How Mentorship Can Transform Your Life

I come from a family in India where women don't work because they're expected to stay at home. I persevered day and night to come to the US on a college scholarship, built two startups from my dorm at Mount Holyoke College, started and scaled a movement #GoAgainsttheFlow to educate 1 million women on careers in tech and entrepreneurship. An SVP at LinkedIn took notice and recruited me straight out of college.

My Dreamy-Eyes Turned to LinkedIn

I came to LinkedIn dreamy-eyed, but pretty quickly, I fell flat on my face. I had started in an entry level lead generation role that turned out to be very transactional and repetitive, and I wasn’t motivated by my job at all. I didn't hit my sales quota for two months in a row, and in that bubble at our remote sales office, success meant hitting your sales quota, and not doing so equaled failure. After having been an overachiever all my life, I was “failing” miserably at my first job out of college.

I had an exceptionally caring manager and he wanted to help me, but I was so very grateful to him for the opportunity to be on his team that I wanted him to think that I was quite happy in this role. It took me several weeks to admit to him that I wanted to switch roles, and if I could go back in time, I would confide in my manager sooner.

Helping Me

He was committed to helping me, but frankly, I didn’t know what other roles I would find more enjoyable. More so, I didn’t know what other opportunities existed at LinkedIn, especially because I was based at a remote sales office.

It wasn’t just the people at work who expected me to have a plan. Every time I spoke to my family, I had to explain why I wasn't back in India after graduation, and why I chose to be all alone in freezing cold Chicago. My colleagues at work were great people but they were mostly extroverts who seemingly networked at happy hours or baseball games, and I couldn’t relate to either of those due to cultural differences.


I myself started to question my choice of working at LinkedIn as well as staying back in the US, but a little voice inside me pushed me to exhaust all employment options at LinkedIn in the US before giving up.

Luckily, my manager connected me to Marcella given our shared passion for economically empowering women. She was a senior manager in the San Francisco office, and had nothing to do with my sales role.

We had planned to chat about women in emerging markets like India, but she took great interest in my personal experience at LinkedIn and our first phone call turned into a career conversation. Marcella was a safe space who was disconnected from my day-to-day and it was somehow quite easy to admit to her that I didn't find my job engaging.

She understood that I was lonely and had no one to openly talk to. She validated that my "failure" in my current role was not due to incompetence, but due to lack of motivation.

Marcella took me under her wing, and validated that I was smart, that it was okay to not like my first job out of college and that it was okay to not know what I wanted instead. She motivated me to exceed my sales quota, taught me to advocate for myself, exposed me to managers of other teams within LinkedIn and helped me strategically chart out my career trajectory at LinkedIn.

Joining a Different Team

With her and my manager’s support, I moved to San Francisco to join a different team, and ended up staying at LinkedIn for two more years. Marcella had saved my career, and restored my self confidence.

Hey, You Are Really Not Alone

I quickly noticed that I wasn’t alone. My peers were equally lost and confused, but they didn’t have a Marcella to help them.

Did you know that 71 percent of millennials feel disengaged at their jobs (Gallup)? When they feel plateaued in their role and don’t know the route to get promoted internally or switch to a different role internally, they seek a solution outside (PWC).

Women Struggle More With Confidence Levels

It’s especially common for women to experience a dip in their ambition and confidence levels in the first two years in the workplace, because often the meaty projects are unconsciously assigned to men. Women are go-to for more secretarial tasks like note taking or bringing in a cake for a teammate’s birthday, but us women are not trained in recognizing these biases and advocating for ourselves.

It’s been proven that most men ask to get promoted for their potential, whereas women feel more comfortable pitching for a promotion after they’re already doing that next level job! This is partly why half the entering workforce in the US has consisted of women for the last 30 years, but only 5 percent of CEO’s today are women.

A Mentor To Help Educate Me How To Get Business Success

I has been extremely lucky to have a mentor to educate me on what I didn’t know I didn’t know, but my colleagues weren’t. They wanted mentors but didn’t know where to look for them and how to approach them.

I also knew that senior women like Marcella wanted to pay it forward and help younger women. I started connecting junior women at LinkedIn to senior women at LinkedIn, and quickly it became a global mentoring collective with 100 participants.

Being Linked At LinkedIn

Soon, I started getting emails from women at LinkedIn asking to be matched, and refreshingly, I got more emails from mentors than mentees. Although, I couldn’t take on more participants because of my limited bandwidth, and such limitations of manual matching got me thinking about automating mentorship for scale. I took demo’s from companies offering mentorship solutions but they hadn’t really thought about mass personalization.

