Techstars Boston – Mentor Madness (MM)

Mentoring: “the process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé).”

When Ty Danco introduced me to the Techstars Boston MM process he did so using these exact words “I’m designing your dream job”. I have it in writing, I won’t ever forget them. What Ty failed to mention to me was that in a little under two weeks chaos would ensue, I would walk 20,000 steps per day and my inbox/Slack channels would resemble an Amazon warehouse the weekend before Christmas!

Madness: “a word used to describe a crazy situation thought up by someone who is clearly off their rocker!”

MM introduces the teams to different mentors and investors each and every day over a three week period. During this cohort, almost 600 sessions were held, not including follow up meetings, with teams sometimes seeing up to as many as 7 mentors per day. It seemed from the offset like the most unsustainable and unproductive process ever.

Assumptions: “The act of taking for granted, or supposing a thing without proof; a supposition; an unwarranted claim.”

And then, after a while, it happened, right in front of me. You can see the light starting to dawn in the founders eyes, their ‘asks’ sharpen, the pitch starts to take shape, they start to ‘own’ the sessions. It is really quite the most remarkable transformation I have ever seen. Over the course of 15 days, the MM process leads to increased confidence for the whole team, higher-level thinking and crystal clear focus because the truth of the matter is that there is simply no time to do anything else.

To sum it up in my own words, “it’s a 30 minute ‘smash and grab’ of a mentor’s brain”, and furthermore, in the insightful and academic words of Ron Weasley, “it’s bloody brilliant!”.

The Ah-ha moment: “Clouds parting, sun shining through the rain, chorus of angels… like a Philadelphia cream cheese commercial”.

Aside from making somewhere in the region of 300+ beverages, (I’m English, if there is one thing I can do well, it’s make a cuppa and turn it into a data point) the Techstarsteam have mapped the MM feedback across the sessions from all stakeholders in order to continuously improve. We know the process is not perfect but having now survived (I use this word loosely) the last three weeks, I am able to reflect on some of the points and rightly or wrongly, I have reached the following conclusions:

  1. To streamline MM into a finely tuned and perfectly played out process devalues it’s purpose and is incompatible with the start up learning process.  Startups are not perfectly polished so why put them into a situation that is?
  2. MM forces any underlying concerns to be brought to the surface right at the beginning of the program, whether this is hiring related, G2M strategy, customer acquisition or founder relationships.  It’s raw and it’s harsh but better now than later.
  3. The mentor feedback on each team nearly always identifies the same positive and negatives which is so important in quickly reassuring the teams that they are on the right track.
  4. Mentor Madness is the most aptly named process ever.