I’ve argued before that startups need mentorship more than anything – practical, hands-on help from more experienced entrepreneurs, investors, executives, etc. That’s even more true now, given the tough times many startups will face. First time startup entrepreneurs in particular, who might not have gone through the last crash, are not adequately prepared to handle things. “Cut, cut, cut!” is not practical, helpful advice. It’s tantamount to yelling, “The sky is falling!” Not useful.
“It’s going to be hard to raise capital.” = Not Helpful.
It was always hard to raise capital (contrary to what we might have seen coming out of Silicon Valley). It’s certainly harder, but not impossible, and stating the obvious doesn’t help.
Equally, presentations that talk at a high level about why it’s actually a good time to start a company don’t help either.
Startup entrepreneurs need mentors.
They’re hard to come by, but I believe in their necessity more and more each day.
The key was that most of the content was practical and specific. There was very little fluff, very little generic repurposing of content we’re seeing all over the Web (both negative and positive.)
Raymond Luk at Flow Ventures shares his practical takeaway thoughts which I think are absolutely true.
Here are some of the highlights I want to share:
- Howard Lindzon dove into a couple key things that I don’t think startups understand well enough: business models, social leverage and valuations. I’ll be writing a separate post on this shortly.
- Don Dodge gave a presentation on starting a company in tough times. A couple highlights — “fear is temporary, greed is permanent”, vitamins vs. painkillers, and customers increasing interest to truly save money. Again, I hope to write a separate post on this soon.
- David Cohen introduced TechStars (which has a similar model to Y Combinator) from Boulder, Colorado. The key to the model is mentorship. Having met with a number of Y Combinator startups and alumnis, I couldn’t agree more. And without a doubt I think this type of model will evolve over time in Canada. It might look different, but it’s going to happen in some capacity. To a certain degree it already is with Montreal Startup.
- Rick Segal MC’d the event and also provided plenty of his own thoughts and advice to the crowd. Here’s a gem, “Never ever take the title of CEO. We fire CEOs all the time. Be a founder instead.” People chuckled at this comment but Rick’s right – the minute you become the CEO of a venture-backed firm your days are numbered. You might be the CEO that launches the company, grows the company and exits the company … but you might not. Young entrepreneurs starting out for the first time might be great at starting and launching businesses, but not growing them, building revenue, etc.
- There was considerable advice regarding raising capital, legal structures, angel investors and more. This stuff might not be the most exciting content, but it’s incredibly valuable. Rob Hyndman, a lawyer with significant experience working for startups, spent a lot of time explaining corporate structures, financing paperwork and more. This is “meat & potatoes” stuff that first-time entrepreneurs have very little clue about. It might not be sexy, or get you pumped up to run out and start a company instantly and take over the world, but it’s critical stuff that too few entrepreneurs understand out of the gate.
Craig Hayashi from The Maple Leaf Angels walked the audience through the angel investment process. It is different than raising money from venture firms, with pros and cons involved that are important for startups to understand.
In a fairly animated session, Suzanne Dingwall Williams, a lawyer that works with startups, did a panel session with Rick Segal on financing, current market conditions, etc. Again, this was hands-on, practical information that can be of real use to entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders Need Mentorship
This model has to evolve in Canada for more startups to emerge successfully. And the model has to continue to evolve and expand all over the world as well. Conferences like Startup Empire are a great start – to provide a broad level of mentorship and practical guidance to startups – and I’m sure we’ll see more great things from the next event. “Ra Ra Enthusiasm” isn’t particularly helpful, neither is “Oh Shit, We’re F-cked” warnings – we get it, times are tough – now go out and find people who can genuinely help you navigate those rough waters.