Seedcamp Event Guidelines for Newbies

Last week I participated as a mentor at Seedcamp Ljubljana. For those who don’t know’ Seedcamp is an early stage micro seed investment fund and mentoring programme. They organize daily events across Europe where mentors and startups get together.
This was my first time at a Seedcamp event or any event regarding startups. I am literally blown away. The buzz around the place is incredible. Everybody is candid, supportive and unpretentious. They are willing to help and probably more importantly receive help.
The other incredible thing is that none of this buzz and excitement is about money. Yes, Seedcamp wants to invest in companies and eventually make money off of these investments but overall at a Seedcamp event, money takes a back seat to the culture of collaboration. The power of community, collaboration and willingness to receive help are the lessons I am taking home with me from Seedcamp Ljubljana.
Over the next few days, I will write about the startups I’ve met and my two cents that I shared with them.
Having my feedback in a written form will help the startups. During the day, they were swamped with feedback often not in a very organized manner. We were jumping from topic to topic and I caught myself changing positions in the middle of arguments, all expected because we were in the middle of a 45 minute brainstorming bonanza. They were taking notes but given the tempo of
the day the notes might be difficult to comprehend in the aftermath.
This exercise will help me as well. I want to stay in touch with the startups I connected with. However, most of the thinking I have done with them is bound to be forgotten in the coming weeks. If I write it all down, the blog posts will quickly remind me the discussions we had. I am also curious if my two cents will be any good to the people I talked to. In the future, I want to compare the current state of the startups with the blog posts I wrote and have a good laugh with them. :-)
Before I start talking about each startup, there is some generic feedback I would like to give to Seedcamp, mentors and the startups. So here we go…

To Seedcamp

Inform the mentors
The PDF that Seedcamp sent prior to the event was great. It had every information I needed to get to know the startups. However, I wish they told me which startups I am to work with in advance so that I could focus on them more. With 25 startups attending, it was difficult for me to do due diligence on all of them to hold a 45 minute discussion. Had I known the five I will talk to, I could focus on them and be better prepared.
It is a small issue but, I’d rather a web page instead of a PDF. Web pages are more mobile friendly and the links on a PDF are not clickable unless specifically made so. I was mostly reading the PDF on an iPad or an iPhone and going back and forth between pages and the browser made working with the information more difficult.
Mentor the mentors
I think Seedcamp can be a little more active in showing mentors how to mentor the right way. Most of the ones I talked to, including me, were doing this the first time. Maybe some guidelines about how the 45 minute meeting should be structured can be helpful. A video or a set of videos of high quality mentoring sessions can’t hurt either.
Additionally, if I’d knew who the other two mentors in my group were in advance, I could contact them prior to the event and we could get organized a little better. As it turned out, I was extremely lucky and ended up with two great mentors who I really enjoyed spending the day with but if we had a little heads up, I am sure we as a group could use it.

