor Network, one of our customer platforms. The United States Olympic Committee Athlete Career and Education Program (ACE) provides current and retired Team USA athletes with career, education and life skills resources to support their athletic performance goals, facilitate a successful transition to post-elite competition careers and inspire long-term positive engagement with the Olympic/Paralympic movement. The ACE Mentor Network is one of the many great resources offered to Team USA athletes. 

As an ACE mentee, Carlijn Schoutens was matched up with Lauryn Williams, Olympian and and founder of Worth Winning, her own financial planning company, dedicated to helping other athletes manage their careers and lives after sport. In between Schoutens training sessions leading up to the Games, we had a chance to ask her a few questions about her experience talking with Williams and the role that mentors played in her Olympic journey.

When asked about how she was first matched with Williams, Schoutens responded, “Lauryn was recommended as a mentor for me by Elana [Meyers Taylor], because she also did a time trial sport and has been very successful athletically and professionally.”

Williams’ impressive Olympic resume includes four Olympic Games, three Olympic medals, and being the first American woman to medal at both the Winter and Summer Games. To learn more about Williams and her passion for financial planning, read her interview with the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“We first talked [before Olympic Trials] when I realized that I was going to do things this year that I had never done before,” said Schoutens. “I was interested to learn about the added challenges at Olympic Trials compared to normal racing, and how best to deal with those. Lauryn told me about her many Olympic Trials experiences and how she was able to race as well there as at a regular competition.”

“We talked about preparing for each challenge by making mental plans and practical arrangements. It made me feel more in control of my competition and I was able to perform well and have a lot of fun. Lauryn was available in the week of my Trials and we called and texted back and forth a lot. Thanks Lauryn!”

Schoutens and Williams’ mentorship relationship helped create a support system for her to lean up during the lead-up to the Olympic Trials and continued throughout her preparation for the Winter Games.

Schoutens was particularly impressed by the different type of mentorship she experienced with fellow Olympian Lauryn. “I’ve mostly had coaches, teachers and parents as mentors in my career, but having a fellow athlete by my side was different and awesome.”

Congratulations to Carlijn Schoutens and the rest of Team USA at last month’s Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. To keep up with Carlijn on her Olympic journey and see what’s next, follow her on Twitter and Instagram. We look forward to cheering on the U.S. Paralympic Team which will start competing in South Korea this weekend.

Are you a company, university, or professional group looking to foster stronger advisor ties in your network? We can help you do that through our unique 1-on-1 video software. Fill out the form on our “Contact Us” page or send us an email at and start learning how you can build relationships in your community, one connection at a time.

2017: A Year in Review

It’s been quite a year for InstaViser. During the past 12 months, we have worked to create engaged learning communities with clients that range from professional networks to non-profits and university groups. Over countless Slack conversations and cups of coffee, our team worked tirelessly to improve our software, helping our online communities connect easier and faster. We are proud to offer a private networking platform for learning institutions and empowerment organizations to better serve their members.

In 2017, our diverse span of customer networks included top brand companies and organizations such as the University of California-Berkeley Athletics, the Culinary Institute of America, the United States Olympic Committee Athlete Career and Education Program and CSweetener. Collectively, we powered communities that served hundreds of mentors and thousands of mentees, creating authentic connections and forging stronger ties for professional growth, mentorship, and lifelong learning.

“My mentor was very patient, kind, understanding and relatable,” said an ACE Mentor Network user. “I instantly knew that this time was valuable not only to me but her as well! After speaking with her, I felt confident that each answer to my questions was filled with practical advice that I could immediately begin to implement. I am truly grateful and inspired to continue dreaming, reaching and pursuing at great lengths. It is awesome to see successful women encouraging younger women like me.”

From one of our Cal Golden Ties Network Advisors: “I think our session went really well (it was the first for both of us). The student had good questions and was prepared. I have a number of contacts to share with her to assist her with her career options. Terrific platform. Very easy to navigate the session.”

We also welcomed several new clients to our InstaViser family including CSweetener and Food Venture Lab. CSweetener is a non-profit organization dedicated to matching emerging female healthcare leaders new and near to the C-Suite, with those who have successfully navigated the terrain for mentorship in an effort to increase the ratio of women in executive positions. Food Venture Lab provides students with one-on-one sessions with top food experts, restaurant executives, and culinary artists.

