Working With TuvaLabs at The Alley

Exciting work is going on at TuvaLabs. For the past week, we've been working out of a coworking space in New York City called The Alley. Harshil, Jaimin, and I have been hard at work redesigning and building a user friendly and engaging tool that will help kids learn math from the news and other subjects they love.

For the past month I've been commuting to New York City for one to two days out of the week to work with TuvaLabs. It's almost like a camping trip every week: sleeping bag, clothes, snack bars, and an umbrella. The pictures tell the rest of the story.

The crew.

Commuting back and forth from Philly to NYC, feels like a camping trip.

The Workstation

What is 'community'?

A friend of mine recently asked me what 'community' means to me, and once I sat down to think about it, I kept going... and going... and going... So I thought I'd document these thoughts here for anyone else that's interested in starting a dialogue.

The broadest definition I can think of for what community means to me is a community as a group of individuals or a group of groups. Examples of this could be understood from the way people describe the international community, which is a group of human groups. Or, community could be understood from an example of a hacker community, which is a group of human individuals that have a common interest. These examples point us to a definition of community that means a group is at least more than one individual or more than one group. I think my friend was specifically referring to human groups, and not a group of chimpanzees or a group of wolves. 

A human community is a group of human individuals or a group of human groups. Irregardless of the type of group, whether ant, human, or wolf, I think all individuals must have the ability to communicate with any other individual within the group. This means that a community does not need to exist at the same time or in the same place as long as there is some way for the individuals of the group to communicate with one another. Communication between the individuals of the group or between groups is not limited to speaking or facial expressions, if we're thinking about humans. I think communication can occur consciously, subconsciously, and be understood on either the conscious or subconscious level. The most important factor about human communities is communication, and communication occurs when two or more individuals understand each other.

Instead of asking, what is a community, I think we should be asking, what is communication between human individuals and how does it give rise to a human community?

Creativity: Combining and Recombining

Richard Florida in a talk he gave at the RSA brought up an idea that peaked my interest. He observes that creativity, the process of combining and recombining different parts in order to create something new, is taking place in cities all around the world, and this process of combining and recombining will continue to grow as more of the worlds population begins to live in cities. He claims, and I agree, that cities are the most important human creation because it paves the way for people to creatively work together.

He provides the example of people taking different pieces of technology or music and creatively making new technology and new music. While listening to his talk, I realized that people can also combine and recombine the different relationships they have with other people in order to leverage their skills in creative ways. He observes that the boom of tech startups around the world in major metropolitan areas is a result of the rise of the creative class. However, he doesn't delve into why the creative class is rising and what has created them, and I think it may have to do with the ease at which talented people can communicate. Communication for the purpose of bringing people together requires knowing people's occupations and talents. For example, Linkedin has made accessible people's professional skills, which then allows for entrepreneurs to easily find and combine and recombine people of different skills, talents, and ideas into a startup. 

The other factor that Florida doesn't talk about are transaction costs of creatively bringing people together. In other words, there exists an inherent social barrier that prevents people from communicating when they don't yet know each other. In other words, they don't yet trust each other. This is a topic that is deeply discussed in The Rainforest by Horowitt and Hwang. They observe that "human systems become more productive the faster that the key ingredients of innovation - talent, ideas, and capital - are allowed to flow through the system" and combine together in various ways. They also argue that human nature tends to get in the way of creatively bringing talent, ideas, and capital together. Specifically, trust is given to those that are closer and distrust exists between those that are further. Trust and distrust does not refer to geographic separation, but cultural separation. For individuals to "rise above short-term selfishness and focus on long-term mutual gain" is the behavior that humans do not naturally have, which leads to what Hwang and Horowitt call a transaction cost when people are creatively brought together.

I would argue that the creative class has risen out of combining and recombining people of various talents, ideas, and capital for the benefit of a human community. I don't think creatively bringing people together always has to take the form of a startup, because people sometimes come together for a cause and form a charity. I think the reason the term creative class has become prominent in our vocabulary in the past few years is the pace of creatively organizing people has increased due to an increased number of people living in  major metropolitan areas. Sharing the common city space then allows for people share experiences together, eventually leading to talented individuals trusting each other.

