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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

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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!

Startup Colorado Launch on 11/9/11

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On November 9th, I’ll be helping launch Startup Colorado. We’ll be having a kickoff event at CU Boulder from 6:30pm – 8:35pm.

Startup Colorado will be one of the regional initiatives under the umbrella of the Startup America Partnership. Startup Colorado is an initiative to make a meaningful impact on entrepreneurship and new company creation in the Front Range. We want to expand the breadth and depth of entrepreneurial networks from Fort Collins to Boulder to Denver to Colorado Springs and lower barriers for people who want to build high-growth businesses.

At the launch event, our agenda will include talking specifically about what our plans and goals are for 2012. We’ll be operating under my first principle of entrepreneurial communities – that an entrepreneurial community must be lead by entrepreneurs. We have a panel discussing what has happened in Boulder over the past decade and one about the power of mentorship.

We’ll also be joined by several special guests, including Scott Case (Startup America Partnership CEO) and Aneesh Chopra (United States Chief Technology Officer).

If you are an entrepreneur in Colorado, we’d love to have you join us. Please register at the Silicon Flatirons site. The event will be at the Wittemyer Courtroom, Wolf Law Building, University of Colorado on Wednesday, November 9, 2011; 6:30 – 8:35 PM.

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