Several new members joined the InstaViser team in 2017. We’re thrilled to have Meghan O’Leary come on board full-time in the role of Vice President, overseeing our customer success and marketing departments. Prior to InstaViser, Meghan worked for five years at ESPN in Content Production and Programming and currently competes as an Olympic rower for Team USA. We’re also excited to welcome Michael Colella as our newest customer success manager. Michael graduated from Cornell University and has been training and competing on the U.S. Men’s Rowing team for the past two years.

Other InstaViser team members in the news include Elana Meyers-Taylor, our customer success manager, who will be representing the United States on the Olympic Bobsled team and software developer Kyle Tress who will be coaching the Japanese Olympic Skeleton team at the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

As we look ahead to another year, we are welcoming several new community platforms to the InstaViser family that will be launching throughout the next quarter.

“To be able to work with so many great organizations and to help them leverage the power of their networks is a profound experience,” said InstaViser CEO and co-founder, Pete Cipollone. “Our team did great things in 2017 and we look forward to doing even more, better and faster in 2018 as we continue to expand and provide a great product, doing our part to change lives, one connection at a time.”

Thank you,

The Team at InstaViser

About InstaViser

Founded in 2015 by a team of Olympians, InstaViser empowers a new world of global connection and learning for people of all ages and walks of life. For learning institutions and empowerment organizations who serve talented strivers aspiring to reach their potential, InstaViser creates private networking platforms that seamlessly create engaged learning communities. InstaViser helps our customers create authentic connections, leveraging their brands to realize the power of their networks. We are in the business of changing lives, one connection at a time. For more information please visit:


Featured in the News: How CSweetener is helping women healthcare leaders succeed

A 2017 study of 177 publicly-listed biotech companies found women hold just 1 in 10 board seats. And 2012 research from Rock Health showed women make up 4 percent of healthcare company CEOs.

CSweetener, a Mill Valley, California-based nonprofit company, wants to change that.

The organization, which launched in September 2016, was founded by Lisa Suennen and Lisa Serwin, the latter of whom will be speaking on a diversity in healthcare panel at MedCity INVEST in May.

In a recent phone interview, Suennen explained the impetus behind the business. As part of her Aspen Institute Health Innovators Fellowship, she was tasked with creating something that advanced the field of healthcare.

While brainstorming and catching up on emails, Suennen noticed that she typically gets between 10 and 20 requests for advice from women each week. Wouldn’t it be nice, she thought, if there were a for healthcare that would pair women with established male and female mentors?

So that’s what she and Serwin developed with CSweetener.

As part of the matchmaking process, female mentees sign up and must be approved to join. Candidates have to be C-suite or in an equivalent role (such as vice president). Once accepted, they pay a $250 fee and are matched with a mentor based on their personality and availability. With their membership, mentees gain 12 sessions per year, which can be with the same mentor or different mentors.

Mentors have to be experienced healthcare executives who are talented at giving advice. They don’t pay a fee, but must commit at least one hour per month to speaking with mentees.

Pairings can contact each other through the phone and video capabilities in the app so they don’t have to exchange personal information if they don’t want to. They can also meet in person if desired.

After the initial sessions, mentors and mentees can decide if they’re the right fit for each other before moving forward with additional meetings.

Suennen said CSweetener currently has a couple hundred mentees and a couple hundred mentors. Some companies have even started to sponsor mentees and pay the $250 fee.

“It’s beginning to pick up and spread,” Suennen said. “People have been loving it and really enjoying the connections.”

Chicago-based ExplORer Surgical cofounder and CEO Jennifer Fried is one such mentee. Through CSweetener, she met Ned Scheetz, managing partner of Aphelion Capital and now ExplORer Surgical’s lead investor. He has also joined the startup’s board of directors.

“It’s been hugely helpful,” Fried said in a phone conversation.

The primary benefit of the program, Fried added, is access to experts in the field.

“They have an interesting set of senior folks who have signed up for this,” she said. “When it’s structured like this, it doesn’t feel as high stakes as ‘I’m coming in to pitch you my company.'”

For Suennen, part of what sets CSweetener apart is that it’s focused on women executives rather than young women who are new to the field. It’s also crucial that the organization pairs mentees with both female and male mentors.

“Our general view of the world is that women talking to women is an echo chamber,” Suennen said. It’s challenging to make progress if all stakeholders (regardless of gender) aren’t involved.

