Techstars is a whirlwind experience. Thanks to this incredible program, the business growth that happened for Revolar is mindblowing and keeping up with the pace pushed my team beyond what we thought was possible. But having taken Revolar and our team through this process twice, I can say with absolute confidence that the magic is in the mentorship.
This summer, I was honored to have Brian Cornell, Target’s CEO, as a lead mentor to Revolar. I had no idea what to expect when I first met Brian. I had, of course, read all about him and was excited to meet the man who had gone undercover in his own business to hear out what his guests truly wanted. This is also the man who I read had flown across the globe for the love of his life and who, in my opinion, had taken an incredibly powerful, historical and empathetic stance on the safety of his guests.
I’ll never forget our first meeting. I wanted to learn from him what it took to be the CEO of a massive business and a ubiquitous brand.
So I asked him pretty much point blank, “What does it take?” His answer caught me off guard and still makes me smile. In essence, Brian told me that a CEO needs to be very self-contained: calm in the midst of chaos. You can’t let what is happening in one area impact your ability to focus on what is in front of you.
Then I told him what I had seen in my first few weeks at Target’s HQ. I told him I saw Pride. I saw his team take pride in having stood on the right side of history, pride in the innovation he was bringing to Target. But I knew that could not have been an easy decision to make, so I asked him, “Why?”
The DNA to Care
His answer moved me. Brian walked me through the history of Target. He told me it was in their DNA to give back to communities. Did you know that since day one, Target has given 5% of their profits back to the community? That’s millions of dollars every week! Did you know that Target was also the first retailer to feature African American models in its advertising? I didn’t. But he taught me that it was in their DNA to care.
By the end of the meeting, he gave me his contact information, agreed to mentor our team and told me not to hesitate to reach out. It’s a promise he’s kept and I’m never one to be shy when I need help. I remember leaving that meeting and knowing to my core that I had met someone who had it in his DNA to care.
At our second meeting, I asked him about communication. “How do you best communicate new things to your team?” Communication in any business is difficult, but I couldn’t even fathom what that looks like with 340,000 employees. He told me to keep my communication simple enough that a child could follow along. People have a million things running through their minds and it’s your job to make the message as simple and concise as possible so that a wide and diverse group of people can immediately follow along.
Thoughts, Learnings, New Actions
Then he dug deeper and we started whiteboarding. He told me that when I present new information, I should break it down into three areas: thoughts, learnings and actions.
- Thoughts – reviewing the assumptions we made. By stating them as thoughts and referring to the whole group, you take any blame away (because it’s not about blame, it’s about learning from what we thought).
- Learnings – now that we have tested what we thought, what did we learn?
- Finally, he said to present New Actions – how are we moving forward from here?
Thoughts – Learnings – New Actions. Simple, right? This has seriously made my life so much easier!
For our third session, he asked me to present what I had learned about the program and what we would be working on moving forward. As you can imagine, I was thrilled (but nervous) because I knew that we had been brought to Techstars not just to grow our businesses, but to help Target learn from startups how to improve and do more faster.
How would he receive our honest observations? Would he like our proposal?
We presented to him in the same fashion he had recommended. Thoughts – Learnings – New Actions. We also shared the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here’s what I learned about Brian that day: he is not only an incredible leader of people, but he appreciates honesty and has a great sense of humor.
Mentorship and Friendship
There’s one thing about mentorship that I think many people misunderstand.
It’s not a take-take relationship and it’s not about having someone’s ear. Mentors are friends whose advice you actually take.
Mentorship is friendship with a focus. They are the friends that help turn your hurdles into leaps of progress. My team and I have made friendships this summer that will span the rest of our lives. We’ve made friendships that have positively impacted not only the trajectory of our business, but helped us grow as individuals.
The best part? Mentorship, like friendship, doesn’t end just because the program is over. Thank you to Brian and to all of our Target mentors for an incredible summer I’ll never forget!