Corporate Startups benefit from mentoring — Here’s why

As a startup founder, I experienced it multiple times: Stress, sleepless nights, and paying salaries with personal savings. Starting a business can be brutal, despite the fail-fast and failure = OK mantra.

The critical lesson I learned was that in order for my startups to grow, I too had to be ready to grow. One of the most important things being a founder is that it is a personal journey as well. One that involves flexibility, and a constant appetite for learning and going forwards. It often involved letting go of personal dogmas.

Increasingly, therefore, I surrounded myself with a skilled group of people that helped me doing so. That is why I encourage founders to find capable people that can make an impact to your venture at regular intervals, as a mentor.

Corporates now also have entered the arena of startup-driven innovation. In what seems a reversal of roles, large corporations not only look to startups for innovative ideas, they also progressively mimic behaviors found at startups recruiting founders aka intrapreneurs, and a group of select employees who have been cherry-picked from across the business.The disruptive effects of technology are a frequently cited reason for accelerating innovation and corporate startup activity.

I have had the opportunity to mentor and fuel a growing number of these corporate startups. While I learned that The Lean Startup approach has been working for garage-based startups as well as for corporates, there still are a number of noticeable aspects that need consideration to succeed with any corporate startup.

First, corporate startups have the tendency to fall back into mechanical thinking and risk avoidance as failure is too expensive, economically and personally.

Second, Lean Startup assumes a different decision architecture (accept failure) and a different reporting system (learning metrics, not KPI’s) which commonly is counter to companies’ structures and beliefs.

Whereas technology has the power to innovate products and transform business models, it doesn’t start on that instrumental level; It starts with individuals who have to cast aside their corporate behavior to become enterprising in the context of stakeholder powerplay and corporate politics.

The soft stuff is the hard stuff.

Outside mentors can help corporate startups in at least two ways:

  1. To help with how to think, by guiding the innovation process and actions preventing wishful thinking.
  2. To help the team with what to think, by bringing fresh insights and perspectives into the team’s decisions.

Corporate startup life can take on a very different trajectory with mentors that grow abilities, and establish trust and confidence that you’re on the right track.

Note about the author: Sander van der Blonk (Rockstart) works with large enterprises throughout Europe to help them innovate and accelerate the Lean Startup way. He can be reached at sander@rockstart.com