Update: I just saw this great Ted Talk by Rachel Botsman talking about trust being built on reputation and credibility within a community, whether that community is airbnb, ebay, or taskrabbit. Allowing for people's trust within a community to be accessible and known may lead to lower transactions costs between people that do not yet know each other.

RSA Animate: The Truth About Dishonesty

The following video is Dan Ariely's talk about the circumstances under which people cheat and lie. He argues that our ability to rationalize our occasional lies allows for us to satisfy our need to feel good about ourselves while also benefiting from cheating. He takes this micro effect of many people lying and shows how it can have a macro effect on the economy.

Request for Mentoring - Iteration Five

Over the past week and a half, I met with Sean Steinmarc from psGive and he filled out the fourth iteration of the RFM. I took the completed RFM to Aaron Mclean, a mentor who has open office hours, to see if he can actually provide business advice and pose relevant questions based upon the information that was on the form. I learned from meeting with him that the RFM doesn't provide enough context to the information the entrepreneur provides. The context that needs to be added is similar to an elevator pitch, where the entrepreneur describes the market and problem, the competitors and market size, the solution their making, etc. The following image shows the next iteration of the RFM, it incorporates the elevator pitch section.

Back to Table of Contents.

Back to Request for Mentoring page.

Request for Mentoring - Iteration Four

Having email out the third iteration of the RFM, I received feedback from Todd, founder of Side Arts and program and marketing director for the Corzo Center. He noticed there are two ways the RFM could be interpreted, influencing how it's used. The first interpretation is a filtering tool for the mentor, to evaluate whether she would want to meet with the entrepreneur. The second interpretation is as a tool for following up.

I think both interpretations are valid because they are both part of the interactions between mentor and entrepreneur. I think the first interpretation is the one that should be focused on because this thesis is about how mentors and entrepreneurs identify each other. Creating a secondary tool, or modifying the RFM to afford a simple way for the entrepreneur to follow-up on objectives with the mentor will increase the scope of this thesis, which will hinder me from completing my thesis on time.

Back to Table of Contents.

Back to Request for Mentoring page.

Request for Mentoring - Iteration Three

The third iteration of the RFM builds on top of the second version by using the same graphical language and information hierarchy. The greatest change you'll notice is providing greater scaffolding for the entrepreneur's input - specifically, it's the addition of the ten strategic areas that mentors can provide business advice. These ten areas were determined from a survey of ten startups, which involved asking these startups how they describe their own problem areas. Doing this survey and meeting with Garrett from Good Company, a mentor to startups, informed the changes to language being used.

You'll also see the addition of the value proposition because of the need for the mentor to understand the startup's problem and opportunity as succinctly as possible. The user's input is further constrained in order to streamline the entrepreneur's input and the reading of the RFM by the mentor. Finally, two managerial changes include the addition of "email address" and 'phone number."

Back to Table of Contents.

Back to Request for Mentoring page.

Request for Mentoring - Iteration Two

The second iteration of the RFM builds on top of the first version, and takes into consideration information hierarchy by graphically guiding the entrepreneur's eye from title to question to answer. You'll notice an addition of an icon that visually represents the interaction between mentor and entrepreneur. There is less wasted space and slightly more scaffolding guiding user input when compared to the first iteration.

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Back to Request for Mentoring page.

Request for Mentoring - Iteration One

The first iteration of the RFM captures the areas that the entrepreneur fills out ahead of the mentoring session. As the first version, this is the first attempt at putting the mentoring patterns observed into a physical form.

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Back to Request for Mentoring page.

Request for Mentoring

The Request for Mentoring (RFM) is designed to save time for the mentor. While interviewing mentors, one of the problems that surfaced during the interaction between mentor and entrepreneur is the large amount of time a mentoring session takes up.

The RFM is based upon the mentoring pattern observed during mentoring sessions. The most important takeaway that applies to the RFM from the observations is the repetitive structure of mentoring conversations. Taking this pattern and making a form around it means that the entrepreneur may now communicate germane information to the mentor ahead of their meeting. Imagine a patient's form a doctor looks at as she determines where she should apply her medical expertise. The metaphor is the same – except that the startup isn't a sick patient...

