Mentorship and Paying It Forward

Purple header image of the B2U Podcast, episode Mentorship and Paying it Forward with Stacy Cusio from the Pink Mentor Network

Today on B2U we’re looking at mentorship in Charlotte. If you’re looking for a mentor, where do you go? What do you look for? How do you become a mentor, and more importantly, where do you start? I am so thrilled to talk to Stacy Cassio of Pink Mentor Network. Stacy helps women identify and utilize mentorship in their careers and their businesses.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Hey there, you are listening to the B2U Podcast and  I’m your host Vanessa Vaughn Mathews, the founder, and chief resilience officer at Asfalis Advisors. The B2U Podcast is brought to you by CBRbiz.com; a site connecting you with the resources you need to start and run a business in the Charlotte region. We’re bringing business resources directly to you. 

We discuss a wide range of topics like starting and growing a business, navigating government contracts, and how to set your business apart in and around Charlotte. We’re talking with small business experts to get exclusive advice on how to start and run a successful business.

Today on B2U we’re looking at mentorship in Charlotte. If you’re looking for a mentor, where do you go? What do you look for? How do you become a mentor, and more importantly, where do you start?

I am so thrilled to talk to Stacy Cassio of Pink Mentor Network. Stacy helps women identify and utilize mentorship in their careers and their businesses.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Stacy, welcome to the podcast. 

Stacy Cassio  Thank you. Vanessa, I’m so happy to be here!

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews I wore pink just for you. 

Stacy Cassio I noticed! I always take note of who is wearing pink in my presence for sure. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews “Pink in my presence”, I love it. 

*laughing*. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So before we get started, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself. 

Stacy Cassio  Yeah, sure: So I actually, before starting this business, was the head of engineering for a manufacturing company, and my team was all male-dominated. The industry was male-dominated and the organization had male leaders. So my quest to find mentorship outside of the organization was to find a female mentor who I could kind of mimic her strong leadership characteristics and how she was successful in her organizations, and since I didn’t have the intern on the organization, I started mentor dinners about two years ago and it was all out of pure, like selfishness. I just wanted to find a mentor. And I realized it’s very, very hard. 

 A lot of women would, you know, accept my call, have coffee – but then I couldn’t advance that relationship because there was nothing in it for them. They weren’t helping me. I wasn’t helping them in their business. It was a little bit difficult to figure out, and so I started thinking, well, if I could give them the stage and a microphone and an audience…

 …Then maybe they would be willing to help out the mission, and I never, never could have predicted what happened from that. It’s just been amazing to watch how mentorship really pulls us all together. We’re all so hungry to learn from one another, and when we have that opportunity to really get the dirt of someone’s career and then how to apply it to our own, just, amazing things happen. So it’s been such a privilege to pull these amazing women together and, you know, just tap into what they’ve done with their careers. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Love it. So what is Pink Mentor Network? 

Stacy CassioYeah. So today it looks so much different than those mentor dinners two years ago. So, after I started realizing I could get great mentors to show up and the first woman who said yes to me was Congresswoman Alma Adams. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Yeah! *laughing*

Stacy Cassio  And she was — First of all, to have a woman of that stature say, yes, how can I help you out? Like, I think that’s really powerful; the people who are willing to invest in you, and so I was like, wow, if she’s gonna say yes, then I must be onto something. And Pink Mentor Network started as mentor dinners kind of started as events. Then I realized there was a community hungry for these events. And as the community started to develop, I had great business mentors who said, if you can find some patterns in this community, some things that each person is struggling with when they come to the events, what they’re looking for – then we can build some strategies. And the strategies are what we can scale and make a business. And it’s been phenomenal to see that there really were patterns in the woman’s career or in her business when she was struggling and what she needed from the mentors. 

Stacy Cassio  And so we built now a platform and a framework to help structure mentorship because it’s always something kind of so vague. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Yeah. So let’s go back. So, you almost a year and a half ago, I was a speaker at one of your pop-ups… 

Stacy Cassio  Yes. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews…In NODA…

Stacy Cassio  YES. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews With two other amazing ladies. So how did you get started? And what was the “aha” to say: This needs to scale?

