Do Your Homework

March 13, 2015

Startup events are usually headlined by superstar judges or coaches, experienced serial entrepreneurs, angels and VCs who have travelled from around the world to see your startup on stage or for 1on1’s. They have little time to give but they possess a wealth of knowledge you can benefit from, only if you can tap into it. Yes, it’s your job to make sure you’ll get the most value out of their expertise. That means, you have to do your homework.

Here are our 3 tips’n’tricks to make the most out of the few seconds or minutes you get to spend with them:

#1 Know your business and its challenges

This is the least you should do to be prepared. If you can’t manage this step, don’t even bother showing up. The coaches can’t help you if you aren’t able to articulate what your product, business model, value proposition, target market, and metrics are, among other things.

You also have to know what your current challenges are because they are a good, concrete starting point when asking for help. Know exactly the resources, knowledge and activities needed to get your startup to power through its next milestone. Maybe your team is missing expertise in marketing or finance or you need more information about a potential target market to base your assumptions on.

How to implement: Know your business, know your challenges. If you don’t, figure them out.

#2 Know the coaches

When you see a team roll to an event holding a neat stack of paper with the pictures of each judge and notes on them, you always get a warm fuzzy feeling (with a little bit of creepy mixed in). These guys went the extra mile and familiarized themselves with the people who they are presenting to, and you know they’re going to rock the event.

You don’t need to find out their daily routines or SSN’s, but you’d be surprised how useful a LinkedIn printout and a cursory Googling of each coach can be. Knowing the coaches’ areas of expertise and specialities helps you figure out the challenges each coach can help you with. By doing your homework, you can find out surprising things that wouldn’t have come up by themselves, be sure of that. For example, a social media marketing -oriented coach can have a background as a systems administrator, which is a invaluable piece of info.

How to implement: Find out who the judges and coaches are. Check their LinkedIn profiles and Google them to find out what they look like and what are their areas of expertise, what is their current and past work experience, and what are their hobbies and subjects of interest.

#3 Prepare questions

Nothing’s sexier than skipping the foreplay and jumping straight into action, right? The same applies to coaching sessions at Startup Sauna local events and to that 5 minutes you stole from your local VC’s managing partner by running beside them on the way to their next meeting. If you’ve implemented #1 and #2, you’ll notice this will be several orders of magnitude easier.

Having familiarized yourself with the coach beforehand, there’s no need for long introductions and you can go quickly to the point. If, by some amazing feat, the coach knows your business beforehand (*cough* find out their e-mail and send them your one-pager and pitch deck), the introductions will be even shorter and sweeter.

If you’ve prepared tailored questions to fit the areas of expertise of each coach and your business objectives and challenges, you can skip the “What can I help you with?” -phase and move straight to the “Here’s what I think you should do..” -phase.

Maybe the coach has built a company with a similar business model to your startup’s, or they have invested in the market/industry you plan to operate in. They might serve on the board of a corporation you want to partner with or want as a client, or maybe they are an enthusiastic sailor and you’re building a product for boats. The possibilities are endless, if you’re prepared. Don’t waste their time with general questions and trying to find common ground.

How to implement: Figure out what are the challenges of your business the coach can help with and prepare tailored (like Savile Row -tailored) questions for them to jump on. Go from wasting everyone’s time to making it rain valuable feedback and insights.

Thanks for several coaches, like Moaffak Ahmed, for providing their insight into how startups should prepare for coaching sessions. You can meet Moaffak at our event in Kiev and many more of our coaches during the program. There are two ways to apply to this spring’s Startup Sauna acceleration program, taking place from May 4th until June 4th: by attending a local event or by filling out the open application.