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Startup in seed stage, mentor or manager?

How can expertise accelerate a startup?

In this post we look at mentors vs. managers, and the expertise and know-how these professionals bring to the startup. And why this expertise should be actively searched for by the startup team, and taken on board as early as possible.

The seed stage is the state of a company when it has just been incorporated and its founders are developing their product or service. (Definition Nasdaq).

Before we look at the role of mentors and managers, let’s ask ourselves the following questions.

  • Is it better to have a a small share of a large company or a large share of a small firm?
  • Is it true that a Round A may cost less, if it follows a successful previous round of financing with angel investors?
  • How is the valuation of a startup affected by the pedigree of senior members of the team, that of business angels and of advisors that assist the team?
  • What is the effect of market testing and early adopters of the product/service?
  • Where can a team get the network and how can they develop networking skills?
  • If there is TRACTION, does this mean that money can be found?

The answer to the last question is “Traction trumps everything”.

In the picture: Marnix Groet speaks at the incubator FabriQ, to a public of startuppers, about metrics and KPI’s. “What gets measured gets done”.

Is there a difference between a Mentor and a Manager?

Certainly there is, a mentor listens, guides and transfers knowledge, while a manager leads the team and directs. But what happens when they are both used as advisors? Then, there is really not much difference and they have a very similar role. Practically they are the same!
Both professionals shall be experienced with those skills and that expertise which is relevant to the startup.
The startup team should find help as early as possible, to avoid making mistakes which can be both, costly, and very time consuming.
Also, a mentor might allocate some time at agreed moments, while a manager could become a part-time or full time member of the team.

The role of the Mentor*

A mentor is different from a manager in that he/she maintains an appropriate distance, related to his role, as he operates in a “teacher role”.

  • He supports in finding solutions to problems by asking direct questions.
  • Is an enabler who assists individuals and teams in thinking differently and beyond schemes, and assists in implementing ideas.
  • Intervenes on agreed (set) times and whenever urgently required.
  • A mentor will often follow several startups simultaneously.

* From the Merriam-Webster dictionary: a mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. A trusted counselor or guide, a coach, a tutor.

The role of the Manager in a startup team

A manager acts and leads. Like the mentor, the manager has already seen many business situations, and with the experience he/she quickly gets to assess and decide:

  • He gains time because he does not need to learn, he just has to adapt.
  • It is very likely he has already experienced most of the typical situations in his field.
  • But … needs mental flexibility to adapt the accumulated experience to the new (fluid) situation typical of a startup.
  • Must have the credibility and confidence to applying a managerial method, but must also know how to “sell” this asset inside the management team, and to the rest of the startup team.
  • For the manager, the habit of working in teams and project groups, means an easy insertion into an existing startup team.

A manager has the ability to present and position himself in a highly professional manner with other professionals of his kind = credibility (and allows for the avoidance of naitivity).
But, a manager should quickly learn the specificity of the startup with whom he collaborates, to help it prepare for the next round of financing.
Everybody makes mistakes, the difference is in the speed in adjusting to situations, to get ready and then carry out correctly the key Execution.


Possible agreements and Matching

There are different types of collaboration contracts possible.
Take into account the possibility that the Mentor becomes a Manager in the team.
And the possibility that the Manager (with a vertical function) works simultaneously with several startups.
Opportunities to participate as a shareholder.
Earn additional shares with schemes of “work-for-equity” (W4E).

In the picture: matching at Italia RestartsUP.

Startups. Expertise to start them, pedigree to fund them, managers to grow them?

How feasible and realistic is it to access know-how and experience early on? Very feasible, and needs to be pursued actively by founders.

The role of a mentor vs. a manager? There is overlap, roles may change over time.

When is it possible for a startup and the startuppers in the team to work with people who have the experience they lack? Immediately.

What do you need to consider to create a viable business relationship? Must be a win-win situation, but needs to be a formalized.



If you like this post, you may want to see more of it?

Consultancy and advisory #GroetConsulting

Accelerator with mentors #LAB Creative Thinking

Pre-seed financing #Creative Thinking Ventures

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