Ergo Blumfeldt: A lawyer as a mentor offers much more than just legal advice
TRINITI, who has been supporting Brain Hunt for the third year in a row, has seen the back rooms of the start-ups for years, but usually just from one side – through the eyes of an investor who wants to make sure everything is well thought out and in order. By stepping aboard, the Brain Hunt, TRINITI, wanted to understand and see the soul of a real start-up entrepreneur. “You can’t give advice on a lease contract unless you have advised both the tenant and the landlord,” TRINITI partner Ergo Blumfeldt gives an example to illustrate the value of Brain Hunt experience to TRINITI.
We asked Ergo what every start-up entrepreneur should look for when looking for a mentor, and what his or her recommendations for the most meaningful collaboration are. In addition, Ergo talks about the benefits of having a lawyer for a mentor, if to take advantage of it wisely.
What is a good mentor relationship formula?
A mentor is not a teacher who makes decisions for a start-up entrepreneur. He or she is not the chairman of the board or majority shareholder or the project manager /overseer who reminds you of the deadlines. Already when looking for a mentor, it is important to understand his/her role and what he/she is needed for. The role of the mentor is first and foremost to be a wall against which to throw your ideas and then get feedback. We also need to explain more to the teams involved in Brain Hunt, who is a mentor and what is the purpose of the mentoring relationship.
What has been the biggest challenge in mentoring the Brain Hunt teams so far?
So far, nothing very outrageous has happened. However, some of the questions that start-ups and teams asked us were a good shake-up, as these are topics that often do not reach us, and teams prefer to handle them on their own. It put things in perspective and showed us what issues a start-up business is really dealing with and where it needs the most help.
For example, how ownership should be shared between owners. Usually, this is a topic that the customer has usually already solved before coming to us. On the one hand, this is a relatively elementary question, but on the other hand, it put us in a somewhat unusual position, as we do not deal with such issues on a daily basis.
So what mentoring advice should one seek from a top lawyer?
One place people often make mistakes is when they look at the mentor’s daily business area. In fact, you should look more at the person and their knowledge, resources at large. A lawyer as a mentor can offer much more than just legal advice. A good example from the Brain Hunt is last season’s winner Timey, cooperation with whom was initially not related to legal advice at all, it was rather a creation of relationship with the food industry, and since this is one of TRINITI’s focus areas, we were able to assist with contacts and Timey received a partner for a pilot project.
Unfortunately, legal advice is one of the more expensive areas, and therefore many questions emerge related to it. What is your advice to start-up entrepreneurs on how to get started on legal issues?
Here are two issues that you need to think about right from the start – that intellectual property, or what you create, stay with your company, and the agreements between team members need to be in place. When involving the first investment, the investor often does not look at the topics too much. Once these two are in place, you are good to start.
How early should these issues be addressed? Are these issues that receive too little attention?
Do not overdo it. We’ve seen all sorts of things. I think the education of start-ups here has been successful. More and more start-ups are coming to us, whose homes are rather tidy. This is partly due to the materials that are publicly available.
On the other hand, while there is a lot of material on the Internet, you should still be critical about using it. For example, we sometimes see a start-up company using Google to find some kind of US intellectual property license agreement, but operating in Estonia, it may not be of much help, because the legal system here is different and the absence of some details can render the whole document meaningless.
Where can a start-up entrepreneur look for help with such issues?
EstVCA and Startup Estonia have done a good job of assembling the materials and designing the templates, and perfectly decent customized documents can be found on the Startup Estonia website. They are also currently being updated.
One of the first parts of the Brain Hunt development program is MentorMeetUp. There is a very limited time for a meeting. What do you recommend to the teams coming there?
First, a thorough groundwork must certainly be done. Work through a list of mentors and map whom you need and what you need. Mentors are from a wide variety of fields, so be prepared to pitch your idea from the angle that would benefit you.