Startup mentoring is a steep learning curve, littered with plenty of pitfalls. For those who would like to successfully guide the next generation of entrepreneurs, I’ve found that the following 5 habits are the most toxic. Believe me, because I’m still on a detox!
#1: Talking too much
If our brain-to-mouth link is as speedy as a bullet train, our brain-to-ear connection is more like a horse and carriage. Our talking can easily dominate. As a mentor it can be tempting to repeatedly rehash your commercial success stories ad nauseam: “Enough about how I doubled the profits of tech firm X, let’s talk some more about how I turned around services company Y.”
I’ve found that Listening is an acquired skill that offers major rewards. It helps you hone in on the entrepreneur’s obstacles and really target your advice. And you construct a two-way street. By keeping my mouth in check I am often learning valuable information from my mentee’s approach.
As humans we are wired to be problem-solvers; we love digging into a clever conundrum. As an adviser, I have felt the urge to be a player-coach — substitute myself onto the pitch and play the step-in CEO. “Right, to fix this you should do X, then Y and Z.”
To be really helpful however you should often stay on the sideline. From there you whip out a mirror and help your protégé reflect on their issue and possible solutions. Or you open up your toolbox and equipping them with a new way of evaluating a problem. Self-sufficiency, not dependency being the end goal.
#3: Ignoring the person
Unique Selling Points, MVPs, and scalability are all jolly good, but no panacea. Their shortcoming? They often disregard the startup’s biggest assets, namely the founder.
As a mentor, I believe this requires the bulk of your attention. “How are you feeling about tomorrow’s investment pitch?” “What are your biggest concerns?” “How is your work-life balance?”
Improve the effectiveness of the founder and the knock-on effects on the business will speak for themselves.
#4: Trying to be everybody’s everything
Being a marketing magician does not make you a supply chain supremo. When placed on the throne of Mentor, you run the risk of acting like the oracle of all things startup-esque.
A dose of self-reflection is critical in this regard. What is your advisory niche — i.e. in what two to three areas can you really add value? And are those in line with what your mentee is after? The depth of advice always beats breadth of advice.
Mentoring appointments can sometimes feel like a chore. One that’s easy to deprioritize. “I’m sorry, can we push our meetup back one more time? Things are still very busy…”
Beware of this temptation. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely pursuit, and you are often an important helpline. Also, as a role model, you should be congruent. If you espouse the virtues of good time management and professionalism in entrepreneurs, your message will only ring true if you act in the same manner.