Mentor Archetypes – Academic – Resources and Access

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I don’t meet many startups that aren’t looking for money and all of them could do with introductions to people that can help them. Academics are an overlooked source for both.

Tired of giving away equity for cash?

Try grants instead. Lots of us don’t bother to apply for grants because of the administrative burden. Academics are often expert at exactly this discipline. They also often need partners to apply for the amazing variety projects and programs offering funding.

Labster.com is one of my favorite examples of startups that substituted grants for equity funding early on. I’ve worked on projects with several universities who handled the admin for the project partners. You want people with these skills to advise your startups.

Access to talent

Hiring is a bear. Qualified staff are hard to find and hard to sign. Networking is one of the best tools for solving both the problem of finding talent and convincing them to join your company. Academics can help with both tasks, especially if you’re looking for specialists or fresh graduates. Cultivate them.

Access to visiting VIPs

All sorts of interesting people stop by universities. Some come to see other VIPs. Some come looking for the next big thing. This goes for individuals, be they experts in specific niches or big name gurus, all the way across the spectrum to delegations from other universities and innovation-seeking corporates. The academics are often good at the matching game.

Access to test subjects and partners

Need data? Ask someone with access to a large, interesting population of potential test subjects for help. Need test partners? Academics are all about tests and testing. I think academia seems like an obvious place to look for help finding both of these, but I’m always surprised by the trouble academics have finding someone with whom to dance. Go ask them.

Ignoring academics is a mistake

Academics have access to a lot of what startups need – and what other mentors need as well. They can give you access to resources, talent, and network. They need partners, data, and network from outside academia. They may not look like the startup people you’re used to dealing with, but don’t discount them.

You may think you know what’s happening on campus, but remember, so did Myspace.

Mentor Archetypes – Ecosystem Professional

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Startups are an industry

The title ‘ecosystem professional’ may sound contrived, but the fact is many people make a living working with startups as opposed to at startups. An interconnected jungle of interest groups, accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces, consultants, and public sector organizations surrounds the startup industry, living off it and giving it life.

Purists argue that most of these people don’t provide value. You don’t need to care either way. They exist and the somewhat religious discussions ignore the fact that some these people can help you. The industry surrounding startups is big, diverse, and full of opportunity for those who can navigate it.

Who are they?

Someone pays these to achieve a certain result: create jobs, promote an industry, attract talented people, scout startups, etcetera. They work for accelerators, incubators, lobbyists, non-profits, government, startup labs, ‘growth clusters’, or sometimes just themselves. They go to a lot of conferences and drink a lot of coffee, just like startups.

Many of them have been corporate or public sector all their lives. Others are former entrepreneurs working a stable job between startups. Picking the right person to work with relies less on what they’ve done before, and more on what they can offer and what you need.

Why bother?

They know the industry and the economy that has grown up around startups. The public sector has discovered startups. Corporates have discovered startups. The professional service industry has discovered startups. All of them want to do business with startups and most of them have ‘special offers’ for startups. Finding the right program or person isn’t easy.

F6S.com is an online platform that helps match startups with the right offer amidst the overwhelming wealth of ‘opportunities’. It does a good job, but covers just a fraction of what’s out there. Denmark, for example, has well over 100 public programs for startups. No one person can tell you who the right people are.

Focus your ask

The people who work in the ecosystem are often your best bet for advice on how best to navigate the system. They’re the people who know the deadlines for the best competitions and projects. They can help you pick the right programs and avoid the dogs. They know who can help you write grant applications. They can get you into the right events.

Their titles often sound vague. Yes, there can be great variation in the real help they actually provide. They go to a lot of conferences and they drink a lot of conferences. Sometimes, however, the best person to help guide you through the startup jungle is someone who makes a living being part of that very same jungle.

Mentor Archetypes – Corporates

007Know Them by Their Suits

Startup people are often quick to label corporates and often negatively. This is a mistake. They can make great partners, great customers, and great mentors. Like us, they can take getting to know. Look past the suit to discover what they have to offer and what they want.

Look Past The Suit to Judge The Individual

The suits may all look the same, but so do our hoodies and sneakers. Ask where they’re from in their organization. Sales? R&D? Innovation? HR? Business development? Each has different things to offer and different things they want. Despite what Monty Python said, they are all individuals.

Corporate sales people can be very valuable for their insight into how to sell to corporations. They are usually expert at the long game. They don’t mind it waiting for the customer to pay, especially when they can get a long-term contract that is easy to renew. They can teach you a lot about how to manage sales processes and what to expect from different customer types.

They’re not just good at sales

Yes, you need revenue and you either want them to buy your stuff or help you sell it, but they can offer more than that. The corporate HR people trying to recruit developers from your startup co-working space may be able to teach you a lot about on-boarding or retaining staff.

The R&D specialist scouting trends may be able to get you a whole new level of access at big events. Their innovation coordinator may get your startup into a trial they’re running or access to their hardware.

Instead of Laughing, Start Learning

These guys are often really good at skills you need. Laugh at their suits, but they usually wear them for a reason – money. The suit may match certain customer expectations and big companies are good at knowing what their big customers want. Matching those same expectations may make or break your startup.

Follow the Benjamins

Corporates make lots of money, often absurd amounts of money. They do a lot of things right, or they wouldn’t be in business. We may think software-as-a-service is new, but tech didn’t invent the subscription sales model.

These guys invented big, multi-year sales, complete with ‘add-ons’, ‘lock-in’, and much more that have earned them massive profits. People stand behind all the logos and branding. People are what make corporates go, just like startups. Used properly, their knowledge can help you make lots of money too.

Do they wear sneakers? Who cares.

Mentor Archetypes – CXO Between Jobs

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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.

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.

