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March 9, 2013

Sumit Suman '11: All You Have to Do is Ask

Sumit Suman '11: All You Have to Do is Ask

It might come as a surprise, but most people we surveyed said they'll help anyone who asks. Yet many of us still hesitate in asking for help, perhaps because we are apprehensive about causing inconvenience, or maybe because we fear rejection. Read how Sumit Suman ’11 solves this problem with Mentii, a platform that allows potential mentors to express their explicit intent to help, and in turn, helps advice seekers feel more comfortable and confident in their request for help.

Tell us about Mentii

Mentii is a career mentoring platform for individuals and their affinity organizations. Organizations create mentoring communities at Mentii - members get a mentoring profile, which records their intent, ability, and motivation to help. Members utilize this mentoring graph to find the best mentor for their career need.

What has been your biggest “A-Ha!” moment to date? How did it change your business?

We started out with building an innovative tool to practice job interviews. Users could record mock interviews, and send it to friends and experts for feedback. Having seen my business school friends spend countless hours in Watson, practicing mock interviews with each other, I firmly believed that this was an insanely useful tool.

In a testament to Professor Steve Blank, the “A-ha” moment came from taking the painstakingly developed product to real users. Not many people outside the business school environment took interview preparation that seriously. However, we learned that people LOVED the ability to access expert feedback. We latched on to that need, explored it further - and Mentii was born.

How have the classes you attended at Columbia Business School shaped your business/management approach?

Probably the most important lesson I learned across all classes at Columbia Business School was that the goal of most negotiations is not to get the best deal for myself, but to expand the pie for both parties. I live and die by this win-win philosophy -- it has been an incredibly powerful framework in every single sales and partnership meeting that I have had for Mentii.

The Columbia Alumni Connection: How have you used it?

I don't think we would be even operational without the alumni support.

Maneesh Sagar '03, supported us when we were just a fledgling concept and a crappy MVP. That support pushed me to go full time with Mentii. Vince Ponzo '03 helped us break the product-market fit conundrum just when we were beginning to get frustrated with the search for it.

I had no playbook on how to use the alumni connection -- I just went up to them and asked for help, and they went out of their way. I plan to use this winning strategy quite often in the coming days.

What advice would you give to a graduating Columbia student with entrepreneurial aspirations?

I'd say find an independently and incredibly wealthy significant other. It's hard to pay off the loan, and even harder to start a company.  Another tip of advice is don't try to innovate on the process of starting up. It's been battle tested – and Professor Steve Blank is your god -- innovate on the ideas instead.

An interesting anecdote on unknowingly following your dreams: I had written about doing something exactly similar to Mentii in my Columbia Business School application, and had completely forgotten about it. It somehow came back. Who says long term goals in business school essays are works of fiction!

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Columbia Startup Lab - Summer
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