Stacy Cassio  So – it’s so funny because I actually – so I’ve been in Charlotte for about 15 years. I didn’t know anyone in Charlotte when we moved here. It was just my husband and I. We had moved from New York. I’m originally from Kansas. So I couldn’t get him to move back to Kansas, so we settled on Charlotte. And, you know, I was like, wow, there is so much influence and power and opportunity inside those big buildings in Uptown. But I didn’t have access to any one of those connections – any connections honestly. And so I started thinking about, “all right, I need to identify key people to get to know and then demonstrate that I’m a great worker,” that I’m a, you know, a “solid networker,” that I have a passion about the city – and it really started to ingrain in me that mentorship and finding the right people to open doors for you is critical in your career. It will accelerate a career in business faster than anything else. Finding your next opportunity is one person, one introduction away. And when I realized that, I started thinking about who we needed and that really changed my whole career, and it helped me get placed in the four roles that I’ve had here in Charlotte in those years. The mentor opened the door and made room for me – but what I didn’t realize at the time is the people that I was seeking, you know, knowledge and experience from, were because I wasn’t showing up with what was next for me. I was being placed on their plans and their, you know, initiatives, and their – the things that they needed me to do because they knew I was super resourceful and I would work my butt off, but they were putting me on their plan because I wasn’t showing up with my own. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Yeah. So I think you said something really powerful and I don’t know if you even realized it, but you said: “I had to demonstrate…” 

Stacy Cassio  Oh, gosh, yes. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews “…that I have a passion, that I’m a hard worker, and I’m dedicated.” So, for people who don’t understand, how do I physically demonstrate that? Can you give us some keys? Stacey Cassio’s keys for success here… 

*laughing*. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews How do you demonstrate that? 

Stacy Cassio Yeah. So I will give you actually the example of the first time I saw it work for me. I was working for a small business here in Charlotte and they did not have a marketing person, and, so it was right before the recession, I was like, well, I’m gonna help them develop a marketing plan and some business development strategies, but I need to know people who know how to do this. So, I volunteered for an organization that no longer exists, but it was the Business Marketing Association. It was a board of volunteers that were leading it and they were in desperate need. And so I was like, well, I will step up and I will do events, because if I do events, then I will bring in the speakers I need to learn from. I will, they will know who I am. I will be demonstrating how I can pull this together, put together a successful event, and then have access to all these powerful resources in the business marketing community if/when I had questions – and so that was the first time that I realized it’s stepping up and doing work in front of people that see it and then you can then tap into their resources. So it’s just it’s sometimes it’s giving work for free just to get started. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Yeah. So one of my mentors -slash- sponsors, -slash- sister-friend that I have here in Charlotte – one of her opportunities came from the nonprofit world, and so she always says: Don’t ever discredit the work that you do on these boards in the nonprofits that we serve, because people see you, and they may not say anything, but they see you. So I love that. You’ve tied that in well. Alright – so I get this question all the time, but I’m talking to the expert here. How do you find mentors? *laughs*

Stacy Cassio Yeah! *laughs* So, this part has been so interesting, because through the community – the mentorship community that we’ve created here in Charlotte – I started to identify the key people that we needed at each place in our career or business in order to take it to the next level, but the most important thing, and the thing that I wasn’t doing with some of my early mentors, is you have to know what is next in your career or business. If you don’t know that, the direction that you get may not apply to where you’re going. And so, that was a common mistake that I saw a lot of women making – is we would ask for coffee with somebody that we thought was more successful, had a better title, made a lot more money, whatever it might be, ask for coffee, but then show up with our baggage, our career baggage, our business baggage, the challenges that we have, instead of showing up with what does the future of my career look like? What does the future of my business look like? When we show up with what’s next for us, many, many people will open doors. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Even if you don’t have it figured out? 

