The mentor motor
When David Cohen and I first talked about TechStars in 2006, the concept of a “mentor” was front and center. Early on, we defined TechStars as a “mentorship-driven seed stage investment program” and have held deeply to that concept from the beginning.
Today, the vast majority of accelerators use a mentorship model, which is something we are really proud of and think serves entrepreneurs everywhere extremely well.
When I was in Cambridge, England at the end of July for the Springboard Demo Day, Jon Bradford (the Springboard Managing Director) talked eloquently about how mentorship was a key part of the program. Springboard is a member of the TechStars Network and subsequently uses the same mentorship model that TechStars uses.
During the day I got to meet a bunch of Springboard mentors – they were superb and also incredibly enthusiastic about the Springboard program that Jon had created. Jon then took me for a meeting at 10 Downing Street and on the way suggested that David and I write up a “Mentor Manifesto.” I thought it was a great idea, suggested it to David, who published his Mentor Manifesto yesterday. It follows:
Expect nothing in return (you’ll be delighted with what you do get back).
Be authentic / practice what you preach.
Be direct. Tell the truth, however hard.
The best mentor relationships eventually become two-way.
Adopt at least one company every single year. Experience counts.
Clearly separate opinion from fact.
Hold information in confidence.
Clearly commit to mentor or do not. Either is fine.
Know what you don’t know. Say I don’t know when you don’t know. “I don’t know” is preferable to bravado.
Guide, don’t control. Teams must make their own decisions. Guide but never tell them what to do. Understand that it’s their company, not yours.
Accept and communicate with other mentors that get involved.
Provide specific actionable advice, don’t be vague.
Be challenging/robust but never destructive.
Have empathy. Remember that startups are hard.
If you’ve read Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup, you’ll recognize many of these. David’s added a few more concepts and synthesized / evolved a few. In typical TechStars fashion, view this as an evolving manifesto – comments are welcome (and encouraged!)