3 April 2013

How can I help? It’s free.

My brain power – and some of my time – are up for grabs. Yes, it's for free – some (minor) conditions apply, read below. If you are interested, apply on this form. Feel free to re-share this post with those to whom my help may prove useful. If you feel you’re a giver too and want to join my efforts, let me know so we can build a stronger network of mentors with a wider range of skills.

Despite my busy schedule, I am usually very responsive to requests. If you are in a hurry though, you can always pay for my services (note: rates are far from cheap). Fill in the same form but tick the "I’m paying" checkbox. I do expect 99% of requests to be asking for my free service (that’s the intention anyway), and that’s perfectly fine as long as your requests are reasonable and fit within my areas of expertise.

Sebastian – photo taken in San Francisco, California, in March 2013


1. Fill in this form – and wait to be selected (see criteria below) and for me to answer.

2. Give me feedback on how useful my help was and what I could do to improve it – I’ll send you a brief survey to that end.

3. Ideally help someone else in the next few months, letting them know that you're "paying it forward" (I don’t expect anything in return myself), encouraging them in turn to help someone else and so on. Note the word “ideally” which means I won’t chase you until you actually do something, I leave it up to you but I’d be really glad if you felt compelled to help someone else (who can then use www.bit.ly/mentorhelpfeedback to provide feedback).

The areas I can provide help in

Tough to say exactly but give it a try by submitting your request and I'll let you know if I think I can provide any value – or I’ll introduce you to someone else who would be a better fit. I suggest you give a look at my Linkedin profile, my CV and my areas of interest (that are listed on my ‘About’ page) to get a sense of what I can do. Here is also a non-exhaustive list of those areas – note that I don’t claim to hold the truth but I’m happy to offer my help in all humbleness:

Professional sphere

- giving input on and reviewing reports, presentations, dashboards and anything with metrics and data, important emails to write (I’m okay to sign non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements)

- mentoring you on your start-up or your project, whether from a business (market definition, strategy, pricing) or a technical perspective (user experience, features)

- managing teams and managing up

- providing feedback on an application to study at a university or to work for a company (CV, cover letter, application strategy, salary negotiation)

- introducing you to people I know (make sure you polish your arguments)

- automating workflows and using spreadsheets, possibly using code, and defining processes

- getting you to love stats and charts to best represent your achievements

- using Google products and technologies, including some APIs

Soft skills

- re-energising you and encouraging you to stop procrastinating, so you finally get started on your project

- dealing with administrative stuff and solving personal problems

- improving speaking and presentation skills

- dealing with email or information overload and generally helping with anything that needs to be organised

- being more productive and managing your time

- sharing negotiation tips for any specific situation

Personal sphere

- improving your photography technique or deciding what camera or accessory you should buy next (in particular if it’s Nikon)

- post-processing images (in particular with Photoshop)

- organising your travel itinerary (especially in countries I’ve been to, such as India, Morocco, Jordan, Japan, China, Peru, Thailand)

The role I intend to play

I can act as many things: sparring partner, coach, mentor, advisor, listening ear, analyst, investor. You and I decide what's most useful to you. I can provide feedback, suggestions, input, or you can bounce ideas off of me. I can also introduce you to other people. Bear in mind that I may not always provide complete answers or solutions to your questions or problems, but I'll hopefully help you have a different take on them and maybe allow you to find the most optimal and satisfying answer by yourself. Also note that I'm often very critical, therefore take whatever I say with a grain of salt – and let me know if it's useful or not: no need to waste your time nor mine.

Criteria for your request to have a higher chance to be selected

I will consider all applications and will try to respond to as many of them. However, I expect the following criteria to increase the chances for your request to be selected (those criteria are not mandatory at all so don’t refrain from asking support if your request satisfies no criterion):

- request which benefits others, not just yourself

- request with significant impact

- you have no or little access to mentorship resources

- you have already acted upon the previous feedback I gave you

- you have not already benefited from my service

- you are ready to invest some time on your side (I believe in better results if this is not just a one-way thing)

Why am I doing this?

Because I love to coach. Because I already humbly help people in different walks of life. Because I'm a geek and I'm hyper-structured, so I thought I'd put a process in place to make things clearer, more open and accessible to more people. Because I hope my initiative may in turn encourage others to follow suit, effectively scaling my initiative. Because I'm a profound believer in leading by example. Because coaching, teaching and helping are more impactful even if it takes more time and energy than simply giving money away – as the saying goes: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”.

Am I not busy enough already?

Indeed am I very busy. Yet I will always find the time to make myself available, especially when it matters. For now, I have a very high resilience level when it comes to going through hardships, stress, or fatigue: so I might as well use my superpower (humour).

How long will you wait before receiving an answer?

It really depends on the backlog of applications and the urgency of requests (they are all scored, of course). The earlier you apply the better – so you should not wait to apply. I will keep track of everything and will directly let you know if and when you have been selected. If your request is super duper urgent, I may not be able to take it on if I'm already busy with other people, so please don't expect too much out of me as I already try to respond to all direct messages I receive. If it proves useful, I may publish the number of requests selected and the estimated time until which I expect to be busy with them.

What are the possible outcomes?

Beyond successfully helping you and hopefully having a direct positive impact, I may consider the following:

- investing financially in your project

- hiring you for one of the numerous personal projects that I have in mind, either as a volunteer, an intern or a full-time employee or a partner

- recommending you to other people or for jobs (including for opportunities at Google but make sure to look at available jobs on www.google.com/jobs as we only hire for advertised jobs)

Am I guaranteeing results?

No. However:

- I will not accept tasks that I know I cannot help you on, but I will try to give you pointers where you could find relevant support.

- I will do my best to help you as much and as efficiently as possible.

- I trust that the good feedback I received thus far is a promising indication of what you can get out of me (especially if you are paying for my services). If you'd like to get a sense of my personality trait, you can read my bio, Linkedin recommendations or other feedback received during conferences.

Do I plan on documenting things?

Not necessarily – especially as some tasks may be confidential and I am very strict about protecting confidentiality and the privacy of people I assist. I would always ask for your permission first if I believe something you shared with me could prove useful to someone else (and if necessary, I would render all private data and other details anonymous).

How do selected people communicate with me?

I’ll opt for the most relevant communication means depending on the nature of the request and my availability: shared online documents, emails, phone calls, video hangouts, face-to-face meetings, instant messaging.

What’s my going rate in case you want to pay?

I want to insist that I’m not expecting anything in return for my free service. I won’t refuse payments though – who knows, maybe it could transform into some kind of business – except in the case that you absolutely want to hire me as a multi-hour or multi-day consultant (provided the request is not conflicting with my current employment at Google), in particular because you have an urgent or significant request. In terms of rates, let’s just say I will most likely turn down offers below four-figure daily fees – don’t forget I used to be a consultant, including as freelance ten years ago.