Stacy Cassio  So that’s that’s the piece: I think you have to do that exploration, and you have to give yourself grace to explore. You’re not going to have all the answers. There will be times, you know this, in your career or your business where you’re struggling to figure out what’s next – but you have to, again, do the work before you show up and, you know, ask for mentorship on how to get there. That has been, I think, key, in building and finding mentors. Once I knew where I was going, I looked for people who were already there, and then asked them very direct questions about how they got there and then applied it to whatever I was doing, whether it worked or didn’t, and then went back to them and showed results. I think those are the things that we don’t do well enough: The application, which takes some trial and error, so if you take their advice and apply it in some way, and then report back on the “report back”, you’ll oftentimes get that second, you know, meeting, and the relationship keeps going from there. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Yeah. So what have you – what’s the cadence for that follow-up, right? Like, should I be reaching out to you every six weeks? Every quarter? Twice a year, or does it depend on the relationship? 

Stacy Cassio  I think – The way that I have seen it work best is you follow up when progress has been made on whatever they gave you. So if they gave you, you know, a couple of people to talk to or if they gave you a couple podcasts to listen to – follow up with some feedback on the directions or instructions they gave you. So it – or this is also big – any time that I know I’m using one of my mentors ideas; I will report back. I use this, like, for instance, I have to name-drop a mentor because he gets upset when I don’t, but Chris Elmore is the one who taught me the patterns concept, to identify the patterns and then we can build strategies. But when he taught it to me, he was actually saying “identify patterns in your own behaviors and then we’ll develop a strategy in order to not do that type of behavior again”. And then I started thinking about it. “Okay, what if it applies to a collective?” And so I reported back to him – “I used your nugget of mentorship, but in a different way” and just, I think him realizing that I was using all this experience and wisdom he had shared with me, but in my own way and applying it to my issues and situations. I mean, that’s what everybody really wants, truly, is they want to know that what they’re doing, the work they’re doing, matters to someone. So when you can give them that feedback, I think it’s huge. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Stick around we’ll be back in a minute

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Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So, what kind of network do businesses need? Right? Charlotte is growing at a massive rate. I think that, like, we’re up to a hundred people moving here a day. 

Stacy Cassio Yeah, I know. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews And you hear conversations on both sides. Some entrepreneurs are prospering here, and you have entrepreneurs that are not prospering here. Right? What kind of network do we need? 

Stacy Cassio Yeah. So, I think it’s kind of stages of your business. So the first one, when you have that idea of a startup or have an idea that you think is worth pursuing – a side hustle, even – look for a person who has been successful in a similar-type area. So, you don’t want to look for a direct competitor because when we go to our direct competition, we tend to hoard the information, but one of the things that I’ve always been really good at is connecting dots. So I will look at somebody that is an example of success in, for me, it’d be like building a community or hosting events or now I’m working on a digital platform, so I started looking at people who have done that successfully – so you want a mentor to help you understand how to begin, and that person is actually kind of the example of what success looks like. So they will have a lot of those first answers, you know? How did you get started? Who did those types of things? They give you the place to start. So that also works when you’re starting in your career, is, you want to enter an organization and look for an example of success. Who are the people that are successful in this and how do I get their attention? And then you’ll need to look for somebody that will help you grow your network. So I call that mentor your connector. So they’re helping you grow your network. They’re helping you grow, perhaps, your brand? They’re helping you grow your capital, whatever that might be. So, the connectors are often your most extroverted or most of the well-connected, and so they’re able to connect you to other opportunities. Then you all definitely need a survivor-mentor. So,  entrepreneurship is so lonely. I had no idea how lonely it would be. And the survivor mentor reminds you that it’s not your friends, it’s not your family. It’s somebody who believes in what you’re doing and reminds you to keep going because there will be a lot of painful, hard decisions, hard days. You wonder if you’re doing the right thing, and you need that person, that isn’t the person that, you know, you’re in the house or isn’t the person that you go for drinks with or text. It’s not the person you vent with, but the person that believes in you and your mission. The other mentors that I always recommend getting are a leader-mentor. So this is important when you’re trying to build, kind of, especially in your career, this is the most important one – you’re trying to build a leadership, a leader -reputation. And so, looking for people on how they connect with others, how they build followership – not every leader’s communication style will be aligned with yours – so, just watching the most successful leaders and understanding how they’re doing those things. And then the two other mentors that you need are technical-based. So you need someone who is an industry pioneer, and even if you don’t meet with them, just understanding what they have done, because they have so much historical information about your industry, that they’re just a wealth of knowledge and watching what they’ve done is amazing. But on the flip side of that, you need some early adopter-mentors and the early adopter-mentors help you see the trends and help you see forecasts in things that might be coming up in your industry that you haven’t even applied yet. So there’s six mentors that every business owner needs. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews That is amazing. 

