It’s almost a year since I joined Techstars. I went to Croatia in Summer for my best friend’s bachelor party. Many friends and college colleagues who I haven’t seen for a while gathered and so we had a lot of things to talk about — who was working where, how were they doing, how’s professional life treating them and the transition after college, what’s the best part of their job etc.
The question that I had no problems answering was — what was my key takeaway from working abroad, in Techstars, so far. What was the thing I appreciated the most, the thing that made a difference day in and day out. The answer is without any doubt — having a good mentor.
During the last year, my role within Techstars changed, along with the duties and responsibilities, but luckily the mentor stayed the same. From his perspective, he had the opportunity to see me transform, to push me forward and point out the things that I need to work on, but from my perspective I had a chance to be constantly guided, objectively and timely, to ask questions and seek help.
These are the reasons why having a good mentor is a really important thing:
Your mentor believes in you. Your mentor took you onboard when you asked, saw something valuable in you and said “ok, I’ll give this kid a chance”. Through your good and bad days, he stands beside you, understands and believes in you.
Sometimes people that come straight out of college are generalists and, even though they got the job, they are not necessarily perfect for that job. Maybe they have slightly different interests, maybe their skills and knowledge can be used better in a different role within the company, within the sector.
Mentor is there to observe, to see what you do and how you do it, to talk to your colleagues and get feedback, to talk to you and guide you — suggest different paths in order to utilise your skills to the fullest.
He is also there to contemplate your career steps with you — with his experience, he can surely help and advise you.
Constant iterations and improvements
Obviously, your mentor is a person you will be working with on most days. He is more senior, knows the industry and has extensive experience. Throughout the weeks, he will observe you and on a weekly basis you’ll have feedback sessions — what was good and what could’ve been better. Real, hands on cases, in detail.
Going home after those feedback sessions and thinking about it makes you learn a lot and prepare you for the similar challenges when they occur next time. Through it, you improve constantly and at a fast pace.
My mentor and the person without whom I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today is Tak Lo. A true operator and professional, a real leader with a clear list of values he stands by, simple but brutally efficient, the most dedicated, focused, mission driven person I know, ex-consultant and ex-military dude. A genuinely nice guy who is ready to help anyone and always #givefirst — just ask the Techstars Hacksociates throughout generations.
Through the last year, the things Tak taught me and forced me to think about are numerous — from digging deep into my strengths and weaknesses, understanding and dealing with them, to the decision making frameworks and thought processes, priority ranking, how to handle stress and difficult situations to pure leadership skills, how to manage people, how to observe and act accordingly. Obviously, I will be working on a lot of these, but without having someone to push me in that direction, all those things would be left for me to self-discover — it would take time and would be completely inefficient.
Tomorrow, my mentor is leaving London. After spending the last three years there and establishing Techstars London as a top European accelerator alongside Jon Bradford, he is returning to Hong Kong. To say that he will be missed in London is an understatement as sentences like “everybody loves Tak” and “who doesn’t know Tak?” show how much people among the London and EU startup ecosystem respect him and the impact he made.
Tak, I will really miss you — short espresso shots in the morning, direct, no bullshit conversation style, good taste in wine, your honest curiosity and open-mindedness combined with a “jebem patak” Croatian curse words. I can only be grateful and happy for the given opportunity — it has been a pleasure to share two cohorts with you, Sir!
Tak and me after the Techstars London Demo Day, October 13th 2015.
Eventually, I’ll come visit you in Hong Kong or you’ll take your family for a trip to Croatia where papa Vladimir will join us as well — we’ll make something happen either way!
–Written on November 2nd , 2015 by Marko Srsan