How to be a technology start-up mentor

By Andy Brick on September 5th, 2012

You do not need be wise, or old, to set up shop in the wise old man business. There is a shortcut to gaining your own following of initiates listening to your every word. It is simple: become a technology start-up mentor. No cave, flowing beard, or robes are required; all you need to do is follow a simple recipe.

First, learn some new words. Don’t worry, they are not difficult to remember. Incubate. Pivot. Traction. Repeat these words to yourself like a New Media Dalek mantra. Drop them casually into sentences like a sprinkling of seasoning and you’ll have start-ups and incubators alike queueing up to catch nuggets of wisdom as they drip from your chin.

Now you have the attention of your hapless devotees, it is time for stage two: become a sage. Your holy book for this endeavour is Twitter. Follow every other start-up mentor you can find. Brain-dead half-wits like Anil Dash are your prophets. Suck up to them. Plagiarise and retweet whatever sounds like good advice. Don’t worry if your issuances sound like banal platitudes:

Experience is Stuff over Time.

The quote above, in a mere six words, is a precious nugget of wisdom. The perfect apotheosis of the pundit’s art. The intended audience will not stop to parse your statement, nor see its flaws or obviousness. 50+ retweets means you’re getting there.

Armed with a repertoire of arcane jargon that would put Hermione’s grimoire to shame, you can set off to spread the good word of your vision amongst the masses. It does not matter that you are less experienced and younger than your followers (or the companies you advertise that you are “advising”). Nor does it matter that you are selling the twenty-first century equivalent of snake oil. Play it right and it can pay the bills.

Get a column at Mashable and start a “consultancy” to spread your wisdom – for a tidy fee, of course. When you’ve insinuated your way onto mentor lists at the bigger accelerator programmes and you have at least 5,000 followers on Twitter, you are ready for the big time. You can run workshops, seminars, speaking events. Self-publish a book or two on your vision of the business practices of the tech industry with bold chapter headings like “Why Your Start-Up Will Fail” and other headlines guaranteed to attract attention.

Congratulations! After five years of this, you’ll have sailed into internet fame and get all the free flights and invitations to drinks parties you can possibly handle. The unfortunate side-effect of your carcinogenic effect on the ecosystem should not trouble you.


Would that the preceding section were only a whimsical piece of satire. Unfortunately these people exist today, a mere Google search away.

People will try to sell you anything. A quick search will yield an endless parade of so-called “mentors” who will claim to advise you on anything you like, from using Twitter as a marketing and customer support tool to Facebook as a user group and viral marketing platform.

Developers are no more immune than their business cousins. A never-ending parade of experts in various fields will claim to have the skills show you the arcane techniques that will make your code robust, scalable, fast, small… whatever you desire. Project managers are besieged by the prophets of Agile and Scrum and numerous other management methodologies. Some are useful. Most are bollocks.

But here’s the only thing you really need to know: these people are superfluous. You don’t need them. If you want to learn how to do something, the best way is to give it a shot. True mentors, those rare individuals who can impart worthwhile knowledge, do it for themselves, and often avoid describing themselves as mentors or advisors at all.

That’s right. Sorry. There’s no special sauce. No secret technique, no magical recipe. Just be observant; know your market and your customers; learn how to communicate with them. The beauty of this approach? No rhetoric. No time-wasting. No consultants’ fees or wasted time in “mentoring” sessions and office hours in co-working spaces.

Just watch, and learn.