Key Lessons Learned- Interviewing Ilinca Moser
Key Lessons Learned- Interviewing Ilinca Moser
Ilinca Moser lives in Zürich and recently she launched Key Lessons Learned, The Swiss Mentorship Platform, which helps people looking for career advice to find the right mentor.
House of Romanians in Switzerland (H.R).: How did you get the idea?
Ilinca Moser (I.M).: Out of a need - I’m aware of how much a mentor can help in someone’s career! I did not have a mentor for a long time, simply because I did not have anyone close to me that seemed right to me. To me it doesn’t feel natural to go to someone I barely know, and to ask for their time and that they give me some career advice. But online everything becomes transparent. If a person has enrolled as a mentor on such a platform, he or she has the time, resources and motivation to help. Plus, on such a platform you have access to many more mentors than in your personal network!
What's unique about our platform is that both sides have a choice[...] we offer high flexibility, there is a variety of mentoring topics and a whole range of prices, including free services.
H.R.: How do you choose the mentors on the platform?
I.M.: For now, anyone can register as a mentor and can choose the areas where they want to mentor others: from general advice to detailed insights about an industry, ways to improve soft and hard skills, help in interview preparation, support for a professional conversion or counseling for those at the beginning of their career. And much more...
On the platform, we let the mentors set their fee and time availability, since the motivations are quite diverse: some people do it to see that their experience can be applied and can bring a change in someone else’s life, some want to get to know the younger generation better, some want a change of perspective, and others are professional coaches.
What's unique about our platform is that both sides have a choice: a mentee chooses a mentor, and the mentor can accept or reject the mentee’s request. After a first meeting, both the mentee and the mentor can rate each other and write a recommendation. These are visible to other users. What distinguishes us from the already existing online platforms: we offer high flexibility, there is a variety of mentoring topics and a whole range of prices, including free services.
H.R.: Don’t you think there’s competition between the platform and the mentoring programs offered by different organizations or companies?
I.M.: No, because Key Lessons Learned offers something different: besides mutual choice, there is also the freedom to reach anyone: people in different roles, in different companies, in different industries, with a diverse professional and cultural background.
H.R.: Key Lessons Learned was the project with which you attended StartUp School. What does this program mean?
I.M.: Startup School is a program initiated by YCombinator, a startup incubator in Silicon Valley. YCombinator’s alumni include Dropbox, AirBnB, Quora and Reddit. You register to Startup School with a concrete project, no matter what the stage - it can be just an idea, or it can be something that already produces revenue. From the about 15'000 yearly registered projects, about one-fifth are admitted. These get to participate in a 10-week program with 1-2 online courses per week and an assigned advisor. I was lucky to have an experienced advisor: he has had two startups, one of which he has already sold. The greatest gain for me in this experience was the change of perspective: there is a different dynamic and magnitude of the startup ecosystem in Silicon Valley than in Switzerland. But I'm also connected to the Swiss startup community, I go to startup-related meetups, and keep myself up-to-date with the latest news from the Swiss entrepreneurship world.
H.R.: What's next? Do you have another program in sight?
I.M.: Such programs are extremely useful and I want to participate in another one. However, the programs that currently run in Switzerland are dedicated either to more advanced projects, or to startups at very early stages.
H.R.: What do you need to know when you have a start-up idea?
I.M.: From my point of view, it is vital to have experience in the field. For Key Lessons Learned, I've been working on everything from the technical implementation, to the graphical user interface, to legal issues, to product promotion, and so on. Thus, I’m sure that I know my product: I know what it can and cannot do, I know its strengths, I know how much effort will be needed to develop it in the future. But at the same time, I know my limits, both in terms of time and knowledge. In the coming months, I'll work with two more people on specific areas of development. It is clear to me that you cannot be an expert in all areas.
If people like your idea, they support you!
H.R.: Is networking important in such a project?
I.M.: During the time I spent working in industry, I did not make it a priority to strengthen my professional network. When I became an entrepreneur, I realized how important it is to have such a network. Through relationships developed in the past, my ideas reached other people, and in some cases resonated with them: I found someone who will join the team in January, other contacts gave me feedback on the idea of mentoring and on what type of knowledge could be shared, and some have even registered on the platform as mentors. Sometimes engagement occurs when you least expect it: from friends of friends or from people met online: I met one of my future collaborators on the cofoundme.org platform. In any case, if people like your idea, they support you!
H.R.: You are one of the few people who have been active in all professional directions: academic career, 10 years experience in industry and, recently, entrepreneurship. How has each of these fields contributed to your professional development?
I.M.: The PhD I did at ETH Zurich developed my endurance. Even if you have a professor and post-doctoral students who support you, you are responsible for your project. You work on this project for 4-5 years, sometimes even longer. You discover your limits and find the mechanisms to go through the difficult times, discover the strategies to motivate yourself. Moreover, you can develop your confidence: when your paper gets accepted by a well-rated journal, when you present your research results in conferences, when your work is appreciated by experts - all these things increase your self-confidence a lot. For me, the doctoral experience was extraordinary in many ways.
Industry, on the other hand, has helped me to discover diversity: I worked in small and medium companies, as well as in a corporation, I had the chance to test and discover what fits me and what doesn’t, what motivates me, when I stagnate and where I can grow. Things I thought I wanted turned out to be not that important.
And with entrepreneurship ... here the learning never stops!
H.R.: Your personal motto is Always learn, always ask questions, always improve. Did you also have a mentor who counseled you in your professional life?
I.M.: I had only one “official” mentor in my professional life, and that happened more or less by chance. Back then I was somewhat skeptical about the idea of mentoring, but there was a mentoring program at Credit Suisse (where I was working at the time), and a colleague convinced me to apply. After one year, I was able to see how much my mentor had contributed to my professional development, and the progress I had made. This experience contributed to the idea behind Key Lessons Learned.
H.R.: Beyond the journey of life, there are also shorter journeys you engage in. You were in the most exotic places in the world and some of the experiences you documented on the blog. Do you have a favorite place?
I.M.: The trip to Tibet has a special place in my heart: the beauty of the landscapes, the culture, the spirituality of the Tibetan people. No matter what people tell you in advance about this place, no matter how much you research, all these things will surprise you when you experience them for real. The same is true for Japan. I’ve been there twice, last time last spring, in the cherry blossom season. There is of course the beauty of the nature, but to me it was also very impressive to see how the Japanese people celebrate the cherry blossoms.
Both Switzerland and Romania are home.
H.R.: Ah, my favorite subject: where is home for you? You have lived in Switzerland for the last 14 years, you’re married here, but your parents are still in Cluj ...
I.M.: Both Switzerland and Romania are home for me. I lived in Cluj for 23 years, I'm still in touch with my childhood friends, I visit my parents quite often. However, I live in Switzerland, all my professional life has taken place here, my husband is here.
H.R.: Will the two worlds ever collide?
I.M.: In the future I might extend the platform to Romania, but it is still too early to make concrete plans...
Interviewed by Livia Bălăcescu, Zürich, December 2018