Katie Doyle was working in the travel industry until the pandemic hit. Katie had been looking for a mentor while creating her own business but found there was a big gap in the market for female mentors for young people. So, Katie decided to create her own 6 week programme where that match female Mentors and Mentees in entrepreneurship, corporate careers and self-development. In the two years since it opened, the company has gone global! They’ve matched Ireland to Canada, Atlanta to London, Shanghai to Edinburgh, the Middle East to Botswana. In addition to winning a number of awards along the way. I interviewed Katie to find out more about the incredible journey:
- Briefly, can you tell me what your career journey was to becoming an entrepreneur?
I never really planned on being an entrepreneur at all. I studied English Literature with Film at UCD and I wanted to be a writer. But when I was in university, in the Film Society, I planned a few trips abroad and I really enjoyed the pressure of it. After college, I travelled around the world doing lots of jobs – courier with Eurocamp in France and Italy, videographer in Pennsylvania, bar tender in Amsterdam, promoter in Thailand and social media marketer in Japan. After three years, I wanted to come home and I knew I had the passion to start a travel agency. So, in 2017 I came home to start a business and it took me a full year before I was able to trade (travel regulation in Ireland is very strict). It took me a long time to get the company up and running, but it was turning a lot of money in by the end of 2019. In 2020, I was excited for the year to begin strong and then Covid-19 hit.
- What is Mentor Her origin story?
When I was starting out in business, there were a lot of tears. My parents had started two restaurants that had been successful, but they had no idea how to run an online business, how to market a business and how to grow a national following with my travel agency. It was my mum who said I should reach out to some women in business because they would know how hard it is and they would help. However, being only 22 at the time and pretty naïve, when I reached out to the big names in business (I knew no one else) I got no replies.
I learned a lot in the two years I operated Capture Travel. When the pandemic hit, I was heartbroken because the travel industry had to refund hundreds of thousands worth of consumer money and all the work I had built had collapsed. I know a lot about marketing and scaling a business. When the pandemic hit, I saw so many people pivoting their careers and starting businesses and I really wanted to help them. I thought it would be weird to reach out online randomly to people, so I looked for a platform to connect instead. I found out very quickly there was none. I needed a Mentor when I started my business, and I wanted to become a Mentor during the pandemic, so I started the platform as a side project, running a pilot programme in September 2020.
- What were the biggest challenges in terms of building the company? How do you go about solving them?
As a pandemic business, the most challenging thing about Mentor Her was the ever-changing tide of Covid restrictions. We are constantly trying to figure out how the business will work outside of lockdowns – if we run events in person, if people want a connection online the same way they wanted one during Covid, if mentorship would still be useful to people after the pandemic. In our Mentee and Mentor applications, we really see when the tide is turning – in a really surprising way. It’s like all women are going through the same thing but can’t really admit it. There was elation when the restrictions were dropped, fear of going back to the office, negotiation with employers, businesses pivoting back to bricks and mortar, a drop in online traffic, and then suddenly a drain of energy, exhaustion and a fear of wanting to move forward with an unknown future looming ahead. In these tides that we read all the time, we are constantly trying to find how we can help these women and give them what they need with the uncertainty of war, recession and business in general.
- Can you tell us about some of the programmes that you run?
Every year, Mentor Her runs a six-week programme online, where we match female Mentors and Mentees in entrepreneurship, corporate careers and self-development. We are primarily based in Ireland and the UK, with a bit of traction in the US. But we also have lots of small involvement from around the world including Botswana, South Africa, China, India, France and Brazil. We have a 98% effective rate with our matches. Each Mentee gets a hand-matched Mentor to meet for one hour every week online via Zoom or phone, both to get access to weekly materials, networking calls, workshops, online support and invitations to small in-person events in Dublin and London. We also run these programmes in collaboration with large companies internally and offer a range of corporate benefits for companies that want to work with us inside and outside our six-week programme.
- How did you go about building out your team of mentors? Do you have plans to increase this in the future?
The beauty of Mentor Her was that we’ve only ever put two calls out for Mentors in our programme and never spent a dime on advertising for Mentors. Our Mentors come to us from word of mouth, and you can see it rippling through countries and companies as more and more people get the word out. Organic marketing is really important to us, we always have to communicate with our current Mentors and deal with the influx of applications which can get a bit overwhelming with hundreds of applications a year and our very small team!
- How do you go about attracting mentees to the programme?
Thankfully, we run a great program and over 30% of our Mentees come to us from word of mouth from past Mentees. Another 30% of Mentees come back for more than one program, to get matched with another Mentor that can help them with another aspect of their business or career. We spend money on advertising, but we really find that the most committed Mentees are the ones that come to us from hearing about it from other people, or who follow us for a while on Instagram from our organic marketing and then submit an application.
- Ireland is not your only market. What are your plans for expansion in 2023?
To be honest, we’ve been very surprised at the traction we get from overseas. The business really was a side project for me that started getting serious at the end of 2020, when we saw a lot of international traffic to our .ie website. We did a “Going Global” campaign in April 2021 to launch a .global site, and that is being supported by great search engine optimization and women who are seeking out mentorship on Google and Instagram. In 2023, we’re working with the connections we’ve already made (by accident!) mostly by leveraging connections and partnering with companies that have a global footprint. The beauty of our programme is it really can be done from anywhere- we’ve matched Ireland to Canada, Atlanta to London, Shanghai to Edinburgh, the Middle East to Botswana – it really does work!
- You launched during the pandemic, but how has the return to work affected the organisation since you launched?
At the start of 2021, we saw a big drop in traffic and interest. The return to work was so exhausting for so many people who couldn’t work on their future as they were just trying to get through the day to day- and that’s really the truth. The war in Ukraine and the looming recession before the summer contributed to this immensely. People were afraid to dream, knowing that everything could be taken away by another lockdown. I think there was a distrust that we were really out of Covid and people were trying to mentally recover from that, too. We recovered in September and we’re slowing trying to learn from our customers what we can give them that can make them feel more secure in their roles and in their lives.
- What were some of the highlights since launching? What impact have you had?
We’ve had so many highlights since launching – like winning the Regional Finalist at the Intertrade Ireland awards at the end of 2021, when we were featured in Forbes at the start of February 2022, I was personally nominated for Tech Businesswoman of the year at the Image Business Awards and lots of other press features and nominations. What makes it all worthwhile is the reviews, the support from Mentors, the belief in what we’re doing matters and the businesses that we’ve helped launch, the careers we’ve helped drive- that’s what keeps us going the most.
- Are there any other organisations in Ireland that you’re a big fan of?
We love Image Magazine’s Business Club – their events and speakers are excellent and the team at Image are absolutely stellar in the way they pull off events so smoothly. Samantha Kelly at Women’s Inspire Network has also been a fantastic support. Though I’m not a member yet, I love what the likes of Sonya Lennon are doing at the Dublin Business Chambers and the All Ireland Business Foundation do at their events, I was lucky enough to attend their Christmas lunch this winter and it was a lovely day out at the Aviva Stadium.