As vice-president of operations at Blackbird Ventures, Samantha Wong’s role is about much more than just providing capital to young startups.
Blackbird Ventures is one of the most esteemed venture capital funds focusing on tech in the country, and a company lucky enough to receive funding from them gets dedicated mentorship, along with funding.
Wong works directly with portfolio companies, helping with tough decisions and breaking deadlocks. She also serves as a partner at Startmate, where she mentors the next generation of great Australian tech founders.
“I see my role as being a partner to the founders and inflecting to their needs, whatever they might be,” Wong says.
“Sometimes that might be a cheerleader when they feel defeated or worn down by constant rejection, and sometimes it’s the more obvious strategist who can give a bird’s eye view of the situation and think a few moves ahead.”
Behind every startup success story is a passionate and dedicated mentor like Wong.
These are some of the unsung heroes of the startup world.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, and it’s almost impossible without support from mentors. These are the people that deserve a bit more recognition for the dedicated work they do in guiding the next band of tech pioneers.
These unsung heroes often taken on a number of different roles, MentorLoop co-founder Lucy Lloyd says.
“A mentor is an expert adviser, a friend, a cheerleader and a constructive critic all rolled into one,” Lloyd says.
“For first-time founders you’re up against the limits of your experience from day one. There aren’t any textbooks and there’s no right way to build your business. Mentors are people who have been there before and can share their experience and insight in building something from scratch.”
You’ll be hard-pressed to make it through the gruelling startup phase without a mentor or two, Wong says.
“Startups are a marathon at a sprinter’s pace, and mentoring from the right people can provide the tail wind to make that journey easier,” she says.
GovHack government director Chris Beer, who took out the Spirit of GovHack award last year, says mentors can act as the glue keeping a startup together.
“Just as you would not start a journey into the unknown without a guide, attempting a new venture without tapping into the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before is fraught with danger and uncertainty,” Beer says.
Mentors themselves are motivated by a number of different reasons. Nearly 70% of startup mentors are driven by a desire to ‘pay it forward’ to the community, according to a MentorLoop survey.
“Mentors are people who have been there before and can share their experience and insight in building something from scratch,” Lloyd says.
“The successful entrepreneurs who have done it all will have great experiences to share, but it’s the current founders still wrestling with the implications of recent divisions that provide those mind-altering insights.”
Being a mentor is also an opportunity for further learning, Wong says.
“Mentors also often discover a lot about themselves as leaders and communicators, and more tactical things like new technologies and growth strategies when they mentor younger startups,” she says.
And you don’t have to be a pioneer in a sector and the founder of a tech unicorn to be a mentor either, Beer says.
“The great thing is anyone can be a mentor – all it takes is a willingness to help others and a passion for what it is they are mentoring,” he says.
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