Previously we discussed the fifth step to start a business i.e. ‘Team Building’ and learnt how, without a cohesive effort of a team, it is nearly impossible for it to flourish and reach the peak of success. So, in this section, we move on to our sixth step to start a startup and that crucial step is to Find a Mentor. At various steps in his entrepreneurial journey, an entrepreneur faces several challenges and is often unable to find solutions to his problems. Hence, especially when a company is in its startup stage, there is a need felt for a ‘Mentor’.
A mentor, often an investor or a successful entrepreneur himself, is a valuable resource for a fledgeling company who can bring forth tonnes of his previous experience to help the company achieve its goals. A good mentor can add great values to a new company. An entrepreneur who has the potential to extract the best from his mentor has higher chances of success than his counterparts. Especially with the startup scene in the country on a rise, the need for the good pool of mentors is on a rise.
Many business enthusiasts make this mistake during the formative years of their business. They tend to do things all by themselves without seeking the advice from the mentors. These experts provide you with insights and options that would help you in overcoming all your initial troubles in the best way possible. Mark Zuckerberg found his mentor in Steve Jobs and learnt invaluable insights into his business from him. Steve Jobs advised him to visit remote places in India and stay in brief confinement to get his head clear and overcome his hurdles. Likewise, the founders of Dropbox, Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi gained mentorship from 2 successful Silicon Valley based entrepreneurs, Ali and Hadi Partovi.
Why Mentor is Important for Business
Irrespective of how smart a solution is, it takes more than just that to create the success of a startup. Quite often, the success of entrepreneurs is catalysed by the efforts of people with expertise in specific domains, the ones we refer to as ‘Mentors’. When startup founders find themselves consumed with technology and unable to find a way out, mentors play a pivotal role in showing them the direction to better results.
The ‘Startup Genome Project’ has estimated that startups with helpful mentors are seven times more likely to raise investment money. Ultimately, a right direction is more important to run a startup than getting things executed speedily, and only a good mentor can give your startup the right direction. Let us take a look at some key areas where Mentorship can be helpful for startup founders.
Personal Problem Solution
Mentors have an innate ability to teach the art of ‘Patience’ to business entrepreneurs. They make them realise that the quest for success is never ending and that one needs to dig deeper to find out your pool of creativity, strength and resilience. In short, mentors unearth your hidden potentials and encourage you to use them as your strengths while progressing towards your goals.
He also tends to ‘Motivate’ you and add that dash of humour into your mundane and hectic schedule. He encourages you to celebrate you and your team members’ successes from time to time. One must not forget that business is not only about money and success, but it is also about people and their relationships with stakeholders, their emotions, trust, love and affection. Quite often, as founders, you feel that these emotions are not working in your favour that results in demotivation. Hence, it is then that mentor comes into picture who teaches you how to overcome these situations and make sure your productivity does not get affected.
A good mentor will also keep pushing you so that you become capable of reaching your goals quite easily. Sometimes, entrepreneurs feel unsure of how to tackle a situation or how to make it big in their chosen domains. A good mentor will shun all inhibitions of self-doubt in you and boost you with lots of self-confidence to keep looking forward.
Mentors can make a huge difference between startup stagnation and startup success. To begin with, a mentor will thoroughly access your business and analyse the direction that your business is headed to. He will pinpoint all the loopholes in the existing system and will help you in finding the best solution. During stages when the business is flourishing, one does not feel the need of a mentor. However, as your competitors capture 80-90% of the market and your customers feel dissatisfied with your products or services, you feel the need for some guidance from a person who has tackled such situations before and emerged out strong. However, if mentorship is done at the very beginning, he would devise strategies that would prevent you from facing such situations in the first place.
Quite often, he would also be asking you difficult questions to encourage you to think towards improving the situation of your company. He would encourage you to think of various key areas pertaining to your business like ‘who are your target customers’, ‘what is your SLA’, ‘in how much time your business would reach the break-even point’ and so on.
Quite proactively, the mentor will also re-direct you to analyse your macro-environment and examine factors that will have an impact on your business. These factors include competitive strategies, changing consumer markets, new technologies, changes in the distribution channels and so on that you, as an entrepreneur, might tend to miss on owing to your own work commitments. Mentors can be an invaluable asset for a startup as their words carry a lot of weightage throughout the industry that they are associated with. A survey conducted has highlighted that 33% of companies where the founder is mentored by a successful entrepreneur are top performing, while the ones without a mentor constitute only 10%.