Currently, the RFM is in the process of being applied to mentoring sessions to test out how much time is actually saved when the entrepreneur fills information in advance.

You can see and read about the various iterations of the RFM at their respective links:

Iteration One

How do Mentors Enable Entrepreneurial Learning?

In the previous section, I provided a discussion on entrepreneurial learning. To understand how a business mentor guides the entrepreneur's learning, we need to discuss the three functions a business mentor normally plays in relation to an entrepreneur. These functions enable entrepreneurial self-efficacy; however, a smaller category of these functions, I'll argue, also enable entrepreneurial learning. Essentially, I will attempt to show that entrepreneurial learning is enabled through mentorship by the information support, confrontation, guide, and role-model functions.

Etienne St-jean, an expert in the field of business mentorship, presents three major functions the mentor plays: the psychological, the career-related, and the role model function. These three major functions have several sub-functions and were determined from a study documenting and analyzing mentor mentee relationships that lasted an average of 16.06 months (standard deviation: 14.4, median: 13) with the mean and average frequency of meetings at once a month and just under a month, respectively, and an average meeting time of 68.52 minutes (standard deviation: 14.4, mean: 67) (2).

The psychological sub-functions include reflector, reassurance, motivation, and confidant. The mentor as a reflector, provides feedback on the entrepreneur's strengths and weaknesses, providing a space to identify these strengths that can be leveraged and weaknesses that should be worked on. The mentor as reassurance, aids the entrepreneur in difficult times when problems need to be put into perspective. The mentor as a motivator builds the entrepreneur's self-confidence in his abilities. The mentor as a confidant creates a safe space where entrepreneur may confide in the mentor (2).

The career-related sub-functions include integration, information support, confrontation, and guide. The mentor as integrator facilitates introductions with various business contacts; and on average, the study learned that mentors introduced the entrepreneurs to 3.44 persons, with a standard deviation of 3.47). The mentor as information support provides provides strategic business advice based on personal experience and knowledge. The mentor as confrontation, the mentor confronts the entrepreneur's beliefs and ideas such that the entrepreneur may learn to overcome any beliefs or ideas that may prevent the entrepreneur from accomplishing his goals. The mentor as a guide provides a big picture perspective to help the entrepreneur understand the context they're building a business in (2).

The last category, the role model function does not have any sub-functions. The mentor as a role model focuses on the mentor's life stories to be used as examples for the entrepreneur to learn from (2).

The mentor in a long-term relationship with an entrepreneur should also be focusing on increasing entrepreneurial self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is believing in the efficacy of ones own skills. Thus, entrepreneurial self-efficacy is the entrepreneur's belief that she has sufficient skill to tackle the problem at hand. In a study done by Etienne St-jean, he discovered there's a positive correlation when a mentor encourages entrepreneurial self-efficacy, the entrepreneur has increased job satisfaction and have a higher intention to stay as a career entrepreneur (3).

Applying These Concepts to my Thesis:
Since I've only observed short-term mentoring relationships, or at least the beginnings of possibly longer relationships, not all of these functions have been observed during the process of this thesis. The sub-functions observed include integrator, information support, confrontation, guide, and role model. During the interactions between mentor and entrepreneur, the career related and role modeling functions have been observed. The psychological functions have not clearly been observed.

The sub-functions information support, confrontation, and guide are most directly related to entrepreneurial learning. Even though this vocabulary isn't used throughout the thesis, these sub-functions informed what to observe when making sense of how mentoring interactions enable entrepreneurial learning.

Entrepreneurial learning is enabled through mentorship by the information support, confrontation, guide, and role-model functions.

Back to Table of Contents.

  1. Cull, John. “Mentoring Young Entrepreneurs: What Leads to Success?”
  2. St-Jean, Etienne. “Mentoring Functions for Novice Entrepreneurs”
  3. St-Jean, Etienne. “The Influence of Mentoring on Mentee's Satisfaction and Career: The Role of Entrepreneurial Self-Efficacy”