StartUp Mentorship: Signal vs. Noise
Seems like there’s a fair bit of chatter on the whole topic of Mentorship happening with many of the bloggers that I read at least weekly and I thought that here maybe I’d add my own voice to same. Disclaimer – I know only a couple of these entrepreneurs personally but would vouchsafe them all as knowledgeable, talented and yes TRUE mentors in their own right as they all own that “Been there & done that” T-Shirt, eh!
That said, what am I talking about when I say “mentorship” as a definition of what is done in any startup ecosystem? Well, to my mind, it’s the creation of a network of like minded individuals who will be instrumental in helping new startups gain traction for their ideas…and lead them to success.
That at least is the definition that I follow and yes, I know that there are many others who agree…and those who don’t treat this set of tasks the same as I do and are in fact more interested for other points of view – specifically perhaps even their own. That bothers me, to a large degree…as any startup ecosystem should IMHO NOT be a private fishing hole for new revenues for mentors – at least not in my world.
So moving from the basic premise that a mentor is there to help, aid and abet the success of a startup via our own experiences and business acumen, one then has to reason out the “how-to’s” for that to happen, and there it appears is much of the talk that has been happening online lately.
Fred Wilson, of avc.com, a very well known and respected VC, offered up this thought in a recent blog post here -
“I’ve been doing a tour of the summer accelerator programs and a question I get a lot is about the feedback the teams get from the investors and mentors they meet with. They ask me how much should they react to the feedback they are getting advising them to do things differently, pivot, change the product, change the strategy, etc.
I call this constant advising/mentoring of early stage startups “mentor/investor whiplash” and I think it is a big problem. Not just with the accelerator programs but across the early stage/seed startup landscape…”
As you can tell, Fred seems to believe that this is an issue – a problem really, that exists all over the startup landscape and one sees that what Fred seems to mean is that “free advice is worth just what you paid for it” and that all advice should be simply “digested” and held off from action until you can “vet” that advice/counsel in the marketplace itself. This to me does seem logical….and I’d think that all startup founders would agree. Plus…DO read the comments after Fred’s post for some interesting comments from other entrepreneurs too!
To counteract Fred’s premise, Brad Feld another very well known entrepreneur VC type who was one of the founders of TechStars Accelerator organization years ago blogged here about Fred’s take on same and how he thought that (at least for him and TechStars) that such a POV was off base -
“I disagree with Fred. It’s not a big problem. It’s the essence of one of things an accelerator program is trying to teach the entrepreneurs going through it. Specifically, building muscle around processing data and feedback, and making your own decisions.
At Techstars, we view mentor whiplash as a positive attribute. We talk about it openly – all the time. I believe that if you ask five mentors the same question you’ll get seven different answers. This is especially true early in any relationship, when the mentors are just getting to know you and your company…”
As you can see, Brad means that the kind of described mentor whiplash is not to be feared, but enjoyed! Startup founders should “build muscle around it” he goes on to say…and yes DO read the comments below this blog post too for other very well known VCs and startup founders and their take on this “whiplash” too!
My last example today on what I think is a further great take on this mentorship “signal vs. noise” issue is from our own Canadian Jesse Rodgers, Director of the Creative Destruction Lab over at our Rotman School of Business in Toronto who built the Univ of Waterloo Velocity residence into the power it is today and his blog piece here and it was reposted too on David Crow’s startupnorth.ca blog…
“A problem (one of many) new founders face is the overwhelming barrage of mentorship (good and bad) and information mixed with the inability to filter. An accelerator should be able to provide the environment where a strong group of peers with some guidance can help to build the “muscle around processing data and feedback.” In the last 6 years I have noticed that is a common problem founders face and their ability to manage it is important to their success. It wasn’t until I experienced the whiplash myself a 2nd and 3rd time that I fully appreciated the damage it can do even if you are prepared for it…”
As Jesse puts it (and he brings it all back to my original POV on why a mentor gets involved in the startup ecosystem from a profit POV!) “…The scary thing for entrepreneurs is that accelerator programs are too often run by people that don’t know how to effectively educate people and/or they have something to gain financially by the decisions founders make...”
Mentorship. A very important topic for any/all startup ecosystems to face and manage….I’ll be posting more on same…but I’d love to know more about what you think on same too, eh!