The Founder Of WIE And The Other Festival Shares Her Tips For Maintaining Genuine Connections and Building A Professional Networks

Advice, female founders, networking, Wednesday Wisdom, women in business

We’re halfway through the week, and it’s time for a boost of inspiration to keep us going. Our #WednesdayWisdom Thought Leadership series taps into the minds of industry leaders and disruptive visionaries who are working to build the future of entrepreneurship.

Dee Poku is a connector. As the Co-Founder and CEO of WIE (Women Inspiration and Enterprise), a women’s leadership network, she connects emerging and established women leaders and works to equip the next generation of women leaders with the tools they need to succeed. Dee is also the Founder of The Other Festival, a first-of-its-kind all female festival, which she launched in 2016, and has featured the likes of Naomi Campbell and Editor-In-Chief of Marie Claire, Anne Fulenwider. We caught up with Dee to discuss the importance of networking (and how to do it effectively), the correct way to approach a mentor, and how female founders can maintain their relationships, even when they’re super busy.

Dee Poku, Founder of WIE And The Other Festival, Shares Her Tips For Maintaining Genuine Connections and Building A Professional Networks
Photo courtesy Dee Poku-Spalding

You’ve held senior marketing roles at Paramount Pictures and Focus Features. At what point in your career did you decide to leave Hollywood and focus on supporting female founders and women in business?

There was a combination of factors that led to my transition to entrepreneurship—the need for more autonomy, searching for meaning in my work, feeling like I’d plateaued. All of these issues combined contributed to the feeling that it was time to apply all my skills and experience to something I had built and owned. And I found my true calling in providing a service that supported women confronting the same issues I had navigating my career.

Both WIE and The Other Festival are centered around bringing powerhouse women together to celebrate and learn from each other—Arianna Huffington, Diane von Furstenberg and Melinda Gates have all spoken at some of your previous events. How do you go about securing such high-profile and influential women, and what can female founders take away from your approach?

I think you have to be smart about the way you approach busy people and think beyond your own needs to what’s in it for them. Be thoughtful, personalize your asks rather than firing off standard letters, and use your [existing] relationships to get introductions where possible rather than sending cold emails.

You believe strongly in the power of networking and building relationships, particularly with other women. How do you stay connected to your network as it grows, and what advice do you have for female founders who are building networks of their own?

I have so many demands on my time between running my company and my family, that I have to be smart about how I maintain contact with my close friends and my wider network. It’s so much more straightforward when you’re young and have fewer commitments, so use that time wisely to build strong rich relationships that stand the test of time. See people often, take an interest in their lives, offer help and support where you can. I love to host dinners and recently launched a high level supper club for founders and CEOs. Beyond that, when I can’t see people in person I try to stay in touch by celebrating milestones—birthdays, career successes etc.

We know it’s so important for women to have their own personal board of advisors, but when do female founders know that someone is on their personal board, and vice versa—when and how do individuals recognize that they are part of a founder’s personal advisory board?

Behind every successful woman is a tribe of champions holding her up. Your personal board are the people you turn to for advice but who recognize that they can also rely on you for the same. It’s generally easier when everything is clear and out in the open and everyone is working to support one another actively and openly. So just be intentional, otherwise it’ll feel as if you’re just constantly asking for favors and giving nothing in return. We’re adding a new component to WIE soon that will allow women to do that more organically.

It’s been said that in order for a mentor-mentee relationship to be successful, both the mentor and mentee must find the relationship valuable. How do early-stage founders provide value to their mentors, and what’s the best way for founders to land a great mentor?

You should take just as much interest in your mentor’s work as they do in yours and that doesn’t mean you’re giving advice per se but if you spot a useful article send it over, if you have an idea based on a need you know they have, suggest it, or where feasible volunteer your time. Come to each meeting well prepared with any follow ups from your last meeting plus very well thought out asks. Above all, don’t waste their time. Be mindful and efficient. Potential mentors can be found everywhere—among family, friends, at industry events and conferences. It’s about striking up organic relationships that can evolve into something deeper.