The ultimate goal of CSweetener isn’t to create a monster company. Instead, it’s fairly straightforward.

“I think my goal is pretty simple: just to help women succeed faster and better,” Suennen said.

How to Leverage Your College Athletic Experience with Potential Employers: Part II

Golden Ties Advisor and Cal Alum, Drew Sanders continues to lay out three more keys to talking about your student-athlete experience in your next job interview.

 Photo by  on  Unsplash

Photo by on Unsplash

The five keys you need to land the killer job right out of school are: the Entrance Key, the Prioritization Key, the Performance Key, the Get-A-Long Key, and the Game Sense Key. I already covered the Entrance and Prioritization Keys in the first installment of my series, which you can read here. Here are the ways to acquire the additional keys you need to move forward and land the job you really want. 

The Performance Key 

The door of performance requires you to show that you can perform under pressure. The customer is always right and the process of meeting their needs can lead to heated moments. Bosses demand performance because it is often their job on the line when things go poorly. 

The student-athlete should be able to share how the pressure to make the team and to then earn playing time has given them the much-needed training of being ready to perform. Being solid in the clutch sounds great, but companies are also looking for consistency of performance. 

If you made the team and have a letter of recommendation from your coach that speaks to your character in practice and as a teammate that can be just the type of performance an employer is looking for. 

The Get-A-Long Key 

The door of comportment stands before you asking, how easy are you to deal with when the game is on the line? Do we want to see you day after day, on the plane ride home and at the holiday party? 

Leaders set the culture and few things will get you fired faster than by being a culture killer on a team. You will want examples of how you participated on a team as a follower and a leader.  

Road trips and long practices are your examples that will make you stand out in this area. You have viable proof that you learned how to get along during difficult times as an athlete. Even if your team went undefeated there was still tension to make the team and earn your varsity letter. Look for a few examples and be prepared to share how you have honed this trait. 

It is important that you can lead yourself, but you also need to be able to follow at the right moments. Unlocking the door of comportment is based upon you showing that you have a sense of what is going on around you. 

The Game Sense Key

The game sense door isn’t always in front of new hires. Many companies aren’t looking for you to understand how they make money just yet. Can you do the job? Will you be an adult? Will you be easy to deal with? These are the first level questions. 

However, for the real killer job this door will be there and you want to be able to open it.  Game sense comes down to understanding how the company makes money and who might be able to become a customer. 

This is where your network and curiosity can work in your favor. The VP, MD or C level person is thinking of how the company is going to grow all the time. They are building networks of influential people who can help them achieve their targets. The pressure to perform and win is acute and in many cases, it isn’t that hard to think what the company needs. 

Think of your favorite sports team. If they didn’t win the title last year, why? What was missing? Chances are they need a top player at a position and you can name it. It is the same way in business. Who are our biggest customers? Who is the similar to them that are not buying from us? Who do I know at that company? 

Could you make an introduction to start a dialogue between that person and your boss? What key people do you know that might want to come to work with you that could make the biggest impact? As a student-athlete, you had to have some game sense that wasn’t tied to field. It was the game of getting along with the Athletic Director and the big donors at the lunches you attended. It was understanding when to talk to your coach and as importantly, when not to. 

Collegiate athletics has a spotlight on it that few students can appreciate. You went through social media training, you were told that you were a representative of the school and to behave like it at all times. The game of public perception while you are an athlete correlates well with the game of customer acquisition and retention in the workplace. 

All of these thoughts are similar to moving without the ball in sports. It requires insight and second level thinking. You don’t need a letter of recommendation to open this door. Rather you need to spend a few hours on Google and LinkedIn searching and being curious. 

Bring your findings as questions to the interviews. Don’t make assertions, just have these thoughts in your back pocket so that as you go up in the food chain in the company you can stay in the conversation and be relevant at the highest levels. 


You may be the most decorated athlete in your school's history, one of the all-time greats, or you may have just made the team and warmed the bench. Regardless you made a commitment to yourself and others to live your life in alignment with the Greek words Citius, Altius, and Fortius. You sought to take your personal achievements faster, higher, and stronger and hopefully inspire your teammates to follow suit. This creed, these choices make you a great candidate for a company that is looking to grow with each new person they hire. They need every employee to get in the company boat and contribute right away. The leaders want to feel that you are in the boat by how it moves, not by how it rocks. As an athlete the calling to be useful and make a meaningful contribution should be second nature. Learn your stories, share them with humility and have the confidence that you have the keys to open all the doors and land that killer job you are dreaming about. 

