Mentors are great! How about 100?
Mentor Madness is core to every Techstars program. It is one of the reasons Techstars companies are so successful and one of the reasons the Techstars network is so tight.
We alluded to it in previous blog posts, but what exactly is Mentor Madness?
Weeks 2 and 3 of Techstars is a non-stop pitch fest for 100 mentors. The mentors represent the best of the local business and technology ecosystem and they take time out of their busy schedules to meet 1-on-1 with every company in the cohort. 10 meetings per day, for 10 days, at approximately 30 minutes each, equates to 5 hours per day or 50 hours of mentoring and pitching over the course of 2 weeks.
This is an intense time commitment.
I received a lot of good advice from Techstars founders on how to make the most of Mentor Madness in the weeks leading up to our program, so I thought I would pass long what worked best for us. #GiveFirst
First, some pros and cons to Mentor Madness.
Amazing networking opportunity – I have found the mentors to ALL be willing to help not only with their advice, but with their connections and have all made enthusiastic introductions. For Eletype, we were focused on intros to potential customers, but mentor intros are great for intros to investors, potential employees and advisors.
Preparation – Pitch your company 100 times in two weeks and you will get damn good at it. More importantly however, is the opportunity to pitch many different types of people. Instinctually, every founder should be able to ascertain who they are pitching and be able to adapt their pitch on the fly. Mentor Madness was great practice for honing this skill.
Time commitment – Captain Obvious reporting here, but this is an arduous time commitment. Balancing running the company and Mentor Madness is difficult but try to do it with 2 kids and a long commute and you’ll become drained quickly. I found myself pulling 14-hour days for the better part of 2 weeks and putting in several hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings to keep up.
Mixed messages – If you meet with 100 people, many of whom don’t understand your space/product/strategy, you are bound to get a lot of conflicting advice. I didn’t really mind this since I had expected it, but it can turn a busy schedule into a tedious one when you feel like a mentor session was wasted.
The Pros and Cons I’m sure seem obvious, but what can your company do to get the most out of Techstars? Our team came up with 3 things that helped us.
1 – Have A Game Plan
Clearly and definitively know what you what to get out of Techstars and apply that strategy to Mentor Madness. Techstars can help you in a variety of ways and it is easy to see every opportunity as one worthy of your attention.
News Flash: Your time and resources are limited. Your team needs to pick what is most important to you company and ruthlessly apply it to every Techstars decision, specifically Mentor Madness.
We found the mentors breakdown into 4 groups:
- Mentors who can help with your customers/sales
- Mentors who can help with your fundraising/investors
- Mentors who can help with your technology/product
- Mentors who can help with general leadership and business skills
Pick what is important to your company. At this point in our company we chose to be laser focused on refining our ideal customer profile, so our strategy was to seek out and prepare for mentors that could help as potential customers or could make introductions to potential customers.
2 – Divide and Conquer
We have 3 founders. It would be borderline irresponsible to our customers and investors if all 3 of us devoted a total of 150 hours to mentor meetings for two weeks.
Research the mentors, apply your game plan, and devote more time to the mentors that have a high potential to help your strategy.
As CEO, I personally attended 80% of the mentor meetings and took on the bulk of the prep and follow-up work. I brought in my co-founders for mentors we thought had high strategic value.
While we didn’t skip any mentor meetings, I would encourage teams that are already stretched thin to prioritize your business and customers over mentor meetings. If you miss a few, it will be OK.
3 – Note Taking and Follow-ups
Step 1 – Create a Google Form and pre load it with all the mentors
Step 2 – Share it with your team
Step 3 – Take notes during your mentor session or immediately following
Step 4 – Enjoy having everything in one place
It would have been impossible to keep track of 100 meetings on paper. Google Forms is a simple way to scale and share the note taking responsibility. It took me less than 15 minutes to create our form and it helped us save time and be organized.
After your meetings, try to email every mentor a thank you and a summary of your conversation. This not only shows appreciation, but it will add that mentor to your contacts, and you will now have an email record of your conversation in case you need to reference it in the future.
Picking A Mentor
I’ll wrap this blog up by with a final bit of advice for after Mentor Madness is completed. You’ll get a survey from your MD asking you to list your preferences for your final mentor selection. Again, apply the game plan ruthlessly. You met nearly 100 people, they aren’t all going to be helpful to your strategy, so be clear about which mentors you need to help your company. Out of almost 100, there were 20 that we felt could really help execute our game plan.
Well, that’s all for this week, I hope this helps new Techstars founders!
Here are some bonus tips:
Pack your lunch – I routinely missed lunch because I didn’t have time, pack something!
Use LinkedIn – I connected to every mentor on LinkedIn as soon as the mentor list was published. Send them a personal note to establish a connection before you meet them in person.
Connect with mentors in other cities – The mentor network is huge, reach out to mentors in other cities if you feel they can help your game plan.
Give your MD feedback – Were some mentors better than others? Let your MD know!
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Microsoft is one of the kings of enterprise software. It is no surprise that MS Teams (bundled with Office 365) now has 13 million users, overtaking Slack. Is this another Bing vs Google, or does Microsoft have a chance?
Techstars has a model that is working. With increased success comes a new push to expand the reach of Techstars globally. Techstars currently runs 49 accelerator programs in 35 cities in 16 countries. Expect those numbers to grow.