David G. Cohen is one of the founders of TechStars. I was an early mentor at TechStars Boston at the invitation of David and Brad Feld, but at that time it appeared that the expectation was that mentors would also be angel investors in TechStars companies, and not being an investor wasn’t comfortable, so I dropped out after a few mentoring sessions and moved on to the MIT Venture Mentoring Service, which does not allow mentors to investor or work with mentees in any way other than mentorship.
Needless to say TechStars under David’s leadership has been an incredible success.
I’m going to take the liberty of posting the entire bulleted list here:
The Mentor Manifesto
- Be socratic.
- Expect nothing in return (you’ll be delighted with what you do get back).
- Be authentic / practice what you preach.
- Be direct. Tell the truth, however hard.
- Listen too.
- The best mentor relationships eventually become two-way.
- Be responsive.
- Adopt at least one company every single year. Experience counts.
- Clearly separate opinion from fact.
- Hold information in confidence.
- Clearly commit to mentor or do not. Either is fine.
- Know what you don’t know. Say I don’t know when you don’t know. “I don’t know” is preferable to bravado.
- Guide, don’t control. Teams must make their own decisions. Guide but never tell them what to do. Understand that it’s their company, not yours.
- Accept and communicate with other mentors that get involved.
- Be optimistic.
- Provide specific actionable advice, don’t be vague.
- Be challenging/robust but never destructive.
- Have empathy. Remember that startups are hard.
It’s hard to improve on David’s list. Though The Wall Street Journal recently had an interesting article on the difference between empathy and compassion: The Perils of Empathy in politics and policy, trying to feel the pain of others is a bad idea. Empathy distorts our reasoning and makes us biased, tribal and often cruel. though it’s not clear to me that these perils apply to mentoring founders.