Reflections of a newby Mentor on Startup Speed Dating

This is what I learned about the startup speed dating format (5 min pitch and then 15 mins one on one mentor/startup) in Zurich last week for StartUp Bootcamp Fintech:

  1. Startups need more coaching on how to get the best from these events. Maybe the first event is where they learn, but that is not using Mentor time to best advantage.
  1. One specific thing was unclear to me at least and I think to some of the founders. Was one supposed to give feedback on quality of presentation or on substantive issues related to things like business model, competition, team and go to market strategy?
  1. Style and substance are not opposed to each other. For people who are deep into the product, squeezing all the knowledge and passion into 5 mins can be torture and then dealing with questions from Mentors that are very ill informed makes it worse (Mentors are hardly briefed after 5 mins). However, great ventures have clarity of mission and proposition and that can come out in 30 seconds let at alone 5 mins.
  1. My one note to Founders – never act defensive or annoyed no matter how dumb the comment or question. That “ignorant idiot” could open the most critical door for you right now. Get used to snap judgments from potential customers, partners, employees and investors – it comes with the startup territory.
  1. Naysayers may offer you a to do list and that is valuable. When you have worked so hard on your creation, it is hard to take advice on something else that you need. Sometimes you really do need to say no and stay focused. On other occasions, that feature suggestion could be key and you need to figure out how to deliver it. Knowing which is which is clearly a judgment call and that is one thing that smart investors look for in a founding team.
  1. Founding team dynamics are critical and cannot be faked. Tough questions can reveal founders who clearly do not see eye to eye and will not work well as a team or can reveal a real team spirit where there is mutual respect and a willingness to hash out tough issues together.
  1. The quality was hugely variable, as one would expect for innovation this early in the funnel. There were some that seemed ready for investors with a little more work. There were others that just left one scratching ones head. Startups are hard.

From the department of shameless promotion, I put what I know about breaking into new markets into my book Mindshare to Marketshare.

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