Yesterday I was invited as a mentor to the e:on :agile accelerator launchpad supported by google. It’s an one week bootcamp for early startups focusing on one separate topic each day.
A friend of mine did already mentored at the last launchpad in Düsseldorf and he introduced me to Marc, the Lead Mentor at the launchpad. We had a short introductory call last week and yesterday I joined the other mentors to help the participating startups on their journey.
Wednesday is Tech Day at launchpad events, but like with every other plan involving startups the plan changed midway, because almost all of the startups were not yet at point to talk deeply about any technological problems they are facing or going to be facing.
Which was actually a good thing, because as I was reading the startup descriptions while preparing for my day I was wondering if I’m even going to be able to help any of the startups, because most of them were in the hardware/IoT sector. But most of the session I had with the startups were still more about the business model and problem/solution where I could bring in my expertise better than in a tech discussion about transponders on top of drones or devices for smart grids.
What I liked about the mentoring philosophy presented by Lee is that, even though he also likes to get deep into technical problems, the first premise for Tech Day is to get the startups to abandon as much tech as possible. Which is especially important for startups which have a strong tech department within the founding team, because they tend to think that the tech will save the day when it is developed and fully polished. But almost always these teams tend to underestimate the time it takes and are getting attached to the technology they’ve build – I’m guilty of this myself too often. As a developer within a startup you should constantly evaluate if the tech is even needed, or if a Minimal Viable Product can be implemented without writing custom code.
For me it was the first time at a launchpad and also the first event where I was coaching real startups, that are already working on their idea for some time and not only helping teams to find a nice sounding business idea to explore. This has it’s own challenges. Mentoring at this stage has to be more direct, honest and sometimes brutal, because some companies already invested much time and also money into their current state of the business. If there are any problems with the any part of the business regardless if it’s product-market-fit, customer segment, technology or business model they have to be address and fixed as soon as possible. But on the other hand you can’t be too direct, otherwise the startups stop to listen to your feedback and that’s not helpful either.
It’s a strange feeling to be told “He crushed us. Multiple times. Thanks for that”.
The guys from launchpad have a good structure for the coaching, because the day started with a mentor briefing sessions with all of todays mentors. There the Lead Mentors Marc and Lee told us about the state of the startups from the prior evening, if the pivoted yet and if so why and what the next tasks for the startup should be or how we could help them. Then we matched the startups to the mentors – each mentor got two slots of one hour each.
There was also already an extensive spreadsheet with all the mentors feedback from all previous slots from the first two days, which helped a lot in determining what the progress of the startup was and how they took the feedback.
After the first slot the two mentors had a short handover talk, this helped to cut the ramp-up time for the second mentor short and enabled to startup to get out the most of the mentor session.
In general I think we could help most of the startups and it was cool to geek-out over beer with a bunch of tech mentors in the mentors room.
Due to the short notice of the collaboration I had already plans yesterday evening and I could not join the Launchpad Open Night to get to know all of the participants and mentors better, but I hope that I can join the next Launchpad as a mentor again.