in How to mentor

Be Different

Sometimes you need to break with the herd

I’m a big fan of different. I like different types of food. I like different types of music. I like living in different countries. I also like mentors who take different approaches to a problem.

As well as being a mentor, I run mentor panel sessions. Mentors don’t take to managing much, and some sessions go sideways. One of the toughest mentor situations I’ve ever seen involved two people who I really like.

There’s a storm coming

Five years ago, Navid was an entrepreneur. We humans are flock beasts and his company was one that we saw a lot of five years ago. Their platform helped small stores connect with customers by helping them advertise, sell, offer discounts, and more. Their journey was an all uphill battle.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man

The other person was Peder. He’s an ex-corporate finance guy who did well with a startup he founded and now he’s an active mentor. I introduced them to each other at a mentor session where a panel was going to try to help Navid solve his company’s problems.

Game over

The meeting was brutal. Navid was late. His presentation was not good. Worst of all, none of it was really his fault. Most people who try Navid’s concept, and there have been a lot of them, find out that it’s incredibly hard to execute. The two-hour session ended after just an hour with the panel unanimously declaring that the company should close.

Startups are personal

Navid was crushed. A lot of the feedback had been personal, some of it unfairly so. The session had been hard to manage. ‘Tough love’ has its place, but sometimes mentors try harder to impress the other mentors than to help the startups. Peder used the final round of feedback to reset the mentoring session and fix the balance.

This will be hard, let me help

Peder zigged when everyone else zagged. Six mentors in a row said that Navid should close up shop. Peder agreed and then pointed out that Navid now faced the task of telling his team that the game was over. This was going to be tough, Peder said, and then he offered to help Navid with that conversation.

Sometimes people need more than tough love

It was the first helping hand had anyone had offered Navid since he walked in the door. The panel had scented red meat and gone for it. Yes, the concept was flawed and everyone including Navid knew it. The panel did him a huge service by getting him to see it was time to cut his losses. But now he needed a little humanity.

Startups are about people

Peder saw the person who was going to have to tell his co-founders they had to close the company and offered to help. It was a big moment. You could see almost everyone in the room lean back in recognition of the kindness in the gesture and think,

“Damn, I wish I had said that”.

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