Three childhood friends, Clarissa, Fung Wei and Brian, would gather at a mamak every Tuesday just to brainstorm ideas. One topic they found themselves constantly returning to was on education.
What they noticed was a huge knowledge gap and lack of information in transitioning from studying to joining the workforce. At the same time, they themselves were also experiencing a marked disconnect of what they had studied in university and what they were actually working on—particularly since they had chosen to venture into fields that were unrelated to their degrees.
They decided to look into this a bit more and found a common thread: not only did students and job seekers not know how to get to the next step of their career, they didn’t even have an idea of what they wanted to do.
This led the trio to the idea of setting up a platform to link experienced mentors to mentees looking for help. They named it FutureLab.
Brian shared how they really wanted to test their concept before jumping into things. They started with hosting industry meet-and-greet sessions for students to speak to working professionals from BCG, EY, PWC, Deliotte, Ethos and Accenture.
“The feedback we got was so awesome that we decided to run a few more. We even managed to help 2 students get jobs at the law firm, Wong & Partners, just from speaking to our mentors. Through these exercises we also felt we had enough proof of concept to apply for CIP 150 from Cradle which we secured earlier this year. And so the FutureLab journey really began,” said Brian.
How It Works
If you head on over to their website, you can browse their available mentors without needing to sign up. One feature I particularly like is how you can see mentor ratings and reviews from other mentees. According to Brian, mentors are rated based on overall satisfaction, how helpful was the session and what the call connection was like.
The personal mentor pages also have useful information like expertise, industries, experience and education. All these would be relevant info for anyone looking for a mentor, so it’s nice to have it all in one place, ready to be accessed.
The mentors are also broken down into tiers; these tiers represent the number of years the mentor has in a company or specific industry. Anyone serving as a mentor is also allowed to book mentors for themselves, because after all, learning should be a continuous thing.
Right now, FutureLab is still in its beta stage so all its services are currently gratis. Down the line, mentors will be able charge for their services e.g career advice, CV/ Cover letter review or mock interviews.
FutureLab will take a cut from the payment and the mentor will be able to choose whether to keep the money or donate it to education partners Teach For Malaysia and EduNation. Brian and the rest of the team are still in talks to get more charities and NGOs on board that can benefit from the mentors’ donations.
The dream is to build FutureLab into a platform where users can access a global network of friendly professionals that are keen on helping mentees. Brian added, “We are also a social enterprise where professionals can come on, speak to a student, earn extra cash and donate it to education charities or NGOs.”
Keeping An Eye On Future Growth
At the moment, Brian is the only one of the three co-founders who runs FutureLab full-time. He’s helped by a team of three developers and a remote CMO.
Fung Wei is currently the CTO and co-founder of GoGet, an on-demand delivery and errands platform. Clarissa serves as the executive director of EPIC DNA, a subsidiary of EPIC Collective which focuses on developing the values of leadership, volunteerism and service among Malaysians. Before quitting his job to work on Futurelab full-time, Brian was an ex-management consultant who worked at Accenture doing digital strategy projects then later moved to a boutique strategy firm, Ethos & Co.
They still plan to grow organically and so far, most of the mentors on FutureLab are recruited through the team’s extensive network of contacts.
Brian explained, “We have 130 mentors that come from UK, US, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and Malaysia; there’re only 62 on the site because we interview every single mentor before putting them on FutureLab and we have a strict no-asshole policy.”
The team are bringing in mentors from Google, Facebook, Apple and Yahoo from Silicon Valley itself and they also have some startup founders on their roster. However, these will only be listed once the payment model is in place.
As It Stands Now
They currently have 457 users on their platform after 3 months in beta; 80 are mentors and the remaining 377 mentees.
He said, “So far in beta, we have had 80 sessions conducted on the platform. We’ve been speaking to all our users and collecting feedback to tweak the platform. We’re also working with 3 universities in the next 2 months so we are hoping that we can reach a 1000 users and 200+ sessions before Jan 2017.”
One cultural problem that FutureLab has had to deal with might resonate with a lot of us: we’re afraid of asking a “stupid question”. The mentees end up being too shy to speak to the mentors. The FutureLab team have their work cut out for them, having to educate their users and assure them that the mentors are well aware of the large knowledge gap between universities and companies.
Even the potential mentors come in with some preset misconceptions of their own. The most common one is that they think mentors need to be at least 60-years-old. Brian joked, “Everyone’s looking for a Yoda, a Dumbledore or a Master Shi Fu!”
He does want to clarify though, a mentor can be anyone that has more experience than you whether it be in a particular skill, industry or company. There’s no need for a mentor to be perfect, nor do they need to have all the answers. The role a mentor plays is more of that of a guide who can recommend people to speak to, companies to look at, books to read and to share their own experience on how they managed to achieve what the mentee is looking for.
FutureLab is not just going to stay purely online; they also want to make their presence felt outside of the Internet. Brian said, “Networking events are great, we plan to organise our own mentee-mentor networking sessions in the future. But our focus is online mentoring since we can provide a wider range of industries and mentors from different parts of the world.”
Feature Image Credit: FutureLab