The first thing that comes to mind when referring to a Mentor is someone that has the experience and wisdom of having tried – and sometimes failed – before you and can help you, not in giving you the solution but in helping you figure it out.
Today, every worthy accelerator is boasting a very long list of mentors on their website ranging from famous local or international figures, successful startup founders, venture capitalists, senior executives at large corporations, consulting firms, lawyers, teachers, etc.
I can only applaude all of them for taking the time out of their busy lives to share their wisdom with startup founders and the community at large using a “paying it forward” mentality. Yet, I can not help but wonder what kind of “Mentorship” one can really deliver when hardly spending any time with the startups in question.
I too have taken part in many of these mentoring sessions and tried my best to give valuable or insightful advice but again, what effect did those have on the startups or founders that received them, did they happen to help or confuse them…not sure…one thing is certain though, it was likely too brief to be really valuable and have a long lasting positive impact.
It goes without saying that the quality of mentors varies greatly and some, while well known, might not have the “DNA” to provide you with the advice that is right for you or your company at that specific moment. Maybe it is because I studied finance and was a FINRA certified Investment Banker at some point in my life but it is a well known fact that any financial advisor is forbidden from providing specific investment advices, unless he has gotten to “know his customer” first. This means doing its due diligence, gaining as much information as possible about the person, its current assets, family situation, health, risk tolerance profile, upcoming life milestones, etc.
The equity founders own is likely their most valuable assets (or they sure hope it will become) and should therefore be managed with great care. I am of course not advocating that all startup mentors get some sort of accreditation from a third party authority of some sort. But I am advocating that true mentors should spend time with their startups and founders and get to know them intimately. Only then would they be in the best position to, over time (and that means more than an hour or two over a 3 months period), provide valuable insight and advice that are tailored to the needs of that specific startup and/or founder.
In the days of Telemachus and until recently, it was the norm that a mentor would be assigned to an apprentice for the better part of his youth and even sometime long after, forming a strong lasting bound. between the two parties. As a Partner @bootstrapLabs I certainly appreciate, and take full advantage of the fact, that things are moving a lot faster these days. Be it in life in general or the pace at which one can launch a startup, build an MVP, test distribution channels and acquire customers but I refuse to believe that true mentorship, which often creates life long benefits for the apprentice and mentor, can be imparted in a single “shot” or even over the course of a traditional accelerator program.
According to Wikipedia: “Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. However, true mentoring is more than just answering occasional questions or providing ad hoc help. It is about an ongoing relationship of learning, dialog, and challenge.”
On the positive side, the creation of accelerator programs around the world has provided a standard framework to empower thousands of people to become startup mentors and share knowledge, experience, idea. This in itself could very well carry the seed of a true Mentorship renaissance. But as I pointed in the title of this blog post, founders should be able to read between the lines and take mentors access of accelerator programs for what it is, access; an opportunity to start building a mentor/apprentice relationship with someone they would not have met otherwise.
The best (and sometime serial) mentors are always overwhelmed with request from apprentices and getting their attention will always be a challenge. Yet I cannot help thinking that this is just a good natural filter and only the most percistent, perseverant founders will success in securing a true mentorship!
If you are one of those founders that went through an accelerator program or a serial mentor (you know who you are), I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic so feel free to drop a line or two in the comment section below. Thank you!