I surveyed over 500 professionals about their mentoring experiences and HR professionals at 20 companies to understand their employee development strategy and budgets. There was clearly a need in the market for such a scalable mentoring product that actually worked.

Customer Development Interviews

Based on these customer development interviews and my personal experiences running a mentoring program for 100 women at LinkedIn, I wanted to solve for three things: 1. Matching at scale, 2. Sustaining a direct feedback loop between mentor and mentee to ensure sustained engagement, and 3. Showing the impact of mentoring on the individuals as well as the business.

Mentorship Is A Gift

I want every human to experience the gift of mentorship that I received from Marcella, so much so that, this January I began working full-time on my tech startup Next Play to help large companies to connect their employees internally for mentoring purposes to transform their journeys, and in turn increase employee happiness and sense of belonging.

Especially, women and minorities traditionally haven't had access to powerful networks, and I want to live in a world where everyone has equal access to mentorship and advancement opportunities in the workplace.

It Was A Tough Journey

On this journey, everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. My first technical cofounder had to step down half an hour before a VC firm was going to write us a check, my next engineering hire quit within a week because they were overwhelmed by the uncertainty, my following engineering hire also quit within a week because her dad lost his income and she couldn't work on my small stipend any longer.

The day I resigned at LinkedIn, President Trump was elected and immigration policies became unpredictable, so I had to quickly start looking into my visa options as well as the other countries I could move to. I had a plan A (to get a special visa in the US that is granted to Nobel prize winners and Olympic athletes), a plan B (to move to Canada or the UK), a plan C (to get into an accelerator program in any developed part of the world), a plan D (to move back to India and operate from there) ... I was charting out all sorts of permutations.

Moreso, at that time, I had no product or business model to show, and everyone in my immediate circle seemed to think that technology had no role to play in mentorship and that this startup was my "hobby". After resigning at LinkedIn, I cried myself to sleep every night for the following three months, but I nevertheless stayed laser focused on building this company one step at a time. For the first time in my career, I had absolute clarity on my dream job - building out this sticky mentoring product that personalizes employee development at scale! In helping others through Next Play, I had finally found my purpose and calling, so there was no chance of giving up.

I exhausted everything in my bank account on my immigration lawyer, I lived on ramen and cereal for four months, I went to every #womenintech conference in the bay area that I could attend for free to be able to pitch to companies in-person, and I have reached out to over about 2,000 company executives and over 300 startup investors through social media and emails. Selling to HR at large companies often takes 6-12 months, and as for “early investors”, they seemingly expected to see $300k in revenue before talking to us. Like every founder, we had to go through the crucible.

In Startups, Fortune Favors The Bold

It's has become especially clear to me on this startup journey that fortune favors the bold. If you really truly want to do good in the world, and leave no stone unturned to make it happen, you will find people who will extend their hand and pull you out of the pit you're stuck in.

When we reached out to investors directly, we were always too early, too young, too old, (our market was) too saturated; the list was endless! I realized that these investors get pitched left, right and center and hence, when they get cold pitches, as a filtering mechanism, they look for reasons to not invest instead of reasons to invest.

Network Introductions

The only way we saw to help these investors to be on our team was to get introduced to them through someone in their close network whom they’d trust. So, instead of directly pitching to investors, I started reaching out to experienced startup founders who these investors had funded; these founders saw great value in our product and resilience and connected us to their investors. Similarly, instead of pitching to HR directly, I started pitching to executives at companies who would ultimately use our product as mentors or want their reports to be mentored, and we got these internal champions to connect us to their executives for purchasing our product.


Fast forward to today. I have an exceptional technical cofounder, an "extraordinary individual" visa granted from the US government, tremendously supportive angel investors like Heather Harde (former Techcrunch CEO) and Mohak Shroff (LinkedIn’s head of engineering), rave reviews from test pilots, six enterprise customers and we recently joined 500 startups.

We’re currently in the middle of our seed round, and I know that many more things on our startup journey will go wrong. Some people will get what we’re doing, others won’t, and that’s okay. I have learned that the key to emerging a winner is to cherish and leverage the ones who do get your vision, and keep them engaged as mentors, friends and valued employees.

Celebrating Mentorship

In this sentiment of celebrating mentorship, please do write to me if you’d like to share your mentoring story over coffee, or if I could advise you on your very own startup journey. Let's together create a world where every human can harness their potential through mentoring, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, family income or any other such label that has traditionally kept us from having access to powerful networks. You can email me at