Even if you haven’t heard of Sarah Kauss, you may be familiar with
Ten years ago, this Girl Scout alum founded and self-funded S’well,
a water bottle company aimed at reducing single-use plastics.
Available in a variety of designs that complement a wide range of
personal styles, Sarah’s products are beloved by many a consumer and
have allowed her to build a hugely successful lifestyle brand that is
environmentally conscious at its core.
“A [good part] of the mission for S’well came out of ‘leave a place
better than you found it,’ something I learned as a Girl Scout,” says
the proud alum, who joined as a Brownie and stayed involved all the
way through high school. “That’s in my DNA.”
Sarah, now 44, helms the $100 million-plus company as CEO—and she
says she’s been fortunate to have had some great mentors along the way.
“[I’ve been connected to] mentors through formalized programs,
friendships . . . and completely random, happy accidents. There have
been times when I’ve . . . had a spark of connection with someone and
they’ve stayed with me for a long time,” she says.
Sarah’s mentors have helped her with everything from business
tactics, such as how to approach a new customer or pitch a new
product, to balancing motherhood and work. They have also helped her
on the road to self-acceptance and imparted a valuable sense of community.
“The mentors in my life are not perfect humans, and they make me
feel OK about not being perfect either. They also make me feel less
alone—like we’re all on a journey [together],” she explains.
Read on for Sarah’s tips on finding your own mentors.
Don’t be shy.
“Think big and reach out. So many women
really want to link arms and pull people up behind them,” Sarah
explains. “I get emails and Twitter messages from people all the
time, and I think people generally do like to give back.”
“You might get some no’s,” she adds, “but you might be
[pleasantly] surprised, too.”
Start with a simple ask.
There are a lot of ways to
craft that first ask, says Sarah.
“You could say, ‘I’m
looking for a mentor,’ ‘I’m looking for some advice,’ or ‘do you
have time for a coffee or a 15-minute call?’”
Tailor your message.
Successful people are often busy
and in demand, so a form letter won’t get the job done here.
Instead, find a way to connect with potential mentors in a personal
way, advises Sarah.
“The [requestors] that resonate
with me have a very specific thing they’re asking for help with;
they might say ‘I’m from your town’ . . . and talk about
sustainability. There’s some reason they’re reaching out to me
specifically, and so the messages are sincere and coming from the
heart,” she explains.
“I still keep in touch with a
student I met while speaking at a university a few years ago. She
wrote to me after the lecture and there was just something in her
note that struck a chord with me—she reminded me of [my days] at a
Understand the value of perspectives outside your company.
Sponsors lift you up from within your organization, which is
important—but part of the value of a mentor is that they’re not too
close to your work.
“A mentor brings a really fresh
perspective,” Sarah explains. “They might not be so close to the
individuals you work with, the personalities, the situations . . .
They’re standing on the balcony of your life and helping you look
down on it.”
Be open to people who are outside your field, too.
“Some of my mentors are in tech as opposed to consumer goods,”
says Sarah. “The way they approach things is refreshingly
Often these individuals will offer
solutions that she initially doesn’t think will work in her
industry—but on thinking through the advice, she’ll arrive at a new
way of looking at a problem.
For potential mentors who are in the
public eye, respecting privacy can be key.
ground rules about confidentiality, about what you’ll share with
each other as opposed to outside the relationship. In this day and
age of social media people need to be able to say ‘this is my
challenge, this is my advice . . . this is where things fell down’
without worrying that [the words] will pop up somewhere else later,”
“In my more formal mentoring
relationships,” she adds, “we have a written code of conduct—we
won’t try to hire each other’s employees, for example.”
Sarah suggests reaching out to your
mentors quarterly or even monthly to keep the relationships going
“[Turning] to a mentor when there’s an acute
crisis is probably OK some of the time, but building
the relationship in other ways is important. Check-in and share the
highs and lows, the opportunities and the challenges, and then when
a crisis comes up you’ve been there all along; you’re not joust
reaching out in a panic.
Remember to follow up.
After a mentor helps you through
a crisis or even a more straightforward decision, make sure you
close the loop by letting them know how you resolved a
“Those [mentees] who keep in touch let me
know what happens. One girl sent me a handwritten card following up,
and now I’m really invested,” she says, “because I feel like I
helped put her on her path.”
We’ve rolled out a suite of discounts for lifetime members to
women-founded brands, many of which were founded by alums who
applied the skills they learned in Girl Scouts to entrepreneurial
opportunities as adults. Sarah Kauss' company, S'well, is one of
those brands. Learn more about this—and the other benefits
of lifetime membership—now.