Mentorship is my Challenge

Mentorship is my Challenge

Trying to explain how to be a better Mentor: it’s my challange and I’m galvanized 😉

Mentoring is hard
Mentoring is also a more significant part of the economy today than since, perhaps, apprentorship in the craftsman age. Today’s mentoring must teach leadership, too, but additionally, the nature of entrepreneurship. The requirements for high-quality mentoring have changed, but in most environments outside of major tech hubs, the practice of mentoring has not kept pace.

Teach, don’t Tell
The role of a mentor is not to criticize a business model. Too often I hear comments to founders that add up to “that’s a terrible idea” or “that will never work.”  The mentor might be right. If truth be told, the mentor probably is right. But truthfully, that’s not because the mentor knows this to be the case. It happens to be the nature of the beast that if you predict failure, you’ll be right 9 out of 10 times. The role of the mentor is not to replace the founder’s business model assumptions and market guesses with his own. The mentor should teach the founders how to test and validate (or likely invalidate) those assumptions. The best mentors teach the founder skills, so that she can learn whether the idea is good or not.

Focus Your Advice
Mentoring advice should be focused on specific needs the founder has.  This relies, of course, much on the founder, who should articulate a clear objective for any particular mentoring session.  It’s also the founder’s responsibility to find the most appropriate mentor to give advice for that specific objective. Still, mentors should avoid giving general, expansive advice. Successful mentors are often analytical people. They’re used to breaking complex ideas down and coming at problems from different angles. This is clearly useful in many circumstances, but be wary of overusing this ability in unconstructive ways.

Challenge Assumptions
In my view, one of the keys to getting a new business off the ground is to understand what is known versus what is unknown.  Many new entrepreneurs are taught to pretend to know it all. After all, the thinking goes, if you don’t know, you’re not really ready to launch the business. A central premise of the lean startup is to divide your activities such that your focus on executing on that which is known and learning that which is unknown. Mentors can help here in a couple of ways: First, openly challenge Founder’s thinking by exposing non-validated assertions.  It’s great that entrepreneurs are passionate about their product idea; they need to be. But conviction based on passion creates a faith-based startup that is doomed to fail. Second, mentors can help founders devise experiments, provide introductions to customers, or come up with other ways to learn what is unknown, such as looking for analogs in the marketplace.

Beware Being a Domain Expert
Sounds counter-intuitive, I’m sure. Aren’t you supposed to bring your domain expertise? Domain knowledge is particularly helpful on the sustaining side. But if you try to apply your industry expertise to a startup that is trying disrupt that industry, you’ve got a problem: To industry insiders, disruptive innovation looks like bad sustaining innovation. If you can remove yourself from the emotion of seeing your industry potentially disrupted, you can share market knowledge, contacts, and other tips and hacks. And yes, the mentee should be aware of this when seeking advice from industry experts, but also, the best mentors are those who are aware of their own biases and steer clear of areas in which they have a personal stake or an emotional connect to.

Teach Entrepreneurs how to be good mentees.
While many mentors view follow-up as a indication of “entrepreneur-worthiness”, mentors who are interested in a particular startup or founder, should instead reach out themselves. Reaching out doesn’t mean, however, ‘how’s it going?” Reaching out is mentoring: it’s something like: ‘Hey, I haven’t heard from you in awhile.  If you really wish to take advantage of my  (or other’s mentoring), you need to be way more proactive. Here’s what I recommend: After each mentoring session, write an email thanking the mentor and summarizing the conversation; Follow up within a week with specific action taken on the advice or why action wasn’t taken; Write a monthly update on company status, needs, achievements, etc. Send this to all mentors, investors, and other interested persons.


P.S.: thanks Brant for the ispiration

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