The power of mentoring – My mentor madness experience at Techstars
In 2018 Techstars launched its first program in Asia, in Singapore. This program was specifically designed for Rakuten, which had the ambition to expose their upper management to startups in order to promote innovation. As a co-founder of a young Hungarian startup Talk-A-Bot my startup was lucky to be invited to the program, as we had been an exclusive chatbot provider for Rakuten in the CEE since 2017.
This opportunity came along when Talk-A-Bot was raising its A-round investment in Hungary and the space of our growth required the full attention of the 4 founders and the 10 employees we had on our team. The program required the founders’ relocation to Singapore for 3 months, at a time when my first child was only 3 months old.
The four of us sat down and we discussed the pros and cons of participating in the program and relocation. We finally decided that 3 founders will remain in Hungary and I relocated to Singapore with my family, to attend the program. The program cost us USD 20K, which was advanced by Techstars and Rakuten, in exchange for 6% equity in our company. One of the difficulties was that we had a Hungarian “Kft”, a company form that was not the preferred company form for Techstars.
What we expected from the program was to create a foothold in Asia. I lived in Singapore before and had an understanding of the region and with the Techstars program, I hoped that we could add Asia to our geographic expansion plans.
With my co-founders, we agreed that I will send weekly reports to the Hungarian co-founder team about what I was doing and learning in the program and will continue to be responsible for sales to meet the targets discussed with our to-be-investors.
So the plans went….
The schedule of the three-month-long program was pretty busy. There were no empty slots, we had to hit the iron until it was hot. This is also typical in the startup world. At that very moment, you have to be there and make the most of it.
Mentor madness – Why is it mad?
For over three full weeks, I met – along with the other 10 startups which participated in the program – with more than 60 mentors. During this “Mentor Madness” period, each startup could spend 30 min with a mentor: we pitched them and got feedback on the spot.
Before the mentor meetings, we received the mentors’ CVs and acquainted ourselves with the mentor’s professional CVs and publications. This helped us to make the most out of the meetings. We were not allowed to introduce ourselves as the mentor also received background information about us, so there was no time to waste. We had to jump into pitching and asking as many questions as possible to get feedback. I had to write a memo about all 60 meetings and was requested to follow up professionally on all action items.
There were many mentors whose background was pretty much irrelevant to my business, but it didn’t really matter, as we had to design our pitch in a way that it had to be easily understood by anyone – similar to the situation when we pitch our customers – and collect feedback. I met 3-4 mentors whose advice was super valuable to me.
Maximize feedback from mentor sessions:
I got the following key takeaways from my Mentor Madness experience:
- Preparation is key for every meeting if you want to get results
- Don’t be shy to ask for advice and referrals
- People with seemingly irrelevant professional backgrounds can give the best feedback for your pitch and value proposition
- There is very little chance that somebody else will build a competing product, so expose your idea, product and strategy to as many people as possible
- Oh, and don’t forget to write a memo and to follow up. This was the hardest part for me.
During the program, I also had regular discussions with Dhritiman Hui the managing director of the Techstars Singapore program. He kept challenging me about the scalability of our chatbot product, which had – and still has – many customized features. Based on his – and the mentors’ feedback – our team started to create a new, more scalable product, CHEQ. At the closing event, the DemoDay of the program, I presented CHEQ to the investors. CHEQ has since grown up and by now it contributes a bigger portion of our revenue stream in Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, with more geographies in the pipeline.
I bring my 7 years of entrepreneurial experience to the STRT Launchpad program as a Resident Entrepreneur. I expect, that many of the teams who join our program will change the original idea or will come up with a brand new product, as a result of the feedback they receive from us, the mentors, and experts during the program. Come with big ambitions, and with an open mind: be ready to learn and re-build your product.
Talk-A-Bot Founders and Andrea Kozma at Techstars, Singapore 2018
Entrepreneur in Residence at STRT Launchpad
Talk-A-Bot Co-Founder and CEO