This post is the eighth in a series of ten posts about the 10 key reasons your consumer startup will succeed.
I speak with hundreds of aspiring consumer entrepreneurs and review thousands of executive summaries and pitches each year. From all this activity, certain patterns emerge that remain consistent with successful consumer startups. In this series of 10 blog posts, I will list the top 10 reasons consumer startups succeed. Note that all seem necessary, but none on their own are sufficient.
#8 The Right Mentors
There’s no question that having great mentors — people you really trust and can turn to in both successful and trying times — is critical for entrepreneurial success. However, startup founders often make the wrong decisions in choosing mentors based on their past financial and business success. Choose your mentors and investors wisely to avoid the common pitfall we call “Mentor Whiplash.”
Mentor whiplash happens when top quality mentors give conflicting advice. It is challenging for a founder, especially early on, to determine who to listen to, and we have seen the mental strain founders feel in letting down a successful mentor by not taking their well-meaning advice.
Here are two things you can do to avoid Mentor Whiplash:
1. Seek guidance from relevant advisors. The first step in dodging whiplash is to avoid choosing mentors who have had great success in their careers but have no idea how to build your business. Find mentors who have successfully built the kind of business you’re trying to build and have experience with startups. Look for domain experts, maybe someone who has experience as a founder in your industry. Don’t just look for someone who has seen great financial success at a tech company. For example, a mentor who has built a successful enterprise SAAS startup might push a consumer startup founder to make the wrong decisions. As consumer investors, we know focusing on unit economics and pushing the revenue model too soon can kill all viral growth — and possibly the business with it. That’s often counterintuitive for an enterprise expert. It’s one of our core tenets at Maven…we stick to what we know and only offer guidance and invest in Maven’s focus area: consumer-facing, hyper-growth companies.
2. Build an advisory board. Once you’ve found the right mentors and have them invested in your success, we think it’s a great idea to put together an advisory board and have a meeting once a quarter. It’s like training wheels for the formal board of directors meetings you’ll be hosting post-Series A. Moreover, it’s an efficient way to utilize your team of mentors. When they are all part of the same discussion, conflicting ideas and advice will get worked through as a group, mitigating the risk of mentor whiplash.
After 10 years of mentoring startups at many accelerators and incubators, I’ve seen it happen time and again. Someone with great intentions who was very successful in another field will give advice to a consumer startup. It’s completely misguided and could be lethal to the nascent business. Carefully selected, trusted mentors will be an incredible asset to your startup. But mentor whiplash can be deadly, so be thoughtful in selecting and engaging the right advisors.