Should my mentor have corporate experience or start-up experience?

We’ve just linked up with a mentor who has plenty of corporate experience but nothing in the start-up area. Does this matter?


The point of a mentor is to be able to provide advice and input in an area where you need it, but don’t have it in your team.


So a mentor with corporate experience will be great if the experience he/she has can plug a gap in your collective skill set, but obviously not if they can’t.


Be very clear in your own mind about the role you want the mentor to play, and the reason why you want to work with them. You have scarce time and resources!


Bad reasons to work with a mentor include:

  • He’s a great guy.
  • She’s a great friend of one of your investors.
  • Someone you know quite well reckons this person would be great and add a lot of value.
  • She’s very well known and very well regarded.

These are all great reasons to have a coffee with the person, but before you have the coffee make sure you have clarity around the role they need to play.


Areas most start-ups are likely to benefit from mentoring in include:

  • Legal.
  • Capital raising.
  • Strategy.
  • Marketing (especially for tech-driven start-ups).
  • Tech (especially for non-tech start-ups).
  • Previous start-up veterans.

Clearly in several of these areas there are very talented and experienced executives in corporates who could add significant value.


They have deep domain experience, but obviously no start-up experience. So be careful to filter the advice and insights you get from them through the start-up context.


A corporate marketing director will have terrific knowledge about what does and doesn’t work, which will have been gained in an environment where s/he could spend millions every year.


Tech leaders from corporates will know far more than you, but will generally have longer to deliver outcomes than you do.


So suck in as much information and advice as you can, but be careful to apply it to your context.


When you are choosing the one or two mentors who can really help your business, look for people who understand your situation, and want to learn as well.


You need the communication to be two-way for it to be helpful.


They don’t need to have start-up experience, but they do need to be able to understand the start-up context and it’s limitations in terms of speed and resource.


If they do, then corporate mentors can be excellent.


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