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  • Writer's pictureHani W. Naguib

Mentor Journey: The Startup Death Loop

Throughout the past ten years, I have witnessed many founders who seek to find personal validation by getting the approval of investors and mentors. Many entrepreneurs confuse getting the consent of an idea's potential from a well-known mentor, investor, or entrepreneur with idea validation and/or a personal confirmation. So it becomes critical to seek, covet, and be proud of when attainted.

They don't realize that they follow what I call the startup death loop with that attitude and mindset.

When entrepreneurs get an idea, they seek approval from people they perceive as legitimate. They start wondering: who would be a good source of confirmation for my idea? They display an unfinished, under-researched idea to reputable entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors. Instead of that coveted confirmation, they get comments, critiques, and sometimes cynical, rude responses. They keep at it until they reach a well-polished version of their presentation of the still unfinished, under-researched idea. They perform what I like to call Mentor/Investor Discovery (instead of Customer Discovery).

Once they have a fabulous pitch deck with a catchy startup name/logo, they tend to seek investment, using all the arguments possible to win the conversation. So they approach investors with the still underdeveloped idea. They believe they must be immune, with all the big names highlighted as mentors at the end of the deck.

They usually get negative feedback from investment committees and competition panels. So they go back to mentors and ask this often-used question:" tell me, what do I need to say to investors to get funded?" They perform what I like to call Mentor/Investor Validation (instead of Customer Validation).

They keep altering aspects of the idea and the pitch deck and looking for someone to invest money in the idea ( and them as founders ) until they run out of resources and, most importantly, the steam to please. The startup has now officially shut down, making it perhaps the most frequently observed and shortest startup journey first-time, early-stage entrepreneurs can go through.

On many of my first mentoring sessions with founders seeking opinions to confirm ideas (versus having questions to explore value), I always respond with: "My opinion is not important. What will your customer do in this case?" When I finally get an "I don't know," I ask them to go and find out.

Avoid the startup death loop by seeking to explore and asking questions frequently. The more you focus on finding answers that please mentors and investors only, the more you kill the potential of your startup. Do you know why? Because you need to ask better questions about the startup from the perspective of your customer and your business. Better questions open up a world of possibilities. Without them, you are limiting the potential of your imagination as well as the potential of your startup.

Ask questions, and seek mentors who will help you ask them better and find their answers. Be curious enough to understand everything within the context of your customer, the business, and the surrounding environment. Make sure you allow yourself the time to explore and discover before you seek to impress.

Goodwill & Respect

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