As head of business development for Wayra UK, the leading startup accelerator that is part of Telefónica Open Future_, I spend much of my time working out how best to match our startups with the rest of the company. And that often involves business mentoring.
In many cases, the links are commercial, as we match new products and ideas with the most suitable fits across Telefónica and O2. However, we also take great care to give our startups the best advice possible in order to help them develop.
Business mentoring from an advisor’s point of view can be daunting, especially if someone has never done it before or isn’t sure how they can help. However, it’s also hugely beneficial – not just for the startup, which obviously gains from the mentor’s experience, knowledge and networks – but also for mentors themselves. It can put you in touch with some exciting businesses, keeps a finger on the pulse of what’s really happening, and alerts you to new trends.
So, what makes good business mentoring? Here’s my advice. For anyone taking on the challenge, I hope it helps.
- Commitment: Keep your promises. Be clear about your time commitment, hold yourself to account and set expectations of accountability of your startup too. Time is a commodity, so asking for questions before meetings will enable you to set clear agendas, and to use the time effectively
- Listen: Active listening takes energy. People who listen actively don’t simply sit back and allow words to hit their eardrums. They take notes. They ask questions. They repeat or “mirror back” what they’ve heard to ensure they’ve understood it properly
- Ask why: Mentors are in the enviable position of not being “blinded by love” for a startup. Entrepreneurs get blinded, mentors shouldn’t. The simplest way of cutting through the blindness is to ask “why”. It’s not any more complicated than that. Keep asking “why” over and over and you’ll find the insights you need very quickly
- Curiosity: Ask good questions. The answer is not always apparent, and sometimes the problem needs defining. To get to the core of issue, define what needs fixing – is it people, process, commercial or technology? Outline possible actions and work together to agree on the best direction
- Problem solving: Be part of the solution. The job of business mentoring isn’t to take over, but to bring an experienced perspective to the startup. Help founders weigh up options and point out areas that need consideration. Ultimately, guide – don’t control: a good mentor will give solid advice and let the startup make the decision
- Knowledge: Align with your expertise. Match your skill-set with the needs of the startup. Share your stories to teach the lessons you have learned along the way. Clearly separate your opinions from the facts
- Collaborate: Collaborate with other mentors. If you’re unsure, or want help coming up with more efficient tactics, don’t hesitate to pull in another mentor. No-one has all the answers, and sometimes it can be tricky to decide what advice to give. However, brief any new mentor first – don’t make the team do the entire download process again
- Introductions: Often, the biggest benefit that business mentoring can bring to a startup is a network. Rather than tackling a topic that you’re not an expert on, engage someone who is. Even a simple introduction email that takes five minutes to write can be a huge opportunity to your startup. However, don’t make introductions without giving context or getting approval from both sides
- Honesty: Be tactful, but give honest feedback. Be direct. Tell the truth, However, remain supportive. Startups have enough fears and insecurities – and they don’t need yours.
- Momentum: Maintain the motivation and focus, stay enthusiastic, and check in with your mentee regularly between meetings
Martin Jordan is head of business development for Wayra UK, which has helped more than 150 British and Irish startups raise over $110m in third-party funding.