An open reflexion on “free advice and mentoring” with Startups

This post comes from a reflection of a great and dear friend of mine, a person I respect without questioning and for a very long time already.

He always say to me :
“Matteo, you are doing too many things you are not paid for, not sure your intangible gain is there and it ain’t charity work. You loose focus, dilute your own brand and you are not doing for the greater Good either.”

Just come off the phone, before taking today’s plane, with a Fintech startup managed by a fellow Italian – someone who seems to me a great person and obviously the familiarity of the common native language – made us have a great conversation about his startup : with some very concrete advice on how to proceed, which type of money to look for and what information a Business Angel is likely to ask (and in which format) to better position the company in a seed raise.

I happen to know very well almost everyone who deals with Fintech on a venture side (mind you, they are not that many) and my job is actually to vet, coach, manage, mentor start-ups (with particular care of the ones in SBT Venture Capital portfolio of course).

So the question is : where does the “free advice” stop and starts the “consultation” work ?

I came across several people getting 5% of the amount of money a start-up would raise in their series A and all they have done is manage to have an informal meeting with a VC and send a deck. After that, not a single interaction (except for some noise in the contractual negotiation, frankly more slowing down things than helping) happened with that intermediary.

Reason why I am asking (to myself) this question is the following : I believe I have an extreme sense of mindfulness when it comes to recognise being in debt with someone.
Especially if this came out as an unsolicited help or better even as a clear solicited help I could not afford to pay for.

The problem is that I am expecting the same in return.
I shall not.

“Do ut des” says ancient Latin. Give and you will be given. This is my philosophy so far.

Not sure it should be applied in business. Still have to think about it.
There is also another thought I would like to throw in the mix : people, in general, don’t value what they don’t pay for.
The truth of this saying is inversely proportional to how clever is the person you are dealing with.
Also, every business is about the network you can leverage.

Let me tell you a story : back to Innotribe time, we had an expression, amongst ourselves, about shooting a silver bullet.
In our way of saying, it specifically meant to go bypass whomever we have to and go straight to the top of the hierarchy to ask whatever we had to ask for.
That was a silver bullet.
My silver bullet now, are the person with reciprocal trust, who will listen to someone without reserve just because I ask for it (and would be absolutely the same in return).
That is why I want to shoot that bullet when I know for sure that the quality of the matter, the motivation, and eventually the outcome has a defined value.

Do I sound cynical ?

When was the last time you made an introduction that really made a difference to someone’s company and had absolutely nothing in return ? How did you feel about it ?

What is required, in your books, to introduce someone coming from the “external world” to your inner circle ?

Shall I write a book about network and relationships ?


Stay tuned


2 thoughts on “An open reflexion on “free advice and mentoring” with Startups”

  1. Boundaries can be difficult to establish when it comes to having a conversation. I like the question you raise about the difference between mentoring and consulting. I like where you say, ” you are doing too many things you are not paid for, not sure your intangible gain is there and it ain’t charity work. You lose focus, dilute your own brand and you are not doing for the greater Good either.”
    Do mentors deserve to be paid? DO mentors believe that their time and counsel has value? Is the real difference between mentoring and consulting in the amount of dollars that change hands?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *