The majority of people that know me well, know that Tab (then Subscrib) started in the basement of Google Campus. We openly talk about how the startup ecosystem at Campus was a major catalyst that helped us gain our initial momentum. But, we also had something else that set us apart from the crowd. We received a lot of mentoring often.
Tab had a very interesting start. The first consumer to use the service was Carlos Espinal, one of the partners at Seedcamp, which is Europe’s leading micro-seed investment and mentoring program. Carlos told us to keep thinking outside the box and to abstractly paraphrase him “build a company, not just a feature”. He also told us that we should apply to Seedcamp to benefit from the mentoring and network that comes with it.
1st Mentoring Sessions
We decided, just a month in to working on the idea (with no real product, beyond a paper-based prototype that was working well), that we would apply to Seedcamp Lisbon. A few days later we received an email that we were selected, but we had absolutely no idea what to expect.
Seedcamp Lisbon was our first real experience with full-on mentoring. We had about 45 minutes with each group of mentors (such as investors, entrepreneurs, marketers, designers, developers — people that have done it all before). We would start with our elevator pitch in case one of the mentors missed (or couldn’t remember) our full pitch [not what we're doing now, but included to show what a two-month old startup looks like pre-mentoring] from the presentations in the morning.
Once formalities were out of the way we started taking questions, which was our first mistake. We should have kept the mentors on topic, focusing on what our issues and needs were today, not tomorrow or in the future. If they went off-topic, we should have politely brought them back. Our second mistake was asking for their opinion rather than asking to hear how they tackled a similar issue or problem from their experience. This would have helped us separate the signal from noise of all the different mentors’ opinions. Another useful tip we received just before we started was to have one person in the team talk, while the other takes notes; this is extremely hard to do if you’re a sole founder.
Seedcamp Lisbon was an amazing adrenaline rush; only a couple of months from starting Tab, sitting down and getting real uncensored feedback from an array of mentors that we would have never been able to meet without Seedcamp. We didn’t end up winning Seedcamp Lisbon, but we walked away knowing exactly what we needed to do next.
2nd Mentoring Sessions
We spent a couple months after Seedcamp Lisbon building our minimum viable product and working on our vision for Tab, while keeping the mentoring advice at the back of our head. We then decided to apply for Seedcamp London and we were invited to come back for a second time — just two months after Seedcamp Lisbon.
We knew what worked and what didn’t work at Seedcamp Lisbon, so we were going to be ready this time around. We read up on some approaches other startups took during mentoring. Our two favourites were writing down our main issues on cards and putting them on the table and asking mentors if they experienced these issues in any of their current or previous roles and if so, how did they solve them. This allowed us to maximise and focus the entire mentoring session on our issues rather than letting mentors control the session by asking random questions that tickle their fancy. We walked away from Seedcamp London with even more feedback to fuel our next iteration cycle.
3rd Mentoring Sessions
We officially joined the Seedcamp family in January as one of the winning teams, which means we were invited to participate in the Seedcamp America Trip, which took us to New York, Boston, San Francisco and Silicon Valley. In each city, not only did we meet with investors, founders and successful startups, but we had mentoring sessions as well. What was different this time around was the American twist or perspective of the mentors — this allowed us to quickly see how different the feedback and ecosystems are in the USA.
Between November and March we had the privilege of attending mentoring sessions with over 100 mentors from all over the world. This allowed us to think outside the box, question what we’re doing, question what others are doing and build a company rather than just a feature. We’ve been lucky to have the support of Seedcamp from our early days, but not everyone is so fortunate. The alternative is to openly talk about your product and vision from the early days and build your own network that you can tap. With each twist and turn, no matter if it’s a business or product decision, reach out to your network and ask for open and honest advice — write it all down — review it — and do it over and over again.
My only personal regret is that I haven’t tapped my network enough, but the truth is that people are generally happy to help if you ask and you’ll be surprised at what lengths they will go to help you and ask nothing in return.