7 Questions with Mona Sabet, A New Advisor at Berkeley SkyDeck
Written by Becca Berren
Mona Sabet is a new advisor at SkyDeck, and with her she brings expertise in a vast range of topics including deep tech software strategy, negotiations, and mentorship. SkyDeck is lucky to have her, and I feel lucky to have interviewed her for this blog post. Mona and I chatted about becoming a subject matter expert, growing and leveraging your ‘tribe’, and the state of women in tech.
Becca Berren: You are the newest Berkeley SkyDeck advisor. What are you most looking forward to about your role with SkyDeck and what sort of companies are you interested in advising?
Mona Sabet: I’m most looking forward to working with the great teams that SkyDeck attracts! I’m an engineer by training with a lot of experience in B2B software, including go to market strategy and software pricing models. Companies that are focused on applying the latest technologies to come up with creative solutions for businesses and industries is where I can provide the most value. Additionally, I was an entrepreneur myself, so I understand the challenges of starting and growing a company.
BB: You seem to be a jack of all business trades and have presented on a multitude of topics such as teaming, AI, diversity, successful exit strategy, change management, and intergenerational mentoring, to name a few. How do you decide what to focus on next, and how do you quickly become a subject matter expert on it?
MS: Focusing on the next thing is a combination of spending some quality time actually doing work in that area, getting to know how other people do the same thing, and analyzing what works and what doesn’t. I learned this lesson quite effectively when I went to my first startup. I had come from a large company and brought all of the processes, systems, and practices I learned there with me. 6 months in, a mentor told me I needed to find out how other people in small companies do this. Through reaching out to people who I didn’t even know, I was able to get many amazing comparative points that it allowed me to develop my own point of view. But that was a hard lesson! I was coming in at a pretty senior level and thought I knew it all. But it just shows that you can always be learning, even when you’re at that level.
BB: Reaching out to people who don’t know can be intimidating. What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs who may feel like they don’t have enough success or accreditation in Silicon Valley to be taken seriously via “LinkedIn cold call”?
MS: You need a combination of “LinkedIn cold calls” and warm intro’s through your network. LinkedIn cold calls are like sales, and sales is a process of overcoming indifference, objections, hurdles and many rejections. So craft a compelling LinkedIn message, don’t be afraid to ask for help, be specific about what you are looking for, and then send it off. If you don’t hear back, just move on to the next person. Having said that, you need to supplement that approach with warm introductions. That’s where building out your network is so important. You might not know the person who you want advice from, but someone you know well might know that person well.
BB: Speaking of building your network, the slogan on your website is “find your tribe. build your legend.” Can you talk a little bit about what this means to you and how women can operationalize this mantra?
MS: The best way to be really great at something is to be able to leverage a community of people around you, and work together to accelerate one another’s success. You can’t build an early stage company without an amazing team. There’s this ‘Myth of the Corporate Hero,’ where we mythologize a specific individual as being singularly responsible for huge changes. While there are some pretty spectacular individuals, they became spectacular because they had a small group of people surrounding them and helping them. This is why having a ‘tribe’ is so important. I have a number of different tribes that I have worked hard to develop, and they are critical to my success.
BB: Once you’ve formed your tribes, how do you leverage them effectively to get the help you need and also ensure that you’re helping the people who need you?
MS: I think each “tribe” has its own culture and you need to be aware of that culture to figure out how to best stay engaged. The common thread across all tribes is that they’re based on real connections, not just a transactional exchange. So if I need to make an ask (or if someone needs to make an ask from me), it’s an ask that’s built on having developed a bit of a friendship. In my executive women’s program, Hipower, we run this activity once or twice a year called Ask & Answer. We encourage everyone in our group to tell the group what they need help with and then the entire group thinks about who in their network they might be able to tap into to fill that need. By doing this as a formal activity, I find that we create a “habit” among our members to become more comfortable asking for what they need from others.
BB: On your website you declare: “I love doing deals.” Why do you love doing deals and do you have any advice for women who may view ‘doing deals’ like they view ‘going to the dentist’?
MS: I love doing deals because it gives you a real thrill. Most deals follow a story arch including a crescendo point, which is a very intense period of people working together. Sometimes you can get really frustrated with one another, but there’s nothing more effective than an intense shared experience to bring people close together. Which is another opportunity to create a tribe. I think that some women underestimate their ability to be really strong dealmakers, perhaps due to lack of experience. Women have societal developed instincts that make them very strong negotiators, they just don’t get enough practice to feel comfortable at it.
BB: You have a clear passion for diversity in the workplace, which at times, can be a depressing and seemingly hopeless cause. How do you stay motivated in the face of setbacks?
MS: I stay motivated because we have made, and continue to, make progress. In 2004, Wendy Lim and I launched a professional women’s network that is now called Leading Women in Technology. A network of this kind was very rare in 2004, but today, there are hundreds. That’s some real progress that makes me hopeful. But also, we’re not there yet, and it’s been 15 years. I get frustrated when I become impatient, but then I remind myself that all big visions take a long time and a huge effort. So it’s important to put things in perspective to realize that we’re on the right track and that if we all work on it and don’t ease up, it’s going to continue to improve.