Mentor Interview with Eszter Vas-Zoltan

In anticipation of our upcoming Global Mentorship Programme we would like to introduce some of the experts who will be working with the startups over the next few weeks. The mentors are at the core of the programme and without them, we couldn’t have put together such a compelling set of activities, workshops and events.

One our first volunteering mentor was Eszter Vas-Zoltan, whose charisma pairs with professionalism and enthusiasm that shines through her way of working with startups and innovators.

“Normal gets you nowhere” is Eszter’s motto as much in her professional and as in her personal life. This attitude fits neatly in the startup world and it allows her to speak the language of entrepreneurs. Her broad corporate experience and international background armed her to become an excellent mentor for early-stage companies.
We discussed with her how she navigates the intersection of the corporate and startup sphere.


Tell us about your current role

As a Global Innovation Manager, my mission is to help our employees unlock their potential and turn their most creative and wildest ideas into viable propositions.
Working at the world’s largest food and beverage company gives me the privilege to touch millions of consumers’ life, but also the pressure to serve them with products they love.

Why did you start to work with startups?

As a big corporate Nestle traditionally used to work with other big firms like SAP, Microsoft etc. and given our sizes & procedures projects could turn lengthy and pricey.
Combining the agility and passion of a startup with our expertise and resources is a great way to succeed in this rapidly changing environment.

You work in a corporate environment for some time now, so you know it inside and out. However, we see that many startups lack corporate experience and we would like to offer them a peek under the curtain of the big machine.
When a firm wants to integrate an external innovation, they have to work together
with the chosen startup. What do you think is the biggest challenge when it comes to corporate integration of startups?

It really depends on the maturity of the startup – early-stage startups are fighting for their existence and can´t waste time going through the procedures of a big corporate.
That´s why we tend to collaborate when they reach a more advanced stage so we don´t become a bottleneck. Also, when it comes to partnerships and acquisitions, we try to keep their entity separate and save them from bureaucracy.

Most mentors work on a pro bono basis, so it’s mainly the startups that are benefiting from the programme. How is it from a mentor’s point of view? Is mentoring a rewarding experience?

I always felt it was a duty to share my knowledge and help others thrive. I´m learning a lot from my mentees, so I see it as a win-win.

Part of being an entrepreneur is about learning to fail. How did you learn to embrace failure?

From early on in my career I was a big fan of Test & Learns and I allocated smaller budgets to pilot new ideas. Nowadays this concept has a fancier title called growth hacking.
For me failure is not trying. We should also manage our expectations, maybe out of 100 attempts 1 idea will become big success – but you had to have the previous 99 attempts.

What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and how is it valuable for entrepreneurs?

Day to day I´m exposed to many creative ideas. But you can’t be carried away by an idea, creating a sustainable business model and executing it well is even more important.
This is an area where entrepreneurs need to get better, articulating how their idea comes to life.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for early-stage startups at the moment?

I recently heard it was a challenge for them to get pilot opportunities which was a surprise to me.

Off the top of your head, what’s the one book every entrepreneur should read?

I love the wisdom of Guy Kawasaki. If you don´t have the patience to read a book (which sometimes is a struggle for me), look up his videos!

Let’s be honest, not every idea is a good idea. Have you ever worked with a team who had a product you didn’t believe would succeed?

In my current role most of the ideas I´m working on are not mine, so I had to learn how to be equally passionate about them.
Even if for me it doesn´t seem like a revolutionary idea, we need to make sure we get the most out of it. Plus, I put bets on people, not ideas.

What’s the most useless, cliché startup advice you have ever heard? The internet is full of those…

This is a rather corporate cliché: “Let´s be agile” – said by people who have no clue about agile ways of working.

Have you ever given this very advice to anyone?

I´m quite an action-oriented person – when giving advice my goal is that the person walks away with something actionable, rather than throwing around fancy sentences.

cLAB Ventures - July 24, 2020