For a social entrepreneur there are few things better than someone who believes in them and their idea… Well, maybe someone with money to spare who believes in them and their idea…

Short of that, having a trusted, impartial, experienced advisor from who they can learn both professionally and personally is perhaps a key ingredient for their long-term success. More often than not this role is performed by a mentor.

Yet, in the last year concerns around the “over-coaching” of social entrepreneurs have come up in several conversations with different stakeholders. Should then social entrepreneurs stop taking part in mentoring and coaching programs and get on with their job instead?

We have asked Oliver Marchand, CEO and founder of Carbon Delta and one of the 12 participants in our (mentoring) impact BOOST program, to share with us his experience and learnings.

Why did you decide to take part in the mentoring program impact BOOST?

Our Start-up Carbon Delta is in a market-entry phase where we really need the type of coaching and networking provided by the BOOST program. It is always a long way to your first customer, but with an innovative B2B product, it can be a long, long way. We are at this journey so by joining such a program we benefit from the given support.

How would you describe the experience of taking part in the program?

The program was set up very professionally, there was always someone available to talk to and the whole experience depends on the mentor-startup relationship. The instructions were always crystal clear and well presented.

How was the relationship with your mentor? How did he help you, if at all?

We very quickly became comfortable with each other and started a fruitful process in the very first meeting. Here it was very helpful that our mentor had his office very close to our and we could easily meet for coffee or a meeting.

Did you develop any skills and/or improve aspects of your company (and yourself) thanks to your interaction with your mentor?

Our mentor’s enthusiasm for our project was always very helpful and fun, especially at a time when the pressure on all founders was increasing. But most notably, he has motivated us to develop a faster and straightforward with the demo of our product when we took a trip to the COP21 climate conference in Paris. This strategic move has led us to greatly simplify the construction of the first version of our product.
This very point has reduced production time of our initial product by weeks, if not months. I would consider this the single most central aspect of our current development and it cannot be highlighted enough how important that is for the success of Carbon Delta.

What did you learn during the program, if anything? What is the main think that you take away from the program?

We learned that it is very good to get an outside perspective. You don’t realize this until you experience it. But at times it may be hard to be open to the suggestions of the mentor. After all, the entrepreneur spends a lot more time thinking about his or her own business. At times it’s a good thing to relay when controversial feedback is given, We learned that it’s good to not necessarily immediately react, but instead to maybe sleep over the suggestions again and then re-evaluate them.

What was difficult?

It was difficult to find time for the meetings and prepare as well as we would have liked. At times we were well prepared, at other times we just rushed into the meeting. We had agreed on the mentor putting “friendly pressure” on us on our progress. At times it was difficult to admit that despite all best efforts we did not achieve what we had hoped for.

Would you stay in touch with your mentor?

Yes, we already agreed to stay in touch.

What would you say to someone thinking of taking part in the program?

It really depends on the situation. There is an issue for start-ups with “overcoaching”, so I wouldn’t say that it is naturally something good for all start-ups. But if you are open for feedback and ready to invest some time into this, it can be tremendously helpful.