By Elana Lyn Gross, Contributor
In 2017, Royal Bank of Canada used a technology platform to facilitate thousands of virtual and in-person coffee outings. As part of a companywide mentorship program, the Canadian bank looked to Ten Thousand Coffees, a website that uses an algorithm to connect team members and facilitate conversation, to develop an inclusive and collaborative community culture for its employees.
Through Ten Thousand Coffees, companies like RBC create private communities called “Cafes.” Team members then set up profiles and Ten Thousand Coffees’ algorithm matches employees for in-person or virtual “Coffee Chats.” Companies can set the matching cadence and view employee analytics, such as the number of “Coffee Chats” or active participants. Team members can also search through other employee profiles and set up “Coffee Chats” without waiting to be matched.
According to Brien Convery, Royal Bank of Canada’s global director of campus recruitment, the Ten Thousand Coffees initiative was successful. New hires averaged two or three in-person or online chats, and executive leaders began hosting “Office Hours” with groups of employees. In the end, 90 percent of new hires reported feeling more confident about their future at the bank after just one “Coffee Chat.”
While mentorship has been around for generations, companies like Ten Thousand Coffees are revealing the potential for technology to aid mentorship and business relationships — not unlike how platforms like Tinder and Hinge have revolutionized the way people establish romantic relationships.
Familiar Technology is Changing Mentorship
Similar to how dating applications have the ability to widen people’s social circles, mentorship apps enable today’s employees to make connections outside of their immediate professional circles.
In the past, mentorship opportunities have been be insular, limiting meetings to mutual connections or exposure at industry events. In the 21st century, the combination of the Internet and technology is expanding mentorship opportunities, bringing together people from diverse companies, industries, positions, and geographical locations.
With Bumble Bizz, the business-focused extension of Bumble, users swipe for business advice and potential mentors. After members create a bio, resume, and list of skills and accolades, they then list the types of opportunities they are seeking, such as networking, a job, or mentoring.
“We’re hoping to make networking more effective, and efficient,” Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble’s CEO and founder told Refinery29. “The swipe right mechanic makes it quick and easy to find what you need and the geo-targeted element means the likelihood of finding someone—a photographer, graphic designer, events manager—who is around the corner and ready to connect in real life more likely to happen.”
In an interview with W, Herd revealed that Bumble Bizz has had more matches (and swipes right) per user than Bumble—an indication that people are interested using the technology for business-related matchmaking.
As use of apps like Bumble Bizz and Ten Thousand Coffees continue to grow, so too does the flat hierarchical mentorship structure. Traditionally, mentorship was a one-to-one relationship, but these technology programs have expanded that model.
The “Office Hours” functionality of Ten Thousand Coffees allows executives to set up and meet a number of team members at once. The feature doesn’t just increase the reach of the advice, it also increases access to mentors and business contacts across all seniority levels and departments.
For Convery, the combination of the “Office Hours” model and the “Coffee Chat” algorithm have increased cross-departmental collaboration and led to a more innovative, inclusive, and high-performing business.
This concept of accessibility is a factor that is particularly relevant for women in business since, as research shows, mentorship has disproportionately served men. When Lean In Canada surveyed its female members, women listed access to networking opportunities as their main priority. Lean In Canada created a “Cafe” on Ten Thousand Coffees, and within two weeks, 750 members created a profile. According to Dave Wilkin, CEO of Ten Thousand Coffees, participants sent 1,500 messages and scheduled 150 virtual or in-person “Coffee Chats.”
And while Lean In operates on an all-female model, both men and women connect on Bumble Bizz. Similar to Bumble’s dating site, women must reach out first.
“Women should never feel their skills, ambitions, or talents are marginalized,” Herd shared on Instagram, “With Bumble Bizz, women make the first move into the future they want. [It’s] career advancement, without the unwanted advances.”
In addition to Bumble Bizz and Ten Thousand Coffees, Hello Alice is the world’s first machine-learning platform designed to connect female entrepreneurs to resources and other business women. Developed by Dell’s entrepreneur-in-residence, Elizabeth Gore, and Carolyn Rodz, founder of the business accelerator, Circular Board, Hello Alice provides women business owners with customized resources and advice based on their profiles.
“[Hello] Alice enables founders to scale to the highest heights, no matter where they are located or who they know.”
—Carolyn Rodz, Founder, Circular Board
Partnering with government institutions, Fortune 100 companies, startup organizations, and industry leaders, Hello Alice exposes women to tools that a smaller segment of entrepreneurs would ordinarily be able to access.
“The current startup ecosystem continues to cycle resources among a very small percentage of well-connected entrepreneurs, making it difficult for less traditional founders to navigate,” Rodz said in a statement. “Alice enables founders to scale to the highest heights, no matter where they are located or who they know.”
The Future of Mentorship
Technology initiatives like Ten Thousand Coffees, Bumble Bizz, and Hello Alice are impacting mentorship in three primary ways. The technology allows people to: find and connect with mentors virtually, increase access to valuable resources and advice, and, transform the way individuals meet and learn from one another.
With mentorship-minded companies like Ten Thousand Coffees and Hello Alice focused on networking, mentorship, and keeping people—women, in particular—continuously engaged, the budding technology is poised to redefine the concept of mentorship. For Herd, this evolution is only natural.
“Life is made up of connections in the professional space, love and friendships,” Herd said in her conversation with Wired. “We believe those relationships define your mental and physical health, so now we have given you access to add new relationships into your life.”