Similarities between mentoring an FRC team and running a startup

March 10, 2022

So for the past several months I’ve been mentoring a high school robotics team. In that time I’ve come to realize that there are remarkable similarities between running an FRC team and running a startup. Here’s a quick list:

  1. Solve the problem as fast as possible – expect to fail, then expect to fix it just as quick. You will not get it right on the first try, so the faster you can iterate on your ideas the more effective your end product will be. In the real world you may have 6 months of runway, in FRC you have 6 weeks.

  2. I can’t control how each individual student acts on a day to day basis, but I can control their environment to encourage productive work. This has played out in the form of me closing doors to our classroom when it’s getting too noisy in the shop so that my programmers have the opportunity to go into deep thought about how to solve the problems they are working on. I need to give them every opportunity to succeed.

  3. Give them a vision they can get excited about. It’s my job as a mentor to show the students what’s possible, to inspire them, and to guide them in best practices when necessary (this is not always the case, sometimes you just need something to work right now). They need to be internally motivated to achieve a common goal, and that kind of commitment can’t be mandated from top down.

  4. Matching their energy. Every person is different, and being able to act differently depending on who I am interacting with is a key part in building rapport. My programmers are calm, proud, and think abstractly. My electromechanical team is energetic, talks shop, and thinks visually. Being able to relate to people in a way that they are most comfortable with makes them feel understood and are thus more willing to collaborate.