How to approach someone you admire and start a mentorship relationship?

Monique Villa, Founder of ModernCapital

Monique Villa

Hi, I’m Monique!

I’m from Long Beach, California, now living in Nashville after moving in late 2017. I recently founded ModernCapital, a collective of creative thinkers from the private, public, and civic sectors shaping the modern economy.

I graduated from UCI (University of California, Irvine) with my Bachelor’s degree in humanities and arts in 2012, though was supposed to graduate in 2011. I fell one quarter behind after taking a full- time internship with an unknown startup at the time called TOMS Shoes (long story short – I feel great about that decision). Working with TOMS in 2008 launched me into the world of startups.

After graduation, I joined a boutique consulting firm in Hollywood working closely with digital entertainment startups on business development and strategic partnerships. I decided pretty quickly that entertainment wasn’t a passion area for my career long-term (despite being a big fan of music and film), so I took a role building out investor relations for a first-time venture fund in Los Angeles and Singapore.

It was there I discovered my passion for venture capital, working closely with startup founders to defeat the odds and build transformative businesses. Fast forward to today and I am building my own startup investing in visionary founders across the Southeastern U.S.

My experience

The concept of ‘great mentors’ is a personal value that I talk about regularly in all aspects of my work.

Mentors are all around us and take many forms, whether direct relatives, teachers, friends, bosses, colleagues, or people we simply admire and interact with in more limited (yet highly impactful) quantities. My career in startups is 100% attributed to great mentors in my life. I didn’t find my way into startups because of my parents (my dad worked for the County of Los Angeles and my mom is a bookkeeper for a small business), though they instilled in me perseverance and creativity, two key drivers of the startup community. As such, startup life clicked and felt familiar and new all at the same.

My very first mentor (apart from my family and teachers growing up) dates back to interning with TOMS. Our COO was Candice Wolfswinkel, who shared her experience with our cohort over lunch one day. I vividly remember her sharing a piece of advice: “Pick three things you are passionate about, however seemingly unrelated they may be on paper. I guarantee you that you can find or create a job that incorporates all of them in a unique way. You’ll never feel that you worked in a day in your life if you do what you love.” I wrote Candice years later to tell her how impactful her words had been to my career, and now we periodically stay in touch via Facebook.

By interning with TOMS, my horizons were broadened dramatically and I became obsessed with understanding how businesses are built and movements are started. Since then, I have collected dozens of mentors representing a wide range of expertise. Some mentors I see once or twice a year (whenever I can get onto their calendars); others I keep in regular contact with by email/text/Instagram DMs/Twitter/you name it. Great mentors are central to my career and I actively seek out mentees to keep paying it forward!

5 steps to starting a mentorship relationship

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