The MentorCloud Story
by Dr. Ravishankar Gundlapalli
People ask me, “How did this all start?” So I wanted to candidly talk about how the idea of MentorCloud came about and some of the early experiences that led to setting a big vision, then launching the technology platform, and eventually even writing a book on the topic of mentorship.
After getting my PhD from The University of Michigan, I began my career in the Automotive industry working on advanced transmissions for Hybrid vehicles and earned a couple of engineering patents too. Later, I moved on to Semiconductor industry, optimizing the flow of goods from silicon all the way to laptops. And then I had a chance to work on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner where I was involved in optimizing shipments and inventory across the multi-tier (involving multiple levels of vendors) supply chain. 787 Dreamliner is a revolution in aviation and each time I fly on one, I feel very proud of having played a role in its making.
Right around late 2008 and early 2009, I had a couple of interesting incidences that were very critical in the birth and shaping of MentorCloud. My own perspective towards life changed after those incidences.
I was invited to co-deliver a keynote on ‘Igniting Leadership in Youth’ by the prestigious Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, India. To bring that conversation closer to home, I had few youth leaders, then in their 10th and 11th grades, to share their thoughts on leadership during that keynote. The students were brilliant in their 1-2 min speeches, and one of them happened to be a 16-year old visually challenged student, Srikanth Bolla.
The event finished around 10 PM that day and the visually challenged student Srikanth walked up to me and said, “Sir, I was really inspired by your comments and by your speech. I would love to pusue my undergraduate studies in MIT in the United States of America. Can you help me? Can you mentor me?” Now, that was a very bold and audacious goal, I thought to myself, and I spent some time over the next few days to really understand who he was and his background.
He came from a very modest family with both his parents not educated and living off of a small piece of agricultural land. But he had a very big goal for his own education so as to prove himself. And the fact that with such a “so called” disability, a person can have such a big, audacious goal really caught my attention. I decided to mentor him. I helped him take the SAT with the help of College Board in the United States and CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) back in India because the SAT test had to be administered under tight security to ensure that the test paper is properly destroyed soon after the test is administered. It may have been the very first time that a visually challenged student is taking the SAT in India.
To cut the long story short, Srikanth took the SAT and applied to MIT with my guidance. We were lucky that an MIT alumnus was working for Google at that time in Hyderabad, who interviewed Srikanth and me, and gave a strong recommendation to admit him into MIT. We also applied for financial aid, and I was also able to get a few of my friends to pitch in for supporting his ongoing expenses not covered by financial aid. I had the privilege, which is how I looked at it, to work with him for the next four years and he eventually graduated from MIT Sloan, and now running a successful green products company in India.
It was an experience that was very inspiring to me personally that I, while working on my own career and raising a family, was still able to allocate time and empower another human being.
Lesson #1: We all have so much ‘under-utilized wisdom’ trapped in our head, and that wisdom will see the light of day only when circumstances arise to tap into that wisdom. If we don’t identify and respond to those circumstances, that wisdom remains trapped and will eventually die with us. Mentoring Srikanth was one such circumstance for me.
The following year, I was back in India to attend an educational conference. I was on a plane from Mumbai to Delhi that, seconds before take off from the runway, almost collided with a convoy of helicopters ferrying the then President of India. Thank God that the deftness and quick thinking by Captain SS Kohli of Indian Airlines averted the collision. 142 passengers like me along with the President of India and her accompanying guests were saved from what could have been a horrific tragedy.
We were asked to wait in the airport while the airline was arranging another plane to take all of us to Delhi. I was watching the video monitors, and what struck me was the entire news coverage was about how the President of India had a close call with death.
I was also very happy that a leader of the country got saved, but what bothered me then was that there was no individual mention of anyone of the 148 people onboard, who also had a close call with death. The question that ran through my mind was – “What should I do for the next several years that creates impact so God forbid, if this accident were ever to happen again, there is more conversation in the media about me as well?”
It seems funny that that was the thought that ran through my mind back then! I pondered on that thought and told myself that should do something that will impact the lives of 100 million people. I am again not sure of why I thought of 100 million people, but it seemed big enough to aspire for.
Lesson #2: Life is fragile and there was nothing I could have done to prevent this accident. But what I do have in my control is what I can do within the available time to make impact and leave a legacy. I am also very grateful to Captain SS Kohli who gave 170 of us a second chance to make something meaningful out of God-Given life.
I have been mentoring students throughout my career. While I was working on the 787 Dreamliner, I ran a mentoring services company called Turning Point Academy that provided academic counseling to middle school and high school students. I had experienced first hand the power of mentoring so I updated my vision to bring the power of mentorship to 100 million people.
The experience of mentoring a visually challenged student to study in and graduate from MIT, and the close call with death, set the stage for MentorCloud. But, why a platform and how would that work?
That is where my supply chain experience came in handy. Throughout my supply chain work, I was involved in aligning supply with demand. I know that magic happens when supply meets demand. I looked at Supply as availability of wisdom and willingness to share that wisdom with another human being. I looked at Demand as the need for that wisdom, and the willingness to learn and grow from that gained wisdom. I quickly found that the so-called ‘Supply Chain of Wisdom’ is broken and not very effective in companies and communities.
I realized that it is easy to find a coffee shop nearby, but it is not that easy to find and connect with the right and trusted people who have the wisdom that can transform your own educational or career journey. And that is the MentorCloud platform, connecting people with wisdom to those that are seeking that wisdom, and vice-versa.
And today, I’m really, really proud to say that the MentorCloud platform is being used by mentors and mentees in 150 countries.
Mentoring beyond borders using the supply chain principles of matching supply with demand was well received by thought leaders, media and clients.
When I look back and reflect on it, I feel very fortunate that rather than just brushing off those incidences, I’m glad I took the time to reflect on those experiences and found my calling and life purpose.
As you probably realized by now, MentorCloud is just not a software company. It was never my 1st intention to create a software platform that I can sell to thousands of customers. MentorCloud is a mission with a company behind it – the mission to transform the lives and careers of 100 million people by connecting them with the right mentors, and catalyzing the right kind of conversations.
Everyone on our team has developed this mindset that when we work with an organization to launch their mentoring program, our goal is really to make their mentoring program successful. We ensure that their mentoring program is designed and executed well, and all the participants are trained on how to be good mentors and mentees, and how they can benefit the most from their mentoring interactions.
Thank you for reading this far, and for visiting us today. If any aspect of our story resonated with you, email us or call us, and let us explore how we can work together to bring the power of mentorship to 100 million people, globally.