Today got me thinking.
Inighter was heading back to New York to run his company. Adam Sachs, his co-founder, will soon follow him. The women of People’s Software have moved back to their respective cities, as has many of the other teams. (Of course, some are staying Boulder, which is fantastic).of
This was the first year that I was a mentor. I guess, an official mentor. I kinda helped some folks out at the tail end of last year, but that almost doesnt count.
The Techstars teams talk so much about what they learned from the mentors, but what did the mentors learn from the Techstars teams? (At least, what did this mentor learn?)
1. You are a piece of meat.
As a mentor, whether its for a program like Techstars or for the local college, you are viewed in terms of what value you bring to the table. Mentees get advice from so many people, that its difficult to wade through all the various pieces of advice and pick the pieces that are directly relevant.
Interestingly, every mentor feels that the information they are providing is the best. There is no question that the advice I gave Foodzie or Travelfli was the one missing piece of information that they needed to be successful. I mean it was, right?
In addition, with a program like Techstars (I imagine its the same for Y-Combinator, or other such programs), the team are eventually looking to have their companies financed. As a mentor, you then fall into three camps: people that can give money; people that know people that can give money; and not either of the previous two camps.
As a mentor, you have to be aware and accept the classification you fall into, and understand that there is a direct relation between the time spent with you and your ability to help finance the company. Is this a bad thing? No. Is it a reality? Yes.
2. The value you bring is not always the value that other mentors feel you bring.
I was an SEO expert for a long time. I have not done any real SEO in years. Do other mentors still suggest that people talk to me about SEO. Of course.
Whats interesting about this occurrence, is that it teaches me how my peers value my skill set. Is it bad? No. Is it a reality? Yes.
3. Pick an area of expertise.
When I owned an interactive agency, we focused on Search Marketing. It was great. I would speak on a panel, and the other panelist would talk about the million things they focused on. I would talk about search. Who got the most business afterward? This guy!
There are many mentors with many areas of expertise. Figure out the one thing you can add to the conversation, and focus on that. Can you provide more information around other things? Sure. But focus. I chose to help teams on their presentations. Was it helpful? I dunno, but the three teams I spent the most time with have all closed rounds or are awful close to doing it. I wasnt “the reason”, but I am sure my help was “a reason,” which is all I can hope to offer as a mentor.
4. Dont let mentees pick you.
There is a big fault that most mentors have. Ego. To feel that you have information or experiences to share, indicates a belief that your knowledge or experiences are valuable. Almost the definition of ego.
Many mentors will sit back and let the teams decide who they want to work with. Remember the classifications the teams will put mentors in? The mentors that have the highest potential to invest in the teams will always be selected over the other two classifications.
As a mentor, you must swallow your ego. Find a team that you are interested in working with (even if just the idea is interesting) and offer your help.
Its a privilege to be asked to be a mentor; its an accomplishment if you actually help the teams become better.
5. Learn from your fellow mentors.
The moment I stop learning, I hope to be dead.
I tried to attend all the sessions that other mentors gave. I listened and asked questions. I grabbed mentors afterward and spent time with them.
Its not just at Techstars that I try to learn from my peers. I probably ask someone a question every day. I do talk a lot, which probably hides the amount of listening I do.
Truthfully, its not just mentors you can learn from. You know how much I knew about artisan food producers or how frequent flier programs were cash cows for the airlines? What about how to technically and mathematically determine how photos fit together?
6. Be friendly, but not friends.
I sort of hesitated to list this one, because its so hard to define. But there should be a magic, invisible, hard line between the teams and their mentors. This line keeps both groups honest. This line makes everything easier.
After all, spending time with people you like, will always create the air of friendship. I do consider many of the members of the various Techstar teams my friends. But, I try to be overly careful to not cross that really weird, hard to define line. To be an effective mentor one must be able to critique without judging, be honest without being harsh, and support without requirement. That goes out the window when a mentor becomes too friendly with mentees.
7. Be good. Be great.
Realize that the more you give, the better a mentor you are. Be good. Dont hold back.
Be great. Be someone that the teams can look up to. You want them telling David or each other, “man, that <MENTOR> was great!” Not, “Jeez, who let that idiot in the Bunker?”
So, there you have it. My 7 rules for being a good Techstars mentor.
Oh, I guess there is an 8th rule, but it will only drive David’s ego.
Whats that? its impossible to blow that balloon any bigger?
Okay, here it is:
8. Be like David.
Do the one thing that David excels at: Answer the question asked; and the question that should have been asked. Then shut up. Let the teams figure out the rest.