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My Focus on Listening When Mentoring Startups

To get yourself heard in the start-up world, it pays to do a little listening.
Offices of a Jerusalem start-up (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Offices of a Jerusalem start-up (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Yesterday, I was at The Library Tel Aviv for a series of back to back mentoring sessions with startups. Rackspace Hosting sponsors me to do this, in the context of my mission to ‪#‎BeHelpful‬.

Art for Rackspace by
Art for Rackspace by

Frankly, don’t like calling mentoring sessions “mentoring.” Office Hours tends to work better, but these are really listening sessions with some feedback.

The listening part is critical. Half of the meeting is really just listening, watching, and processing a discussion.

I never give advise; but I do share insights, feedback, and my belief sets. I always set the expectation on the advise side when they side. Advise comes from on-going discussions. I don’t do insta-pundit nor do I pretend to be an expert. And if I don’t know something, I will tell them so.

Having done hundreds and hundred of these not only since I have been here in Israel, but in my previous lives, I see some patterns that I want to share.

First and foremost, I am more interested in you and less about your company.

Yesterday, I met an IDF F-16 pilot, a team who worked at a major U.S. retailer who has an eCommerce R & D lab in Israel where they spent 10 years working together, and two teams who are already scaling in some areas of retail simply by organic growth. I was less interested in their scaling.

I was more impressed with the way they expressed their humility and gratitude for what was going on in their startup.

Here’s some tips. Your mileage may vary….

1. Start off with introducing yourself (yourselves). Most of you in Israel were in IDF, or came from another company. Tell me about where you are from, especially if you came from another part of the world. I am also interested in how you met, how you came together and why you went off and are doing what you are doing.

2. Give a very high level overview something you recognized that you intend to solve and build something from.

3. Share what inspired you. How you came up with the idea, what you did to initially test it, and even some feedback you are getting.

4. Do all of this before you open your computer to go through your presentation.

5. When you open your computer, make sure your keyboard is clean and make sure the screen is not full of grease, dirt and thumbprints. If you don’t keep a tidy house, you may not keep a tidy business.

6. Don’t assume I know a whole lot. I really don’t. The value I try to add is simply that I am new to what you are doing, and that having done this for 36 years, I base my insights on patterns and trends that I see by doing just what I do.

7. When you conclude your presentation, go back to the start and (briefly) repeat your vision.

8. Then, ask for feedback.

Find others to listen to you. It does not matter if you are wrong or right about what you are doing.

Don’t expect everyone to “get” what you are doing.

If you are sincere in what you believe to be true, then it’s more about creating your own reality and less about building a business.

The business part will come from that perfect vortex when belief sets, vision, and reality will all come together.

On a personal note, I am more interested in smaller startups who get things right, figure stuff out along the way, and are open to discovery. It’s in the later where I often find the real magic and substance to come together, and dreams become realities and real businesses indeed.

Thank you Amit Kachvan for hosting me. You really have some wonderful teams incubating and building something special.

And the view from your offices of the Tel Aviv beaches and Mediterranean are hard to beat.

Rackspace art by Gapingvoid

About the Author
Alan Weinkrantz is a Tech PR / Startup Communications advisor to Israeli and U.S. companies, and is the Brand Ambassador and Senior Advisor for James Brehm & Associates, one of the leading IoT (Internet of Things) strategy and consulting firms.
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