The High-Tech SeedLab accelerator program in Berlin just recently kicked off 2021 with the new cohort. The kick-off event set the stage for all founders to (virtually) get together as a community and to build the foundation to support each other throughout the year.
Now, it’s up to our startup coaches to onboard each team in more detail to manage expectations. During onboarding sessions, we not only go through program requirements and benefits but also explain what the role of the team’s designated startup coach entails. What do the check-ins with the startup coach look like? What are they for? And what kind of support exactly can be expected from the startup coach?
We like to be quite specific about that last question since for some, the lines between coach, expert, mentor, consultant and advisor might be blurry. But in fact, these roles have quite different functions if you look at the time horizon, the grade of formality or the level and type of expertise they entail.
Coach vs. Expert
To be clear, both of our startup coaches at the High-Tech SeedLab have different styles and so do many others out there. We believe that there is not one single and ultimately correct approach to coaching but we do agree with certain definitions and differentiations:
A coach generally helps someone or a team get where they want to be. They do this usually in a set timeframe and throughout regular meetings. For instance, our 10-month program requires the startup coach to meet with the teams for 1 hour every two weeks.
In comparison to experts, who support based on the fact that they are subject matter experts, coaches are rather facilitating the founder’s learning, focus and results while not necessarily having domain expertise. They may not even have been the best at what they coach for, but still, they can be a very useful accountability system, especially for early-stage (single) founders who can feel siloed from time to time.
Yet, to get support in specific subjects such as user experience or product development it is definitely helpful to bring experts on board. They will be able to give advice on specific issues based on their professional experience in that particular field. This might be in the form of a day-workshop or regular sessions up to a few months depending on the issue.
Consultants vs. Mentor vs. Advisor
Although consultants might very well be talented people, they are not the ideal fit to support startups. Besides the fact that consultants are very expensive, their job is usually to come up with ideas. But that’s literally the only thing an early-stage startup has: Their business idea. They don’t need anybody to execute their idea, but someone who can help them build it themselves by nurturing the skills within them. .
Many startups do get mentors though, and not only because they are usually on a voluntary basis. A good mentor is first of all someone you naturally connect with. This can be a role model, for instance a successful entrepreneur from the same industry. The relationship can be informal and can take up to several years while meeting as needed by the mentee. You can potentially learn more hacks by having a quick coffee with your mentor who is willing to share her/his professional wisdom, than with an expensive workshop you paid for.
Lastly, startups could also take on advisors on a short to medium-term. They usually come from the same industry and use their broad skills in business and growth to give strategic advice. This advice or feedback can be as granular as pointed phone calls or semi-regular meetings. Advisors can also have very useful networks which early-stage startups can particularly benefit from if they are looking for investment.
Stay tuned to learn more about what it means to be a startup coach!
Coming soon: Personal interviews with our startup coaches in which they share the glory details of their coaching strategy as well as their fears and epic failures.