If you're looking to go back and read the rest of my keys to unlocking the five doors that stand between you and your dream job, read Part I in our community section.

Golden Ties Advisor and Cal Alum, Drew Sanders is President of Banyan Tree Strategies, a management consultancy focused on strategic advice, corporate training and executive development. Connect on with Drew LinkedIn or Twitter@BanyanTreeStrat.

    How to Leverage Your College Athletic Experience with Potential Employers: Part I

     Photo by  Rachel Barkdoll  on  Unsplash

    If you're looking for your first job out of college or looking to nail your dream summer internship, Drew Sanders, one of our client mentors, has advice for you. An Advisor on our Golden Ties Network that works with student-athletes at the University of California Berkeley, Drew focuses on how to apply your athletic experience to your job search. Even if you aren't an athlete he offers insights on how to frame your extracurricular experience to your job hunt.

    Several recent college athletes have asked me how they can get a job in a very competitive and slightly technical field. We have removed the industry in question to allow you the reader to keep your own industries in mind while you are processing our perspective. During our dialog, an image started to resonate with the aspiring athletes, that of a series of doors that need to be opened with the right keys. 

    You need to position your athletic skills and choices correctly to gain an edge on your fellow applicants. 

    Consider these insights and ideas as you speak with recruiters and hiring managers in your target industries. Remember, they are numb from all the clutter and noise that comes with hiring people. You need a clear storyline for them to follow and your choice to be an athlete can be as important as how decorated an athlete you were. 

    The 5 keys you need to land the killer job right out of school are: 

    • The Entrance Key 
    • The Prioritization Key 
    • The Performance Key 
    • The Get-A-Long Key 
    • The Game Sense Key 

    Here are the ways to acquire the keys you need to move forward and land the job you really want. 

    The Entrance Key 

    The Entrance key is also referred to as the technical key. Many sought-after jobs have a competency or skill associated with them. This used to be a major roadblock. If you didn’t have the right degree you were on the outside looking in. However with the rise of online learning platforms today you can show proficiency through online courses from MIT, Stanford, Udacity, and a multitude of other online institutions. 

    As an athlete consider sharing how your college coaches changed a few things in the way you played your sport or approached your training. Compare that change and adjustment to your technical strengths or your ability to quickly get up to speed on skills you haven’t acquired yet. A written plan for learning specific concepts by certain dates from recommended resources will complement your determination with preparation. Athletes are known for their discipline and resiliency, and now that you want this job, you will adapt quickly just like you did with your sport when the challenge of change was thrown your way. 

    Don’t back down if you are interested in a technical role. Remember the four other keys. You can’t fake technical skill that is why we call it the entrance key, it gets you to the other factors that lead to landing the job. If you have the skills, show it. If you are building them, show that as well. Above all else, you want to show passion and drive followed up by focus and action. 

    The Prioritization Key 

    Prioritizing tasks, responsibility, and distractions to deliver results is the mark of an adult. Companies and their customers require you to have these skills. Your challenge is that it is assumed that you don’t have them! 

    As an athlete you should rule the prioritization key challenge, just be subtle in your presentation and don’t oversell it. Present your schedule for your last two years as a student-athlete as a choice you made and that by saying yes to a sport it was clear to you and your friends that you were saying no to certain distractions and it was worth it. Few students will be able to match the student athlete’s prioritization skills. 

    Getting a letter of recommendation to go along with your story of how you have prioritized things in the past will open this door. After that it is up to you to prove it week after week, customer requests are like rust and termites, they never rest. 

    Continue to learn the keys to leveraging your athletic experience with future employers by reading Part II here.

    Golden Ties Advisor and Cal Alum, Drew Sanders is President of Banyan Tree Strategies, a management consultancy focused on strategic advice, corporate training and executive development. Connect with Drew on LinkedIn or Twitter @BanyanTreeStrat.

    2017 Mentor Reading List for #ReadABookDay

    There have been countless features on successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and world leaders and their reading habits. It’s surprising to picture Warren Buffett or Mark Zuckerberg curled up on their couch with a good book but some statistics show that company bosses read four to five books per month — which is four to five times higher the number of books an average person reads in a year, according to Refresh Leadership.

