Startup Mistakes - Navigating Mentor Feedback

Having mentors is important in all parts of life. The startup world is no exception as you do not have the luxury of spending time making trivial mistakes or operating aimlessly.

Startup Mistakes - Navigating Mentor Feedback
Startup Mistakes - Navigating Mentor Feedback

Having mentors is important in all parts of life. Whether they are formally or informally described as a mentor you need trusted people that can provide thoughts and constructive feedback on what you do. The startup world is no exception, in fact, I would say it is one of the most important places to have good mentorship in place as you do not have the luxury of spending time making trivial mistakes or operating aimlessly.

Along my startup journey, we joined a startup accelerator that was structured around having role-specific mentors. This includes mentors specific to things like Finance, Lead Generation, UI/UX, Sales, HR, Customer Experience, and more. All of this can be immensely useful but we ran into a very serious problem. Too much feedback.

Deferring to the 'Expert'

When we first joined our startup accelerator we were of course excited. We met with all the different types of mentors to get a sense of each other and get some early feedback. This was of course a useful process. But, what ended up happening, and continued to happen in the early going, was that we would almost blindly accept the suggestions we were given.

As we were fairly new to running a business, we kept making the assumption that these mentors knew so much more than us and would defer to them more often than not. One very obvious case of this hurting us was with the Product Management mentor. His biggest push was for early structuring of roadmaps that looked as far ahead as a year. He had processes on how to go about defining this structure and my cofounder and I forced ourselves through this process thinking it was the right idea. This probably amounted to several days of work.

We overplanned and wasted days of work
Too much planning can be just as bad as not enough

It was definitely not the right decision for us. Our startup was too small and far too invalidated to be defining roadmaps further than a month or two out. Not only that, it was really against the mindset and structure me and my cofounder had. I left a slow, plodding corporate job to avoid this type of rigid processing. We were getting great early feedback from our customers and were building our product in a very fluid manner and that was working much better for us.

The correct course of action is obvious in hindsight but is something that I feel is hard to teach. You have to trust your instincts and choices first and foremost and then take mentor advice as a data point instead of a truth. The stronger your relationship with that mentor the more you can weigh their opinion, but don't blindly take advice.

Conflicting Feedback

As an extension of deferring too much to mentors, you run into a slightly more complicated problem. What happens when mentors start conflicting with each other?

This came up and still comes up a lot with our marketing language. Each mentor has very specific expectations on what they see and read when hitting a landing page and these expectations often conflict wildly with each other. One mentor would say that the hook is not emotional enough and then the next would say people don't want emotion they want descriptiveness. We even had a mentor make a suggestion, which we implemented directly and then a couple weeks later they said "this is bad, change it to [this]", and the 'this' was effectively what we had before. In this case the answer to the landing page hook is probably somewhere in the middle and we needed to trust ourselves more on what our audience specifically would want and less on generalist feedback.

So how do we deal with conflicting opinions moving forward from that? It's effectively the same as the above section. We have to trust our instincts as the primary motivator and then weigh each mentors conflicting opinions on how close they are to the problem space and how much we trust them in that instance. It would be nice to have a unified front that you can readily trust but I doubt that is the reality anyone sees.

Prioritizing Your Feedback

Chatting with mentors can often provide an onslaught of feedback in a short amount of time. A single 30-minute meeting could theoretically spawn weeks of work, and this gets compounded when you have several specialized mentors. Prioritizing that feedback alongside what you are already doing can be a major challenge.

This is the culmination of the two previous sections in that getting to the point where you can prioritize feedback well requires having a strong understanding of your mentorship relationship, where their expertise lies, and how you weigh their opinion above others.

How do you prioritize mentor feedback?
Prioritizing feedback from anyone is always challenging

Often times a mentor may feel the need to always provide feedback and make suggestions as that is the basis of the relationship. That feedback could be about minor things but they may describe it on the same tier as something more major. Building a shared language ends up being an important part of this process as it allowed us to more accurately identify what the mentors deem important. From there it is again the process of weighing that feedback against your own internal mandates. We have found that if we are ever on the fence, it is a useful to bounce the feedback off another one of the mentors, especially one that usually has conflicting advice to the other.

Eventually our mentorship relationships evolved from us asking 'what should we do?' to 'we are trying this, what do you think?' and that mentality switch has enabled us to manage all of the potentially conflicting feedback and prioritizing it more easily.


As you can see, all these points effectively boil down to a version of "how do you weigh feedback from trusted sources?" Building trust and identifying likely value from a mentor does not feel like something that can be taught, it is a feeling-out process. One that can be immensely valuable. However, trusting ourselves more immediately was an important lesson for avoiding the startup mistake of navigating mentor feedback.