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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Benefit of Mentor Whiplash

Comments (69)

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!

  • EllenMalloy

    I so needed to read this today. Thank you for posting.

  • james

    sorry, what is a “positive benefit”? by definition, a benefit is positive.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Good point. Title changing.

  • http://arnoldwaldstein.com/ awaldstein

    Thnx for this.

    It’s a slice from another side.

    I’ve done some mentoring as part of a team, but mostly my mentoring/advising work is all one on one. I don’t think of myself as data, I see the relationship with my clients as an ongoing partnership. It don’t tell them what to do, I lend my perspective to their situation for them to decide.

    Different strokes perhaps.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Actually, I think we are pretty close. By you saying “It don’t tell them what to do, I lend my perspective to their situation for them to decide” you are still leaving the ultimately responsibility for the decision to the other person. Whether your characterize your input as “data”, “really valid data”, or “extremely relevant data”, it’s still data (or an input into their decision making.)

      FYI – I’ve never viewed “being just data” as pejorative – rather, it reinforces that the decision is for the other person to make.

      • http://arnoldwaldstein.com/ awaldstein

        Fair enough.

        I wonder though where mentoring and coaching really intersect. For my piece of the world they do.

        • http://www.feld.com bfeld

          They are different. I guess I should do a blog post about the difference!

          • http://startuphappiness.com/ Dale Larson

            Can’t wait to read that post!

            For my $.02, there’s a set of well-understood coaching skills which can be taught and learned, and take years to master at the professional level (for which there are schools and certifications and accrediting bodies, example: http://coachfederation.org/credential/landing.cfm?ItemNumber=2206&navItemNumber=576)

            Those skills are useful on their own, and everyone can benefit from developing some coaching skills as well as from being on the receiving end of some good coaching.

            But coaching is even more useful when it’s combined with deep experience in a given field that a mentor brings. To me, the best mentor is also a good coach, but not all coaches are mentors.

  • Chris Chaten

    Two types of problems: those that are non-core to the mission, and those that provide necessary skills for success. You are charactarizing this as the latter. (Bootcamp provides many big huge problems for new soldiers. But that’s exactly the point.) I think, if pressed, Fred would as well. It’s a huge problem…”that you need to learn how to navigate”.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup!

  • Adrian McEwen

    Presumably the link in the first sentence should link to http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2013/07/mentorinvestor-whiplash.html ;-)

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Fixed. Thx for catching.

  • http://freepository.com John Minnihan

    I’ve mentored four or five teams now + have started each relationship w/ ‘here’s my background + experiences, which may be helpful in [x] context. But it’s just data.’

    I’m not sure who I first heard say this (you or David), but it stuck.

  • Paul R.

    The choice isn’t really whether to listen to investors/mentors or listen to the market. Of course you listen to the market. The hard part comes when you have to interpret what the market is telling you. It’s rarely black&white. Five mentors will tell you three different interpretations of the market. And that is when the Founder/CEO must absorb the advice and make the decision that he or she thinks is best, irrespective of which mentor said what.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup. See the above comment from @JLM:disqus about the Spice Market. Perfect analogy!

  • http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com/ JLM

    .
    Many things in life are explained by the “spice analogy”.

    When flavoring a soup, as an example, a pinch of spice can make it more savory and delicious.

    The same soup subjected to a handful of spice is ruined and inedible.

    The spice is not the problem. The Invisible Hand that guides and portions the spice is the problem.

    When in an accelerator environment, think spice store, the other challenge is that every interaction is screaming out for spice. That is why accelerators exist to advance the formation of products and to inject spices. The spice rack is filled with wisdom, experience and knowledge but it still must be proportioned expertly.

    When you are a hammer — or a spice merchant — everything looks like a nail and screams out for a blow on its head. Similarly when a fledgling company, that scream is for a bit of wisdom and guidance.

    Timing is crucial. Many times the broth is not yet at the right temperature and cannot yet absorb the spice. Spice applied too early doesn’t dissolve.

