We always like to hear experiences and advice from previous Seedcamp teams. In this guest post, Jakob – a member of Seedcamp Week Finalist Adtaily, writes about how to mentor or be mentored at a Seedcamp. Essential reading for any prospective Seedcamp teams or mentors.
How does a Seedcamp mentoring session work?
Seedcamp is an early stage investment fund organising regional events in Europe called Mini-Seedcamps where the best local internet start-ups meet the best European mentors and investors. Apart from valuable panels, the essence of Mini-Seedcamps are the mentoring sessions where experienced entrepreneurs or experts, called mentors meet young co-founders and their teams.
I had the pleasure of attending a Seedcamp in two roles. Firstly as a team member (co-founder) of AdTaily – finalist of Seedcamp 2008 in London, acquired 10 months later by a leading Central European media group. And then I attended as a mentor, sharing my experience at the Mini-Seedcamp 2009 in Warsaw and the Mini-Seedcamp 2010 in Prague. Having that dual perspective I have tried to list useful ‘do’s for anyone who plans to attend Seedcamp’s mentoring session.
What is a mentoring session?
A mentoring session is usually an hour-long time slot where mentors meet start-up founders and team members. Due to logistic reasons, four to five mentors are paired with two teams (three to four people in each) at the same time in one room. Teams very often decide to split their time into two or split mentor groups so that two mentors discuss one project at a time.
Attending a session as a mentor
Your role as a mentor is to try to understand the core business of the team you have been paired with and to give them your best possible feedback and share your experience.
Mentoring session hints:
- Introduce yourself so that all the team members are aware of your area of expertise and your story
- Let team members introduce themselves so that you have an overview of their experience, skills and organisation concept
- Ask team members to briefly summarise their core idea and demonstrate the product, if possible
- Try to understand the value proposition. Repeating it in your own words might help you and the other mentors to grasp it
- If the idea of the product is clear, try to help the team to define their target group and marketing strategy
- When you know exactly what problem they solve and how they can do it, it’s time to share your experience and give advice
- Be honest, but constructive. Tell them of the challenges and risks you see and how would you minimise/solve these. Share your past experiences of similar problems and tell what went well and what went wrong
- Ask what you, as mentors, could do for the team. Do they have specific problems or doubts you could help to solve?
- Mention opportunities through which you might support the team, like networking or customer contacts
- Attending a session as a start-up team member
Your role as a team member is to get as much feedback on your project as possible. This is an extraordinary opportunity to ask and listen to experienced entrepreneurs, experts and investors – for free : ) – they are all yours for not more than an hour.
- A couple days before Seedcamp you should receive your mentors list. Google them, connect on LinkedIn and try to find out as much as possible. Investigate whether they are product people, marketing guys or investors. Prepare mentor-specific questions and pitches
- Have a good demo or presentation. Since you are going to pitch to many mentors you could A/B test your presentation. It is smart to have your presentation on your iPhone so that it is easy to demonstrate when chatting in person during coffee breaks
- Be sure that all the mentors understand your idea. If they did not, will your customers?
- Ask specific questions to your mentors about problems or doubts you have. Test the same question on different mentors with different backgrounds. Product people might be very optimistic, but experienced entrepreneurs will be realistic
- Enforce mentors to be constructive. When they say they don’t like your marketing strategy or that your product is rubbish ask what they would change if they were in your shoes
- Exchange business cards and always follow up, saying thank for mentoring. Please note that mentors are busy guys. If you want to receive answers from them send very short and specific questions
- If you have attended Seedcamps as a mentor or team member and have other useful tips, your comments will be appreciated.