    We’ve compiled a number of the recommended readings from our mentor networks for you to add to your fall reading list:

    Sports & Business

    1. Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

    The story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal.

    2. A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring

    From the legendary basketball coach who inspired generations of athletes and businesspeople, an inspiring book about the power of mentoring and being mentored.


    3. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

    A book that aims to shatter myths, provide new insights, and give practical guidance to those who would like to build landmark companies that stand the test of time.

    4. 4 Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5

    A guide to learning the secrets of the “New Rich,” a fast-growing subculture who has abandoned the “deferred-life plan” and instead mastered the new currencies - time and mobility - to create your own luxury lifestyles.

    Personal Growth

    5. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

    Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection.

    6. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them

    Meg Jay focuses on providing you with tools necessary to make the most of your twenties, showing how work, relationships, personality, social networks, identity, and even your brain can change more during this decade than at any other time in adulthood, if we use the time wisely.

    Let us know what you think about our recommended list of Mentor Reads and what books you have on your reading list this fall.

    Kristin Hedstrom: On Not Being Normal - From Olympian to Entrepreneur

    The Olympian and eight-time National team member, Kristin Hedstrom started a private personal training business in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a member of Team USA, she competed in the 2012 Olympics and won six international medals. When Kristin's not strategizing about business, you can find her working out, traveling the world, or making delicious food in the kitchen.

    I had to laugh when the call timer on my phone clicked past the one hour and forty minute mark. I’d been trying to fix a payroll issue with my accounting service and we still hadn’t reached a resolution. As I waded through terms I barely understood and tax processes I didn’t know existed, I couldn’t help but think how the hell did I get here and why don’t people teach you this stuff?! 

    Needless to say, I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur (and I swear not all days are like that!). But then again, I never thought I’d be an Olympic athlete, either. In my head, I always liked the idea of a “normal” life: graduate college, get a 9-5, commute to the office, and settle down. But in practice, I could never convince myself to do it. 

    In many ways, my path to the National Team set me up perfectly to start my own business. In rowing, representing Team USA required winning Trials every spring. Since the only thing that mattered was crossing the line first at that race, our NGB didn’t regulate where I trained, who my coach was, or who I rowed in a boat with. Often times, I’d even write my own training plan. Don’t get me wrong: I had massive help from coaches, teammates, and supporters. But ultimately I was my own boss – and my teammates were their own bosses, too. 

    By the end of my fifteen-year rowing career, this “figure it out yourself” approach felt like no big deal. Like many Olympians and Olympic hopefuls, I was comfortable working hard for a very long-term goal and banking on my own hard work to get there. And more importantly, I understood that I didn’t have to know all the answers right away. I learned that if I studied the sport, followed my intuition, and stayed aggressive in my approach, things often worked out the way I wanted them to. 

    When I finally switched to the working world full-time, I had a choice of whether to apply for “real” jobs or to create my own. I felt the same way I did after college when all my friends went into normal jobs and I signed myself up for this crazy ride called elite rowing. Was I really going to sign up for another crazy ride? 

    I went back and forth but when it came down to it, I couldn’t find a good reason not to go the entrepreneurship route. I now own a fitness business specializing in personal training and mentoring. In the final three years of my rowing career, I’d been working as a trainer to support myself, so I already had some experience when I started out. More importantly, I had a good handle on what my target market was looking for. 

    So far, I’ve loved it. It’s flexible: I get to work whatever days and hours I want and take as much or as little vacation as I want (which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean I take more vacation than most people!). It’s creative: I used to study rowing and come up with new ways to improve and now I’m studying my client base to figure out how to better serve their needs. It’s challenging: owning a business requires learning a lot of varied skills. On most days, I have my eyes on both the big, long-term picture, my mid-term goals, and the day-to-day tasks. It’s fun: my aim is to be the best part of my clients’ days, which means I’m always having fun, too. 

    Much like rowing, I’m not sure where this path will ultimately take me, but I have a feeling it’s going to be awesome. I won’t pretend that every day is neat and tidy. Realistically, I feel like I’m splashing around like a novice rower on many of my days. But in the end, I wouldn’t trade what I’m doing for a normal life. At least not yet.