    The issue of the portioning and receptivity of the advice, wisdom, spice is a big issue for the spice merchant, adviser. Many folks are not very good at this. It is tone, temperament and talent.

    Read about the application of advice here: http://themusingsofthebigredcar.com/advice/

    JLM
    .

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Love it!

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    “Your job is to sort the signal from the noise.” That is the money quote for me.

    Good mentorship includes asking questions. You are helping them to grow and better themselves or their process, not better their product. Provoke them to think about something they haven’t, so that the future blind spots are reduced.

    But what if the multitude of mentoring ends-up derailing instead of enlightening the entrepreneur? Do you & partners act like a super-mentor police that intervenes when you see that happening?

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      The Techstars MD of the program, and a few others, are the super-mentors. They aren’t passive and will help calibrate when things go off the rails. Also, having a few lead mentors – who are deeply engaged with the company – helps a lot.

      • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

        That makes sense. Thanks.

  • Claus Christopher Moberg

    One of the big things we have learned through our TechStars experience is that it is critical to view mentor feedback in the context of associated metadata. Who is the person giving the feedback? What is their background? Even simply asking “why do you feel that way?” or “how strongly do you feel that you are correct?” can help find the common nuggets of truth that, viewed through two different lenses by two different mentors, are interpreted differently and lead to two seemingly conflicting opinions.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Said brilliantly young Luke. Lesson learned well I say.

    • http://startuphappiness.com/ Dale Larson

      Awesome point — the entrepreneur can take step up to make the conversation more useful even when a mentor may be giving feedback somewhat unskillfully!

  • http://www.chriskurdziel.com/ Chris Kurdziel

    This is such a good perspective on mentor whiplash, and like so many parts of entrepreneurship, extends beyond into the rest of life. Replace “company” with “life” above, and you still have a compelling statement.

    This summer at Shelby, we’re putting our interns through a process where they present their own startup ideas to the team and we provide feedback. They learned about “mentor whiplash” in the first session (our team had lots of feedback) and that it was important for them to clearly and concisely confirm/deny why our ideas were/weren’t a fit. I think the ability to make decisions amidst conflicting information is one of the toughest things to do, but also a necessary characteristic among successful leadership.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Important point. Virtually every board meeting I’m in has “board member whiplash.” Almost all the interactions with my friends around things generate “friend whiplash.” I even create whiplash in my own mind when I work through a problem!

  • http://www.cornfedsystems.com/ Frank W. Miller

    I agree with you except for one observation. It relates to a comment I made to an earlier post on your blog about the influence that investors have on an entrepreneurial community: http://www.feld.com/wp/archives/2012/10/kauffman-sketchbook-on-startup-communities.html. In an accelerator, many of the mentors will be potential investors. Its definitely harder to “make your own decisions” when a potential investor is dangling some cash in front of you and wants you to tack this way or that…

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      That’s true, but in Techstars case we try hard to do two things. First, we try to have a majority of non-investor mentors (primarily entrepreneurs). Second, we try to coach the investors to leave their investor hat at the door and be an actual mentor. This works some of the time. But we work at it – and are getting better all the time. And – more importantly – we make sure the entrepreneurs in the program understand the dynamic well.

  • rimalovski

    I think you and Fred are agreeing more than you think, as I believe he was not so much criticizing accelerators or mentors in general, but rather flagging entrepreneurs to beware.

    That being said, I also was bummed out by the comments to Fred’s post as I think most of them missed the key point of his post which is to “Listen to customers, users, and the market. Advisors, mentors, and investors are not the market for your product.” That doesn’t mean don’t listen to advisors and mentors, but be careful when one tells you to add/remove this feature, focus on this customer or that, etc. I think one of the key role of mentors is to help entrepreneurs learn to separate real signal from the noise, but that doesn’t mean interpreting it for them or giving them the answers.

