Lesson Learned: How to Maximize Mentor Relationships

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One of the major benefits of accelerator programs is access to extraordinary mentors. As part of Summer Launchpad, my team had access to world class experts who were committed to advising and supporting a single accelerator team for the entire summer. However, while in the trenches of building an early stage startup, it can sometimes be challenging to make the most out of the opportunity to learn from mentors.

Our mentors for the program were:

  • Public Company Chief Product Officer (Rob)
  • NYU alum who's now post-Series A (Nihal)
  • VC operating partner (Hilary)

While were extremely fortunate to have three exceptional mentors, our experience working with them far exceeded our (and their) expectations. Here is how we made it easy for us and a valuable experience for our mentors as well:

1. Set expectations up front. Each of our mentors had different time constraints and areas of knowledge. To make the best use of their time, we had an early introductory meeting with each mentor to walk through our goals for the summer, and discuss their experience and where they could add value. At the end of that introductory meeting, we then determined an on-going meeting schedule for the rest of the summer.

2. Leverage each mentor's specific expertise and experience. We had limited time with each mentor, so we asked each only questions relevant to their expertise. We asked Rob big picture operating and strategy questions, Nihal highly technical questions and day-to-day start-up questions, and Hilary capitalization and external relevance questions.

3. Listen to specific examples. Some of our greatest learnings from our mentors were lessons from their own successes and failures.  Rob shared with us what went well and what he wish he had done differently for his e-commerce start-up's  launch, as well as how he implemented lean learnings in a mature business. Nihal shared with us tips on how he made the most out of his experience working with the Launchpad teams last year.

4. Double-check! Rob was fond of reminding us that any perspective or lesson he shared is just a singular datapoint and that we NEED to double check his input with other mentors and, sometimes, our customers.

5. Take advantage of office hours. Most accelerator programs, including Launchpad, have a handful of additional mentors that pop-in for office hours. Take advantage of these. The roving mentors have fascinating and very specific areas of expertise and can provide strong disciplinary insights. We had the privilege of sitting down with several of the speakers and entrepreneurs that stopped by to lend their expertise.

Oh, and finally, for future Launchpad participants, don't forget about Frank, Lindsay and Micah!