Deconstructing The Mentor Manifesto

Last night we had the Techstars Boulder Mentor Kickoff dinner. It’s an annual tradition at Techstars – we have a dinner for all mentors before we start the program. It’s a meet and greet for all mentors in the upcoming program, a great way to reconnect with friends, an intro to the companies in the upcoming program, and a reminder (and celebration) of the role of a mentor in Techstars.

Nicole Glaros, the Techstars Boulder managing director, held a great kickoff event at the Bohemian Biergarten. I ate too much Spätzle (man – that stuff has a lot of calories in it) but otherwise had an awesome time. I was especially gratified to see a number of new mentors for this year’s program. One of our goals with Techstars is to continuously expand the network, and bringing in and engaging new mentors in each program is a key part of that.

Given the new mentors, Nicole spent a few minutes going through the Techstars Mentor Manifesto. It reminded me of the importance of clearly defining what a mentor is and how a mentor can optimally interact with a startup, especially a very early stage one or one consisting of first time entrepreneurs.

Over the next six weeks I’m going to write 18 posts – going much deeper on each of the 18 items on the mentor manifesto. When we started Techstars, the word “mentor” was rarely used, typically referred to a single “mentor” that person had, and often connoted a very one-up / one-down type of “guidance relationship.” For those of you in legal or investment banking professions, the equivalent word was often “rabbi” – it was someone who looked after you, covered your ass, gave you advice, and helped you on your career.

We meant “mentor” in a different way. We’ve learned an enormous amount about what does and doesn’t work. What’s helpful or harmful. And how a mentor can get the most out of their side of the relationship. Today, it’s trendy to be a “mentor” especially to a startup. Unlike before, when mentor meant something very precise and narrow, it now is referred to a wide range of relationships and interactions.

Hopefully the next 18 posts, and the Techstars Mentor Manifesto, will help make the definition of mentors and the implementation of mentorship, at least in the context of high growth startups, precise in a new and ever more powerful way.

  • Would love to help you on this if you want/need another pair of hands!

    • Awesome – thx. How about weighing in on the post with examples in the comments as I roll them out.

      You are a great example of a mentor (and – for those of you who don’t know Jeremy, here’s a taste of him).

  • Awesome! looking forward to each of the posts… there is nothing more important than this while starting up.

  • Santosh Rajan

    Great! Look forward to the posts. Would love to do it for one of your teams, if it can be done long distance (via hangouts).

    • Email me – happy to plug you into the Techstars gang.

      • Santosh Rajan

        Thanks Brad, will send you a mail.


          Don’t waste your time with email. I sent Brad an email about helping start ups and didn’t get a response. Thing is… I know BRAD RETURNS EMAILS!!! So he apparently didn’t get mine.
          Also I received an email about a contract to do a software project one day just as I was gonna’ quit for the day. So I read it and figured I’d sleep on it then send a response in the morning because I didn’t really want to do the project. Next morning the email was gone. I called my email provider and the said they would restore from another server. They did and the email was still not there.
          So now you have to wonder how many other emails get lost?
          1. When you send an email don’t assume the person will get it.
          2. When you receive an email don’t assume you know for sure who sent it.
          3. Always assume your emails are NOT private.

          • Well – I got @disqus_ZaLsbEW6V4:disqus and made a connection for him. And I think I got the second email you sent and we went back and forth about it – true?


            I didn’t get any response to the volunteer email. Also I didn’t resend it. If that’s what you mean by “the second email.” Sometimes I do resend emails that I don’t get a response to.
            It doesn’t matter as anyone can see, from your effort here, that you go the extra mile on things. I just think people need to realize the 3 rules I listed above are very important when using email.

      • Santosh Rajan

        Thanks again Brad, for the mail, and putting me in touch with the right connections.

  • A bit of a roll-up of 3 or 4 items on the Manifesto, but early in my career I realized my best mentors gave experience, not advice. As a mentor that simple rule is incredibly hard to follow, but in my experience (see what I did there) makes the mentee/mentor relationship even stronger when the fit is right.

    • Putting “from my experience” in front of everything you say for a while is helpful to get into the rhythm of this. It’s one of the tenants of feedback for forum members in EO or YPO and I’ve found it to be very powerful.

  • I’ve been doing a lot of mentoring recently for a bunch of Toronto-Waterloo start-ups, for Techstars NYC and soon Techstars Boston, and loving it. There is a fine art to it I’m finding- less is more. But you can tell when something you say clicks and the eyes of the entrepreneurs twinkle.

  • Paul Hudnut

    Looking forward to the posts. Thanks for doing this!

  • Adam Burrows

    Looking forward to getting your thoughts and guidance on mentorship. I’ve been
    doing it on my own for a few years now but I’m excited to pick up some new tricks from more
    experienced TechStars veterans. Great meeting you the other night!

  • Mentoring at Excelerate Labs (now TechStars Chicago) has been a great journey for me. I have learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, and learned what I can do for companies and more importantly, what I can’t do. Also learned that I cannot “mentor” ten companies in an accelerator. More important to mentor ones I have an affinity to, or can really help. That means 20% of them usually. Going deep is more important than touching everyone.

    • That’s been powerful learning for us. At this point we strongly recommend each mentor going deep on just ONE company per program. Spending time with others is great, but be a lead mentor on one.

  • Great post, Brad. Care to join me on a panel discussion at Denver Startup Week on the future of mentoring for startups?

    As you point out “[mentorship] is referred to a wide range of relationships and interactions.” What will the definition of “mentor” be in five years for startup communities? What is the promise and where are the perils of scaling the Mentor Manifesto beyond the 1%ers who make it into Techstars? How can communities like Laramie WY, with a relatively tiny pool of mentors, provide world-class mentorship to their young companies?

  • Paul Barrett

    Brad, looking forward to your posts over the next several weeks. As someone who runs a large accelerator based mentoring program (275+ active Mentors – 58 teams) I am always looking for thoughtful commentary to pass along and have imparted most of the Techstars manifesto to our Mentors for years without realizing it. Cant wait for new insights on how you see the role evolving.

  • tom

    Thank Brad looking forward to them

  • Brad Feld + David Cohen has been a powerful and highly productive combination (of course TechStars involves many great people).

    Quality people (in my experience) have a way of finding each other (like attracts to like)

  • A great start, Brad. A couple of notes. First, I was surprised that when I went to, there’s the manifesto is nowhere to be found. I would think it would be instructive for both prospective applicants to get a flavor of the kind of mentorship they might expect as well as for prospective mentors to understand what is expected of them. I think it’s a great piece and worthy of higher visibility.

    My second point is that given that we’re talking about tech startups getting mentorship and the fact that much of their early lives are spent building product and seeking product-market fit, it might be helpful to wrap some of the 18 items in some examples that focus on those particular areas. In my experience, I’ve gotten involved in relationships with startups where the CEO or team want to get guidance on things that are not terribly relevant until they fully are able to at least articulate the problems they’re solving and characterize their ideal customer (and if there are enough of them). As a result, I’ve spent time trying to ask questions around these topics, even if that’s not the kind of help that they might be looking for.

    I hope that’s helpful. Keep up the great work.

    • Thanks for the feedback.

      1. I’ll suggest the manifesto is more front and center.

      2. Some mentors are excellent / naturals at helping with product-market fit. Others are excellent at other things. We tried to make the manifesto general enough to guide mentors, without being overly prescriptive about what they specifically do. In the context of a Techstars program, there is heavy guidance on mentors at different stages of the program to focus on different things, so it’s there, but more of a soft/hidden hand rather than a manifesto.