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How to get the most out of a startup mentor meeting

One of the great advantages for a founder / startup of being in an incubator / accelerator is having access to quality mentors Now choosing a mentor is a whole topic upon itself, but when you have found mentors that fit your need for advice, it’s best to get the most out of the time you have with her or him.

The first thing you should keep in mind is that mentors are busy people and often mentor startups founders from the goodness of their hearts. So if you take their time, use it effectively. There are a few settings on where a mentor session can be held, like during a seminar or one-on-one coffee meetings (a kind of “let me buy you a coffee because I want to pick your brain on something”) or office hours sessions. For now I want to focus on the “office hours” sessions.

Office hours are sessions where the mentor sets a few time slots open in his schedule to meet up with founders. The length of these sessions are mostly 30 minutes or 60 minutes. I personally prefer 30 minutes, to keep it effective and to the point. Better to have 2×30 minutes in 3 weeks than 1×60 minutes. You could also do sessions longer than 60 minutes, like a mentor is actively helping to create user stories with you, or help put together a (to be validated) business model. But that is IMO outside of office hours scope.

So to be most effective in mentor sessions, here are some pointers on how to use the mentor time as good as possible:

1) Make an agenda

And share it (at least) a day before the meeting. Make it short and to the point, also have it be understandable for the mentor, keep in mind, you know your ins and outs, but the mentor only hears from you every now and then, so begin with a little description of your startup.

2) Set a goal for the meeting

What do you want to achieve with this meeting, what are you looking for? Also if you want some feedback on (presentation/website/logo/idea/business model canvas/etc) share it upfront and not the evening before a 9am meeting.

3) Mutual learning

A session is often mutual learning, you probably choose your mentor, but that doesn’t mean that this great mentor on marketing knows everything about business models in your industry. So prepare (after asking him/her) a little information about a thing your mentor does’t know about, mostly if that is specific to your industry.

4) Commitment, no lip service

A mentor will give you information, a great mentor will follow up on that. This can be an article he promised to share, or an introduction he wants to make. So take notes during the session and if the mentor doesn’t follow up on them, he probably already forgot he would do it before you left the building, don’t be afraid to follow up on him with an email.

5) Commitment, the motivation

Keep in mind, mentors are human too, and humans like to be incentivised and incentivised mentors can just make that extra step for you. If you want to most out of your mentor meeting, incentivise them.

Now go and plan your next office hours mentor meeting!
(and if your most valuable mentor for the goal you set at #1 has no slot available on his schedule, send him a message to ask for a session)

Also read: Mentor and investor email updates

and: Choosing startup mentors

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