ARGH! What do I do with Conflicting Mentor Feedback!?!

ARGH! What do I do with Conflicting Mentor Feedback!?!

I love it when mentors disagree with other mentors in front of the Founders at Founder Institute!

It gives the Founders a chance to see how, or if, the Mentors will deal with the conflicting statements in the moment – or if the mentors just let it pass and let the Founder figure out how to reconcile the statements. This is also true for other forums like office hours and one-on-one meetings with Mentors. And at least once during the session someone will as what they should do with feedback that is completely counter to other mentor comments.

Here are two examples:

  • Should you have advisers and what percentage of stock should you use to compensate them?
    • Mentor: “No, you shouldn’t have to pay advisers – if they ask for stock run away”
    • Me – you should look at the guidelines we provide on the Founder Adviser Standard Templates or F.A.S.T. documents. You should compensate them to keep them interested in supporting your company.
    • Discussion – Mentor: “Yeah, I agree with that, I thought you were talking about the “Startup Leaches” that hang out in the Entrepreneur Ecosystem and look for early stage companies where they can take a percentage and retainer fees to help them raise money!” “Having real advisory board members are a helpful way to test out people who could be board members”

Yes, there are people in the Seattle and every other market like the mentor was discussing. When I did my first company there were people who approached me to “help me raise money for a fee”. The fee was usually 7-9% of the total amount raised in the fund and a percentage of stock. They have a “great list,” they will make the introduction and they get a small percent, what could possibly be wrong with that! Especially when fundraising is an unknown activity for first time entrepreneurs. That was an early lesson learned for me… their list wasn’t great, then they wanted expenses reimbursed (after the fact) and oh, by the way, I really need a retainer fee to keep doing this for you.

Advisers are great. Ask for references; meet with them a couple of times for free first. Did they add value in the discussion? If they only talked about helping you raise money, run away.

If the Adviser is good, they should get paid. You want to align your incentives. If they help you to succeed, they should get a financial award with you. That isn’t likely cash; unless you have a specific problem they are helping you with or a specific expertise. I have to admit, when Founders from previous semesters (that didn’t graduate from the program) want to have repeat meeting and never offer something like the FAST docs, I stop them at the end of the second meeting. For me, there is a lot of opportunity to give free advice. But if you only seek free advise and never offer anything in return you’ll find the best mentors and advisers will stop returning your call or email.

  • Is it important the product basically work, or is it important that it basically work and be sexy?
    • Me: “make sure your demo works, then get it out there and get feedback”
    • Mentor: “it’s not enough that it basically works, it has to be sexy”
    • Discussion: I went on to talk about functionality. He went on to talk about if its ugly people will forget about it, but if you invest in design people will remember it even if it doesn’t work the way the expected it to work. He was right, I was wrong. I now require that every demo or prototype have a minimum design component – Sorry to all of you engineers!

For each of us, our experience of starting and growing companies is scarred with the mistakes made. The wounds have healed, but the memories of the mistakes are still vivid. So you will at times get a disproportionate amount of passion with the feedback. The goal is to help you miss some of those mistakes, though you will still make your own. After all, if you haven’t made mistakes, you’ve never tried to accomplish anything great.

So what do you do with conflicting feedback? You’re the Founder, figure it out!

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