Is who you’re looking for, who you need?
The search for a ”real” mentor often fails the same way big companies do when hiring. Corporates filter applicants to make the pile of applications smaller and therefore easier to manage. The filters don’t find the best candidate, they just make the selection task easier.
The “CXO Between Jobs” is a senior corporate executive who’s just left one job and is networking their way to the next. They can be high value mentors, but often get overlooked or used the wrong way. Just like corporates requiring degrees from their developer applicants – and thereby disqualifying both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates – startups often only want mentors with startup backgrounds. This is a mistake.
The sky is the limit
Senior corporate executives have a lot to offer. They can introduce you to customers, potential partners, investors, and more. They can show you how to structure an offer to a big client, so that you can borrow money, raise capital, or even have the customer pay you up front. Look up Microsoft’s first deal with IBM, then imagine someone helping you do something similar.
They understand the customers many startups are trying to target. They understand how to do things big. They understand big customers’ buying cycles. They can tell you who to speak to in a big firm (hint: it’s probably not the mid-level guy you met at that conference).
The window is small, be quick
You need to be quick and you need to be ready to use their expertise. These people often have large bills to pay: big houses, expensive cars, private schools, etc. They may have a year’s pay to tide them over, but the jobs they’re after normally take six months to land. They don’t stick around for long.
Your CXO corporate mentor may have the money you’re looking for to close out your seed round – or get it started. What you do is often more exciting than what they do. A one percent efficiency improvement made deliver a seven- or eight-figure improvement to bottom line, but it’s not as sexy as the 10X potential of the startup you’re building.
Corporates may not have much street cred with the startup crowd, but they do with people whose opinion matters to you. Big customers and many investors see a senior corporate executive mentor as a stamp of credibility. Few employers actually call an applicant’s references, but most draw conclusions based whom the applicant lists.
What can you give them?
Being senior can be a drawback. Senior execs often are assumed to be out of touch with the latest innovation. Give them both knowledge and credibility, by showing them what’s around the corner. Introduce them to the companies shaping tomorrow.
Help them stay sharp while they’re stuck out in the long grass. Teach them the latest trends and jargon. Build their contacts – to startups, other mentors, and the corporates interacting with the startup ecosystem. Offer them access to events and networks.
About that new job
If things are really cooking for you both, you might even want to offer them a job. After all, their budgets have more zeroes than yours – and many of them are used to closing deals that usually figure on the far right of your projections.