Reflecting on the madness (of Mentor Madness)

Part 1. The struggle.

This is the first in a multi-part series on Techstars Mentor Madness. In future posts, I’ll cover why I think it works, what tools worked for us, and how to get the most of it.

Blog readers can get early access to Verbz here.

One of the great innovations of Techstars Accelerators is the aptly named Mentor Madness. It’s a grueling and emotional exercise that presses everyone to the limit. The politest description I can offer is that it feels a bit like having Christmas and a root canal at the same time. You’re excited about unwrapping presents, but horrified about a stranger digging holes in your head 😀

That said, thank you to all the mentors that gave their time and energy. Techstars doesn’t work without your time and expertise!

For the uninitiated, Mentor Madness is a 3 week period at the start of a program where the founding team has 20 minute interviews with 100-150 mentors. Typically a mix of business leaders, professionals, investors and entrepreneurs, who all volunteer their time to help us grow our business.

We completed it last week, and as a team, we’re grateful, exhausted, and a somewhat frayed around the edges.

I’ve been on both sides as a mentor and a founder, this series of posts is a bit of a retrospective mainly from the founder perspective. It was my second Mentor Madness as an entrepreneur, and no….. the second time wasn’t easier even though I knew how it was going to go down >:/

Struggling as a team with workload overload.

You got this…

For founders, Mentor Madness adds about +/-20 hours a week of work, and ramps up continuously peaking in the 3rd week. It involves 12-15 hours a week of interviews and pre-interview prep, and about 8 hours of follow up (depending on how personal you make the follow up and how engaged the team is).

These interviews create a cascade of work. Product tweaks, meetings, phone calls, email, start occurring at an increasing rate as 100+ helpful professionals donate their time and goodwill to provide introductions, and book follow up engagements. For us, it resulted 54 follow up items most of which are more meetings and introductions.

You want to act on feedback immediately, but there’s more coming in than the team can process!

Got a problem with marketing? Here’s how to fix it!
Sales pipeline a mess? Go try this!”

This is in addition to the regular 10hrs+ of program content… it’s time to build a growth model! Ok everyone, let’s get your CRM setup! We need to discuss your KPIs!

And of course, all of this is in addition to the time it takes to run your business and build your product. Most of us are starting at ~60hrs on a quiet week before accelerator activities.

For our team, we saw our work week balloon to +70hrs, and yet we were (are) still falling further behind on core work each week. This generates a lot of stress and tests everyone’s coping mechanisms. Busy and winning feels really different than busy and slipping further and further behind 🙂 And mentor madness feels like 10% winning, 90% slipping.

For many early stage founders, it’s the first time you experience external pressure forcing your agenda to breaking point. Your week is overfull, and you really have to start saying no to things. You need to accept you won’t get everything done.

It’s a hard way to experience real prioritization…. and it hurts…! It makes you anxious, cranky, weird… but it will pass. For me that meant being unreasonably frustrated with some things in the office that could have been better, being dismissive of work I thought could wait, and generally demonstrating a lot less emotional sensitivity to those around me than I’d like to think I offer when I’m my best self.

As a functioning introvert, by week 3, I was emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed with work, and using every ounce of spare energy to be supportive of my team (and failing at that too, sometimes). Feeling strung out, I longed for quiet (NO HUMANS!) every day. I found it very hard to be patient with anyone (Techstars, mentors, or even my team). It wasn’t a proud week for me, but everyone around me was patient and supportive (even though I wasn’t great at reciprocating), and we all got through it 😉

In the heat of mentor madness, you need to focus on what matters now for your company, and what will amplify your startup most over coming months. This may not be obvious at the time.

(Hint: for most teams, it’s time to let regular work slip just a little and leverage the goodwill of mentors. Your startup will be there tomorrow (hopefully!), the mentors won’t!)

For mentors- if the team is looking shattered when they talk to you, it’s probably because they didn’t sleep last night. Try not to take the glassy eyes too personally 😉 If they’re a bit off on their pitch, seem scattered or dismissive, they may be an introvert dreaming of a dark cupboard to curl up in 😀

We do appreciate you, and wouldn’t be in the program without you.

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