Stacy Cassio Thank you.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Thank you, Chris. Both of you guys are amazing, I love it.

So how do you evolve a relationship between a mentor and a sponsor? I’m going to tell you why I’m asking you that: I was reading an article and it said women oftentimes have no problem asking for a mentor, but we don’t seek sponsors, right? So I’ve always been educated that sponsors – you don’t just ask somebody, “Hey, can you sponsor me?” 

Stacy Cassio  No. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Sponsors seek you. So, help our listeners understand how that relationship can evolve. Can your mentor become your sponsor? Are they separate? What does that look like? 

Stacy Cassio  Yeah. So this actually came through the community also. I started to notice that the events that I was giving people opportunities to attend; introduced them to really successful female executives in Charlotte, and those women had a lot of experience and could answer questions, but they couldn’t apply it to each person in the event. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews  Yeah. 

Stacy Cassio  So we came up with the three different levels of mentorship, and the first one is informal mentors. So, these are the folks that have a thought, have a podcast, have a book, have some research, have some expertise in whatever you may be doing, but you may never, ever meet them. They’re, so for instance, I as an entrepreneur was trying to, you know, silence all that, the self-doubt. And so I every Monday would start by listening to “How I Built This with Guy RAZ,” and just understanding that the questions are part of the process and that even the most successful entrepreneurs are going through this. So that helped me – but I’ll never meet Guy RAZ or anybody – well, maybe I will. 

Stacy Cassio  *laughing* Knock on wood here.

I take that back, I take that back *laughing* 

So, you know, having some direction from experts without even, you know, it’s just your place, it’s like a starting ground, it’s where you’re going to build from.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Absolutely. 

Stacy Cassio  …And then formal mentors are the folks who have experience but don’t know you personally. So they can answer your questions, but the sponsors are the ones who can take their experience and apply it to you because they know you. So oftentimes sponsors are people that we have worked with because we’ve already demonstrated who we are, what we know, what we’re good at, all of our abilities, and the sponsor is able to take their expertise and their knowledge and apply it to what we need.

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Got it.

Stacy Cassio  Sponsors are also key in bringing us to the table and making room for us at the table. They’re also great at pointing out where the door is. Many times, we don’t know what types of opportunities are out there until somebody points it out. So, it’s great, but that all comes from, that person has enough experience with you and believes in you enough to know that you’re gonna take advantage of the opportunity. So it happens over time. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews And they trust you, right, to put you in that position. I mean, you don’t just open doors for everybody. 

Stacy Cassio  Exactly. It’s special. It’s a gift. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Yeah, yeah. So your comment about pointing you in the right direction in terms of which door to go through, takes me back: I read a book by Bishop T.D. Jakes called “Instinct,” and he went to Africa and he went to the safari with his son while his wife stayed home and prayed for him, and they were looking at all the different animals in the safari. But one thing that he talked about was, whenever you’re in a new environment, you need to probably be more quiet than you are not, because you don’t understand the environment. You don’t know what’s going on. You don’t know the landscape there’s so much that you don’t know. Right? So to me, I would think that a mentor can help you understand that, but also, I would think that your sponsor is probably gonna help to coach you on that before you get into that environment so that you don’t step on the wrong toes, say the wrong thing, but you understand, hey, for the first meeting, this would be my approach. Maybe meeting two or three, you do something different. What’s your thoughts on that? 

