Next week starts the formal “Mentor Madness” portion of Techstars, where our companies dive into their new network. Our twelve companies were just announced Tuesday night, and many mentors have already scheduled their office hour visits and have indicated who they are interested in working with. 25 minutes are booked for each visit, with the typical mentor taking 4 meetings over 2 hours. Like dating, some mentors take meetings just for fun, but the goal is to find a special relationship that will last a long-time and benefit all of the parties. As a past mentor myself, I can attest that I probably have learned more from my mentees—and had the opportunity to revisit areas for my continued personal growth—than they have from me.
Sometimes the mentors leave it up to staff to try to come up with the right match, but the first meeting is like a first date—a general “getting to know you” talk, assessing each others’ skills, needs, differences, etc. And the hope of any company is to catch the interest of the mentors. Even if there is not a perfect fit (and we generally don’t encourage mentors to take on more than one company), oftentimes the best leads or recommendations come from just serendipity: an edutech company can always get a warm intro to alma maters, connections can be made outside of the standard Techstars network, or even investment checks might result. While there are some clear best practices about how to be a good mentor in Techstars, I haven’t seen anything written about how companies should behave. Everything is common sense, like making sure you aren’t checking phone messages or taking calls. Here is my 6 point guide to having a successful mentor meeting
- Do your homework on the mentor in advance. In order, I check out LinkedIn, then AngelList if they are also an investor, then a general Google search, and find a way early on to subtly let them know that you took the time to do your homework. They’ll respect you for it, and hopefully you have found something common and personal to start establishing a real friendship relationship, not just a dry, arm’s length business discussion. For an example how this was done at its best, see my story of my experience mentoring Evertrue.
- I’d give the quick elevator pitch—the under 60 seconds version. The mentor may well have already checked your website out as well, so before you start going into 10 minute monologues, you can ask if there is any specific area they want to explore. Even if this is tangential to where you want to go, see where this leads—the mentor probably has a good reason to ask. Extra points if you have brought along or previously emailed a one-pager on your company including contact info.
- Try to make sure the mentor does at least 40% of the talking, and take notes.
- Before you get to the halfway point, engage on a specific topic that you think is most relevant. You should already know the top 4-5 areas of concern for you where you’re looking for specific advice, and you can pull out the one that seems most relevant for the mentor. You should have a good idea of this in advance of the meeting.
- Before you wrap it up, you ask if there is anyone they think you should meet, and if appropriate ask if they might make the introduction.
- FOLLOW UP! That same day, write a short, personalized note of thanks, and if appropriate ask for a followup meeting. (In settings other than Techstars, where the mentor is taking multiple meetings, you can ask this as you say goodbye. “Would you like to follow up? Perhaps next Tuesday between 10-2, or after work?” And if appropriate, you can send them the same monthly updates that you send your investors. Here’s an article on The Why and How of Updating Your Investors, and here’s an accompanying template. Keep it short.
As in most things in life, all you really need to know you learned in kindergarten. Show up a little early, smile, look people in the eye, be polite and attentive, say thank you. Those who can’t do that generally don’t get second meetings. And that’s the goal—learning something and having them interested in helping you more. If you’re really lucky, you find a real mentor.