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Tips for Mentoring at a Startup Weekend

written by - Ben Ravilious

Last weekend I had the pleasure of mentoring startup teams at the annual Launch48 startup weekend here in Leicester, England.

The event gives budding tech entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch, build and launch a startup over the course of a weekend with mentoring and advice from experts.

Startup weekends are fantastic opportunities for accelerated learning as they involve participants rolling their sleeves up and collaborating with strangers. Not every project team maintains momentum after the event but the contacts and learning experience stay with people for years and as a result these events inject a real buzz into the local tech community.


Validating Ideas is More Important than Building Systems

As a former Launch48 participant and a startup entrepreneur myself I was able to help steer teams toward the most effective use of the limited time available at the event. A common tendency among wannabe entrepreneurs, especially those who can code, is to build white elephant products based on what they think people want rather than customer-validated products.

My challenge to the teams I mentor is to spend as much time as possible talking to whomever they believe to be potential customers. Doing this usually requires a certain amount of coding in order to build landing page sites, surveys, social media accounts, blogs and other means of measuring people’s interest. However, it is a mistake for teams to try to spend the majority of their time building a ‘finished product’ rather than interacting with potential customers.

It’s much better to finish a startup weekend itching to build something that has had great validated feedback than exhausted from coding something complicated and unwanted.

In the words of Lean Startup methodology guru Ash Maurya, “Life’s too short to build something nobody wants.”


Ask Questions, Don’t Lecture

It’s very easy for mentors to get carried away with giving ‘advice’ based on their personal experiences. However, the whole point of attending a startup weekend (and being an entrepreneur in general) is to work things out for yourself.

It’s much better to ask teams intelligent, impartial questions which help teams frame their problems and reach their own decisions. This doesn’t stop you as a mentor from robust interrogation of teams who are clearly heading in a bad direction. Instead of saying “your solution won’t work because…”, ask “what evidence leads you to conclude that you solution will work?”. Instead of saying “I think X would be the best option for you now”, try “Had you considered options X, Y or Z? They’re like this, this and that – do you think any of these would be right for you?”

If all else fails you can try the blunt approach of the “5 Whys“!


Effective mentoring is a great way to help your local startup community and also to crystalise your own experience and skills. If you have prior business experience and care about the success of your local area then I thoroughly recommend it.