    I agree with you that it is paramount for entrepreneurs to learn to process data and feedback and making their own decisions, and that includes data and feedback from customers and mentors/investors alike. But, I see many first time entrepreneurs falling into the trap Fred outlined of following the advice of one opinionated mentor/investors, and prioritizing it over what they are hearing collectively from their users/customers.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I completely agree on all. I tried to make it clear that we are agreeing about the substance. The thing I disagree with is that “it’s a problem.”

      But you describe the actual problem well. If the entrepreneur simply follows the advice of an opinionated mentor or investor, and then follows the advice of the next, and then the next – without viewing those opinions as “data” or “inputs” – they will be hosed.

  • Ken

    There’s a solution to mentor whiplash and it’s moving from advice giving to question asking. Let the entrepreneur come to their own conclusions rather than also have the additional burden of feeling like you have to be sensitive to the advice giver’s ego. As Clay Christensen said…”The valuable skill, I realized, was to ask the right question. That done, getting the right answer was typically quite straightforward.”

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Very powerful, but not enough in the context of mentoring. The socratic method, especially using the 5 Whys – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys – can work for a while, but if that’s all the entrepreneur is getting, it’s often not enough, especially in the context of an experienced mentor – around a particular problem or domain. The combination of a socratic approach combined with data / assertions / hypotheses creates a delicious stew for the entrepreneur to dine on.

      • Ken

        Or choke on.

      • http://startuphappiness.com/ Dale Larson

        Asking great questions is necessary, but not sufficient to awesome mentoring. That’s part of why coaches without entrepreneurial experience usually don’t work well for tech startup entrepreneurs. You have to be able to give best practices when they’re called for, to call bullshit when you see it (based on your experience), and to take a stand and give them something to agree with (or push off against) and talk through the reasoning. If all you’ve got in your toolbelt is great questions and good listening and the ability to set aside your own opinion, it’s hard to take a powerful stand for the entrepreneur you want to help succeed.

  • http://MainStStark.com Jeff ‘SKI’ Kinsey

    Good stuff. Love this concept: “It’s just data. It’s your company.”

    One of my mentors was Dr. Eli Goldratt. To help define “data” he said, “Information is the answer to the question asked” of data. One possible answer to a query. Data is just that, a mass of elements in some sort of construct, a la the database. When you use the data to answer a pointed question [via testing a hypothesis in the Lean Startup model for example], you gain actionable insight. Hence, the value of the refrain that it is YOUR company. Therefore, I strive to ask progressively better questions of my mentors. Knowing that any one answer is probably not sufficient.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Goldratt is brilliant. The Goal continues to be a book I recommend over and over again. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0884270610/startuprev-20

      • http://MainStStark.com Jeff ‘SKI’ Kinsey

        As you probably know, Ash Maurya is incorporating it and “It’s Not Luck” the marketing sequel to “The Goal” into his new effort, “The Customer Factory.” Can’t wait!

        • Paul Ryan

          Ash is also releasing a lean stack tool for tracking progress and learning from customer experiments soon check it out at http://leanstack.com

          Note: I have no connection to Ash Maurya or Gene Kim just a fan of the work of both.

      • Paul Ryan

        @bfeld:disqus and @consultski:disqus Have you read Gene Kim’s “The Phoenix Project” yet? It picks up from “The Goal” to apply more directly to modern high tech interactions. If you haven’t I’d recommend you add it to your reading lists.

  • Dale Larson

    Both true:
    1) investors and mentors might have more and better impact asking more questions and bringing more coaching skills
    2) founders have to learn to be decisive in the face of incomplete information, information overload, and conflicting information (at the same time), because it’s always going to be like that.

    There are lots of useful tools for founders to support them building and refine their filters and strengthen their intuition along the way, including making sure they have time for reflection and solitude, and at least one mentor or coach who supports them with more inquiry supporting awareness and than advice.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Yup. The next book that David Cohen and I are writing (Do Even More Faster) has an entire chapter on how to be an effective mentor.