    For more information on Kristin Hedstrom and her business, follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

    Featured: CSweetener in the News

    Amid Gender Gap Talk, Mentor Network Emerges For Women In Health, Bio

    Article originally posted on

    It’s been more than a year since an infamous party with hired models in cocktail dresses captured the biotech community’s attention at the 2016 J.P. Morgan conference.

    There has been plenty of talk since about closing biotech’s notable gender gap. At this year’s J.P Morgan conference, for example, a group of 100 life science executives and others pledged to follow a list of gender diversity “best practices.”

    There has also been some action. Launched last fall, a nonprofit mentoring program for women in healthcare and biotech has already signed up about 100 women, according to its founder.

    The group, called CSweetener, is meant as a boost for women who are nearing the executive level. It is the brainchild of life sciences investor Lisa Suennen, who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and publishes a popular industry blog and podcast. Suennen and cofounder Lisa Serwin have cobbled together $125,000 in donations, grants, and sponsorships to commission a software platform that could be what Suennen calls a “ for mentors.” Because of her high profile, she says she receives frequent requests from women executives for help and advice. “If I said yes to everyone, I wouldn’t have time to work,” she says. “So I thought, ‘What if I can outsource this problem?'”

    Despite a rank-and-file that is roughly 50 percent women, fewer than 10 percent of biotech CEOs are women, according to a recent report from U.K. recruitment firm Liftstream, which studied 177 biotechs that went public between 2012 and 2015.

    Board seats are another measure. Less than five percent of the board members were women at the time of those companies’ IPOs.

    There was a hint of progress in the report: 58 percent of public companies have at least one female board member, up from 48 percent three years ago. But there’s far to go. Public biotech boards would need 40 more years to achieve gender equity.

    To address the board gap, a five-day training program called Boardroom Ready launched last summer. Of its initial class of 20 women, four have been placed onto boards so far.

    Run by the nonprofit group Women In Bio, the program is sponsored in part by the life-science advisory firm that threw the cocktail party. For now, the plan is to hold Boardroom Ready once a year; the next one takes place over two weekends in the fall.

    Suennen’s investor peers deserve no small portion of the gender gap blame (as she often points out on her blog). Fewer than 10 percent of life-science venture partners are women, according to Liftstream. The low number of female VCs perpetuates the gender gap because venture investors sit on their companies’ boards until and often well beyond the initial public offering. “Our study shows that the male dominance of venture capital brings unintended implications for the portfolio companies in terms of their board diversity, and consequently may also have an undesirable effect on their ability to attract talent,” the report reads.

    Suennen recently joined GE Ventures, the venture arm of General Electric and one of the few firms in the traditional or corporate VC world with a high percentage of women. (GE Ventures has donated to CSweetener.)

    In addition to the 100 women who have signed up for CSweetener, the network now counts 110 mentor volunteers, Suennen says. Roughly 15 percent are men. If they are not involved, adds Suennen, “nothing will ever change.”

    Ned Scheetz, founder of Bay Area healthcare venture firm Aphelion Capital and father of two daughters, explains that he signed up to be a CSweetener mentor because healthcare needs more women entrepreneurs. “An outsized percent of venture backed companies are founded and led by high-ego, take-the-hill men and backed by equally Y-dominant venture groups,” Scheetz says. “Much of healthcare is about understanding and serving the subtler, empathetic needs of humanity, and testosterone-driven ambition may miss some of those finer points.”

    Many corporations have internal programs to pair women with mentors or sponsors. But the set-up is fraught with potential conflicts: how freely can a woman speak her mind about the pros and cons of her job, or about her ambitions, to a person higher up the corporate ladder, even if that person has pledged support? CSweetener is meant to provide independent mentoring without conflicted relationships. Mentors are required to have C-suite experience and no financial or business ties to their mentees—a rule to discourage women from joining the network to sell products or raise funds, Suennen says.

    CSweetener requires a $250 fee from mentees. (Mentors sign up for free.) With a few hundred thousand dollars more, Suennen would like to build more community tools into the organization’s software—giving mentors a chance to compare notes, for example—and offer training material for mentees. Negotiation skills would be a priority. “Women don’t often ask for what they want,” Suennen says. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

    4 Things Successful Leaders Do Every Day

    Few world leaders or Fortune 500 CEOs knew from the beginning that they were going to be successful. Instead, they learned their craft and surrounded themselves with key advisors and role models and set actionable goals. Some attended world-renowned universities and others taught themselves at home or in their garage.

