One of the biggest draws for early-stage entrepreneurs to participate in the Unreasonable Institute is the opportunity to connect before, during, and after the program with successful mentors and investors who have donated their time in an effort to see our ventures succeed. The advice these mentors contribute is central to our ability to create an unfair advantage for the 270+ entrepreneurs we’ve worked with over the years as they navigate the challenges of growing their ventures and scaling their impact.

If there’s one constant in starting a business, it’s inconsistent feedback. Tweet This Quote

As the VP of Mentorship at Unreasonable Institute, I’ve helped facilitate a number of conversations and relationships between mentors and entrepreneurs. Consequently, I’ve also seen firsthand how this opportunity can quickly become overwhelming for entrepreneurs. With so many great minds contributing to how you can improve your business, the feedback almost always varies to some degree. This results in a pathway that can seem less defined.

“Mentor Whiplash” a term made famous by VC investor Fred Wilson, is often used as a way of voicing the directional confusion you might feel after receiving conflicting feedback on every subject—from your go-to-market strategy, to financing options, to determining the necessary features of your minimum viable product.

In conversation with mentors, you’re simply collecting data from trusted sources that will help you make the end decisions. Tweet This Quote

But I’m not a fan of the word “whiplash,” even though it’s common in the startup lexicon. It’s negative language for one of the most important skills an entrepreneur can master—collecting data and interpreting the right signals. If there’s one constant in starting a business, it’s inconsistent feedback. What really matters is how you decide what feedback to act upon. Below are three tips to help navigate “mentor whiplash.”

1. See feedback as a series of data points

First, strike the concept of mentor whiplash from your vocabulary. Rather, you’re simply collecting data from trusted sources that will help formulate the end decisions you make and take to market.

It’s likely you’re meeting with a mentor who has been extremely successful, is seen as a thought-leader in their field, or maybe just blows your mind with their level of insight. But it’s important to remember their advice for your business is formulated by their own experience, from a moment in time when this advice worked. It doesn’t mean it’s going to work for your business now. Though quality data points, they’re still only part of the constant stream of data you’re tracking about your business.

2. Put that data into a framework

Think of feedback about your venture as the top of a funnel, with the bottom of the funnel being the course of action you ultimately embark upon. Each conversation you share with a mentor goes into the top of that funnel. As you begin to notice recurring themes in your conversations, move that feedback down the funnel.

Collect as much information as you can from mentors, but always trust your gut in making the final decision. Tweet This Quote

Another great structure Fred Wilson suggests is to create a spreadsheet. After each mentor conversation, note who you spoke with, input the feedback they provided, and add any other important notes. The more conversations you share, the higher the probability that patterns or signals in the data will start to emerge.

3. Trust your gut

As you gather more data points with each conversation, it’s your responsibility to weigh it against all of the other feedback you have been receiving. Collect as much information as you can, but trust your gut in making the final decision. At the end of the day, the decision to make any changes is still up to you. It’s your company. As long-time mentor and friend to the Unreasonable community, Pascal Finette is fond of saying, “There are no road maps.”

Ultimately, the market is your best mentor. Tweet This Quote

At Unreasonable, we work hard to facilitate the dozens upon dozens of mentor conversations our entrepreneurs share. But ultimately, the most important thing you can do is test your assumptions on the market. A hundred trusted mentor conversations is no substitute for the feedback you’ll receive from watching actual customers interact with your product. That’s your best mentor after all.

Will Butler

Author Will Butler

Will operates as the VP of Mentorship at the Unreasonable Institute, managing and growing their mentor network, matching mentors to entrepreneurs, and running all mentor-entrepreneur events. Will has worked extensively in Boulder's tech community, spending much of the past few years developing solutions to facilitate sustainable economic development in emerging tourism markets. An avid adventurer, in his spare time Will hosts an interview series in conjunction with Outside Magazine that explores the correlations between adventure and entrepreneurship.

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