      • Dale Larson

        Marcy and I would love to talk to you about it and/or review it for you once you have a draft!

        • http://www.feld.com bfeld

          Cool – we are jamming on it now.

    • Nick Ambrose

      I think one also has to look at the context of the information too.

      If a mentor gave me some advice on the acts of running a business, I’d be much more likely to take it because it’s most likely more mechanical than a product suggestion, and that person has probably been there 1000 times and can save me a ton of heartache.

      Suggestions about how the current product works would carry significant weight if that mentor had used the product (and was part of the “target” market), especially suggestions about usability. (Also about how to scale, if they had a lot of experience in that area)

      Suggestions about paths and directions that the company could/should take in the future seem to fall into the “harder to evaluate” category and I dont know that there’s an easy way around that one.

      You could say “trust your gut but we willing to change tack if all the evidence seems to go against you” but then how many companies have ended up succeeding precisely because the leader was hard-headed and had a vision that turned out to be correct ?

  • http://www.pointsandfigures.com/ pointsnfigures

    The tenor I got from the post was “make your own decisions”. My view on mentoring has changed since Excelerate Labs/Techstars. A mentor cannot have all the answers, but they can ask good questions. The other thing I have done is identify a couple of companies to interface with. It’s a better use of my time-and I am hopefully not wasting valuable entrepreneur time. This TechStars class in Chicago I have worked with two companies, and my partners have worked with another. I feel like I can add value to the two I worked with. Hopefully they feel that way, and I check in with them to make sure that I am not wasting their time. If i am not adding value-they need to tell me so either I pivot, and figure out a way to add value-or I quit mentoring them because I am wasting their time.

    Can I agree with both you and Fred, finding a middle ground? The problem with mentor whiplash that I think TechStars helps companies identify is that there are several different opinions-and sometimes a company can only choose one. There is risk in that-but hopefully not so much risk that choosing equals total fail.

    Thanks for posting this. I found it valuable-and hope you aren’t still bummed out. TechStars has been a very important building block to the Chicago startup community.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Going deep on one or two companies – rather than skimming on all of them – is really key. That’s why we have the concept of “lead mentor” – and try hard to get each lead mentor to work at least an hour a week (often much more) with one company (at most two).

  • http://www.valideval.com/ Adam Rentschler

    The $6 word for navigating whiplash is “triangulation.” The muscles you speak of are those that help entrepreneurs surface trustworthy data. Learning to dig into one’s mentors’ backgrounds and expertise is crucial: it helps one see how those data are situated in context.

    By all accounts, TechStars does a wonderful job of helping folks safely build those muscles with the techniques / resources / people you mention.

    What about the rest of us? Absent a super-mentor, absent the careful curation of the world’s most amazing mentor talent, absent the density of mentor interaction and the high velocity of strategic change… things are harder.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Well said – triangulation is a great word for it.

      We’ve worked hard to make Techstars special. But we’ve also worked hard to spread the word on how / why and enable the same magic in lots of other places. And we are going to keep on doing it as much as we can.

      • http://www.valideval.com/ Adam Rentschler

        … and we’re working on building technology to be a surrogate for some of those muscles and to aid in the building of other muscles for communities that lack the rarified talent of TechStars.

        For the rest of the world, building seemingly mundane things like a shared vocabulary loom large.

        Further, if you abstract beyond the TS bubble, one cannot afford to start with the assumption that mentors are more talented and/or more experienced than the entrepreneurs they presume to help / judge / evaluate.

        It’s a fascinating problem-space…

  • Kevin Fryer

    Totally agree with Brad. The mentoring process is not perfect but if used in the right manner it can catapult a company to high levels in far less time than if mentoring weren’t available. We have over 80 mentors in available to our companies, every team in our program will tell you it is the most important element we offer in our accelerator. It would take years for our companies to make the connections and get the advice we offer in mere days.

  • Josh Morgan

    Sometimes I feel like we forget that entrepreneurship is an art. Ultimately, some judgments need to be made in the face of conflicting data.

