Mentor Sandro Günther is a driven, experienced marketer who has been running his own Berlin-based digital marketing and social media agency for the past 7 years. A serial entrepreneur himself, he also launched his own B2B e-commerce company and worked as a management consultant focusing on mergers and acquisitions and how to raise money for other startups. He joined the Startup Mentoring programme as a Mentor after friend and Mentor Martin Elwert recommended the programme to him.

Sandro’s Fellows in the programme are Blayne Tesfaye, Sam Njenga and Jack Owiti. Blayne founded Ethiopia-based healthy snacks business TruLuv Granola. Sam is founder of Kenya-based Aspire Fitness and Jack is the founder of a social business that empowers deaf youth in Kenya, Dexterity Media Associates.

We interviewed him after visiting his Fellows in their home countries as a key component of the 8-month mentoring programme and he had to say the following:

“I was very excited and very curious about who I was going to meet at the first camp. Of course, I’d seen pictures of my mentees and read their profiles, but nothing more, so I was excited to meet them in real life. It was a very warm and open welcome to all of us, then we quickly went in to one-on-one sessions. It can be a challenge for the fellows to open up to you at first; running a business is not always easy or nice, so sharing your challenges can sometimes mean sharing your personal challenges. To talk about those with someone has to be based on some trust and it was one of my initial tasks to build this trust in the first camp, but I think it worked quite well and we soon became friends.

Firstly, I tried to understand what my mentees were doing and what their business model was, if they had a business model that is.

If they simply had an idea, I wanted to understand how they were planning to make money with it, so first I had to understand the product, the market and the potential customer and then I asked them: What are your challenges? Do you see challenges? Maybe they don’t, or maybe I see challenges that they might have not identified.

The biggest challenge for every startup is focus. Of course, many have great ideas, but they don’t know how to address them to the market, and they want to come to the market with something that’s 100% complete, but maybe this is not the right strategy and they should instead be building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) using trial and error, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and getting feedback.

Focus was definitely a big challenge for one of my Fellows, Sam. He currently has a personal training & fitness business which is running, with some ups and downs, and he is looking to digitise. Unfortunately, it’s caused him to lose focus on his current business and his current clients, which is how the business is funded. Despite this, he runs his current business quite well; he generates revenue, he gets interesting new clients and he recently got some new B2B clients, so he’s clearly very good at sales, but he is very much focused on building and developing his app. Sam dreams of digitally transforming his business and I’m not sure it’s the right direction to go in or if it’s the right time for the market. However, he’s running a business which is already generating revenue. He wants to bring his clients to this platform and he’s not starting from zero, so this could potentially be a great way to bring his app to market.

I had already met my two Fellows, Sam and Blayne, in Berlin during the summer, but had yet to meet my third Fellow Jack in person, who unfortunately was unable to make it to the first camp. We had our regular calls throughout and fortunately, we got to meet in person when I was in Kenya! While we only had a few days to get to know one another face to face, for me to learn where he is and what his challenges are, we managed to make up for lost time and go through the entire trust-building process in a short space of time. I then visited Sam at co-working space Nairobi Garage, as he usually works wherever his clients are. It was great to get to know the Nairobi startup ecosystem while seeing how he worked. Blayne is based in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and organised a fantastic stay for me!

The two countries, Kenya and Ethiopia, are very different, especially in terms of internet infrastructure – the internet sometimes just shut down in Ethiopia! However, it was still very cool to be there. We first went to Blayne’s office, which is also her production place, and I got to know the entire team as they each made a short introduction of themselves. Blayne also took me to some supermarkets where they sell her product and she brought me to meet some of her other clients and we even did some client pitches together. It was a great experience.

I’m no stranger to mentoring. I also have mentors and for me, it’s very helpful to just get into serious business conversations with someone especially if you don’t have a co-founder, like my Fellows and me. It’s really helpful to have someone you can can talk to – that’s the biggest part I can give and the biggest thing they need actually. I think mentoring starts on a professional level and then you somehow become friends.

Overall, I enjoyed getting to know my Fellows even better in their own environment and seeing their businesses in person. I was particularly inspired by Sam, who is so happy, so open and determined – he really wants to conquer the world. This in turn motivates me. I hope I was able to help him and my other fellows focus on getting things done and understanding how to build their business, as I’m not that much into how to build a product, but rather how to bring it to the market, how to do sales and set up sales methodologies. Blayne is working on this process and that’s great to see. The most rewarding thing for me was hearing her kind words about me in the wrap-up video from the first camp. I am very grateful for being part of this mentoring programme and would very much like to do it again!

Fellow Blayne Tesfaye remarked after the end of the programme:

“By far the most impactful aspect of the programme has been my mentor’s steadfast commitment to seeing my business succeed. Sandro has an unsurpassed ability to ask the right questions at the right time (usually, “why?”). A lot of his influence on me has been to encourage me to be open to new challenges, whether an opportunity to pitch for an Ethiopian version of the “Shark Tank” TV show, or the chance to grow my revenue streams with top customers by expanding our product range. In my application for the Startup Mentoring programme, I stated that one of my big, hairy audacious goals would be to attain $8,000 in sales in Year One of operation. By the time I had joined as a fellow in late August, I was 76% of the way to this goal. By the end of the year I had achieved 224% of this goal.”