Karaoke, Engineered Serendipity, and Being the Quarter: A Conversation with Rebecca Lovell

Two women having a Q&A, before a crowd of women in a modern cafe.

We hosted 50+ women in The Shop this September and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. The atmosphere was electric, the wine was flowing, the snacks were life-altering. And among it all, we had the absolute joy of hosting the multi-talented Rebecca Lovell for a Q&A – the local Seattlite with a resume including CEO of Denali Founder consulting, General Partner in TAG Ventures, and previously, the first CBO of GeekWire.

We don’t want to keep her wisdom all to ourselves, so please enjoy some excerpts. This (condensed) conversation was moderated by Porter co-founder and VP of sales and marketing Kathleen Selke.

On the balance of power and intimacy in gatherings, and leveraging different parts of yourself:  

“I think back to my 20’s – I went into industrial supply distribution and found myself as the youngest and only woman manager in a development program. I noticed over time, everything about me – the cadence of my voice, the way I shape sentences – started sounding like the men that surrounded me. I literally gave myself an ulcer not being my true self. I moved past that phase in my 30’s. I really leaned into personal brand, if you will. That was a completely foreign concept to me. Every one of us has a personal brand, a promise we make to ourselves and share with the world. And mine at the time had a lot to do with karaoke, and wearing floral dresses and heels, and I really chose to embrace that. And I will say though, in my 30’s, I felt like I occasionally paid a tax for that. People might make assumptions because of how we present, and what their perceptions might be.

“I spoke at an industry event a few years ago, and I was introduced as the “effervescent emcee”. And I was like, alright, I’m not mad about being compared to a glass of champagne. What’s not to love about that? But in fact, I was there to moderate a really tricky subject, with 5 women mayors, talking about place making and affordability. What I knew when I left that day was I was effervescent, sure. But I got to lead a discussion that was substantive, that was thoughtful, and I knew that when I left the room people might say more than just effervescent.

“But I wasn’t comfortable with that at first. I felt underestimated. That used to make me grouchy. Now I’m like, yeah, I am GOING to prove you wrong and enjoy every minute of it.”

On networking, in a way that doesn’t feel transactional:

“When I go to a beautiful space like this, I know that you have engineered serendipity. This room is filled with amazing people, and they all have a story. So I find I would much rather have a deep conversation with three people over an hour than have a quick handshake and look at the name tag and employer with 50 people.

“So that’s the first piece for me, is that curiosity and connection. And the second piece is I have built my entire career by just playing in traffic. History major, goes into industrial supplies, I’ve done executive search, I even worked for the government – and no one is more shocked than me that I ever did that. But I’ve been so lucky to have friends tap me on the shoulder and say hey, do you want to join this team? Stuff that was wildly outside of my consideration set, stuff that I didn’t even know was a thing. And I said yes instead of saying no. And I feel that has blessed me with a deep and rich and diverse network.”

On the secret sauce of mentorship:

“The thing that has always terrified me about being a formal mentor is I don’t want to fail them. So as a mentee what I have done is put very specific guardrails around an ask to make it really easy to say yes. When I was in grad school, a woman who I deeply admired, Phyllis Campbell – she was running the Seattle Foundation at the time and is with JP Morgan Chase now – was speaking in my class about nonprofit management. I was fan-girling all over the place. But instead of saying, “Oh Phyllis, will you be my mentor?” I’m said, “Hey Phyllis, I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee and talk to you about the skills you’re looking for in a development professional.” Very very specific, 20 minutes of your time. She’s like, you’re a student, you’re broke, I will buy the coffee, you’re on. And now I check in with her every time I change careers.

“And then in that conversation, one thing I do is ask a lot of questions. I really believe that you have the answers within. If you flip a coin to decide if you’re going to order sushi or Thai food, you know what I think is the most powerful thing? How do you feel about the way the coin flipped? You already knew what you wanted, right? The quarter is just the forcing function. I try to be the quarter. As a mentor, let me just ask you thoughtful, informed questions, and get people to arrive at their own conclusions.

“And a good mentee is not somebody who takes your advice. In fact, great mentees ask for all the perspectives they can, and then your job is to pick which 95 percent of that advice you’re going to ignore. Maybe 5 percent works for you. That’s your job, as a great mentee, and mentors have got to get over themselves when people don’t take their advice. That’s not your job as a mentor.”

On parenting, balance, boundaries, and the setting and re-setting of priorities:

“Parenting for me has had so many gifts, and one of them is clarity. Being a parent doesn’t make things easier, but clarity makes the hard things possible. So I am crystal clear on what my priorities are. When I think about volunteer opportunities, community events, what have you, I have a very aggressive filter for what I say yes to. Number 1, I have to be able to contribute something that is unique. Number 2, I want to learn something valuable. Number 3, it has to align with my values, or it’s a hard no. And, P.S., it has to be at least as interesting as my day job or better than sleep, because I am not compromising on my time with Madeline. That is a non-negotiable. And so this filter has been super helpful.”

Check out the Porter Events Calendar to join us at our next gathering!