All of us have experienced a fresh start at a new place of work. Many new faces, a new culture or many new expressions are just a few of the difficulties a newbie at work has to face. In these situations most of us will have hoped for a helping hand such as a mentor or buddy to show them the ropes.
The good news for all startups participating in the weXelerate Accelerator program is that we have a mentoring program where startups can network with more than 40 mentors. How can a mentor help you along the way? And why is being a mentor rewarding work? I have met with mentor Marco Quége from Mercuri Urval and his mentee Franz Weber from batch 2 startup labs.ai.
weX: Marco, Franz, welcome. Is having a mentoring program as part of the accelerator program a good idea?
Marco: Yes definitely. People or human capital as I like to call them are the most important asset for any company. Unfortunately this is the asset that gets overlooked most of the time or looked at only at the end. The initial focus is still a lot on finance and sales. In my opinion companies and especially startups should dedicate tons of attention to their staff since the “big bang momentum”, making sure they all share the same vision and ideas as well as values in the long run. I always ask mentees in the first meeting if they would start the business again with the same team around. A truly provocative questions, I admit, but a question that gets them thinking and focusing and then they make the necessary changes or get their decisions confirmed. Either way a move in the right direction.
Franz: For us as mentees it was a great chance to think about ourselves and where we want to go. Sometimes it is just outsiders asking questions or questioning certain decisions or ways of work that bring you forward.
weX: How does the mentoring process work?
Marco: Well, the weXelerate startup team sends us an executive summary of startups for mentoring at the beginning of each new batch. We meet with the startups almost always at the offices of Mercuri Urval. The first meeting is all about in what phase the startup is and the major challenges in the field of human capital. I would love to do more, but I can only offer mentoring in the human resources sector. That’s what I know! I also need to emphasise that changes are not made by mentors. We ask questions and point out certain risks or problems. At the end of the day the founders make the decisions. In case of the weXelerate program the mentoring program ends after the 4 months of the batch, but in some cases we continue our work as for instance with labs.ai.
weX: You do the mentoring on top of your job at Mercuri Urval?
Marco: No, I’m leading the practice of startups, new business and spin-offs in our company here in Austria and the mentoring activity is automatically an important part of my job. I work with founders, co-founders and investors most of the time supporting them with topics around executive search, expert recruiting and talent advisory. Usually we have 12-15 mentees per year. I see them regularly about once a month for an hour.
weX: Why did you decide to become a mentor?
Marco: I like the idea of sharing my knowledge and expertise very much. By sharing I can learn a lot! As a company you are very visible. You can show to the market what fields you are working in and what is possible to achieve. It’s a win-win situation. Furthermore I truly believe in economic development through an on-going startup activity worldwide. Founders and co-founders are the most important agents of the economic development as they generate jobs.
weX: How did you experience the mentoring program?
Franz: As mentioned earlier, mentoring is a very valuable part of the whole program. We were assigned two mentors, Marco and Ben Ruschin. We have been happy with both of them. It was quite interesting that two mentors could work in such different ways. I got along with Marco instantly, quite closely after meeting him for the first time we set up a meeting. Ben is also a great mentor, but he is travelling a lot, which makes in person meetings quite hard. As I said, with Marco we set up regularly meeting from the beginning. When the batch came to an end, I set up an advisory board with Ben and him. Therefore we are still in regular contact.
weX: Did you have to make many changes after looking closely at your business during the mentoring program?
Franz: Well, we are quite a small company and therefore we are always asking ourselves in which direction we want to be going. A recent example is that we went to New York in December and took part in the StepUSA startup week. There we got the feedback that our idea and the chatbot platform EDDI were quite popular, but also that it is not as scalable as it could be. We are currently working on an online platform solution, where the program scales with the users. We want to build a “GitHub for chatbots”, a platform where users can use our open source software for free and then in the long run becoming paying customers on the EDDI platform. Such topics will of course be discussed with our mentors to find out if there are any flaws we should think of. I can only advise startups to get help from mentors, a view from an outsider can be really valuable no matter what stage you are in.
weX: Thanks for the insights, I wish you all the best for your future projects.
Franz, Marco: Thanks.