August 7, 2009

Techstars Roundup: Why I Mentor Other Entrepreneurs

Techstars Roundup:  Why I Mentor Other Entrepreneurs

Yesterday was Demo/Investor day at Techstars in Boulder, Colorado.  A lot of people have written about it – Fred, Brad, and a great piece by Don Dodge on TechCrunch listing out all the companies.  My colleague George and I co-mentored two of the companies, SendGrid and Mailana, and we really enjoyed working with Isaac and Pete, the two entrepreneurs.

I posted twice earlier this summer on the TechStars experience.  My first post on this, Where do you Start?, was about whether to be methodical in business planning for a startup or dive right into the details.  My second post, One Pitfall to Avoid, was about making sure you don’t create a whizzy solution looking for a problem, but that you start with a problem that needs solving.

Rather than rehash what others have written about yesterday — yes, it was great and fun and energizing — I thought I’d focus on why I spend time mentoring new entrepreneurs.  I did it this year at TechStars, but I’ve done this informally for probably a dozen different entrepreneurs over the years in the community in general. 

Anyway, there are four main reasons I spend time mentoring other entrepreneurs (in no particular order):

It sharpens the saw.  This is Stephen Covey’s language from both The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit:  From Effectiveness to Greatness, and it simply refers to an activity that puls you out of the day to day and refreshes your brain because it’s different.  Running, playing guitar, mentoring sessions with entrepreneurs — they all clear the head and are just plain fun.

I get good specific ideas for my own business.  I think I came away from every single meeting I had with either entrepreneur this year with at least one new “to do” for myself and my team at Return Path.  There’s nothing quite like seeing how another company or entrepreneur operates to spur on good thinking, and in this case, both teams we worked with were working in the email space, so they were very relevant to our day-to-day.

I crystallize my own thoughts and ideas.  Much like writing this blog, problem/solution sessions with other entrepreneurs forces me to take a cloud of ideas down to a simple sentence or paragraph. 

I learn a lot about my colleagues.  This is a specific case for this year because I co-mentored these companies with George, although I guess bits and pieces of it have come up over the years as I’ve roped other colleauges into other situations.  George and I brought different ideas and frames of reference to our sessions with SendGrid and Mailana, and it was fun for me and a good learning experience as well to see how George approached the same problems I did.  Call it a “peek inside George’s brain.”

Hopefully I will get invited back to TechStars again next year as a mentor – it was great fun, and I’m incredibly proud of Pete and Isaac and their teams with how well they presented their companies yesterday!

10 responses to “Techstars Roundup: Why I Mentor Other Entrepreneurs”

  1. dgcohen says:

    Invited back? Heck yea! You guys were fantastic. Thanks for all your support of the program and of these companies.

  2. I agree with David, you guys were awesome! Thanks again!

  3. It was great, David – we enjoyed it as well!

  4. fred wilson says:

    i love the "sharpen the saw" notion. it's very true. as a board member and investor in RP, I am really pleased to see you and George do this. i am sure you'll get as much out of it as your mentorees did.

  5. We did.  I feel bad that I didn’t add some more altruistic reasons in my post (giving back to the community, paying it forward) – those are there are in full force as well – but I guess the moment I was writing my post, I was mostly focused on WIIFM!

  6. George Bilbreey says:

    I hope that the peek into my brain didn't reveal any embarrassing insights. Totally enjoyed working with both these companies and peeking inside your cranium as well. Very rewarding experience.

  7. Roger Ellman says:

    Love and delight in lending a hand in this way. It's one of the most rewarding activities and the teacher learns a ton from the students".

    Have a rewarding, healthy and prosperous year
    Roger Ellman

  8. Very true Matt about getting clear on your thoughts and getting ideas for your own business, as the old adage says, teaching is the best way to learn. Thanks for sharing!!

  9. First of all, I love this post. As an aspiring first time entrepreneur, I hope to one day do the same. One thing I can relate to today is the idea of "crystalizing my thoughts" on certain topics through other activities. As a former consultant, I didn't see the value of blogging. Now as a student at MIT – it is one of the most critical parts of my education. I enjoyed the post and look forward to following your blog.

  10. Thanks, Jarrod. Much appreciated!