This Co-Founder's Former Boss Became Her Mentor -- and Encouraged Her to Leave Her Corporate Gig
Sophie Kahn founded Aurate while she was still working full-time at Marc Jacobs. And it was all her boss's idea.
In the Women Entrepreneur series Mentor Moments, female founders sit down to chat with their own mentors (and us!) about how and why the relationship developed, and the lasting impact it’s had on their careers.
Having a good boss can feel like a rare, lucky thing in business. Having a boss that becomes your closest advisor and actually encourages you to follow your passion and start a business? She’s an absolute unicorn.
When Sophie Kahn took a job at Marc Jacobs working under Mathilde Cazenave, she never expected that her manager would become the catalyst of her own entrepreneurial dreams. But when Cazenave pointed out that Kahn was too efficient, too change-oriented, too creative to find long-term satisfaction in the corporate world, Kahn started working on a side project with her boss’s blessing. From there, Aurate was born -- an affordable, fine jewelry startup that’s attracted $2.6 million in funding.
Here, the women sound off on supporting each other, not working too hard and remembering to laugh.
Women Entrepreneur: You first met when you were both working at Marc Jacobs, and Sophie, you reported directly to Mathilde. How did that relationship progress?
Sophie Kahn: It was very natural. In the beginning it was very professional, a little more of a typical relationship you’d have with your boss. I even remember going into Mathilde’s office and feeling a little anxious at first. But as time grew, Mathilde became very inspiring to me. She was a very empathetic manager. It felt almost like she was a mother to me, which is weird to say because she’s not that much older. But you felt that she cared about you. And once I felt like I had proven myself to her through my work, I felt like I could open up a bit, and we started to talk about more personal things.
Mathilde Cazenave: When Sophie joined the company, I had just joined a couple months before. I was recruited to create new departments, and Sophie very much helped in that creation. So we weren’t at a startup, of course, but we were building something together, facing difficulties together, being creative together and also working to help other people in the organization understand the value added. So we worked very closely and built trust. And Sophie is amazing -- she’s radiant.
SK: I’m blushing right now!
MC: We just connected and laughed right away. It’s so important to not take yourself too seriously.
SK: Mathilde is actually the reason I started Aurate in a way. We had very regular feedback sessions, and during one, a couple years in, Mathilde told me, you’re going to get frustrated here because you can’t accomplish things as quickly as you’d like. It was very selfless, and she kind of suggested I put extra energy into a side project. And so I started making some samples, and Mathilde was literally my first customer.
MC: Sophie is being modest. She’s way above average, and she was over-delivering at Marc Jacobs. The company could not keep up with ‘Sophie pace’! We wanted to implement so many changes, but there’s only so much you can do in a large organization. I remember telling Sophie to be lazier, to some extent. She had so much potential, creativity and capability, and I knew she could work on something she was passionate about while still delivering at work.
SK: I would have never done it otherwise. I like full transparency, so without my boss knowing I was working on something else, I just would have never done it.
WE: Sophie, once you were working on Aurate, and especially once you committed to it full time, how did your relationship with Mathilde change?
SK: At first Aurate was just me, maybe an intern -- so I was asking Mathilde about distribution, getting the website working and emotional perseverance. But the emotional part and the management part is what I grew to ask Mathilde about the most; I look up to how she’s done it in those roles. And again, she always reminds me that humor is important. Mathilde does her work with a laugh. I don’t know if it’s a European thing or a Mathilde thing, but it makes you happier to remind yourself that this work, for most of us, isn’t a matter of life and death.
MC: We’ve talked a lot about how, when you grow up and have more managerial responsibilities, it can feel lonely.
SK: And I do miss seeing Mathilde every day -- we now see each other maybe two or three times in a year. When you have a boss, you get feedback and that “well done,” and you have someone to learn from. But now, as an entrepreneur, it’s learning by doing. And there’s definitely no praise going around! So it’s lonelier and harsher.
WE: How often do you two get to talk, now that you’re not working together?
MC: Not enough!
SK: But what I have with Mathilde is like what you have with some best friends -- you don’t see them a lot, but when you do, it’s as if no time has passed.