“Companies underestimate the demand for it internally”: former Adage MD on mentoring


Left to right: Mentorloop co-founders, Heidi Holmes and Lucy Lloyd

Companies that fail to address latent demand for mentoring forego opportunities to improve employee engagement, retention and productivity, amongst both mentees and mentors, according to Heidi Holmes, co-founder of Mentorloop and former MD of mature age jobs board Adage.

Launched in 2015, Mentorloop is a cloud-based, mobile-first platform that assists corporates, universities, not-for-profits and government with introducing and delivering a mentor program – or enhancing an existing one.

Holmes said the service is targeted at organisations with a “strong focus on improving employee engagement and a desire to make mentoring part of their DNA so it’s something people opt into rather than have done to them”.

She continued, “To ensure mentor relationships are fruitful, our platform offers mentor and mentee onboarding, filtered matching, real-time communication tools and real-time analytics. Plus, the experience is user-friendly – organisations can set up their mentor program in a matter of minutes.”

To date, Mentorloop has approximately 2000 users, with nearly three quarters engaging in their mentoring relationship at least once a month. With its software-as-service model, the company is achieving steady monthly revenue growth and boasts an impressive list of clients, including Startup Victoria, AusBiotech, the Government of Western Australia, Monash University, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), and Sydney and Melbourne Water.

Off the back of a pre-money valuation of $2 million, the co-founders closed a successful capital raise in early September, with $300,000 contributed by private investors including angel investor groups Innovation Bay and Melbourne Angels as well as director of StartupAUS, Glenn Smith.

Holmes spoke to Dynamic Business about the genesis of Mentorloop, the company’s approach to pairing mentors with mentees and the advantages of offering mentoring programs.

What is the Mentorloop origin and growth story?

The experience I had with my first venture Adage, which sold last year to OneShift, definitely fed into Mentorloop. I was exposed to a huge pool of mature talent, some of whom weren’t necessarily financially motivated to work but were keen to stay connected to the business community and give back to their industry through mentoring. They represented a rich source of knowledge but there was nowhere to refer them. This led me to look at how organisations were actually solving this problem by offering structured mentoring programs internally.

However, what I found was that while mentoring was highly valued, it was often under invested in. The HR team was using a combination of spreadsheets and emails, resulting in a huge admin burden, which was preventing more people from being able to access and participate in mentoring relationships. At that point, I thought there had to be a better way.

I brought this problem to my co-founder, Lucy Lloyd. We’ve been friends for over 20 years, having attended the same high school. Given her digital background, she was immediately able to see how a digital response could alleviate some of the corporate admin burden but also provide a more modern and engaging experience for mentees and mentors through a fit-for-purpose platform.

With a non-existent marketing budget and very small team, Lucy and I bootstrapped the initial development and secured our first paying clients, last year. This played a vital role in securing our first round of investors, but obviously also comes with a huge amount of responsibility. Our number one goal is to build a profitable, sustainable business that delivers a meaningful return for all our stakeholders. Post-funding, we continue to be sales-focused, but another priority is adding new features that inevitably give us and our customers a return on investment.

How does Mentorloop pair mentors and mentees?

We think mentoring success is ultimately dependent on creating a meaningful match based on outcomes. Rather than matching mentors and mentees based on the traditional approach of profile fields and psychometrics, Mentorloop suggests matches based on desired outcomes (for both the organisation and the individual), as well as what we call the “x factor” – relevant behaviours and interests that indicate compatibility. Our on-boarding process can be customised per client to reflect the unique goals and culture of that organisation. This information then provides a list of recommended matches through the platform. We view mentoring as a two-way relationship so we think it’s just as important to find out what the mentor might want to achieve from this experience as well.

How do organisations and staff stand to benefit?

At an individual level, mentoring can improve performance, reduce stress, enhance your network and lead to more opportunities. A US study by Sun Microsystems found, employees who received mentoring were promoted FIVE times more often than those who didn’t. I’ve been fortunate to benefit from many mentoring relationships throughout my career. Some are individuals who I directly work with while others have become trusted advisors that I turn to on a more ad-hoc basis. The entrepreneurial community have always been strong supporters of mentoring and that’s because there is a correlation between the top performing tech companies and their founders having mentors. When Steve Jobs passed away, Mark Zuckerberg noted that the Apple founder had been an invaluable mentor.

At an organisational level, again there is plenty of research to support the link between improved levels of employee engagement and retention within organisations with a mentoring culture. We are also seeing mentoring being implemented to improve leadership development outcomes among emerging leaders and as a succession planning tool.

What characteristics do great mentors possess?

We don’t believe that to make an impact a mentor needs to subscribe to a certain profile. The reality is, there are going to be certain mentors who are more relevant at different stages of your life or career. However, what we find are some consistent traits across the best mentors we’ve worked with and these are their ability to listen and to make you think differently. They don’t make it about them and what ‘they would do’. They don’t advise – they guide  – enabling you to become a more empowered and rounded individual.

What trends are you seeing around mentoring?

Companies are underestimating how big the demand for mentoring is within their organisation. With Mentorloop, once our clients have sent out an expression of interest form, they are always surprised that demand for mentoring far exceeds their expectations. One client recently experienced an over-subscription in their mentor program by more than 80%, which revealed a latent demand among their workforce for mentoring.

People occasionally ask us “what’s in it for the mentor?” – but among the companies that have implemented our platform, the supply of mentors consistently outstrips the number of mentees signing up. This tells us experienced people are keen to give back and be a part of these mutually-beneficial relationships. The mentor often finds something to take away from the relationship as well, whether it is insight into a different generation or how to more effectively use new technology – it’s a way for them to keep their finger on the pulse.

Our recruitment forms allow users to identify as a mentor, a mentee, or either. We’re seeing more and more people identifying as “either”, depending on the relationships that they’re in. It’s an acknowledgement that we all seek advice but also have something to offer, and that great mentoring relationships are truly reciprocal.