    I think the mentor meeting process is a galvanizing experience. In the end, it will be customer meetings where the true wake up call comes. Product building is a hard thing and can be a volatile process. It should be accepted as such.

  • Ryan Smith

    As a full-service agency who works mostly with startups and entrepreneurs, we are often one of many mentors that a startup encounters in their early stages and we give a lot of advice. Our advice always comes from our experience and insights into the market, but it also comes from a place of transparency and that is our number one goal with entrepreneurs, to be transparent. After that, it is up to them. We would rather have the cards be on the table, even if it contradicts other advice or the direction the startup wants to go. The most important point I think Brad is saying here is that part of being a successful entrepreneur is being able to process data and make an informed decision. Mentors help put that data on the table and more importantly, teach an entrepreneur how to process that data and make a decision based on it. This is where I believe accelerators like TechStars come in.

  • kermit64113

    I re-read Fred’s post and I like a lot of what he says. Entrepreneurs should discount inconsistent and irrelevant advisers, even if they are investors. That’s the purpose of documenting the advice you get is to separate good from poor advice. For example, one adviser might have a lot of experience with a particular financing vehicle (preferred converts) and can’t imagine why anyone would do a preferred equity (or an SBA loan). Depending on the business type, and their place in the lifecycle, converts might not be the right vehicle.

    Same story on market positioning. I just sat with a company today who simultaneously “mashed all the keys on the keyboard” – everything from direct consumer marketing straight through to white label. They wasted a bunch of money. I’m scratching my head asking “Who helped you come to this decision?” (And it’s a Denver-based company!). They should have started through TechStars.

    Confidants are critical. Who to hire when, where to start, how to service, when/ how to monetize are are critical thought processes. They require someone who is close to the business, but objective. Quite frankly, many times, they ask questions about alternatives, consequences, and linked/ sequential outcomes that the entrepreneur expects. It’s in the discussion where the unexpected “third way” emerges.

  • lunarmobiscuit

    Perhaps from the perspective of a mentor, mentor whiplash looks wasteful and pointless, but seeing TechStars, Microsoft Accelerator, Pie, and Fledge in action, Fred has completely missed the point on this topic. Here’s what I commented on this blog:

    A key value of incubator/accelerators is to let entrepreneurs quickly and thoroughly research all potential to-to-market strategies. Very few non-accelerated teams I’ve met have looked at even three paths forward.

    The slew of mentors lets the teams explore a dozen ideas, using the brainpower of a dozen or more of experienced business people, from a wide breadth of backgrounds. That is a pool of thought no non-accelerated team can put together on their own, and certainly not on a daily basis for weeks on end.

    At Fledge, my program, the “fledglings” commonly complain about mentor whiplash in week 3. I take that as a sign of success. At that point, they now have more ideas and advice than they imagined possible, and can use the best of it to find focus for the next 3-4 weeks, validating what they then choose as the right path. And when that path proves invalid (3 out of 4 times), thanks to the mentors, they have Plan B, C, … Z already in mind, instead of going back to a blank sheet or worse, pressing onward with the wrong idea.

  • http://petegrif.tumblr.com/ Pete Griffiths

    It seems to me that Fred was describing a very real phenomenon – people being overwhelmed by well meant advice coming thick and fast. I don’t see this as being in conflict with the existence of well organized accelerator programs which recognize this danger and organize to help develop the muscles to cope.

  • Elliott Hauser

    This is a great discussion, and I’m sure many accelerators will use these posts as a valuable teaching tool on the topic of dealing with and synthesizing advice.

    Ken suggests below that mentors should lead with questions. “Leading with questions” is one of the mantras we have at Coursefork and it’s really helped me the other way around: guiding our mentors/investors to be answering the questions we think are most important. For each mentoring experience, I try to prepare and frame the conversation around what I see as the person’s strengths. Then when we meet I can get them into the right frame and ask them the questions I think they can best help me answer. This is both open-ended and targeted and the mentors seem to enjoy the direction it gives the conversation. It decreases the weighing-in on random topics when, for instance, I need to drill down on user acquisition strategy with someone. I still have to synthesize conflicting advice, but the questions I ask let me target the incoming advice.

