The Mentor Manifesto

I’ve been running Techstars for six years now. I’ve watched eleven batches of companies interact with hundreds of mentors. Because of that mentorship (focused on amazingly talented companies) we’ve seen those companies go on to raise about $100M in funding (averaging about $1M each post Techstars). In that time, I’ve witnessed thousands of mentor interactions, from some of the best entrepreneurs and investors on the planet. As a result, a while back, I wrote about the best ways for entrepreneurs to engage great mentors.

With this post I’m looking at the other side of the equation. What does it mean to be a great mentor? What mentor behaviors lead to great mentorship? What I’ve tried to capture here is essentially a set of mentor behaviors that seem to lead to the best results. When mentors do these things, relationships blossom and companies flourish. When they don’t, it’s often a struggle.

So, here’s what entrepreneurs can and should demand from their mentors. And here’s what mentors should consider if they want to build effective relationships with the entrepreneurs they’re working with. Rather than discuss each point, I thought I’d take a first crack at this “mentor manifesto” and let people react in the comments. Perhaps in the future I’ll dive into these behaviors, but for now I think they mostly speak for themselves.

The Mentor Manifesto

  • Be socratic.
  • Expect nothing in return (you’ll be delighted with what you do get back).
  • Be authentic / practice what you preach.
  • Be direct. Tell the truth, however hard.
  • Listen too.
  • The best mentor relationships eventually become two-way.
  • Be responsive.
  • Adopt at least one company every single year. Experience counts.
  • Clearly separate opinion from fact.
  • Hold information in confidence.
  • Clearly commit to mentor or do not. Either is fine.
  • Know what you don’t know. Say I don’t know when you don’t know. “I don’t know” is preferable to bravado.
  • Guide, don’t control. Teams must make their own decisions. Guide but never tell them what to do. Understand that it’s their company, not yours.
  • Accept and communicate with other mentors that get involved.
  • Be optimistic.
  • Provide specific actionable advice, don’t be vague.
  • Be challenging/robust but never destructive.
  • Have empathy. Remember that startups are hard.

Thanks to Jon Bradford and Brad Feld for helping me think about the Mentor Manifesto and for contributing ideas to it. Now I’d like to hear your ideas in the comments.

Ralph Dandrea does a nice job of restating this from a “beliefs and purpose” standpoint here.

file under: Blog, Startups