Understanding a great mentor relationship with our Giants in Residence
Giants is a free community for early-stage and aspiring founders to access the incredible founders, operators, and investors who have 10x'd the tech scene in Australia and Aotearoa. Access is mentor sessions; they are like unique coaching sessions, a safe space to ask all the questions, get targeted feedback on your startup idea and on the steps you're taking to drive it forward. At a recent public info event for Giants, a founder asked if a mentor would change their idea; while that might be an outcome, I was more interested to unpack a mentor's intent.
I've had multiple mentors; peers that were mentors, bosses that were mentors, mentors from opposite roles or industries, and mentors that probably didn't know they were mentors. I used to work in music, which is an industry that has no real access via education or formal onboarding. The primary skill set the industry teaches you is - can you build something from nothing? So accessing people who had done it before me was the only way to get credible feedback and create sustainable growth opportunities; no one was there to change what I was doing.
Instead, a mentor will challenge, support, enable, coach, problem-solve, and connect you with others; they'll be your sponsor, your loudspeaker. An old mentor used to start and end every meeting with me by saying, I'm on your team. A good mentor is there to aid your confidence in your next giant leap.
With Giants you get access to a vast range of thought with ten unique sessions with ten different mentors - we call them our Giants In Residence - for some rapid-fire mentoring. I talked with some of our most active and in-demand mentors about that intent and about how they show up for the next generation of founders.
Here's what I learnt.
1. What you put in is what you get out, so be prepared before the session.
Nikki Brown, who works in growth at JigSpace, explains, "...those who deeply understand the knowledge or experience gaps that they want to plug with a mentor and do their homework". Alex Rankin, Global Product Operations at TikTok and Angel Investor, recommends being direct "Be clear on what you want out of the conversation….ideally prepare and share your questions with the mentor ahead of time."
Bec Mitrevski, Product Craft Lead at Canva and 2022 Women in Digital CX Lead of the year, confirms the time can go fast and so be prepared - send your vision, where you are at, and the key questions, which will help the mentor get excited and warmed up for the conversation to make the most out of your time together, "As a mentor, it takes me a minute to read that [pre-reading document], and I'm already thinking about podcasts, and examples of other startups that have faced this, and I am eager to get into the session and work to solve this problem."
2. Being focused can 10x the conversation
But working out what to focus on when the list is a million things long can be challenging. A mentor can help you focus your thinking and reflect on what is essential.
Nikki reflected on a significant learning curve from working with Reid Hoffman. After much back and forth on a decision, Hoffman said, Will getting this decision right or wrong impact the overall outcome? If not, let's make a decision and spend time on things that will. "A decade on his words still echo in my head whenever I'm deciding where to focus my energy,"
Alex agrees. "A lot of the time, founders are swept up in the emotional high of their business or the pain point they are solving… generally though, it comes back down to executing on the basics."
"I start every conversation with "What will make the next 30 mins successful for you?" says Bec. "One of the most helpful questions I ask is "Is this the biggest problem that you need to solve right now?" As a founder, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the 1000 problems ahead of you. And as a mentor, one of the most helpful things I can say to someone is This is a future Johno problem. For now, give yourself a break and let's get your beta right."
3. Hungry, not proven, also relates to choosing a mentor.
Great advice doesn't need a big company or title; researching what the person did will help you with the experience you need to hit your goals.
Harry Uffindell, SVP of Operations and People at Partly and Angel Investor, explains, "avoid choosing mentors based on a company brand or logo. Instead, try to find out what they actually did in those companies and ensure their expertise aligns with the issues you're facing."
Alex has led a unique career in tech, the majority out of Australia. He wasn't initially sure how his war stories and learnings would translate to the ANZ ecosystem, "even just speaking about your experiences can spur on thoughts/angles/perspectives that the founder may not have considered.”
4. Ultimately, there's no right or wrong answer
It's just taking steps forward- a mentor is there to help you figure it out.
For Harry, this was early advice that influenced each decision moving forward, "An early manager of mine gave me a piece of simple yet powerful advice that has always stuck with me: Optimise for learning."
Bec similarly reflected on some early advice from one of Canva's co-founders, Cliff Obrecht. "It was early days in a product we were building. We made an error that had unforeseen impacts, we weren't proud of it and were scared to tell Cliff. When we told him, his response was, We know we're moving at the right speed when things are breaking. That advice gave the team and me a massive sense of relief but also freedom…We were unstoppable after that." A mentor is a coach; they're on your team.
But back to the intent, why does someone volunteer to be a mentor; "being a Giants Mentor is one small way I can begin to repay what I've received from the startup ecosystem," says Harry.
For Alex, it was inherent - "My Dad used to be a teacher, and I think that elements of his experience inspired me to really focus on coaching, guiding and training people, both in my professional career and now with external organisations like Blackbird / Giants."
"Being a Giants mentor enables me to show people how fun tech can be and create pathways for women or founders from disadvantaged backgrounds who might need an extra nudge and sign of support." beamed Bec.
Giants Cohort Six applications are open now, if you’re interested in joining as a founder to access the pool of mentors or a mentor to give back to the ecosystem, email firstname.lastname@example.org.