Opening Up Our Mentorship Program Across the Startup Ecosystem — Apply to Fast Track
Here at First Round, we’ve seen firsthand all of the career benefits folks gain when they choose to climb aboard a startup. As a business grows rapidly, so too does your scope of role and opportunities for learning. There are endless chances to roll up your sleeves and affect change, rather than fighting through layers of approval cycles and hierarchy as you try to make your way up the ladder.
Time and time again, we’ve also seen that behind every successful startup leader are brilliant mentors who coached them through thorny problems, opened doors for bigger opportunities and shared their own hard-won insights along the way. But most startups don’t have the resources to create structured mentorship or learning and development programs in-house. And going out to find one on your own can be intimidating. Simply put, it’s not easy to find a good mentor to call upon when the going gets tough.
So back in 2016, we spun up our own structured mentorship program, running a small proof-of-concept with just 20 mentor/mentee pairs in our community. The goal? Connect accomplished leaders to share their wisdom with the next generation of startup superstars, forging impactful bonds through in-depth 1:1 discussions. To lay the foundation for stronger connections, we provide thorough meeting guides, including thought-starter questions, along with other resources for pairs to get the most out of the mentorship relationship.
In the years since, Fast Track has become one of our marquee initiatives at First Round — we’ve now got 12 cohorts under our belt, with a total of 3,000 mentorship pairs that have gone through the program. We’re continuously blown away by the transformative power of mentorship, and we still get jazzed when it’s time to open up applications to this biannual program.
This time around, we’re particularly thrilled to announce that, for the first time in Fast Track’s history, we are publicly opening up the program to all operators in the startup ecosystem.
Why this change? We’ve seen how transformational mentorship can be for folks, growing their soft and hard skills through tactical advice. Given the high demand for this program, when Fast Track began we reserved mentee spots for team members at First Round-backed companies. As we thought about continuing to scale Fast Track, we were excited by the opportunity to expand access and impact more careers across the startup ecosystem, beyond our own community. Startups are marked by turbulence and can often feel quite lonely — by forging connections amongst startup builders and operators, we hope to smooth some of the bumps along the way.
Read on for the details of what’s in store if you apply to join us for Fast Track:
How the program works:
Fast Track is our 90-day mentorship experience pairing hundreds of tech leaders with founders and startup operators. From Labor Day to Thanksgiving, mentees meet bi-weekly with their mentors to discuss their professional goals, challenges of startup life, how to cultivate their leadership skills, and how to grow their impact.
We’ll match you based on your goals, your areas of development, plus similarities in functional area and professional experience. All pairs will meet virtually throughout the 90 days. Along the way, we’ll arm you with best practices and help you get the most out of your mentorship pair.
In addition to those impactful 1:1 sessions, mentors and mentees also receive invitations to events within the larger Fast Track cohort — past events have included new manager training sessions, angel investing 101, public speaking workshops, Q&A events with First Round’s partners, and more. All participants also have the opportunity to connect with other mentors and mentees via virtual coffee chats, an exclusive Slack group, and networking events.
The time commitment for mentors and mentees:
- From September 6 to November 23rd, mentors and mentees will meet every other week for one hour, a total of six 1:1 sessions.
- There is a mandatory training session for both mentors and mentees the week of August 29th.
- There is optional programming for everyone in the Fast Track community — but you’ll get the most out of Fast Track if you make time to attend a few of these extra sessions and events!
Who should apply:
You might be a good fit for a mentee spot if:
You’re a startup operator looking to learn and grow in your role, either as an individual contributor or a team leader. Mentees can come from any functional background, whether it’s engineering, product, design, marketing, sales, people ops, and more. For the first time, any operator across the startup ecosystem can apply to be a Fast Track mentee, even if you’re not already a part of the First Round community.
Hear directly from some of our former mentees:
- It’s incredible how great Fast Track is at matching mentors and mentees. Every conversation I had with my mentor was helpful — we were able to dive deep into problems and break them down. By the end of the program, even my manager noticed a real difference in my performance, all thanks to the progress I made with my mentor. Beyond day-to-day challenges, my mentor also helped me unpack my career trajectory, sharing resources like leveling guides as well as mental frameworks for balancing passion, talent, and opportunity. Not only was I able to see what I enjoyed in my current role and what I was looking for still, but I was able to take this back to my company to help us establish levels for the design team. — Bryce Daniel, Design Lead at Snackpass
- My mentor was one of the most impactful people to Labelbox outside of those that work for/invest in Labelbox. My mentor taught me how to build a team for Customer Success from the ground up and he guided me in building our Support Eng team, which is a shining light and beloved department within Labelbox and by our customers. — Brian Rieger, President & Co-founder at Labelbox
- In our toughest times, my mentor was always a phone call away to help me get through my challenges. When I had tough conversations with my team, my mentor was there to coach me through it first. — Charley Ho, CTO at Remotion
- Fast Track is one of the most valuable resources for startup founders and operators. My mentor was a trusted thought partner — he listened intently and was honest with sharing his own experiences, struggles, and stories. Working at a startup can feel lonely, and this mentorship was a huge gift — I could talk about issues that I’d normally keep to myself for fear of being judged. — Wes Kao, Co-Founder at Maven
You might be a good fit for a mentor spot if:
You’re a VP, mid-career superstar or director at a breakout tech company with over five years of experience under your belt or a founder who can share the good, the bad, and the ugly. While startup experience is highly encouraged, we’ve also had plenty of impactful FAANG mentors. The common thread is that you have a strong desire and ability to help rising stars achieve their bold goals, navigate career paths, excel in specific functional areas, recognize blind spots, and manage and lead teams. You use your own learnings and candor to elevate the knowledge of others, helping mentees discover and amplify their talents.
Hear directly from some of our former mentors:
- I’ve had 3 mentees, and I’ve had amazing relationships with all of them. I’ve met one of them in person, I regularly talk to one person over text, and I get on calls with one of them when she needs advice. We’ve had positive impacts on each other. For me, I’ve enjoyed making new friends who I would have never made if it weren’t for First Round. And I love our conversations about work and life. For my mentees, I’ve helped them with sticky work situations and how to handle them, reviewed their strategy collateral and given feedback, offered advice on next steps in their career, and more. I plan on staying in contact with all 3 of them for years to come. — Peipei Yu, Former Senior Director of Engineering Business Strategy and Operations at Box
- Each time I mentor, I learn something new about how to approach a problem, how to listen better and ask for more details. They always lead me to think about my own approaches, my career, and why I do what I do! — Mason Jones, Director of Engineering, Infrastructure at Lattice
- I’ve been lucky enough to be beautifully paired with some extraordinarily smart, driven, passionate, resilient women leaders — all of whom have been dealing with their own flavor of imposter syndrome and overwhelm (which is all too resonant with my own journey). I’ve found that as much as we enter the Fast Track cycle with assigned roles of mentor and mentee, it quickly becomes much more of a symbiotic relationship. We can be vulnerable together in talking through the toughest of tough times — BUT also be equally as vulnerable in working through moments of empowering wins. —Cindy Gordon, Former CPO at Policygenius
- I’ve loved meeting mentees through FirstRound Fast Track — several of them have become great friends and we keep in touch regularly. As a mentor, you’ll be surprised by how much you learn from your mentees! I’ve been able to learn alongside them as we navigated different startup cultures and challenges together and I’ve also gained new perspectives on how to become a more supportive people manager and effective leader. — Kristin Chen, Former Director of Product at SoundCloud
Apply here to be a mentor or a mentee! The application closes on July 31st.
Know anyone who might be a good fit? Please forward this post and encourage them to apply.