Class of 2000 graduates, Heidi Holmes and Lucy Lloyd have come a long way since they first met at Melbourne Girls Grammar in 1996.
The duo, who met and became friends in the Boarding House, went their separate ways after graduating from MGGS but remained friends as they began their tertiary education and careers.
After finishing at MGGS, Heidi studied at RMIT Melbourne, completing a Bachelor of Business, Accounting (2004) and a Master of Business, Marketing (2007). She began her career as an accountant and marketer, spending time in various roles for financial services giant KPMG. She also founded a mature-age job board called Adage.
Lucy’s journey took her to the University of Melbourne, where she completed a Bachelor of Commerce/Arts (2006). After completing her degree, she spent over 10 years running strategies for leading global brands and managing the development of hundreds of digital campaigns, websites, apps, and SaaS (Software as a Service) products.
A catch up seven years ago between the pair, who remained friends after leaving school, changed both of their careers. This casual meeting was the starting point for their successful cloud-based platform Mentorloop, which they launched in 2016 to help organisations create an internal culture of mentoring. Fast-forward to 2022, Mentorloop has made over 50,000 connections happen across 17 countries, supporting companies such as Sky, Woolworths, Virgin Media and the Cherie Blair Foundation.
With the spotlight of our Alumnae Spotlight series on them, Mentorloop co-founders Heidi and Lucy share their story of how they met, the inspiration behind their business, some handy advice and what’s next for them.
How did you both meet?
We met at the MGGS Scholarship exam in 1996. Outside the hall where the exam was held were all the girls waiting to take it, and it seemed like *everyone* knew each other – because many of them were already students at Merton Hall.
We were both on the sidelines, two country girls awkwardly standing by themselves at the periphery. We made eye contact, said hello, had a chat about where we came from, and then a few months later, were reunited when we both started at MGGS proper in early 1997.
What is Mentorloop and what was the inspiration when starting this business together?
Upon leaving MGGS, we went in different directions in our careers but remained friends. And then, over a glass of wine one night six or seven years ago, we discussed our quite different careers and the choices we were making. We wondered aloud why there wasn’t a dating site for mentoring relationships, a way to find and connect with that future version of yourself to help you navigate the next steps whenever you made a change in your career.
Mentoring captured our imagination, and it fit in with the working trends we could see all around us – people feeling isolated, people being more likely to switch careers, and the rise of automation removing the human connection from people’s daily lives.
So, we worked on it as a “side hustle” for a while, and then almost six years ago – after we’d had really promising responses from our earliest customers – we bit the bullet and went full time in 2016. Between then and now, we’ve grown from just us two to a team of 15 across Australia and the UK.
How has being part of the OG network impacted your lives?
We’ve both made lifelong friends from our association with MGGS. We have a strong group of girlfriends from our school days that we still socialise with. Heidi still plays competitive social netball with girls from the original school team – some of us have been playing netball together for over 25 years!
We also had a wonderful reunion with some schoolmates this year when many of our friends came together to celebrate our friend Dr Melissa Yang, who was the recipient of The Emily Hensley Award in 2022. We attended the OGs International Women’s Day lunch together – a nice reminder for all of us of our time at MGGS, the great friendships and the opportunities afforded to us.
What has been a standout moment since launching your business?
Becoming a profitable, sustainable business by living and staying true to our values all the way. While we initially bootstrapped the business, we have also raised money from venture capital firms. And while we have a great relationship with all our investors, when you are in the fast lane of tech startups, there can be a hyper-focus on growth at all costs.
The pandemic was a natural handbrake that allowed us to take a breath, stop and reflect and redefine the business we wanted to build in what would be a post-pandemic world.
We’ve emerged from the last two years more resilient, more determined and more focused on building the number one global mentoring platform than ever before!
What has been the greatest challenge when running your business?
There’s no denying the start of the pandemic presented a number of challenges. No one really knew what was happening or going to happen, so there was a lot of uncertainty which fed a lot of unnecessary hysteria in the beginning. It was definitely challenging not to get paralysed by this early on.
During times of crisis, people turn to their leaders, and we had a team of 14 people that we had to consider. When you run a business, you are ultimately responsible for making sure these people get paid each week, and when you have a large client such as Flight Centre all of a sudden cancel their subscription overnight, it’s difficult to not get rattled. But I think we did a pretty good job of just going back to business basics.
We communicated a plan to our team that mapped out what the next three months could look like and we made changes to support that plan, which ultimately came down to making sure we would support our customers with whatever they needed, and we’d keep the team intact by working a four-day week.
We made it through it and are a better business for it, but it was definitely a stressful time!
What would be three pieces of advice you could offer anyone wanting to start their own business?
- Find a great partner that shares your vision, passion and commitment to the problem you are solving. If you are going it alone, make sure you have a personal connection to the problem you are solving for. It’s a tough journey, so you need to make sure you are beyond passionate about it; you may even consider it your life’s work.
- Be clear on how you are going to make money. A “build and they will come” mentality won’t cut it. You need to consider the value you are creating and be clear on why people will pay for it.
- Have a plan. Map out key milestones that become trigger points for what happens next. Having clear milestones that you are working towards ensures you stay accountable but also gives you a sense of accomplishment. You need to create small wins along the way to keep momentum and motivation up!
What are your plans for 2022 and beyond?
We believe the right connection can change your life, and we want to make that right connection accessible to as many people as we can. So that means international expansion (we’ve got a growing team in the UK), a focus on product development and delighting our users – and underpinning all of that is building a world-class team.
The working world looks very different from what it did a couple of years ago, and we’re all re-evaluating what is important to us and how we want to develop. And finding a great mentor is the perfect way to start.