The TechStars Mentor Manifesto

When David Cohen and I first talked about TechStars in 2006, the concept of a “mentor” was front and center. Early on, we defined TechStars as a “mentorship-driven seed stage investment program” and have held deeply to that concept from the beginning. Today, the vast majority of accelerators use a mentorship model, which is something we are really proud of and thinks serves entrepreneurs everywhere extremely well.

When I was in Cambridge, England at the end of July for the Springboard Demo Day, Jon Bradford (the Springboard Managing Director) talked elloquently about how mentorship was a key part of the program. Springboard is a member of the TechStars Network and subsequently uses the same mentorship model that TechStars uses. During the day I got to meet a bunch of Springboard mentors – they were superb and also incredibly enthusiastic about the Springboard program that Jon had created. Jon then took me for a meeting at 10 Downing Street and on the way suggested that David and I write up a “Mentor Manifesto.” I thought it was a great idea, suggested it to David, who published his Mentor Manifesto yesterday. It follows:

  • 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.

If you’ve read Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup, you’ll recognize many of these. David’s added a few more concepts and synthesized / evolved a few. In typical TechStars fashion, view this as an evolving manifesto – comments are welcome (and encouraged!)