Mentor Archetypes – Service Providers

Founders seem to draw so much attention that it often blinds us to the crowd of others whose efforts are essential to turning the founder’s vision into reality. One group that definitely doesn’t get enough love is the service providers. They get accused of charging too much, loitering at events looking for new clients, and they wear suits. Ouch.

Common perception, meet reality

The suits do make them stick out. I’ve seen lawyers wear sweaters, but accountants aren’t going to show up at an event on a skateboard. You probably don’t want them to. The suit is their uniform, the same way the developers’ t-shirt and flip-flops are. Look past the clothes, especially the tie.

Are they on the lookout for new business? Sure. Everyone’s looking for something. You want a smart money investor. The next guy wants a rock star developer. The woman next to you wants to hire a SAAS sales expert. How they go about finding new business and how you react to them matters.

The good ones are problem solvers – and you have plenty

Odds are that you need more of their advice than you realize. An absurd number of startups either don’t have founders’ agreements or signed papers that cause trouble when a founder wants to leave, you want to raise money, or your freedom to operate is being challenged. Everything’s good right now? Give it a day or two. Things move quickly with startups.

What can you get for free?

The answer is a lot. Think of service providers as the original content marketers. Another option is to think of them as thesis advisors: they can help you define your questions and point you in the direction of where to find the answers.

So you’re not in the market for their services

The good ones know a lot of people and can make introductions, even if you’re not in the market for legal advice. Many of them know a lot more about your business than you would think. You can pretty up slides, but you can’t hide the real numbers from your accountant. The accountants know who is making money and who is about to run out. The lawyers know who signed a rotten term sheet and who was smart. The IPR specialist knows who is about to lose their shirt in China.

The right service provider can be a great mentor

We’ll return to this subject later, because there’s a lot that smart startups can gain from getting close to the right service providers. They catch a lot of heat from people in the startup community, but the ‘suits’ can help create a lot of value. Ignore them and you may be missing out.