July 6, 2022
We've seen this many times. There is a good idea, a team with good skills and expertise, and a mentor who follows and helps the team develop. One thing is missing though: the time. Why is it important as a startup founder to budget your time well and how can you plan with what you usually have the least?
A few weeks ago, CEU iLab launched a new series of talks where iLab mentors can get to know each other better to share their mentoring experiences. The first session was hosted by Márton Báti, one of our key mentors, who has seen many times that the lack of time commitment is the reason for the team's failure. How frustrating this is for a mentor is a matter of opinion, but overall, stagnating at one place, and staying at the idea level is not an ideal situation for either the mentor or the team. It is a long way from there.
But why is it that, even though it is clear to everyone that there is no return without the investment of time, this is a recurring problem in the life of startups?
Interestingly, almost at the same time as the mentor brunch, one of the iLab teams, Fintechnologies, announced that they no longer wished to continue with the acceleration program. Founder Bence Damjanovics said that they had not assessed exactly how much time and capacity they needed.
„It’s not because we don’t believe in the idea. We did not kill the idea. We just could not allocate the necessary resources, and the time and we were stuck somewhere in the ideation. We underestimated the necessary time that we should have put into progress.
Giving up on things is hard, but admitting it is part of life. In general, this journey was influential. We learned a lot about ourselves, from the other people, we learned how to manage our time and what are our boundaries. All in all, it was educational.”
The Fintechnologies story is not unique, but it is exceptional in one respect: they admitted relatively early on that they cannot grow without a time commitment. This is a brave and forward-looking step. But what if a team cannot make such a realization? Maybe a mentor can help?
The time commitment issue comes up many times in the mentoring process. It’s important to note that the mentor is not there to decide for the founders. However, he or she can share his/her advice and experience, knowing that it is the founder’s autonomous decision if they accept it or not. What are mentors’ insights and what to consider when it comes to time commitment are summarized in six points based on the mentor brunch.
In an ideal case, founders should commit all their potential to building the startup. However, in many cases, this is something they cannot do, due to financial or other considerations. They might need to balance their 9-5 jobs and their entrepreneurial commitments. It is possible to build a company this way, however, the security of the corporate job might negatively impact the founder’s risk-taking potential. When all your stakes are in the startup, you tend to be more motivated to not give up and keep on going despite initial failures.
It might also be one of the tasks of the mentor to help the founding team identify successes. Success is not necessarily something determining, as first-time founders might imagine. If they define unachievable goals, they might very easily get frustrated and give up on the entire project. This is where the mentor might come in and help them define easily identifiable, measurable, and attainable goals, breaking up the rough and long process of going to market into small steps that can be completed in 2-3 weeks.
Which one are you? The entrepreneurial type or the employee type? Three factors shape which type an individual belongs to. The first is an inborn aptitude the individual brings, which is made up of several factors that help them on the entrepreneurial journey, such as risk-taking, perseverance, adaptability, and self-confidence. The second is the personal experience the founder brings to the table that is made up of both personal and professional experiences. For example, if somebody is coming from an entrepreneurial family, that might be a huge advantage. The third factor is the knowledge and hard skills that the founder acquired over the years. The mentor’s role in exploring these personality types might be instrumental.
This way the mentor, as an outsider in a supportive role, might help the founders better understand themselves and their role in the founding team.
The mentor could also help founders understand their internal motivations and drives. Is the startup an escape from the reality of corporate life or is there a real commitment to create something new? There is nothing wrong with any kind of motivation, however, there should be an understanding of who is doing what and why, as this might substantially impact the roles and decisions within the team.
The mentor should also clarify where the founders are in their life cycle and where the company is in the company life cycle. There is a huge difference between first-time founders and serial entrepreneurs and between an idea-stage company and a company with a product-market fit. The differences in the life cycle also mean that there is no standardized process that applies to any team. The mentor should always adapt to the needs of the founders they work with.
There is no recipe for when the founders should give up their corporate jobs to fully concentrate on the startup. However, a market-ready product and some sales can well be considered milestones to start thinking about committing fully to the startup.
The CEU iLab incubation program makes entrepreneurship more accessible by providing mentoring, know-how, network and a community for high-impact teams. All of this in a world-class environment, at a world-class university.Apply