Are you familiar with the HBO show Silicon Valley? If not, it is a comedy set in – you guessed it – Silicon Valley, and follows the life of startup founder Richard Hendricks and his company “Pied Piper.” Richard goes from working in an incubator, to trying to find funding, to navigating the world of working with VCs, to getting sued, to getting good and bad advice everywhere he turns. Hilarious hijinks follow.
Except that as a founder of a startup or new business venture, the hijinks Richard deals with may be all too familiar, and more painful than fun. One of the issues many founders struggle with is something called “mentor whiplash,” a phrase coined by VC Fred Wilson. Mentor Whiplash is the fatigue many founders feel after meeting with a bunch of smart mentors, all with differing opinions and feedback.
There is likely no greater potential for mentor whiplash than when participating in an accelerator program. By design, startup founders receive a ton of feedback from mentors during this time, and if they aren’t smart about it, they can end up overwhelmed and missing out on actionable advice. Check out the quick video about startup accelerators and mentorship below.
Don't miss out on key advice. Here are 5 ways to avoid mentor whiplash:
- Be Prepared
Know who the mentor is, so you can better prepare how to accept feedback. Researching mentors beforehand can help founders better understand the motivations behind a particular piece of feedback or advice, and appropriately parse through it. Is the mentor one of your investors? Then their advice might have an agenda. Not always though – often investors want the best for the company they invest in. But someone who has zero stake in your company might give better advice.
- Take Time Processing Feedback
Take most of the feedback in, but don’t agree with anything until you have time to digest. You might end up in a situation where you are in a room with 6 mentors, and 5 of them have different opinions. You should listen to all of them, but don’t react to anything right off the bat. Remember, this is your business, and you are ultimately the one who makes decisions. This leads in to #3:
- Take Good Notes, Download Them After
Fred Wilson recommends creating a spreadsheet that details each meeting with mentors and the resulting feedback. That way, you can easily start to recognize when mentors start saying the same things, and know that you might want to listen more carefully to those pieces of advice.
- Ask Better Questions
Hiten Shah, co-founder of KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg and Quick Sprout, says a good way to ensure better feedback is to ask better questions. It is more valuable to reframe the questions you ask a mentor to be about growth, instead of motivation. Shah gives some great examples of what makes a better question to ask, so be sure to check out his article.
- Trust Your Gut - Except When you Can’t
And know the difference. As Larry Alton, former entrepreneur said in this Entrepreneur article, “instinct is entirely overrated.” It is important to know what you don’t know. Sometimes, you have to just go with your instinct, and often this can lead to extraordinary results. But, sometimes you just don’t know enough to go with your gut and it is better to go with what the data is telling you. The data could be actual numbers, or it could be feedback you received from mentors. They are there to help you, so if you don’t know enough about a particular facet of your business, and your mentor happens to be an expert, it might be worth trusting their experience over your gut. But, if there really is no clear answer, and you get mostly muddled opinions from mentors, trust your gut. It’s your business, so go with what you think is best for it.
Remember, mentors are generally volunteering their time to help you out. So usually they are trying to give you good pieces of advice. But it is up to you to know what advice to follow and what to ignore. Also, it is the job of the accelerator to ensure they are providing quality mentors that are appropriately placed and relevant to your product and company. That is one of the things that makes UpRamp’s Fiterator different than an accelerator. Fiterator is designed to bring your company true product fit within the global cable and broadband industry. Apply to the Fiterator today.