Getting the most from your mentor in an accelerator

13 08 2015

I’m planning on being very involved in the Lightning Lab Christchurch accelerator programme that starts next week, mainly as a mentor.  As I look back on both Lightning Lab Wellington accelerators where I mentored in 2013 and 2014, I felt that most of the teams could have used their mentors more effectively.

With that in mind, here’s a brief guide to how to get the most out of your mentors in an accelerator.

  1. Choosing a mentor is one of the most important decisions you’ll make during the accelerator.  Choose wisely.
  2. Be clear about what you want from a mentor up front, even though expectations may change during the course of the accelerator, as you and your mentor learn more about unknown unknowns. What are the gaps you’re looking to fill?
    1. Industry experience
    2. Specific skills, eg sales
    3. Contacts (NZ / Overseas)
    4. Potential investment, especially someone you can turn into a lead
  3. Be clear about what your mentor wants up front.  Why are they doing this?
  4. Make sure your mentors have read and understand David Cohen’s Mentor Manifesto.
  5. Don’t accept any mentor that comes along – even if you’re desperate.  A bad fit is a lot worse than rejecting them.
  6. Do “due diligence” on potential mentors.  Check their LinkedIn profiles.  Ask for references.
  7. Don’t take on too many mentors. Ideally, have one “lead” (or maybe two) that you spend at least an hour a week with, and possibly some others that you use for specific advice
  8. It’s like dating.  Do what you can to attract The Right One (or three).  And like dating, you could end up being “stuck” (or thoroughly enjoying) a long-term relationship with them.
  9. Look after them, and hopefully they’ll look after you.
  10. Be honest at all times.  One porkie can really wreck trust, even if it’s only a minor one.
  11. Keep track of action points for each side from mentor meetings.  Ideally, send out an email after each mentor meeting identifying who is going to be doing what between now and the next meeting.
  12. Hold your mentor to account, and expect them to hold you to account.  If one or both sides is blowing the other off, it’s not working and you should terminate the relationship and invest your time more productively.
  13. Your mentors are probably extremely busy people.  Try to plan meetings and activities well in advance, and establish a regular rhythm if possible.  Here’s a typical week in my calendar:
    dave-calendar
  14. REMEMBER – IT’S YOUR COMPANY, NOT YOUR MENTOR’S.  Don’t hold back on pushing back. Be reasonable, and listen to reason, but your mentor is generally all-care-no-responsibility, and you’re the Founder left holding the baby company.
  15. Timing is everything.  Use your founder spidey-sense to know when to cut your losses and fire your mentor, and when to double-down on their advice.

Is there anything I missed?  Please let me know in the comments.


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