Keep The Ball Rolling After Demo Day


Help your startups after graduation and give your most engaged mentors an opportunity to shine

All startup programs face a common challenge: how do you help your startups after graduation. One of the obvious tools is to leverage the strength of your mentor networks – and one way to do use the mentors is to have them recruit advisory boards for your teams.

Startup programs struggle to help their graduates

Once they’ve flown the nest, graduates are hard to help. They’re busy trying to grow. Neither party is great at keeping in touch and often both struggle to see the point. The clear win for the program is that they benefit when their graduates do well. The downside is cost. Graduates, meanwhile, struggle to see what programs can provide post-graduation or the potential return on investment in time spent.

Advisory boards recruited by mentors can help. They get much the same value out of contact with the startups after the program as they did during the program, plus more besides. The mentors see the post-graduation struggles and successes. They learn whether their advice works or not. They also get a better opportunity to build relationships with the startups that can lead to future roles.

Startup programs are short on tangible benefits for their mentors

This is a defined, tangible opportunity for the mentors beyond the opportunity to ‘meet and mentor startups’. Especially if given the opportunity to be a lead mentor and head the recruitment of the advisory board, this is a great chance to give them something they can measure and even put on their CV.

Startup programs often fail to understand the potential

Far too many programs either fail to see the point of mentors, insufficiently engage mentors, or simply have them because everyone else does. This is a way to engage them that has clearly defined benefits for all parties. The mentors can help drive program engagement post-graduation, help monitor the graduates’ progress, connect the startups with relevant contacts in the program’s network, and much more.

Use mentors to do what you can’t

Startup programs don’t ignore their graduates, they simply lack the resources to invest in helping them. Using mentors to do the task can be extremely cost effective. The investment is minimal and the potential upside is tremendous. One success can make or break most programs. Use your mentors to help you do what you can’t and help the mentors get more value out of your program as well.






Dig for Victory


Want your mentors to show up and dig in? Give your mentors badges.

The Boy Scouts may have gotten there first, but everyone knows that people love badges. Like awards, they’re a way to reward accomplishment and signify membership or affiliation. The world may be awash in startup awards, but badges are curiously underused and remain a powerful, untapped way to drive mentor behavior.

Measure and differentiate mentor engagement

Engaging mentors is tough. The good ones are busy and there’s plenty else for them to do. There are plenty of mentor programs and they all promise the same mix of ‘amazing’, ‘new’ technology, ‘inspirational’ entrepreneurs, and ‘valuable’ networking. There are mentor dinners and panel events. It’s all rather intangible.

The value add for mentors is especially intangible when mentor programs only offer mentors the opportunity to call themselves ‘mentor’. Anyone can call themself a mentor at almost any program. Show up once for drinks and you’re a mentor. Show up every week, introduce program teams to investors, broker a startup’s first contract with a corporate customer – and you’re still just a ‘mentor’.

Use badges to drive mentor behavior

Count something and you get more of it. Make the badges transparent and quantifiable. You want mentor engagement? Hand out badges for ’X mentor sessions attended”. Hand out badges for years of mentor service. Create a badge for ‘founder mentors’ who have been with your program since launch. List what it takes to earn each badge clearly on your website.

Make the badges visible

LinkedIn is an easy place to let people post their badges. Your website is fine, but your website is probably designed to appeal to startups. One of the best places for most of your mentors to show off their work is on LinkedIn, so enable them to post their badges there.

Use badges instead of awards

Badges are cost effective. Awards take a lot of work to build into prestigious brands. They also take a lot of time and money. Your average two-year old startup has a whole shelf of awards. Many mentors can say the same. Trophies are marketing tools for the people awarding them. Bluntly put, the average award plus five dollars will almost pay for a cup of coffee.

A badge is different

A badge lets you and your mentors quantify what they have done. It is a step towards demonstrating the value they create. Napoleon said that a man would risk his life for a ribbon, but not for a bag of gold. He was onto something. Badges work. Use them to get your mentors involved – and to keep them involved.

How to Reward Your Mentors – Help Their Careers


The More You Can Do For Your Mentors, The More They Will Do For You

Two things worth remembering: when they’re mentoring, they may not be on company time – and you may have more to offer them than you think. Mentors are usually driven by a combination of both professional and more personal reasons. Corporate mentors may have been assigned to participate. VC mentors may be their fund’s person responsible for tracking your program. The individuals, however, may be looking for something more personal

Are Your Mentors Planning Their Next Career Move?

The corporate pyramid narrows sharply at the top and the pressure from below is unrelenting. It’s not every associate that makes partner. We don’t all make it to the next rung on the ladder we happening to be climbing right now. Time spent looking for the next thing is often well spent.

Match your investors with people they should know – people they can help and be helped by in return. Give them insight and show them new trends. Your mentor might not a standard “startup type”. Being associated with you can give them credibility with hard to describe concepts like ‘innovation’ or ‘disruptive technologies’.

Get Mentor Buy-In By Helping Your Mentors Network

This sounds “nice-to-have”, not “must have” to most people running accelerators and mentor programs, but it’s essential. Busy program managers focus on helping their batch of startups. Mentors can be hard to schedule, hard to match with the right startup, and often unreliable. But the fact is that mentors are hard to do without. Their knowledge and network provide the capacity to scale.

Match Your Mentors With a Purpose

The focus of most mentor matchmaking is on finding the right startup for them to help, but this is just the first step. Think through how to match mentors with each other – and with your sponsors and partners. Your mentors often match perfectly with your partners looking for trends, intros to startups, and insights into innovation.

Help Fill Your Investors’ Pipelines

Simply by virtue of their numbers, your mentors together see more startups than you do, even when you’re actively recruiting. Matching your investors and your mentors is a perfect way to give both parties interesting leads. Your investors are looking for interesting pipeline and they can provide all sorts of help to your mentors.

Help Your Mentors Help You

Helping your mentors help themselves can also teach you interesting things about the market. Working with startups, especially tech startups, means living in a world where the new is everyday and innovation is a given. That’s not how things work elsewhere.

There is a lot of value in finding out what problems people want help solving – and one way to do that is to offer to help your mentors solve their own professional challenges. Mentors who see a personal benefit are more likely to commit to your program – and you can help make that happen.

Mentor Archetypes – CXO Between Jobs


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.

Potential investors

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.