Your Mentor Search? It’s Wrong.

Nathan Cohen
Dec 1, 2020 · 4 min read

Well, maybe it isn’t wrong per se; but I can bet it’s incomplete. I built an incomplete search for four years, and I wish someone had told me earlier on, “Pssst. Nate. You’re missing something. Adding more filters won’t work. You have to think about search completely differently.”

We recently built a new search. There are no fancy algorithms. There is no magical LinkedIn API (though LinkedIn, if you’re reading this piece, we’d be really interested…). There is no new technology.

The only “new” thing is how we frame the question search aims to answer.

So here’s my two cents advice for anybody building a networking directory.

  • Cent 1: Search the “why”, not just the “who”
  • Cent 2: Search mission critical data

What do I mean?

This is your typical “who” search. You can query our network to find “Who lives in this city?”, “Who works in this industry?” or “Who has this expertise?” You know, like any directory.

This is our new, supplemental search. A mentor could have an empty biography, zero industry tags and zero functional expertise and still appear. It does not search against a single attribute of our network members, instead it looks at the history of Endeavor meetings. It answers questions like “Who has mentored companies in this industry at this revenue size?” or “Who has mentored companies from this region on this topic?” This search is our “why” search; it addresses head-on why the user is searching and showing people who have done the “why” before.

Why are we so excited about the ‘why’?

1. The opportunity for contextual information. When you do a “who” search, you may see someone based in San Francisco who is an expert at marketing for SaaS companies with an average rating of a 9.1/10. But does that expertise apply the same if the company is doing $5M in ARR or $50M? Is her experience relevant if the company is based in Jakarta or only for American startups? We were so focused on who the mentor was, we didn’t productize the crucial context of why the user was looking for a mentor.

Our new search focuses on the why. In the picture above we searched Endeavor for anybody who gave branding mentorship to Food & Beverage companies based in Latin America that were doing at least $20M in revenue at the time of the mentorship. We display two crucial pieces of context.

  • Quality: We show how good the mentor is in general, but also how good he is for precisely this use case. With a middling 8.4 rating, the mentor above might have been overlooked in a regular “who” search. But for this specific context, he scores perfect 10s!
  • Usage: We show how often has this mentor been for precisely this use case and when. This information helps assure users of the mentor’s expertise even when they don’t know him first-hand.

2. It’s a verified search. The “who” search is about what people say their expertise is. The “why” searches against what meetings people had. This is particularly important given the Endeavor context: we have 37 offices in 30 countries in 5 continents and Staff curate most of our entrepreneur-mentor meetings. This means the “who” search result is based on the information input by a stranger hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. But when a user sees a “why” search result, they know someone made an intentional judgement call, with a some bit of reputational risk, to determine that the mentor is qualified for the challenge at hand. In other words, actions speaker louder than words.

What does searching against ‘mission critical data’ mean?

The “who” search relies on users providing comprehensive biographies and maintaining up-to-date expertise. The problem is people hate filling out profiles. When was the last time you added expertise to your LinkedIn profile? So we inevitably resort to shaming, praising, and cajoling our Staff to update profiles. That works but only for some staff, some of the time. Our Board Members are not demanding a quarterly update with the percentage of Mentors with functional expertise. We’re not including the number of network members with a recently updated biography in our Impact Report. In short, it’s not ‘mission critical data’.

The “why” search relies on our Staff keeping up-to-date information on our entrepreneurs’ meetings. This is mission critical data. These numbers are included in board updates and impact reports. The data is better now because the incentives are there.

I by no means wish to discount the power of a traditional search, much less the one we built at Endeavor. There are plenty of times when the “who” is more important than the “why”. So time will tell whether the “why” supplements the “who” or overtakes it. But~90% of users I’ve spoken with prefer the former. So I feel confident enough to say that if you are building a directory, Psssst. Make sure you’re asking *all* of the right questions.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Join The Startup’s +788K followers.

Sign up for Top 10 Stories

By The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Subscribe to receive The Startup's top 10 most read stories — delivered straight into your inbox, once a week. Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

Nathan Cohen

Written by

I have no clue what to write here.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store