From mentoring to MVP

Daniel Sevitt
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Previously we wrote about the value of finding a mentor to help you (and your co-founder) move towards idea validation. In an ideal world the trust you build with that early-stage mentor will continue to pay dividends as the specialist mentor you consulted with to make sure you understood your market evolves with you through the next stages of your startup’s growth.

The reality may not always be that rosy. There is currently a huge oversubscription for the top tech accelerators precisely because of the opportunities to interact with a wide range of mentors. One estimation is that only 3% of applicants are accepted. It’s clear that the notion of mentorship plays heavily on the minds of many founders looking to prepare their startup to launch an MVP or raise the funding necessary to get there.

Why is access to mentoring so importing for early-stage founders?

Once you start building a company, there are so many different moving parts that no single founder should reasonably expect to be master of them all. There are many questions that founders face at this time, and they often have interdependencies. Founders struggle with knowing when to take on the work themselves and when to hire help. A good mentor can help you identify the right inflection point in your company’s growth and let you know that it’s time to take on additional team members. But hiring employees means raising money. It also means building out your roadmap to include and optimize these additional resources. It also requires you to have legal and financial help to determine the incentives you can offer prospective hires.

Every solution to a problem for an early-stage startup founder creates three more problems, each one appearing like a fresh hydra head demanding your time and attention. Your mentors will not magically make these problems disappear, but they can provide vital early warnings for when such problems might arise and help you get the tools in place to deal with them more efficiently.

Mentorship is about sharing experiences with founders

Your mentor has been around the block. He or she will be well connected because they’ve been where you are now and came out the other side. Don’t look to your mentors to be problem solvers for your startup. Rather, see your mentors as part of your network. You are all part of the community of entrepreneurs. Mentors see their mentees as a reflection of their younger selves. Mentors look for founders who are bright and hungry and indefatigable. You should look for mentors who reflect the values you want your company to have one year or five years from now.

How can mentors help you?

Your mentor will not solve your problems for you, but they can help you understand how to solve them yourself. Your mentor can share the best practices that helped them succeed and work with you to incorporate them into your habits. A good mentor will also share the obstacles they encountered, even the self-generated ones, and help you find ways to avoid them.

Mentors can help you with practical skills like assembling a business plan, but they can also provide guidance with soft skills, from hiring to delivering a presentation.

Once you grow your network of potential mentors whether organically or through an accelerator, you must treat it like every other social network. Relationships need to be nurtured and people need to be respected. Approaching someone and asking for mentorship can be tricky. Finding common ground with someone who has more experience and expertise than you and who is willing to share can be very rewarding both for mentor and mentee. Of course, it goes without saying that when the time comes, you’ll be ready to pay it forward.