Varelie Croes is a venture builder and future economy strategist based in New York City. Her career and her mentor network stretches globally, and started in Aruba. An island native, Varelie co-founded two non-profit initiatives; StartupAruba and ATECH, each with a mission to develop the startup and technology ecosystem in Aruba and the Caribbean region through community, an annual conference, and accelerator program. The ATECH platform launched just over 12 months ago, has leapfrogged on to the global stage by applying ingenuity and grassroots techniques to the policy creation process. I know first hand: I met Varelie a year ago when ATECH launched.
The speed of ATECH's development is due to the vision and persistence of Varelie and her co-founders--and the strength of relationships they have surrounded their initiatives with. Varelie (previously a rising star on the partnership track at a Big Four accounting firm) has made a concerted effort throughout her career to build new and maintain existing connections. She also approaches each career milestone (from tax attorney to private equity and growth equity expert to entrepreneur and ecosystem builder) realizing she has a lot to learn--and then seeks new mentors to help her. Varelie instinctively understands that success is not only knowing when to reach out for help, but also about continually nurturing a network of mentors to seek guidance from.
How do you define "mentor" and "mentoring"?
A mentor is like a wiser sibling. Someone that is not there 24/7 but you know will be rooting for you on the courts and from a distance. Mentoring is akin to participating in a sounding board. Your job as a mentor is to be both supportive and skeptical, guide and question, help set the framework but let your mentee come to his/her own conclusions.
What's your approach to seeking mentors and being mentored?
For me it happened somewhat organically. I've had many mentors (both younger and older) throughout my career and each of them are people I admired, and for different reasons. When you are drawn to someone and inspired by someone, it's an internal nudge that this person could potentially be a match. In my case, I made a concerted effort to build meaningful relationships with those people I felt that strong pull to. I never specifically asked anyone if they would be willing to mentor me. These are all people I enjoy hanging out with even if we don't talk about career stuff. It's not a relationship that can be forced but it does have to be nurtured. Like any relationship, mentorship is also give and take, if you expect someone to be there for you when you need them, be there for them no questions asked. Also, look for people that think and process information differently than you. You want to have at least 1 mentor that can poke holes in your logic, even if you don't always like what they have to say. I happen to live with one...
How did you come to using this approach of seeking advice from mentors?
I realized early on that in order to be successful and reach my goals, I had to surround myself by the right people. People with complementary skills and knowledge I lack. Also people that I can trust and openly talk about what keeps me up at night, vent with and also celebrate wins with. What's the point of reaching the summit if there is no one there to take your picture and document your legacy?
Can you give me an example of guidance from a mentor that has made a difference in how you've approached your venture, or solved a problem?
I'm the kind of person that thinks she can do it all and right now. I overcommit and then get overwhelmed because I cannot meet (some self-imposed) deadlines. One of my mentors, who also happens to be a good friend, taught me a process of narrowing down my goals to the essentials, i.e., the idea that less is more. Whenever I get overwhelmed I think about this and try to revisit my to-do list to eliminate anything that doesn't directly further my top 3 goals for the year. Its work in progress but just doing the exercise takes care of the overwhelm.
How has your own experiences with being mentored, influence how you mentor?
My experience being mentored through the 'sounding board' method made me a more effective mentor. I "guide" vs "lead". Your mentees will likely have all (or most of) the answers before they come to you with questions but the art is to listen, and, help set a roadmap for them to have the confidence to make decisions knowing you got their back.