Less mentoring, more engagement

Linkedin is gradually becoming Facebook, and everybody noticed. Self-esteem and self-help posts, people patting themselves on the back, and neverending flame wars over comments. Linkedin importance for professional interactions is becoming much more for interactions than “professional”. And wow, how needy are people nowadays.

In the startup and venture capital worlds, there’s a predominant Linkedin trend when it comes to the “Statup Mentor” title on profiles. Despite of being such a 2012 thing, it’s a sprinkle that subtitles many, many people somehow tied with the startup scene.

After a long time without posting, I caught myself raising one eyebrow on the mentoring issue. I’d like to see what you think about it, even if it’s just harmless profile coloring.

Mentorship is not that fancy
The first thing those people must understand is that “mentor” doesn’t qualify one as a better professional. It isn’t a skill nor a profession, it just means a person has interacted with at least one startup and gave an opinion. For your own sake, don’t use “mentor” on your profile title or professional experience. People should refer to you as a mentor due to good advice… it’s weird when you label yourself.

Low-touch mentorship is not advice, it’s exercising opinion
Meeting a founder one time and saying whatever you say doesn’t qualify you as a mentor. Real mentorship requires knowing your mentees well, developing trust and anticipating how they will react to pressure so you can better ponder your advice. Founders claim that mentor opinions are often contradictory, finding themselves in crossroads when deciding what to do.

Do not mentor out of interest
Review your mentoring wishes and principles, and question how much this act of giving back is helping amazing founders or just helping you with future consulting opportunities. Even if you are looking for investments, do not try to create a dependency on you. Mentoring should happen because mentor and mentee feel good exchanging ideas and exploring innovation. Good startup results are the goal, not the mentoring itself.

Founders listen to people babbling
Out of respect, early-stage founders spend time listening to mentors. Either in acceleration processes (mostly pasteurized meetings with a “partners network”) or pitch academies, there’s a lineup of mentors waiting. Over time, founders realize some “mentoring” patterns (I’ve made some of those mistakes at the beginning):

  • “I don’t think this business is gonna work”
  • “You should stop doing [present business model] and start [far-reaching idea]”
  • “Congrats, I think your business has great potential! Good luck”
  • “These guys [shows phone screen] already do what you do”

In other words, they’d rather babble than help the founder.

Founders should prioritize the best advice
Dear founder, don’t waste time with dozens of mentors. Say no to forced mentoring sessions on which you can’t see value. Focus on the ones that structure their feebdback, provide high-touch treatment and track your results over time.

You may guess VCs are excellent mentors, and they might be. However, they are too focused on their work and rarely provide consistent feedback over time. Find experienced founders who have executed operations that look like yours, listen to them and then ask for whoever they recommend.

For mentors, instead of the mentor badge, add your skills and market specialties to your profile title. You will help founders consider if you may be a suitable advice source. If that happens, please engage and use your candor the right way.

Want to hear my view on mentoring? Check out this post.