I’m very excited about our FP50 mentor network which we launched last night with a dinner for mentors and a couple of our portfolio companies. Startups.co.uk wrote about it under the headline Tech leaders unite to support UK’s fledgling e-commerce start-ups, and that’s about right. I was humbled by the quality of our guests.

We put a great deal of thought into making sure FP50 will be really helpful to our startups. We asked CEOs and founders what they want from mentor relationships, asked mentors what works for them and looked extensively at other mentor schemes in operation.

What we learned boils down to two things:

  • Long term mentor/mentee relationships deliver the most value
  • It’s crucial that FP50 adds value to mentors as well as mentees

So those are our two objectives.

One of the ways we can add value is to help people be better mentors and mentees, so at the dinner we had a talk from startup coach Richard Hughes-Jones on how best to give advice. It was his thoughts on the difference between directive and non-directive coaching that provoked the most discussion on my table afterwards.

When mentoring, the first instinct of many of is to jump into solution mode and try to fix problems by suggesting solutions. Often the advice is framed as “I’ve seen this situation before and you should do X”. That’s a direct coaching style and is appropriate in some circumstances, particularly in the very early stages of a company where there’s lots of things to do and the founder doesn’t have much time to think about any of them. A non-directive coaching style helps the founder to think through the problem and come up with their own solution. It takes more time, but is often more powerful, particularly if the situation is complicated and the match with the mentors previous experience not perfect.

It was in this context that Richard said “It’s better to be helpful than right”, which is my takeaway quote for the evening.

Simply giving the right solution to a founder is no use if they don’t understand it or internalise it well enough to implement it properly, or it hasn’t been explained well enough for them to tweak it to their precise situation. In these scenarios it’s better to help founders think through the problem a little bit, even if they don’t get to a final solution. Best of all is for them to have the right solution and be fully ready and able to implement it, but that isn’t always possible.

The next step with FP50 is to get those long term relationships started. The Slack group we set up is busy with people introducing themselves and hopefully that combined with direct introductions will be enough to get the ball rolling. Our next event will be in three months.