To Mentors

Do your homework
The startups are there to receive feedback, not to explain what they do for 45 minutes. I think mentors should do their homework and understand the business as well as they can prior to the meeting. I think it is completely OK and valuable to have the startups explain what they do, but the meeting should not turn into an interview about what they do. Every mentor simply must go over the booklet Seedcamp provids and visit the web sites of the startups. I understand that this is a little overwhelming right now because there are 25 of them and a mentor does not know which startups she will talk to but do the best you can.
Avoid Feature Suggestion Fest
The startups are also not there to hear your feature ideas. They probably thought them all. Members of the startups are usually software developers and given that they have been thinking about the problem longer than you have, it is very likely that they thought of the very cool feature you just came up with. In other words, don’t just suggest a feature because you think it will make you look cool. Please remember that we are talking about two people shops here and their time is very valuable. Working on features that don’t bring in customers will hurt them. Since most of the entrepreneurs are software developers they are already more eager about feature development than they should. If you really want to recommend that they should implement a feature, try to tie it to a business case and explain why you think it is important from a business perspective.
Skip the “Atta Boy!”. Play the devils advocate
Try not to turn the meeting to a feel good event. Having a positive attitude and wishing them well is certainly the correct behavior. However, patronizing them, giving them false sense of hope and not telling them what you think will eventually hurt them. Most startups fail. The entrepreneurs you meet at Seedcamp will most likely fail. It is better if they hear the cold reality about their errors now than after spending a year of their lives. If you have legitimate worries about their work, tell them openly and honestly. This doesn’t mean you have to be rude or mean to them. If you can’t tell someone how concerned you are about their well being without starting a fight, maybe you should not be mentoring. You will be surprised how well the entrepreneurs receive constructive criticism. It is what they are there for. Play the devils advocate. Openly tell them that you are doing so. Try to corner them, force them to come up with numbers, facts and justifications. If they are well prepared, they will easily tackle all of your challenges. If they are not, they will be grateful to go through this experience now in front of you as opposed to in front of someone they are asking a million dollars from. Don’t think they will hate you. On the contrary, they will thank you. The entrepreneur I worried about the most turned out to be the guy I hanged out with the most after the event was over.
Introduce yourself
Probably the best thing we did as a mentor group was to introduce ourselves to the entrepreneurs. This way the entrepreneurs have an idea of who you are and what kind of help they can expect from you. This also helps you build credibility in their eyes and you stop being the jackass who just entered the room and started talking shit about their beloved company.
Take notes during the pitches
At the beginning of the day each startup gives a five minute presentation to introduce itself. Mentors should take notes during these presentations. Some of the questions I had were answered during the pitches and I had some new questions. Write them down so that you can bring them up during your meeting with the startup. Otherwise you will just forget them.
Talk to everyone
Just because a startup wasn’t in your schedule, doesn’t mean that you should ignore them. Be proactive, go and talk to them. Don’t be shy. You are there to give your two cents and the more you give the better. I pulled every entrepreneur I can get my hands on to a corner and talked to them about their business. Some of the best conversations I held were during these side meetings.

To Startups

Make your software more accessible to mentors
I made an effort to use the software of the 25 startups before I showed up at the event. Unfortunately, most of the startups were in private beta. I had to ask for an invite. Since the event was only a day away, I wasn’t able to access most of the sites. Maybe it is my fault that I waited until the last day. However, I feel like the startups could be more proactive and send invitations to mentors. I think Seedcamp can actively participate in this and make sure that every mentor has access to the software the startup has developed prior to the event. The few sites that I was able to use, helped me a lot in forming an opinion.
No video during the pitch
Some startups showed a one or two minute video during their pitch. The presenter stopped talking, pointed us to the screen and together we all watched a video. Don’t ever do this. This is a terrible way of pitching. We are there to listen to you, to engage with you, to get amazed by you, to get interested in you. We are not there to watch a video.
Talk to everyone
Similar to mentors, you should also make a conscious effort to talk to everyone. Go over the bio of the mentors. Start with the ones you think are most interesting. Don’t be shy. Go even talk to other startups. Share experiences.

To Everyone

Follow Up
Don’t let it all end with the event. Mentors should continue to work with the startups they are most connected with. Try their software and provide feedback, explore business opportunities, help spread the word, be available to be approached by the entrepreneurs and encourage them to do so. Startups should pick the mentors who they think can provide the best input in the long run and stick with them. They should find ways to engage the mentors with their product and company. Simply bring in the mentors to solve actual business problems you have, have meetings, discussion or whatever. If you are doing it by the book, you need an advisory board, remember? :-)
Provide feedback
Just because an event is over, it shouldn’t be all forgotten and back to business as usual again. Take the time, provide written feedback to all the participants. The discussions in the meetings will be forgotten but the comments you make in written form will stay. This way they will be more beneficial to past, current and future participants of Seedcamp events.
Enjoy it
Take it all seriously, prepare well but don’t be uptight, defensive or cocky. Everyone is there with the best intentions. The meetings are only half of the story. The day continues until very late at night. The line between the entrepreneurs and mentors blur after the meetings are over. In the evening, entrepreneurs were giving me trash about my company. :-) It was awesome. My final advice is that enjoy the event while you can, seize the moment because it only lasts for one day.
Yalim K. Gerger

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