Whitnie Low Narcisse (MBA ’16) believes in the power of networking. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she uses her superpower of connecting people in her own life and in her role as VP of talent and community resources at First Round Capital, a venture capital firm specializing in providing seed-stage funding to technology companies.
The lead of First Round’s post-investment team, Narcisse works with her team of seven employees to ensure the success of the more than 200 companies in which the company has invested. “Our definition of success is helping our companies become sustainable businesses or raise future Series A or Series B funding rounds,” says Narcisse. “We aspire to give our companies all the resources they need.”
One of the key assets Narcisse has developed is First Round’s Expert Network. “Our experts-in-residence are a great resource for our companies,” she says. Whether a company needs help with employee handbooks, positioning and branding, customer success or something else, an expert in HR, marketing, customer success or a myriad of other business niches is available, from both within and outside the First Round universe.
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“We also pair our founders and employees at our companies with one another to grab coffee and to learn from one another,” says Narcisse. “Why should folks go through the same mistakes rather than learning from someone who already been through it?”
In 2016, Narcisse developed the First Round Fast Track which provides a seasoned industry mentor for any employee of companies funded by the firm. “Most venture firms focus only on the founder,” says Narcisse. “We believe that in order to build a really amazing business, you need not just the founder but the whole team of people so we want to support everyone in our community.”
Narcisse says that one of the reasons for the success of Fast Track – supporting its ninth cohort of mentees and mentors in 2020 – is that “everyone feels like they want to give back. And there are so many people with so many amazing experiences to share.” She has distilled some of the wisdom gained after supporting more than 1,000 pairings of experienced advisors and early-stage founders and employees.
“I think it’s important to have a personal board of directors, that include both mentors and sponsors, to help guide you in your life.”
While she believes that mentorship is crucial, she thinks the word itself is not. “Asking someone to be your official ‘mentor’ can feel scary to them,” she says. “It’s better to say, ‘You are a trusted personal advisor to me. I go to you for career advice and I so appreciate it.’”
She says that mentorship needs to be organic. “You can’t force someone further along in their career to have a relationship with you,” she says. “But you can tell them that you really want to gain insights from their experience.”
She encourages new mentees to casually treat potential mentors to coffee but not to treat the relationship casually. “You should have an agenda as to why you’re meeting and the mentor should see the connection,” says Narcisse. “Mentors love to see themselves in younger people, whether it’s their drive, ambition or similar career path. So if a mentee can highlight that up front, the mentor can make a true deeper connection with the mentee.”
Narcisse is active on both sides of the mentor/mentee relationship in her own life. “There are different people for different parts of your life,” she says. “I think it’s important to have a personal board of directors, that include both mentors and sponsors, to help guide you in your life.” The five men and women on her personal board of directors “have helped me at every new step in my career, making sure that I grow.”
“We all need people you trust who are a little bit farther ahead of you in life,” says Narcisse. “A sponsor is someone within your organization who can advocate for you. A mentor is someone who can help you see a bigger perspective and isn’t confined by the structure of your job or your company.”