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The Importance of Trust and Mentorship for Startups

Part of me feels compelled to invoke the folktale of the frog and the scorpion. You know the story: The scorpion seeks a ride across the river, and the frog refuses, fearing the scorpion’s poisonous sting. The scorpion pleads, “You can trust me.” And the frog acquiesces. But as the frog bears the scorpion across the water, he feels the sting. And as the poison spreads through the frog’s body, paralyzing his limbs, he asks the scorpion why he stung him as now, they both will drown. “It’s in my nature,” says the scorpion.

Honestly, I’m not sure whose nature I really want to allude to as poisonous here, in a day full of accusations and denials in the tech investment world. And while the tale of the scorpion and the frog is perhaps a cliched cautionary one, the story seems appropriate nonetheless.

Because frogs and scorpions and nature and allegory aside, the question of trust is an important one for entrepreneurs and investors (and journalists).

On Monday morning (many hours before any angels showed up at a restaurant in San Francisco – and I think across the country in Boston), hacker angel Gabriel Weinberg posted on his blog a step-by-step process for first-time entrepreneurs to follow in order to get someone to be their mentor.

  1. Do your research.
  2. Make an intro. (Weinberg suggests an introductory email that says who you are, what you do – both your personal history as well as your company story – and that you’re looking for some advice).
  3. Keep the conversation going
  4. Offer equity.

It’s not a set of instructions on how to woo an investor (and I’m not doing justice to the post so go read it in its entirety), but rather a guide to helping secure the help of someone who, in Weinberg’s words, “has been there, done that” – someone with domain knowledge. As Weinberg has written previously, having a solid mentor can be one of the factors that truly makes or breaks a startup. And it’s not that an investor can’t fill that role. Ideally of course, you want to have investors, particularly at the early stage, who will similarly offer you advice and guidance, not simply cash.

Ideally, you want to seek the guidance – the investment, whether it’s financial or intellectual capital – of someone you trust. Because as story of the scorpion and the frog suggests, it can be a long trip across that river.

Photo credits: Flickr user Mike Board

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