    The danger of “leading with questions”, of course, is to be asking the wrong questions. Or to ignore the right ones. So when I meet with the advisors who I consider the most strategic, the ask for them is: “What are the most important questions to be asking right now?” This is the most important question we ask, and my cofounders and I think about it and answer it anew every week. Answering it helps filter advice as well. Often, advisors will weigh in most strongly on questions that aren’t core, so we know we can safely postpone acting on or even deeply considering that advice until the question it answers becomes strategically important.

  • Brian Jacobs

    Fred and Brad are pretty much in agreement, as far as I can see. Fred doesn’t suggest that listening to a diversity of views is bad or that entrepreneurs shouldn’t take all the mentor meetings they can get. On the contrary, he thinks they should. It’s what they do with the often conflicting information that matters–the way that it is absorbed and processed.

    Conversely, Brad couldn’t plausibly suggest that whiplash is good. What I think he means, rather, is that (like Fred) it’s important to take in a lot of diverse views, and (also like Fred) to process them in productive ways. The confusion lies in mixing up the causes and effects. Whiplash is bad, by definition, but no one suggests that exposure to the conditions that could cause it is bad.

    If you’re in a car, those conditions include riding fast so you can get from one place to another; if you’re an entrepreneur those conditions are partly listening to disparate advice so that you can make the most thoughtful, informed choices. To prevent whiplash, we try to control the car and we have things like headrests. To prevent whiplash as an entrepreneur, we need self-control so that we’re not reflexively responding to all the stimuli of the meetings. Brad calls this building muscle and Fred offers some reasonable ways of doing that.

    At its best, I think this self-control is enlarged thinking—the ability to hold two conflicting views simultaneously and synthesize them into something entirely new. That’s part of the magic of creative thinking and innovative projects.

  • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason Cohen

    From my experience as a (founding) mentor at Capital Factory, over ~20 companies:

    I do think mentor whiplash is a problem. Not a “big problem” in the sense that it undoes the value of mentorship or destroys young minds or wastes time, but I don’t think you’re doing anyone favors by explaining how “it’s good for you.”

    Brad admits that “an entrepreneur gets an endless stream of conflicting data on every issue,” and rightly stipulates that building the muscle of discernment (or, at least, clear decision-making) is vital. I agree.

    But shouldn’t the role of the mentors be to *assist* the entrepreneur in building that muscle? I don’t see how getting even more conflicting advice helps in that cause. It’s just more to wade through.

    Hopefully mentors are “teaching a man to fish” — providing decision-frameworks or helping to think through pros/cons of decisions and helping the entrepreneur to see around certain corners that only experience sheds light on.

    But if those guides, frameworks, and visions still conflict, that’s still not terribly helpful.

    I agree that, in the end, mentors represent part of the crucible that is a positive force in getting a new entrepreneur to think in a more sophisticated way on these topics, but I don’t think mentor whiplash is a particularly wonderful thing.

    On the other hand, I admit I don’t know the antidote other than what Brad says, which essentially is to listen, decide what makes sense for you personally, then just go (and test wherever possible). That’s what I tell founders as well.

    But you should see the look on their face when you do. That’s not the answer they wanted to hear.

    Maybe they’re wrong. But maybe they’re not.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      One of the roles of the MD of each Techstars program is to be the ultimate guide – to help navigate through the mentor whiplash. A few leads mentors can help with this a lot as well.

