Mentorship is a powerful tool. And while we often focus on the many benefits mentorship provides for individual employees, it’s easy to forget the myriad ways it can be used to strengthen the organization as a whole and better prepare teams for big transitions. When German startup Remerge wanted to open a satellite office in San Francisco, it was Irina Seals they recruited.
“My company is a startup and I was responsible for the success of opening the San Francisco office,” she says. “So I was pretty much just given a key and told to make it a success.”
Irina is from Germany and had a successful law career there before moving stateside and transitioning into consulting and business development. While her work experience leading up to this undertaking included many impressive accomplishments, she’d never launched an entire office alone. “I didn’t have anyone to walk me through things like hiring, getting traction in the beginning, building a sales team from the ground up.” If she was going to succeed doing this all by herself, she was going to need some support.
Irina was paired with Adam Stein, an experienced entrepreneur who helped her with content, networking, hiring, and marketing. The partnership was a success. Both Remerge offices are flourishing, but Irina has already started another mentorship. This time the goals are a bit more personal, a bit more complex: She’s about to have a baby. Irina signed up for a new partnership to prepare herself and her team for the inevitable changes ahead as she navigates first-time parenthood.
We caught up with Irina while she was on maternity leave to ask about the process of building the satellite office, finding great talent, and how she’s preparing for the work/life balance challenges ahead.
What did you and Adam start working on first?
Finding talent is the most important thing, the hardest piece of the whole puzzle. And if you don’t have a name out there, it’s even harder. Adam was able to help me with marketing, getting our name out there, attracting the best people, and communicating between the offices. We wanted to make sure that all offices are aligned and are doing the same.
What else did you work on?
Adam has a lot of experience in marketing, so he gave me some advice on creating and publishing content. I was trying to reach out to talent, and he showed me how content can do that. It’s not just creating the content, but promoting. How to utilize social media groups and how to reach out to talent and initiate a conversation. He also connected me to the right people to support my goals. I was introducing a completely new sales process at the company, so he put me in touch with someone who has done something similar. I was able to call this person up and ask for advice.
What was the most unexpected challenge you encountered when building the office?
Finding really good talent — especially in Silicon Valley, and even more if you don’t have a big name in the industry and you don’t have a lot of money to do marketing. It is very competitive. We were a small startup from Europe, nobody knew about us, so how do you find the people that you need? That was the most shocking for me. I thought it would be harder to get clients than employees. If you can’t get the talent you need, that becomes a big problem.
What’s your advice on finding great talent?
Don’t do it through a third-party. Don’t be lazy and hire a recruiter and think it’ll happen for you. You really have to be active, you have to go to events, you have to reach out to people, get to know them, become their friends, and then you can ask them if they want to work for you. But you always have to be the one who’s reaching out to them. No one is going to come to you with 10 great candidates, it’s all on you and it’s hard work.
How do you prepare for meetings with your mentor?
I try to be very structured because I only have 30 minutes with them; I opt for bi-weekly calls instead of monthly calls, so they’re half the time. I don’t want to have to wait for a whole month for a meeting. Before the call, I look at my goals and I write down a couple of topics that I would like to touch upon — usually it’s very casual, especially with my current mentor. My second mentor, Leslie Leach, is starting a new role and it’s very interesting for me to learn from her. I’m always asking her a lot about her own things that she’s got going on. But I try to stay structured and get down to brass tacks because 30 minutes is very short.
What made you make the move from the law to business development?
After my law degree I decided to gain a master’s degree in banking and finance. During that program I met my husband who was participating in the same program through an exchange program of Columbia Law School. He’s from Berkley and we decided to move to the US to be together. I couldn’t practice law here anymore but I did have a lot of experience in consulting, which is very similar to business development — it’s about bringing value to the client.
How have you been using this second mentorship to prepare for parenthood?
Obviously, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into before your first child. You’re nervous, you have a lot of questions. She has done a good job helping me communicate with the executives about this transition. Leslie walked me through the whole process.
And how did it go?
It went really smoothly. All of my conversations went well. I just wanted to make sure everyone understands that I’m not going to be gone forever and it’s all going to be okay. But it was also good for myself, to learn that it’s okay for me to take some time for my family, that I can do that and come back and still be productive and present.
Going forward, Leslie gave me a lot of great advice on how to stay sane when I get back from maternity leave, how to feel okay about going home at five and maybe working four days a week or whatever it is I need to do. She taught me a lot in terms of preparation, setting up goals, and deciding how my team is managed without being in the office. What can I do now to help them reach those goals? How can I ensure that I can step away for a couple of months and know that the office will be okay without me? What can I do to create a good work/life balance so I can be a good leader at work and a good mom at home? Most of that hasn’t been put into action yet, though, so ask me again in a few months.