Mentor Archetypes – Entrepreneurs: The Very Bad and The Ugly

GothenburgIceLet me introduce the first mentor archetype with a cautionary tale. Entrepreneurs, especially serial entrepreneurs, are the mentor rock stars and I know many that are awesome startup mentors. They’ve been there. They’ve done it. They’ve proved they know how to succeed. Sometimes they’re right for your company – and sometimes they’re not.

‘The Good’

The good ones have startup experience relevant to your situation. They like giving back to the community. Lots of them are angel investors. They usually have great networks that they can share. Many are looking for their next project. If you find the right one, it could be a match made in heaven.

‘The Bad’

While good entrepreneur mentors are awesome, but I’ve seen bad ones be disastrous. Their badness comes in many varieties. There are know-it-alls, yesterday’s men, Shark Tank wannabes, limelight seekers, and many more.

‘Know-It-Alls’

Mentors do a lot of talking, but we do try to listen and we try stick to what we know. The entrepreneur mentor know-it-all is quick to cut you off. They say ‘me’, ‘my’, and ‘I’ more than most people. They want to talk about ‘my exit’, ‘my vision’, ‘my cool spouse, kids, car, gadgets’, ‘my amazing offer’, and they know exactly what you should do.

‘Yesterday’s Man’

Yesterday’s Man has credibility, because he’s ‘been there’, even if ‘there’ was ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago under completely different market conditions with completely different business models.

Getting lucky once doesn’t make you Steve Jobs. A lot of things have to go right for a startup to be a big success. Jobs was smart, but he worked with smart people in an industry that perfectly matched his talents at a time when explosive growth was possible.

Yesterday’s Man often wants you build your startup the way he built his, but business models have changed since a lot of these people hit it big. Ask yourself whether it makes sense. What did your phone look like ten years ago? You may be able to go further on a six-figure seed round, than Yesterday’s Man did with millions.

‘Shark Tank Wannabes’

I love Shark Tank, but I recognize that it is entertainment. Some mentors think their prior success marks them out as master negotiators. The art of the deal can be complex. If it was simple, there would not be so many books on the subject.

Many Shark Tank wannabes give bad advice on the ‘be a tough negotiator’ theme. They encourage you to make absurd demands and take the hard line. Sometimes standing your ground is the right thing to do, but it’s an easy course to advocate when you don’t have any skin in the game.

‘Limelight Seekers’

Success is intoxicating and a lot of successful entrepreneurs want back in the game once they leave the successful company they started. Some of them are doing it because they like being respected. They like being called rock stars. They like being adored. You don’t want to be their soapbox. Find someone that really wants to help you.

Channeling Tolstoy

All good mentors are alike; each bad mentor is bad in his own way. There are lots of ways to be led astray that I’ll leave for later. ‘Amazing’ offers, exploding offers, empty promises, long sidetracks, and their many cousins are all time wasters. If you’re unlucky, they are worse.

Look both ways before you cross the road

Rock star serial entrepreneurs can be perfect for your startup. They are great for introductions to mentors, business developers, software developers, corporates, investors, advisors, advisory boards, and more. Sometimes they really do have the answers to your problems. And sometimes they don’t.

Eight Mentor Archetypes You Need to Know

Who are we?
Mentors help startups meet all sorts of challenges, but finding the right ones to help your startup can be hard. It is a lot easier to know how and whether we can help you, if you know who we are, what we can do, and why we do it.

Know how to profile your mentors
Identifying which we profile fit is powerful and can be very straightforward:

“Anne, an ex-McKinsey consultant and former startup CFO, recently was part of a profitable exit and is now an angel investor. She wants three things:
• to meet startups that match her investment profile,
• to network with experienced angels to learn and perhaps co-invest, and
• to give back to the ecosystem.
Anne is demanding, detail-oriented, asks tough questions, and is good at getting startups to understand what they need to do to attract investors.”

How do you get a mentor to help you?
What should you do if you want Anne to help you? Do you have anything to offer her in return? How do you get from not knowing Anne exists or what she can do to a position where you can meet her and convince her to invest time and effort in helping you?

Start by using archetypes to analyze the mentor
Here are eight basic archetypes, with very brief descriptions, to help you categorize mentors. We often fit into more than one category, because we’re human, and therefore complicated.

Entrepreneur – Often the most coveted, but can include out-sized egos and opinionated people whose ‘lessons learned’ are out of date.
Investor – Usually looking for interesting investment opportunities. Used to being flattered.
Service Provider – Lawyers, accountants, bankers, and IP specialists. Good ones tell you how to make things possible instead of telling you they can’t be done.
Startup Enthusiast – We often fit more than one archetype. We are often in it for personal reasons as well as business. Some mentors just love the industry.
Board Professional – Includes consultants and can bring lots of experience and big networks.
Academic – Often have interesting analysis and access to relevant resources.
Corporate – Increasingly active partners. Many are still learning to work with startups. Can bring big scale to sales and much else besides.
Ecosystem Professional – The ecosystem is developing and specializing quickly. The people who run co-working spaces, incubators, accelerators, et.al., often have very relevant networks.

How to reward your mentor
Anne, the mentor profiled above, is looking for introductions to interesting startups and other investors. You probably know people you can introduce. Your startup may be a match for her investing profile or you may know one that is. You may be working with other investors she would like to meet.

Give to get
Any one of these three things may be the hook that gets you talking. Your ability to give her something she wants may help you get her to stick around to help you get what you need.

Match us to the task
Chemistry plays just as big a part as qualifications in mentoring, just like is does in dating. We will go into greater depth on the different archetypes later. Much depends on the challenge, the situation, the circumstances, and the match. Knowing whom you’re talking to early on can give you a significant edge on achieving the outcome you desire.