Stacy Cassio  Yeah, I think a sponsor knows you well enough that they know your blind spots. So they’re going to offer some coaching. And it’s something that you and I were talking about earlier, is, the mentors and the sponsors in your life can’t be manufactured. I have found that’s where organization programs fail, is that when they’re trying to pair individuals together and say “this would be a perfect match,” or even, some like, industry groups will do that now, like, “here’s your mentor.” You can’t manufacture the chemistry around mentors or the people that are going to help you get to the next level. That has to be something. Someone wants to invest in you and your idea enough to give you their time and their wisdom. And the mentee, the person that’s going to take that information, you know, needs to do the work behind it, to continue the relationship to grow. So, yes, I definitely agree with that. I think there is a reason that we were given two ears and one mouth. Sometimes we just need to listen a little bit more. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews My husband would agree with that *laughing*

Stacy Cassio  *laughing* Mine too. Let’s not let them listen to this. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Right. So what’s the difference between finding a mentor for your career versus business? Because sometimes, I meet people where, I’m an intrepreneur, and I want to be here, right? Or we may have our own employees right at our own companies that may not want to be an entrepreneur, so how can we coach them on how to find your mentor for your career versus us as CEOs having to find our mentors for our businesses? 

Stacy Cassio It all comes back to what we were talking about earlier: What is next? So, for instance, when I was beginning [in] the community, I was looking for more community development-mentors. In my business, I am now working on scaling that through a digital platform. So now I’m looking for people that can help me take it to that level. So, regardless if it’s your career or your business, it’s important to know what is next for you. Is it the promotion within the organization, or is it taking your business to a new city? Like, where are you going? And then you’ll find the people. I think that many of us look for the people first to give us the answers because we’re soul searching… 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Yeah. 

Stacy CassioAnd you can have conversations in those moments that will help, you know, maybe get you to the answer sooner, but those probably aren’t gonna be your mentors. Those are just people that are asking for their time and what they did their experiences because perhaps it would spark something in you. When you’re really looking for a mentor, you need to show up with what is next for you or your business. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Got it. And so, how do the needs for your mentors change as your business changes? 

Stacy Cassio  Yeah, so, I think very much, your mentorship network will continue to expand as your business expands, because there will be a lot of “what’s next.” So, you know, when it’s just you, it’s easy to know what’s next, but then you get to a “next level” where there are divisions, which each have a different goal or mission. So they’re gonna need some different mentors and in those divisions in order to take your business to the next level. So just thinking about – once there are many goals for the organization – then you’re probably looking for a larger mentorship network. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Awesome. Stacy, before we wrap up, is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners? 

Stacy Cassio  No. I mean, I just, I really feel strongly that what we’re missing in our careers and businesses is the ask of the right person, and then the work – do the work and show up with the results and continue to develop those relationships because there is nothing better. And this has been a giant “aha moment” is every time I ask someone, a woman to share her story, she leaves the room and she says to me, “I didn’t think I had so much to share! How did I learn all that?” In fact, I think you even said that – we just, don’t – every day we’re collecting new information, learning new things, and it isn’t until we share with someone that you’re like, wow, this is impactful. This is big. This is important. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Well, you know, I think the other thing to that is when we share, we’re creating legacy. Like, people can pick that up and do something with it, versus, if I keep it to myself. 

Stacy Cassio   100%. 100%. I think there is a difference between sharing online and that offline, “let’s share and let me help you grow.” That to me is some of the biggest legacy that you can leave and impact. 

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews So where can our listeners find you? I’m sure you’re on social media, websites, where can they find you? 

Stacy Cassio  I am on all of those things, however, I was off for two years, so it’s a lot, but PinkMentorNetwork.com and then we are on Instagram: @PinkMentorNetwork, and on Facebook, we’re Pop-Up Mentor and Pink Mentor Network

Vanessa Vaughn Mathews Thank you so much for listening. Do you want to learn more? Head to CBRbiz.com to have access to resources on starting and growing your business. If you’re an entrepreneur looking to take your business to the next level, look no further than Charlotte Business Resouces.


The B2U Podcast is now available on YouTube! Watch today’s episode below, or click here for additional small business interviews.

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