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TechX mentors: a friendly face in the unknown

19 June 2020
Written by Iain Lees

As a start-up company, things aren’t exactly easy. As soon as you hit the GO button, you’re on a steep learning curve. To quote the late, great Rik Mayall, “Steep? It’s effing vertical!”

I’ve already joked about my fears of mushrooms, wasps, public speaking and heights in previous blogs (oh man, a combination of all four would be hell – new phobia right there), but the biggest fear I have, that impacts me on a near daily basis – the unknown.

As a business founder, especially with your first one, you’re constantly venturing into uncharted territory. The “what if’s” become exponential, and there’s any number of potholes, pitfalls and dead ends to avoid on your journey. There’s no roadmap for it, no genuine “seven simple steps to being an overnight millionaire™” no matter what book, course or seminar someone tries to sell you.

That’s why start-up founders need a bit of guidance, preferably from a friendly face that’s been through a similar process. The TechX team have built that into their accelerator programme, setting up the opportunity for people to join in with the founders as mentors through the 16-week period, and potentially beyond.

The process is nice and easy: potential mentors and mentees sit down over a coffee and have an informal 15 minute chat. Then the mentees change seats and chat with another potential mentor.

Over an afternoon you’ll have lots of chats and lots of coffee.

After you’ve got to know each other a little bit more, you can each decide if you’d like to buddy up, and the TechX team play matchmakers and help make it happen.

We chatted to potential mentors with a range of expertise: investment, engineering, finance, intellectual property, academia, recruitment, software… among many others. Mainly people that just wanted to help support start-ups. We were then fortunate to be matched with quite a number of mentors, and made the strategic call to buddy up closely with the two who best matched our business position, and another three that were happy to give us a little help with the unknown if it came up.

Our two key mentors couldn’t have been more helpful or professional. Two very experienced people: one that had built businesses in the energy service company side (which is what we are) and another that had managed operating companies (which is who we sell to). Both had great experience with the investment community, and from both sides of the fence.

Importantly for us, they both got what we were doing, and saw the value straight away. I think one of the key aspects for our business was to determine that we were on the right track. It’s very easy to lose perspective when you are solely focused on your own special project – thankfully, neither of them looked at our business and said we had an ugly baby.

A good sign for us that we could trust our mentors was that they didn’t ask about our trade secrets or IP, and where those subjects may have come up, they initiated the signing of a non-disclosure agreement.

The support, advice, suggestions, sense-checks, and general helpful chats were all hugely valuable, and we can’t be more thankful for such senior people to take time out to help us. We tried hard not to take up too much of their valuable time – these folks were helping us, not a free resource for us to abuse.

From the multiple sit-downs we had with our mentors, they helped us look into:

• Our company’s structure and people/roles
• Business planning/cashflow
• Technology and intellectual property review
• QHSE systems
• Routes to market (including export)
• The pros/cons and timing of investment
• The pitfalls of potential exit strategies

Just as we have to find a way to honour the efforts of the wonderful TechX team, we need to make sure that we haven’t wasted the time of our mentors – this motivates us as we continuously build on the good foundations they helped put in place to make our business a success.

Want to find out more about becoming a TechX Mentor? Join us on 1st July for Mentor Con 2.0 – sign up here

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