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6 tips to get the most out of your mentors

May 05, 2021

It’s okay to ask for help! Listening and responding to feedback is a vital part of the process. Check out these top 6 tips to get the most out of our startup mentorship engagements.

1) Why you, why this, and why now?

Harvard Business School professor Lynda Applegate came to speak to LaunchX and discussed the elements of a great elevator pitch. Meeting with startup mentors is a great time to start forming your own elevator pitch. You have to let the people listening know why you care about changing this part of the world, and why your idea is the way to do it. If you don’t know that clearly, how can you persuade them?

2) Prepare and get ahead of expected questions

Ensure you have a baseline of preparation.  That means putting together a presentation outlining a reminder of highlights of your startup, key updates since your last meeting, action items or questions, and next steps.  During the key updates section you want to anticipate questions that the mentors may have.  This preparation will save a lot of time and allow your startup team to get to your objectives and challenges more efficiently.  For example, if your updates include sharing your market research and you really want to get input on your plans for prototyping, you want to ensure you lay out your market research insights clearly and efficiently to ensure your mentors feel that there is a strong enough foundation of understanding of your customer and the need to be able to start prototyping.

3) Identify the most significant challenges

This may be the most important tip here. If your startup team knows you have a weak point, don’t try to impress the mentors by hiding it. Instead, bring it up for discussion. In fact, ensure that within each of your times with your mentor, you have clear objectives of items that you want to discuss.  It can be anything from reviewing a roll-out plan to determining responsibilities within the team. Mentors are there to help you and your team, not to be WOW-ed by how well you handle the insignificant challenges. Keep asking for constructive criticism, and you should be well on your way!

4) You don’t need to respond to everything.

The most common hurdle we see that holds startup teams back from getting more valuable input from mentors is when they seem to feel the need to respond to every comment from their mentors, as though showing that they have already considered that point, or defending further their stance.  Check your and your startup’s ego at the door, and remind yourself when you go into the meeting with your mentor(s) of your main objectives, which is to get ideas, advice, resources, and support.  Whenever you spend time defending, you’re taking away from the potential time to be specifically objective-oriented.  Sometimes you can just nod and say, “thank you,” even when you have already considered that point or don’t think that it is very valuable.  Reflect on it later as to why they might have thought about it.  If you come across as defending each point, the mentors may start to become reluctant to bring anything up and can limit your ability to get anything from them going forward.  Keep your goals and objectives in mind.

5)  Realize you will have to decide for yourself

Your startup mentors may each give different advice, and that’s why you should be getting lots of different input and minimize defending to ensure you hear everyone out.  We know this can be overwhelming, though, to try to figure out which advice to follow.  If one executive tells Uber to go “expand to Europe”, and the other says “focus on growth in the U.S”, Uber can’t take both pieces of advice with limited resource of time and money. Instead, they have to ask why each executive feels that way and have them back it up with numbers. Do the same with your mentors. Seek to understand where they are coming from and why they give the advice that they do.  Often, if someone has a specific background, their advice will be flavored with that experience.  Your mentors have some great experience, though there is also value to looking across many people’s experience.  Ultimately, you will have to make decisions for yourself.  No mentor can say what the best decision will be, and you will have to go back and do your own validation based on what makes sense for your specific circumstance.  Keep in mind that these mentors will only have a short snapshot into your company based on what you tell them.

6) Avoid interrupting your fellow co-founders

If you can’t handle having a conversation about your company, how can you handle running the company? Interrupting is disrespectful to both your teammate and those trying to listen. You may think you have a better answer to a question, but by interrupting, you have a worse answer by default. If you strongly believe that your answer is more accurate, simply wait until your teammate is done answering, then find a polite way to clarify.

Throughout any time with your startup mentors, keep in mind your goals and objectives.  Your time with mentors should follow the rule that it should save you 10x time, meaning one hour with them should save 10 hours of your work time should you not have met with them.  Ensure you are preparing and setting objectives in a way that you are achieving at least that goal, and you and your startup team will be headed for entrepreneurial success.

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