    • ObjectMethogology.com

      I agree with Jason. I think mentor whiplash is a problem. But only because as someone gains knowledge they need to move on to more focused mentoring. In other words someone with no knowledge in an area can learn from almost any mentoring. But as they become educated rehashing the same entry-level information is probably not of much value.
      .
      I’m glad you made this post Brad. I’ve been wanting to find data on accelerator program effectiveness. Do you have any stats about companies that have gone through Techstars? Including but not limited to:
      Success rate
      Survival rate
      Growth rate
      Failure rate
      Dollars spent

    • http://www.vidmaker.com/ Dale Emmons

      Cross-posting from Fred’s blog, with minor edits:

      It seems like a problem in the moment but the longer term benefits are worth it.

      My company got hit hard by mentor whiplash in TechStars Cloud last year; looking back it was the best part of the program for us. Although we lost several weeks being whipped around so much (we’re doing stuff with video – everyone had a strong opinion) we came out with a much clearer picture of what we are doing and why. It forced us to take a hard look at our assumptions and justify them, and it taught us how to process feedback properly.

      I now tell everyone who asks about TechStars that there are three huge benefits to the mentor whiplash in the first month of the program:

      1. Processing feedback: aside from the occasional golden nugget, feedback from mentors or anyone is colored by their personal experience and on its own often isn’t worth much – even if that person has been extremely successful in their own field. But, if you talk to lots of people and many of them say something similar it’s a strong signal that you should think more about it. The only way to get that signal is to get lots of feedback.
      2. Communication: You get really, really good at concisely communicating about your business and quickly learn what parts of your message resonate with people.
      3. “Lead” mentor selection: Meeting so many mentors all at once improves the chance that you’ll quickly connect with someone who can really add value over the months and years to come.

      • http://www.feld.com bfeld

        Great analysis.

  • http://datasystemics.com/ Joseph Weaver

    Here’s why I agree (with Brad and a few others) that whiplash is more good than non-whiplash. Most mentors will weigh risk factors differently in assessments. This leads to different advice. The reason for this is that diverse experience and background has set various risk tolerance thresholds and weights. Learning your mentors perspective is as much learning about the person as it is about listening to advice about your business.

    Neither choirs nor mentors are meant to sing in perfect unison all the time.

  • http://learntoduck.net/ Micah Baldwin

    I believe deeply in efficiency. Why go to 5 mentors to get 7 answers, when I can give you all seven in one shot?

    * “Your idea doesn’t scale, have you thought about leveraging twitter’s API to pull Facebook data?”
    * “Have you thought about the international market? You know mobile in China is exploding.”
    * “Customer Acquisition is your achilles heel. I suggest creating a viral loop of 1 by using long tail terms on Facebook to get twitter handles you can DM.”
    * “Your messaging reminds me of this company from 2001. I would be careful that people would remember it, perhaps use a Swahili word or a logo with a swoosh?”
    * “The most important thing in getting investment is leading with market size. What is your market size?”
    * “The most important thing in getting investment is to ignore your market size. It’s team all the way!”
    * “Wait. What were we talking about again? I got a SnapChat. Have you thought of making your product ephemeral? It’s hot right now.”

    A strong founder is able to dig through the mountainous pile of crap that mentors/advisors/investors dump on their heads to find the one diamond that truly shines. That strength usually comes from having a clear vision as to what you want to create, and sticking with it.

    • ObjectMethodology.com

      I think we’re all looking at this the wrong way. The people offering advice have big hearts and are trying to help. But we should not point the finger at them saying it’s their fault.
      .
      The first question to ask before soliciting advice should be: Are you now working on a startup of your own? If not then they aren’t the right people to be giving advice. In this fast paced tech world if you’re not *doing it* then you’re not qualified to give advice!

      • http://www.feld.com bfeld

        Bingo.

  • Guest

    I absolutely loved this part “It’s an artificial construct that includes a massive amplification of stimuli and data over a short period of time (90 days)…”

    Because it is exactly that!

    Once you’re out of the accelerator, this whiplash won’t stop; be it from customers/investors/employees/friends, etc. Being able to practice receiving feedback in a “practice” format is amazing bc there is VERY little downside; unless you haven’t developed your own muscle around receiving it!

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