Seed stage investing is a start-up in and of itself. The recent boom in activity around this critical stage of a company’s lifecycle not withstanding, investors and companies are just beginning to sort through what it should look like. Term sheets are becoming more standardized and operating principles are under development (think lean). One area critical to raising the probability of success is mentorship. Many entrants into the seed-stage fray are touting “mentor-driven capital” or using their mentor networks as differentiators. Seed Camp, a program created to jumpstart the entrepreneurial community in Europe by connecting next generation developers and entrepreneurs with mentors states that “A core element of Seedcamp Week are the intense mentoring sessions…”. Having worked with angels and start-ups for the better part of the last decade I can tell you not all mentors are created equal.
The role of mentor is a tricky one and one that not come naturally just because you are a seed investor. I know a fair number of successful entrepreneurs that are horrible mentors, struggling to move from doer to coach and mistakenly ascribing themselves know-it-all status. To fulfill this role, a good mentor must wear many hats including teacher, cheerleader, sounding board, and therapist. So why is it that the only requirement to being a mentor appears to be previous start-up success and an angel investment. I do not deny that experience (been-there-done-that) plays a big role but I think that most start-ups and angel investors, would benefit from a fresh look at the role of the mentor.
Mentors and coaches have been a hot topic in corporate learning for a while but the formalized programs and corporate-minded approaches have seen limited success. You may know, a month or so ago I launched a blog about the corporate learning space as a means of collaborating with some of the industry’s brightest and to catalyze a long overdue discussion on the industry (my industry rant here). We are underway with our work on a “lean learning” approach and now the topic of start-up mentorship is in our sights! I am collaborating with Rick Harris (@rchphd LinkedIn) a long-time friend, one-time colleague and really big brain, to lead the charge on mentoring. Our energetic offline discussions on this topic made it clear that there was some cool new work to be done on helping angels and start-ups optimize this important element of the start-up equation. Over the next few weeks we will be posting our learnings and looking for your feedback on the Learning Hacks blog. You can see Rick’s kick-off blog on mentors here.
We are starting where all good start-ups should and that is with customers. In this case, the customers of mentors, the start-ups. If you have launched a start-up and had a mentor we are asking you to take a quick (3 minute) survey we created (click here). The survey is simply a rating of a number of “features” of a mentor. This will help us to develop our MVM (minimal viable mentor) or Mentor1.0. Also, if you are in charge of a mentor network or would like to participate in our adventures in some other way let us know. The more the merrier.