We spotlight GCT Accelerator mentors on our blog to highlight the people that are instrumental to our success. The GCT Accelerator mentor platform has over 100 mentors from a range of industries, with expertise spanning from design, engineering, marketing, sales, culture and everything in between.
Please introduce yourself and tell us what you are currently working on.
Hi, I’m Bec Vaughan. I’m originally from Somerset, in the countryside of the UK, and somehow wound up as Principal Product Manager at Oracle in New York, working on best practice in translation and localization for software products. Outside of that, I am involved in a social innovation project around food startups and a project that tracks certain aspects of user behaviours via blockchain, and motivates them via cryptocurrency rewards.
Please tell us about your background and how you ended up doing what you do today.
When I was young I missed the memo about education being a means to getting a career. I always selected eclectic courses, because I wanted to learn about the subjects I found most interesting. When I left university with my BA in Cultural Studies, with a side of Philosophy, I wasn’t really “workplace ready,” AKA “employee material”. I took a job as a Buying Assistant at one of the UK equivalents of Home Depot while I ‘figured out what I wanted to do’. To both my and their surprise, I really enjoyed retail and they liked my unconventional approach. Because I ‘knew computers’ I got involved in some big logistics migration projects and early retail on the web. I am fortunate enough to be super-inquisitive, determined and lazy, so I always wanted to open things up to see how and why they worked to then make them better. I wound up in London doing bizarre and unique projects with an extremely fast growing TV shopping channel where I growing quickly and thinking on your feet was a necessity.
I was lucky that early in my career people encouraged me to experiment and see business issues as challenges to solve, which helped me develop a way of thinking about problems in an unconventional way. As a result, I landed a role as Head of Solutions for a commerce platform and started an innovation program. The startup community was a really good fit for my skill set and sensibility. I loved the pace of change, the optimism and open attitude. I was able to grow a team and work on challenges with companies at all stages of growth, including bootstrapping startups, High Street retailers, large corporations and government agencies.
Why did you become involved with the Grand Central Tech’s mentorship program?
I moved to NYC in the Fall of 2017, and as a new resident, I wanted to find a community that was committed to making social change happen. I also wanted to work somewhere that was fostering talent and innovation. When I was introduced to GCT I realized I’d found both things in one place and was blown away with the mission and ambition of the leaders there. I especially liked the approach of creating diverse teams, working with the wider community and encouraging teams to make the world a better place. The sense of purpose and optimism at GCT is palpable and I never leave less than energized and enthusiastic.
What do you enjoy the most about being a mentor?
From an entirely selfish point of view, I love hearing about the projects that teams are embarking on and the intersections that occur while using new technology in unexpected ways to solve wide-reaching problems. It’s a great way for me to always keep learning. Beyond that, I like to help, flex my problem-solving muscles, and collaborate with teams so that they better understand the problem they are trying to solve. Hopefully together, we can identify some strategies for to move forward, or unblock something that is sticking.
What skills and experiences do you hope to share with your mentees. What are the key areas of expertise that you share with the Founders at GCT?
I think the main skill I bring is that I’m not shy about asking the ‘stupid questions’. I also have a fascination, that borders on obsession, for optimization. Why do we do this, at that specific point? Why is that sequence of events the best? I am not a technologist but have found that when you start to break things down, most things can be simplified and explained to the point where the solutions start to reveal themselves. Sometimes the role of the mentor is just to allow the time and space for the person you’re consulting to go through that process. It’s not always simple to simplify, and sometimes you have to really challenge the assumptions around a problem. There are techniques that I’ve learned to help see things differently, and experience has taught me that sometimes ‘the problem’ that someone comes in with, isn’t actually the problem. Often the issue is linked to communication, prioritization, or interpersonal relationships between different personality types, manifested via a perceived technical problem or challenge, so it’s important to ask those ‘why?’ questions and get to the root of the issue, not just address the symptoms.
How can Founders best position themselves for a successful relationship with a mentor?
Don’t be intimidated, and don’t be afraid to ask or be direct if you have a simple request. If it’s more complex, expect to spend time explaining and re-thinking though the challenge you face. A mentor often must assess a situation with no background information about your situation, so it’s important to make sure you can summarize the key points and, ideally, prepare something ahead of the session to use the time effectively. The most important thing is to be honest and open minded and to view mentorship as an ongoing process through conversation. Don’t try and solve every problem yourself, or feel you have to go it alone. People want to help – be open to that help, take it whenever you can.
Why do you think it’s important for a Founder to have mentors to work and bounce ideas with?
I think it’s important to seek out a diversity of opinions and approaches in life generally. For Founders working under stress, with pressure to do things quickly, cost effectively, and with limited resources, it’s particularly important to have a network of people to call on for support, advice and help. The opportunity to offload, vent and process problems with someone outside your direct circle should provide a vital outside perspective. Bouncing ideas around with a friendly person from ‘outside’ often provides a vital way to unlock a path forward.
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