    No matter how you started your career, these four habits of successful leaders will help you improve your life at work, no matter if you're looking to improve how you run your team as a manager or how to become a strong member of your team as an entry-level employee.

    1. Take an interest in people

    Great leaders don’t like to hear themselves talk. They know that you can learn the most by listening to people, including asking their peers or teams for feedback and encouraging them to ask questions.

    And when you're listening to someone, make eye contact, it’s a powerful and yet overlooked way to connect. With all of the distractions today, the extra effort to show that you’re actively listening to someone and connecting with what they’re saying goes a long way. Try this in your next meeting you'll find that you internalize more with this small adjustment.

    2. Continue learning

    Warren Buffett read between 600 and 1000 pages per day when he was beginning his investing career. Books are a great way to expand your vocabulary and knowledge and you can choose topics that interest you. Craft your “education” to fit the career you want. Interested in moving into a management role? Pick up the latest title on developing good leadership skills. Want to become the best financial analyst on your floor? Read up on future financial trends and how to prepare for them. Challenge yourself by trying a new genre or joining a book club, and you'll be surprised with what you can learn.

    3. Show up

    We live in the age of distractions, multitasking and missed connections. Successful mentors make an effort to keep in touch, especially if they haven’t heard from a mentee or someone they care about in a while. An email with a link to an article of interest and a line asking how they’re doing is a thoughtful and easy way to reach out. If you prefer to meet in person, send an email or text proposing a quick coffee. Relationships are built on trust, which takes time so make time for other people and you’ll find it pays off in the long run.

    4. Ask questions

    Steven Spielberg said, “the delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” The best way to help mentees can be to ask questions, rather than answer them. Help them work their way through a problem or issue, asking “why” and “what if you look at it this way.” Use your experience to guide them to the choice that’s best for them.

    If you're not managing others, you can still apply this to your work life. Ask questions when you don’t understand something or need to clarify instructions. Also, feel empowered to innovate and question processes that might be inefficient. Questions show that you’re actively listening and are not afraid to ask for help, all skills that future leaders should develop early in their careers.

    You don’t need to learn all of these habits in a day but they can act as a guide to slowly adjusting how you interact with your colleagues at work and how you spend your free time. You can also apply them to your personal life, helping you strengthen friendships, maximize your free time, and create a fuller life.

    If you’re looking to create an advisor network for your professional organization, company, or educational institution, learn more about our private label one-on-one video technology by emailing


    Ask InstaViser: Expectations for Mentees

    Ask InstaViser: I’m about to have my first call with a mentor, what are their expectations for me, as the mentee?

    Specific expectations will vary from mentor to mentor but it’s helpful to understand a few of the basic ground rules. Based on feedback from our networks of mentors, we have three hacks for mentees looking to make the most of their mentoring opportunity:

    Do your homework.

    You wouldn’t go in to take a test without studying and a session with your mentor is no different. To save time for both you and your mentor, be sure to do your research on their professional background and interests before your first meeting. Utilize online resources like Google and LinkedIn to find out what companies your mentor has worked with, any articles they’ve published or other insights that can help direct your conversation. Referencing their past experience or a recent feature on them in the news shows that you’re committed to investing in the relationship and came prepared.

    Be on time.

    If you’ve set up a time to talk, make sure to be available to talk at that time. When you’re ready to dial-in on time, if not early, you show that you’re respectful of the mentor’s time. For the best video calls, find a room where there will be limited background noise and a decent wifi connection. But even mentors understand if you need to make a last minute change due to events that you can’t control. Communication is key so send a note apologizing for missing the call and a brief explanation for why you couldn’t make it. 

    Mentors are sounding boards, not oracles.

    Good mentors will advise you based on their professional and personal experiences, but few will try to direct your life choices. It’s unfair to expect that your mentor will be able to give you all the answers or tell you exactly what to do. What they can do is help you organize your thoughts, weigh your options and listen to your decision-making process. 

    Mentor/mentee relationships can be meaningful for both parties when you both understand the other’s expectations. If you follow our guidelines above, you’ll be setting yourself up for a successful mentoring experience, no matter if you’re looking for one video call or a longer mentoring relationship.

    If you have any questions about mentorship or how InstaViser can help you build a mentor network at your company, send us a note at and your question could be featured in our next “Ask InstaViser” post.