Welcome back to “Behind the Click,” the column in which we profile Black women in STEM professions. Want to pitch this section? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name: Brit Fitzpatrick
Favorite read: It’s a tie between Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
Recent read: The Black-Print by Al Pickett.
Most inspired by: Vulnerability.
One quote that inspires you: “Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.” – Bill Drayton
Ultimate goal for 2015: To continue growing along with my company.
Mentorship matters when it comes to shaping the next generation of leaders. Brit Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of MentorMe, a mentoring platform that “picks up where traditional mentoring leaves off” enables more impactful mentoring programs for associations, companies, nonprofits and universities. Since MentorMe’s 2014 launch, Fitzpatrick has raised $240,000 in funding, and has acquired accolades such as 2014 PowerMoves NOLA finalist, 2014 FOCUS100 Fellow and pitch contest winner, and was named one of “8 Awesome Black Women Tech Founders to Watch” by Inc. magazine. Not to mention, the TEDx speaker was accepted into the Points of Light Civic Accelerator, which resulted in her winning the 2014 Points of Light Civic Accelerator “Best Pitch” award.
We caught up with the technology entrepreneur to discuss her introduction to the tech world, running MentorMe and her best piece of advice, among other things.
MadameNoire: How did you get your start in the technology space?
Brit Fitzpatrick: I’ve always enjoyed making things. We got our first computer when I was in the 3rd grade and I was fascinated at the idea of making things inside the screen. I would spend hours playing a CD-ROM that I thought was teaching me how to “draw” using the computer, but thanks to my mom, was really teaching me math. My mom was a Math major and a C.S. minor, and looking back most of my favorite “toys” involved math or science in some way.
When I got into grad school, I started taking a front-end development class where I learned HTML, CSS and Flash (when it was useful). I found myself learning more on my own, teaching myself more advanced web development/design techniques outside of class, and eventually I was building websites for churches and small businesses on the side. Professionally, I got into digital media marketing for nonprofits.
The combo of working in the social sector; my natural interest in trying to figure out why things work the way they do so that I can make something new; and my interest in tech led to my passion for applying tech-based solutions to complex social problems.
MN: As a startup founder and CEO, what’s a day in the life for you?
BF: It truly varies, but if I’m not traveling, I do try to have a bit more structure to my day.
If I don’t have any early calls/meetings, I like to wake up and head straight to the gym. Otherwise, it probably won’t happen. It takes discipline, because I’m really not a morning person, but I do find it sets a positive tone for the rest of my day. I read the Skimm while I’m doing my cardio.
I typically spend the rest of the morning checking in on customers and my team. I also take 30 minutes to answer as many emails as possible and go through my to-do list for the day and prioritize using my Things app.
Late mornings and afternoons are typically spent on sales calls or in sales meetings. I spend early evenings exchanging updates with my CTO (chief tech officer) and handling administrative tasks. I also make sure to go through my inbox one more time and either answer emails or schedule them for the next day.
I try to make sure I have a few breaks throughout the day to unplug so that I don’t get burned out. Even 10 to 15 minutes can make a huge difference for me.
I’m a night owl, and I’m most creative in the late hours, so that’s when I like to work on strategy and marketing.
MN: There’s been a lot of conversation around diversity in technology given big name tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter releasing their diversity data. As an African-American woman in tech, how has your experience been in maneuvering through the space?
BF: There definitely seems to be an increased awareness around the need for more diversity in tech. It will be interesting to see what tangible effects will stem from all of the conversations that are taking place. For me, the greatest obstacles I’ve faced, as an African-American woman in tech, probably haven’t been as blatant as those generations before me may have encountered. Blatant misogynists aside, I believe the greatest challenges for African-American women in tech today lie in the hidden biases that are still strongly embedded in the culture.
That said, once you recognize what those biases are, you learn to work around them. You learn to build a community, a strong support system of mentors who can identify, or at least empathize, with the challenges you’re facing. You learn how not to rely on others for personal validation. You learn that your path doesn’t have to look like everybody elses. You find the strengths and advantages in your uniqueness. You throw on your heels and your blazer, and you keep moving forward, because ultimately, you recognize that the best way for you personally to move the needle is to succeed.
MN: What inspired you to create MentorMe, a cloud-based platform that makes it easier for organizations to manage external and internal mentoring programs?
BF: I was a beneficiary of formal mentoring programs as a kid. That experience has led me to volunteer as a mentor for the last eight years. I’ve also been involved in some professional mentoring programs. Most people may not know this, but from my experience, I’ve seen firsthand that running a mentoring program is a lot of work. The matching alone can take hours, let alone recruiting, onboarding people, tracking to see how things are going, re-matching when it’s not going well, and measuring success (assuming you have good data and know what to measure in the first place).
Mentoring takes time, not only for those engaged in the mentoring relationship but also for the organization and those responsible for developing, implementing, supporting, and evaluating the program. The ‘time-is-money’ mantra is a real concern, especially among an already overburdened staff. Through our technology, we’re able to help organizations start and manage effective mentoring programs without the need for significant increases in administrative time and cost. In fact, we’ve seen a reduction in overall administrative time spent on onboarding mentors and mentees, and managing data. Customers are also now starting to see the value in the quantitative and qualitative data they get back after their matches are created.
MN: What is your biggest tip to running a successful technology startup?
BF: There are tons of resources out there that outline the fundamentals of building and running a startup, and they’re really helpful. There are also a lot of ‘10 things that make you an entrepreneur’ articles out there, also good reads. But, at the end of the day, I’ve learned that running a successful startup comes down to a sense of purpose, integrity and pure hustle.
These things won’t make you a ‘perfect’ founder or CEO, there’s no such thing. You’ll make mistakes and you’ll experience many obstacles. But, if you anchor yourself with a sense of purpose, exercise integrity and maintain your hustle, no matter what challenges arise, you’ll figure it out.
MN: What’s next for MentorMe?
BF: We have some exciting things planned for the MentorMe platform that will create even more value for our customers and position us for significant growth in 2015. We’re in the middle of raising another round of funding to help support that scale, and we already have our first investor commitment for that round.
Right now, we’re targeting the K-12 and higher education spaces, but we have sales channels in place to scale into professional mentoring when we’re ready. We’re excited to have organizations with both existing and new mentoring programs in our pipeline. It shows us that we’re not only serving a niche market, but also we’re well positioned to scale in a market that is growing.