You’re a startup founder: game face on, proud and pushing strong and hard. So why would you need a mentor?
Being a founder/CEO can be a very lonely experience, and no one can do everything on their own. Finding a good support network can be crucial when sailing in rough times or facing dilemmas. Mentors can help you maintain focus and brainstorm alternative solutions to business problems.
A good mentor can also be helpful by filling some knowledge gaps and broadening your network. So, can you choose and find a good mentor?
Look to trustful and direct individuals for advice. Look for a strong personality that won’t sugarcoat things, and who will have the guts to tell you the truth; for instance, ‘just quit that idea and move elsewhere’. Don’t look for a ‘yes-man’ sort of mentor – go for someone who challenges you and with whom you feel confident about building a close relationship.
A good lead is to search for someone with startup experience. If you choose a manager with corporate experience, he might foster some interesting discussions, they’ll probably be focused on management challenges. A mentor with startup know-how can better relate to the multiple challenges of building a new organisation, full of uncertainties and some chaos.
Use your network and professional groups
By expanding your network, attending events or linking to professional associations, you’ll meet and face experts and businessmen that you can look up to and establish a connection.
Use your alumni network from university or past companies, and forget about pinging those inspirational professors. By having a common link, it will be easier to reach out and understand if there’s a fit. Universities that either run incubators or have entrepreneurship centre or classes often run mentorship programmes as well.
Why not take a shot at your dream mentor? If there’s someone in your field that you admire and look up for inspiration, why not give it a try? If you’re afraid that the person wouldn’t be interested, don’t worry, as much of the time you’ll get an answer and it may lead into some kind of relationship.
Reaching out to your ‘hero’ may feel intimidating, but asking for advice is one of the most engaging ways to get someone’s attention and interest.
Incubators and acceleration programmes
Business incubators and accelerations programmes offer great pools of advisors that you can reach out to and learn from. Join an incubation program that you find suitable for your business, so you can contact with experienced managers that will help you guide and grow your company.
During incubation and acceleration processes you’ll have to work with several people from different backgrounds, so that the time to understand what resources and learning they can offer you.
Business platforms as LinkedIn or dedicated sites like Micromentor can offer great opportunities to get in touch with people from your industry, or that can help you tackle specific problems that your’re facing.
Online contacts always pose some challenging issues, but offer a wider range of possibilities: when you’re expanding your business abroad, look for someone that understands your industry or your startup’s lifecycle stage and that take advantage of international experience and cultural differences.
As with finding a co-founder, when choosing a mentor don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach:
First think carefully about your expectations, and the outcomes that you want to get from a mentor/mentee relationship: look at where your company is, where you want it to go and where along your path advice could be most valuable. Establishing this will help you build a roadmap to agree on with you mentor: how often you’ll meet (weekly, monthly, for how long…); how regularly you’ll update them and communicate with them by email; any burning topics you want you quickly address, etc.
As with any relationship, it’s a two-way street. So don’t expect just to receive, and be willing and prepared to give back. Be a good mentee by being prepared, doing your homework and expressing genuine interest in what your mentor has to say.
A mentor is your advisor; not your life coach. By seeking advice from someone that has travelled the road, expect to learn but also to build a strong tie. The mentor will not provide you with all the answers and will not replace you as the decision-maker, so be prepared to listen, ask questions and reach your own conclusions.