The thing that I find most awe-inspiring about startup communities across the nation and the world is the immense sea of individuals willing to dedicate their time to mentor and support new entrepreneurs. In every startup community–whether it’s Silicon Valley in the bay area, Silicon Alley in NYC, Silicon Mountain in the Boulder & Denver Colorado (yea, I totally made that up and yes, I am aware it does not have nearly the same ring to it), or any of the other established and burgeoning city centers hosting startups–everyone one of these places boasts two things (1) startup events & gatherings and (2) a cadre of people willing to mentor up-and-coming startups to help them succeed. Startup mentors come in all different shapes and sizes, expertise and available time, networks and goals. Often, but not always they are previous founders themselves with big previous successes, raises, or exits. Always, mentors are a good thing for founders and for the health of a startup community overall.
Your Startup Coach & Your Mentor
If you are like many startups, in addition to running and growing your company you spend a significant amount of your time preparing to pitch and pitching. Startups seeking funding and pitching in big pitch events put together their pitch and usually a corresponding pitch deck in order to more clearly describe their company and how they plan to grow, scale and expand their company. In the process of putting together their pitch the saavy (and busy) founders kick starts his/her success by working with a pitch coach, pitch deck design expert (or both in one, like Pitch Deck Fire). So in addition to the mentor(s) they acquired, engaged and worked with over the years, they also engage with a pitch coach. The pitch coach and mentor have very different and complimentary skill sets to offer the entrepreneur.
The Yin and the Yang
Your startup coach and your mentor are both important people to your company. They each provide value and support in different but arguably equally important ways. they are like the Yin and the Yang to your funding success. The concept of Yin and Yang in Chinese philosophy is likely not a new to you. According to Wikipedia “Yin and Yang describes how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary,interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.” All of that to say they are different forces that affect different kinds of change, but their efforts are somewhat overlapping, intertwined or related to one another.
The Pitch Coach Role: Startup Storytelling
The pitch coach knows pitching. They know storytelling. They know public speaking. They know presentation design. A good pitch coach walks you through the process of creating your best pitch and pitch deck. You have to have a company, you have to have a solution, and you have to have a unique take on how you’re going to succeed for the pitch coach to work with. The pitch coach gets to know you, your company, your story, your product, your plans, your future, your opportunities. They weave together a presentation that will help you to effectively engage your audience in a real way. Their advice, feedback and support will enable to the be the best presenter of your company that you can possible be. Working with a pitch expert is very different than working with a mentor.
The pitch experts knows business and they know startups and they may ask interesting questions that lead you to new ways of thinking about your business or go to market growth strategies. But they will never advise you on HOW to run your company. At least not directly. That’s not their expertise. Though the work you do with them can sometimes help you to more effectively sell your product to your customers with more clear and cohesive messaging, and it may steer your thinking in key area of your companies future. And certainly a successful pitch coach is a big part of your funding journey and funding success which directly impacts your businesses ability to succeed. But first and foremost they help you tell your story.
The Mentor Role: Business Building
The mentor knows startups. They know business. They know growth hacking and customer acquisition. They know strategic partnerships. They know financial projections and go to market strategy. A good mentor has been there before, seen it before, and can help you to make new decisions, side step common pitfalls, and steer the direction of your business towards greater opportunities for success. The mentor is often a business adviser and strategic consultant of sorts. Sometimes a board member, often unpaid or paid in equity. The mentor also brings to the table potential introductions to key partners and potential investors. The mentor is a partner in your company’s overall growth and success.
Your mentor has a wealth of knowledge in a lot of areas. That may include to some extent pitching. Maybe they have pitched before, or have seen a lot of pitches in their day. But they are generally not a pitch expert. Generally they won’t be sitting down with you and designing your powerpoint slides. They may give you advice on your pitch, on how it shares your story, but their advice often veers towards ensuring your overall business plan and growth strategies are clear and established. In this way they often help with a pitch directly, but more substantially indirectly. Their support on the business plan and the WHAT it is the you do and the HOW you’re going to grow and succeed. Those are key pieces of content that lead into a stellar pitch story.
Why You Need Both
Entrepreneurs are notorious do-it-yourself-ers. Heck, that’s likely why you started a business in the first place. You had a problem, saw a need, and decided enough is enough, someone has to fix this and it might as well be me. Right? So sometimes it’s hard for founders to ask for or accept help. In reality the founders that jump-start their success the most, have mentors and a pitch coach supporting them. In fact they have a whole team of people who have skills expertise and specialties in things that the founder doesn’t. Being a great entrepreneur is not about being the smartest person in the room, but rather the one who can bring together the smartest people into one room and get them to work together to accomplish great things. In fact that’s what a great manager is in general, startup founder / business owner or not. For the startup founder, the pitch coach and the mentor are some of the most important and helpful people in that room.
The mentor brings the business building powerhouse. They are the strategy and the brains and the plans. The pitch coach brings the capability to gather that essence, and convey it to other people so they can see the brilliance of it and get on board with supporting the venture.
How to Get the Most Out of Both
When you’re working with multiple mentors, it can be hard to deal with conflicting feedback and information. We actually wrote a whole article on ‘Mentor Whiplash” a while back. If you feel unsure of who to listen to when you get conflicting advice from your team of mentors, you should definitely check it out. In general it’s worth a read for every founder. To get the most out of working with a pitch coach and a mentor, keep in mind their skills sets and strengths. When a mentor gives you advice about your pitch, keep in mind his expertise and experience. If he/she has previous experience with a SaaS company, then their advice on how to scale your SaaS company is likely going to be highly valuable. Alternatively, if you work with a mentor who has little experience with design, then you may not want to weight their opinions about the design of your pitch deck as highly as someone who does. Use your mentors to build your business, and use your pitch coach to help you tell that story to others. Pitch coaches are generally industry agnostic. Their expertise is not in being an expert, but in working with an expert to help them get their message out.
In the end, use all the help that you can get when building your company. You can’t get enough support. Seek out the support that serves you, your company, and your goals. If you’re seeking funding or planning pitch in a big pitch competition, I strongly suggest you look into working with a pitch coach or pitch deck design expert. Have the right business and tell the right story. The mentor and the pitch expert are a perfect Yin and Yang to your startup’s funding success.