If you are a startup, chances are you are involved in an incubator/accelerator program. That means you are working with a Mentor who is assigned to your startup.
Some mentors are Trainers. They will tell you exactly what you need to do and expect you to execute these skills consistently and infallibly. They are process-driven. Are you?
Some mentors are Coaches. They will make sure your team doesn’t fail because they will do everything for you. Rapid failure is the hallmark of startup success. If you are constantly enabled, and failure averted or prevented by your Mentor, whose startup is it anyway?
Some mentors are Trusted Advisors. They are practical and realistic about what it takes to create a viable, sustainable, and scalable startup. They take a hands-off approach. They avoid giving you all the answers. They provide guidelines for success, identify factors which potentially can derail your venture, and let you do the heavy lifting. They are tough love personified and they love startups. How else will you learn?
Perhaps the first order of business when working with your Mentor is understanding their reasons for mentoring. What’s in it for your startup? What’s in it for your Mentor?
The majority of mentors work pro bono for the incubator, accelerator or university startup initiative that your enterprise is part of. They have a day job. They may work for a high profile company which your incubator/accelerator program has identified as being of strategic importance to the longevity of their program. Corporate mentors vary in expertise and experience in mentoring startups. Some corporate mentors are encouraged to become involved as a combination of community service and an activity which enhances their own professional resume. Some are simply so addicted to startups that they are Mentors for Life. Mentoring is imprinted in their DNA.
Some mentors are testing out the waters at your accelerator / incubator. These mentors may – or may not – be seasoned startup veterans. They may – or may not – have substantial experience working with startups. They may be university alumni who view their efforts as paying it forward to their alma mater. They may be trying out mentoring to assess the time commitment, quality of startups enrolled in the program, and how well they like the mentoring experience. Your startup may be their mentoring beta test.
Take the time to determine the value you and your Mentor bring to each other. Setting mutual expectations becomes critical when you are working towards the goal of pitching to investors and winning early customers. Even though you may not be paying your Mentor for their expertise, the great ones provide a tremendous amount of ongoing value to your startup success. They are All-In and 100% committed to doing what it takes to walking with you and your team in your startup journey.
Understand, and respect, Who you are working with and Why they are mentoring in the first place.
How do you intend to utilize what your Mentor brings to your startup business table, now and in the future?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers, LLC, catalyzes revenue-producing business transition, startup growth and professional development. And yes, she’s been known to mentor startups.