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Fred Wilson had a post yesterday titled Mentor/Investor Whiplash. His recommendations for dealing with it can be summarized as “collect all the data, think about it, discount what investors have to say, and ultimately listen to what the market is telling you over what advisors / investors tell you.”
I then read through the comments on the post and was bummed out. Many missed the point of what I thought Fred was trying to say. Then I reread the post more carefully and noticed how he framed the issue. The paragraph that caught my attention was:
I call this constant advising/mentoring of early stage startups “mentor/investor whiplash” and I think it is a big problem. Not just with the accelerator programs but across the early stage/seed startup landscape.
I bolded “I think it is a big problem” – that clearly set the tone for the comments.
I disagree with Fred. It’s not a big problem. It’s the essence of one of things an accelerator program is trying to teach the entrepreneurs going through it. Specifically, building muscle around processing data and feedback, and making your own decisions.
At Techstars, we view mentor whiplash as a positive attribute. We talk about it openly – all the time. I believe that if you ask five mentors the same question you’ll get seven different answers. This is especially true early in any relationship, when the mentors are just getting to know you and your company.
That’s good. That’s how business works. As an entrepreneur you get an endless stream of conflicting data on every issue. Your job is to sort the signal from the noise. Tools like Lean Launchpad and the concept of Lean Startup can help early on, but in some cases they’ll just collect more conflicting data, or validate (or invalidate) a particular hypothesis.
As the business grows, there are more points of stimuli, more agendas, more exogenous factors, and more potential whiplash. If you don’t build your own muscle around collecting, synthesizing, dealing with, and decided what to do with all the data that is coming at you, then you are going to have massive problems as your company scales up. So learning how to do this early on your journey is very powerful.
I view the accelerator environment, at least what we are creating at Techstars, to be an example of a safe environment. It’s an artificial construct that includes a massive amplification of stimuli and data over a short period of time (90 days) from people who – as mentors – should have the ultimate goal of being helpful to you. Now, every mentor – and investor – who you interact with – has their own emotional and intellectual construct of what they are doing and how they are interacting with you. That’s another layer of the positive impact – you have guides (your lead mentors, the people running the accelerator) who can help you decode the feedback. Your peers are interacting with the same mentors – often on the same day – and a short conversation with some of them can help you calibrate quickly.
Now apply Fred’s points (per my summary):
Collect all the data, think about it, discount what investors have to say, and ultimately listen to what the market is telling you over what advisors / investors tell you.
At Techstars, we repeat over and over again the following mantra to the entrepreneurs going through the accelerator.
It’s just data. It’s your company.
If you are in an accelerator, don’t be afraid of mentor whiplash. Don’t view it as a negative. Embrace it. Build muscle around it. Learn to process it. Filter out the noise. Run experiments on the stuff that seems valid to confirm or deny it. Make your own decisions!
I’m excited to join David Cohen and his team in announcing TechStars in Austin. From the TechStars blog:
“The Managing Director of TechStars Austin is Jason Seats. Jason is a “techie” and entrepreneur. Rackspace acquired his company Slicehost in 2008 and then made him VP of Engineering. Jason is an active angel investor and has been with TechStars since 2011 with two very successful programs under his belt as Managing Director. He brings amazing technical chops, founder experience and a strong network of his own. Jason is moving down the road from San Antonio to Austin and we’re confident that he will be a big part of growing both TechStars and the startup community in his new home.
TechStars will operate out of Capital Factory in downtown Austin. This beautiful space is “the most inspiring office space in Austin” for startups, and we’re happy that it’s our new home too. The amazing folks behind Capital Factory (Josh Baer and Bill Boebel) have played a critical role in bringing TechStars to Austin and we’re thankful for all of their support.”
Applications are open today and the final deadline is June 30th. Apply now. I look forward to meeting this new class of founders!
TechStars Patriot Boot Camp is an intense three-day program that will educate and mentor Veterans and Service Members to innovate, build technology companies, and create jobs. TechStars hopes that participation in the Patriot Boot Camp will be the catalyst for Veterans and Service Members to kickstart their company, find co-founders and advance as entrepreneurs. Veterans, spouses of Veterans, Service Members, or companies comprised of 50% or more Veterans are encouraged to apply to our second annual July 17-19 event in Washington D.C.
As an interesting note, participant Tak Lo from Patriot Boot Camp 2012 is now an Associate at TechStars in New York City and a participating company from Patriot Boot Camp 2012 - Nexercise - was recently accepted into the inaugural program of TechStars Chicago.
This event is made possible by awesome sponsors SoftLayer, Kauffman FastTrac, Slice of Lime, PivotDesk, Silicon Valley Bank, SendGrid, Galvanize, and George Washington University. The biggest thanks are due to these veteran entrepreneurs for their service to our country. Do you know a Veteran or Service Member that could benefit from a miniature TechStars experience? Please encourage them to apply.
TechStars Seattle applications for year four of the program are now open! The startup community in Seattle is expanding rapidly and TechStars Seattle is right in the middle of it all, located in South Lake Union surrounded by Amazon, Microsoft and tons of other amazing startups. We’ve been investing a lot in Seattle lately beyond TechStars, including BigDoor, SEOmoz, Cheezburger, and most recently Rover. We love Seattle as a startup community!
TechStars Seattle teams will be working out of Founders Co-op which is also home to The Microsoft Accelerator (powered by TechStars) and CodeFellows programs. There’s a lot of startup talent as well as investors and other members of the tech community around to help out.
Think you might be a good fit for TechStars Seattle? Apply now!
Jon Bradford and I have known one another since before the development of the Mentor Manifesto. Today we’re bringing Jon and his team at Springboard in London into the TechStars family as they re-brand to become TechStars London, our first international program. We have every confidence in them as a high-quality extension of the strong ecosystem we have already built here in the US.
Springboard has always been focused on helping entrepreneurs and TechStars’ support and expertise provides UK and European entrepreneurs the best opportunity to improve their likelihood of success. Our priority is to support great companies from the region in London (accepting applications from everywhere) and there’s no requirement or expectation that the companies will need to relocate to the US. We will build on the mentor network that Springboard has already started in London and supplement it with mentors from the broader TechStars network in the States.
Any and I are going to spend two weeks in London this summer during the program. I lived in London for a summer when I was 16, worked for Centronics (the creators of the parallel port), wrote dot-matrix font creation software for the Apple II, got paid with a Centronics 351 printer, learned how to drink a lot of beer, watched Pink Floyd The Wall for the first time, and spent a week wandering around in Paris in August when no one was there. I’ve always felt super comfortable in London and am looking forward to hanging out with the newest members of the TechStars family, while drinking a lot of beer.