Expectations: Mentors

I love being a mentor. Endless advising is what I miss most about leaving my professorship at Stanford. Mentors can make the difference between startup stagnation and startup success. Being a mentor is a reward in itself. Nevertheless, being a mentor also comes with other benefits. The mentor’s returns differ depending:

  • on the mentee
  • the startup’s stage and growth potential, and
  • if the mentorship is sponsored by an accelerator, incubator or studio


Some mentors gain greater personal satisfaction when working with novice mentees who need the mentorship to succeed. For example, I’ve grown fond of working with students, who are basically blank canvases. They need the fundamentals. Others only like working with experienced entrepreneurs who have already developed startup skills and learned from their mistakes. It’s also important to work with mentees who are working in your area of expertise. If you’re a hardware guru, try to work with mentees working on hardware startups. As a mentor for a startup studio, you should go in knowing what level of entrepreneur and what genre of startup you’ll be mentoring.

Course Correction vs. Scaling

Some mentors enjoy working with startups that are floundering, it provides an opportunity to test their skills as a mentor in guiding the entrepreneur in the right direction. Typically turning a startup around leads to a higher involvement from a mentor than a successfully scaling startup would. There are also mentors who are more excited about playing a role in the massive scaling of a startup. There’s multiple paths and opportunities for mentors to jump into the scaling process whether the startup is spinning up or spinning out of control. It’s important for the mentor to offer advice at the right time which maybe during the validation, scaling, or the establishing stage of the startup’s journey.

Studio vs. Accelerator

Mentors are often aware of how to help a startup in an accelerator. The accelerator usually assigns the best mentors they can find to each early-stage startup in their program. The mentor helps the leadership team validate the hell out of their business model and pivot to the best possible track. In a studio, a particular problem-solution may have a transitional team until a permanent leadership team emerges. The startup only forms when the leadership solidifies. In the early stages, mentors should expect to help teams find alignment with the problem-solution as the problem-solution pivots onto the best possible track. If the alignment isn’t found, the startup does not form.


Mentoring is a reward in itself because it makes us feel good about our work, however, there are various other benefits as well:

Mind Expansion: By mentoring, you encounter more problems and get a better perspective with which to see the outcome of each tactic. In addition, there is a well-known phenomenon where teaching provides a more fundamental understanding of a subject than being taught. If you want to hone your craft, mentor and teach. If you want more experiences to teach you faster, mentor.

Financial: Mentors have intimate knowledge of a startup’s leadership team, and the inner workings that can lead to success. If a startup is following an awesome trajectory, why wouldn’t you invest? If the startup isn’t along a good path, help it get there and invest at a lower valuation.

Street Cred: You see that startup over there that just sold for $125M? I mentored them … ‘Nuff said.

Studio Mentors:

There are various benefits that come with being a mentor within a startup studio. With a startup studio, you will have access to a better breed of startups. You’ll be exposed to startups with experienced entrepreneurs and pre-validated product-solution. You’ll be able to jump in during the team formation. In some cases, you can help pick the team. Imagine putting your dream team together. It’s a little like fantasy football, but without the fantasy or the full-contact concussions.

Boulder BITS Mentors:

Boulder, CO has an awesome entrepreneurial ecosystem. You can read about it in Brad Feld’s Startup Communities (http://www.feld.com/archives/tag/startup-communities). If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. People here pay it forward or give first. It is a trusting environment where people are open and helpful.

In Boulder the line between studio mentor and mentee blurs. Experienced C-suite executives support each other and discuss their challenges openly. This is the perfect environment for a studio. We’re experimenting with building a “Play Space” for entrepreneurs. A place where the awesome teams can roll up their sleeves and dig into a startup. If they like a team, stick with it. If they like one of the studio’s projects, stick with it. If the team-problem-solution gels, we’ll form the startup and fund it… I’ll write more about our “Play Space” experiments soon.

Fun Bits:

Originally published on February 4th, 2016 on our previous blog.