Fran Maier on the importance of Peer-to-Peer Mentors

When we close our eyes and think of a mentor, we often picture a more experienced, more polished version of ourselves. A cross between your favorite boss and a fairy godmother (or godfather), someone with wisdom and experience to help guide you through the confusing journey of your work life. This week The Mentor Method has the pleasure of shattering that mold through the testimony and experience of Fran Maier. This Mentor Monday has done it all-- from running the on campus yogurt shop at Stanford to consulting at Clorox to building match.com to her current gig as CEO and Founder of Babierge, along with sitting on boards, going to business school, raising two sons, hosting radio shows and about a million other things. This rockstar was able to do more than just juggle it all and reach great success, in part because of her peer-to-peer mentorships.

What is a peer mentor? If you ask Fran how she defines “peer-to-peer” mentorship, her answer is simple. “Friendship.”

So what is difficult about it? “I think women are less likely to talk about their career challenges. It is a rare friend to find that you can really talk through these challenges.”

It can pay off big. “I was one of the small number of women who reached out to the guys in our class about advice and how to work together. That’s how I got to match.com. At a business school reunion I started talking to Gary Kremen, who started the company.”

And it can continue to help through different parts of your career. Fran reflects on a recent time where she relied on her peers for peer-to-peer mentoring. A business friend was taking a course on Executive Coaching. Fran asked her friend what to do about the about an employee. That small conversation perfectly describes what peer-to-peer mentorship is. Fran has a friend with a developed skill that Fran does not have in the same way so she asked “what do you think I should do?”.

How do you pick the person? “I think it comes from a place of friendship”. When Fran looks at her closest peer mentor, she notes that “we were of similar ages, we had similar age children, and we had both been at startups. We both had gone through a situation with a start up that should have gone better for us but it didn’t. We were highly motivated to succeed. And I think we recognized that in each other”.

Go back to your school (or at least the reunions). “I still have really good connections with my undergrad friends as well as my business school friends as well as the business school. Both schools do a great job with reunions. The business school has a number of other ways you can connections with other alumni”.

Find your community. Fran recommends checking out an accelerator program if it is the right fit for your business goals. “One of the best things about accelerators is that you join a community with other founders. Usually that community doesn’t stop when you leave the accelerator and you can really reach out to that community for advice. I think that these accelerator are really great for the start up community they have created new ways for people to connect”.

Make a commitment to each other. “At one point we made a pledge to help each other. Especially in Silicon Valley, it’s tough to be a woman. Navigating the how to manage a board and the finances and all of the stuff. You need someone you can talk to and someone who can say ‘don’t do that!’ or ‘do something else’.”

And always say what you’re thinking. “Even when we don’t follow it, it is important to hear”.

Take the time to help and each other. Fran described the way the she and her closest peer-to-peer mentor engaged in a back and forth of helping each other, from job interviews to meeting investors, to becoming investors in each other’s companies, they were always there to help the other one out.

Give a purse. “When she got the job I set her up for, she got me a really nice purse. And when I got the investment she helped me with, I bought her a really nice purse. We talk about having a purse club. You could give another woman a purse as a gift, it could be small it, could be a handbag, it could be expensive, it could be not real expensive but cute. It’s a nice gift to mark some real help”.

We hope that you are inspired to cultivate your peer-to-peer mentorships and if you are looking to bring a program to your company, contact The Mentor Method. We cannot thank Fran enough for all of her wonderful advice and the ever present reminder to ask for help, even when it sounds hard! Please check out Fran’s Linkedin, Twitter, and her company Babierge, a leading platform for baby rental equipment.

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