This week I went to a mentor-training session by FounderCentric. I mainly went on it due to my association with Emerge Venture Lab, who helped organise it. It was a really varied group of people who attended, with plenty of years of experience between us, and from backgrounds including media, finance, design and technology. I thought it was a really useful session that actually had parallels to working life in general, so wanted to recap some of the key points.
Getting away from making decisions for others: This is something that applies to almost anyone who has supervisory responsibilities. As humans we tend to want to voice our opinions as if it is the right thing for someone else to act on, when in many cases it’s just that – an opinion. People don’t need to use that to make a decision, especially not when they’re the ones responsible for money or product. Your interest might not be their current problem.
Idea overload: Mentoring sessions are typically 20-40 minutes long, and in a day founders meet tens of dozens of mentors. Try and restrict what you have to say to the impactful stuff that they’ll remember at the end of 8 hours.
Mis-reading skills: Again very important for any manager. Identifying a company’s expertise is key to helping them build on it, versus devoting time and energy to improving things they’re only tangentially good at.
The importance of customer development: There was a quote by Adaptive Path mentioned which I can’t find on the web, but it was along the lines of ‘meet your customer where they are, not where you want them to be’. Steve Blank‘s work on the stages of customer development was referenced, as was Dave McClure’s Pirate Metrics and Eric Ries on the Lean Startup. The Startup Genome Project was also mentioned, which I remember reading months ago, but I’d forgotten how many startups they’d surveyed – 15,000 or so! All useful reminders of how to stay on track. Also a piece of advice from the session that stayed with me: ‘as a founder, it’s your job to email the first 1,000 sign-ups and have a conversation.’
Clarifying whether you’re an investor or not: Many startups are looking expressly for funds so stating your position at the beginning puts everyone out of misery.
Calibrating at the beginning: ‘This is how I like to use 40 minutes. Start with X, move on to Y, and close with next steps.’
A focus on goals: Getting founders to state what their goals are for next week, next month and next year.
Storytelling: It’s always useful to hear from others’ experience as a way of saying something that could either be useful or not so good for them to hear (letting them down lightly, that is). I hadn’t heard of Steve Denning’s work with the Knowledge Management programme of the World Bank till then. He talks about how storytelling can change organizations – check it out.
Viral coefficient: I just found this on the subject and this quote stood out: ‘viral growth cannot be executed by a marketing department that can’t code.’
The Business Model Canvas: As created by Alex Osterwalder; a must for any founder. H-H-T, remember the H-H-T structure!
Leaving them with a physical artefact: This could be a book (there was an anecdote about how one mentor showed up with Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany and gave it to a founder who hadn’t read it yet), a piece of paper you write key points on during a session, a card or anything else they can take away at the end.
To summarise very broadly:
– share experience, not advice
– don’t judge, help them get to market
As I said, very useful!