A mentor plays a crucial role in formulating meaningful strategies that help a business founder to run his business successfully. A mentor helps the entrepreneur in creating a business plan and give him a bigger picture of his own business. He gets a better understanding of various complexities involved in his business like the cost structure involved and time taken by companies to reach the breakeven point.
Mentors comprehend the market scenario of a particular domain completely and convey the same to the founders so that they learn to consider various factors that can affect their business. Quite often, seeking mentorship from someone with the similar expertise and skill set becomes added advantage so that they can help in the core areas of the business and help them to succeed.
Enrich You with Diversified Experience and Knowledge
A good mentor opens doors to umpteen possibilities for you. He helps you in dealing with issues while you are struggling with lack of professional contacts like various service providers and domain experts. Every minute spent with a mentor is better than cracking 10 business deals as the valuable insights you get in that short time will empower you to crack 10 times more deals than that. With the help of strong ties and business associations they make throughout their long professional stint, they make sure you are in safe hands and they are sometimes able to do so with just a single call. Additionally, they even guide you into how to approach those contacts and seek their expertise, which makes the entire task easier.
Mentors are blessed with the power of ‘experience’ and they use this to establish contacts for entrepreneurs. In the process, founders meet people who have sailed the same boat they are in at present that saves them from making the same mistake. Mentors encourage founders to see the bigger picture and drive their passion and vision into formulating long-term strategies for the company. Mentors bring in with them their stature that automatically makes it easy for founders to set meetings with vendors, investors and other potential stakeholders.
Where to Look for Mentor
It is a known fact that a mentor needs his mentee as much as the mentee seeks his mentor. Hence, never look for a mentor in life. This might seem to be contradictory at first but this is the only way to get a real mentor. Simply seek help from experts in your domain. These might be people you know personally or you follow on various social media platforms. You can also consider following them on Twitter and try and introduce yourself by retweeting or replying to their tweets. In the process where you ask your domain related concerns from that person 90% of the time, the element of a mentor and mentee relationship will sink in automatically.
You can also try to meet them in any regional event where you can talk to them directly or over an email. Quite often, you can also look for an intermediator to break the ice but refrain from talking about mentorship on the first meeting itself. Approach them gradually and start asking them few specific questions about challenges you face in a startup and how to tackle them. After you have established that comfort with the person, then you can discuss the notion of seeking him as your mentor.
According to a Techcrunch report, mentors who were highly successful in the tech industry were able to assist the budding tech startups outperform the ones who lacked mentorship by a factor of three. Hence, quality of mentorship plays an important role. Mentors can also be successful entrepreneurs who have achieved a great deal in their previous entrepreneurial journey and have at least built 2 to 3 startups. They bring with them tonnes of experience from their own personal accounts and make sure that the startup founders do not fall into the same pits like theirs. In short, they impose their life learnings on the new businesses to encourage them to flourish and succeed.
How to Approach Mentor
Approaching a mentor becomes the first and the most crucial step to sustain a healthy mentor-mentee relationship. In order to approach a mentor, make sure you do your homework. Jot down a list of people you admire in your relevant industry and you wish to interact with. These might be the people you already know or the ones you have only heard or read about. Before approaching them, be clear in your mind about what your goals and visions are. Get a clarity on what exactly are you seeking from him and what privileges can you offer to them in lieu of their service.
Get in touch with them through a friendly email or over the phone. Most of these people love to assist startups and would be more than happy to share their insights. Remember that the questions that you ask are more important than the answers and makes the most difference. Schedule your meeting with them and ensure that your first encounter is honest, genuine and comfortable. Discuss your long term goals and your company’s vision with them to help them get a better understanding of what exactly are you looking for. Develop a relationship of trust with them as it is important for both the mentor and the mentee to become familiar with one another. Greet your mentor warmly and give him a clear picture of your previous academic and professional background as well.
Also, be creative while approaching your mentor. Remember that a mentor might be inundated with tonnes of emails every day seeking his assistance so how you approach him should impact him in a certain way that he loves to respond to you with his wisdom. One thing I have learnt from my contemporaries is that adding valuable comments on their posts or tweets regularly is a smart way of getting noticed. Refrain from seeking guidance immediately. Instead, reply to their tweets or posts continuously more than 5-7 times and that will help you to get noticed and he would eventually be prompted to reply to your queries.
Follow their blogs, comment on their articles, even retweet them and tag them, follow them on social media, basically show them that you care and are abreast with what you think on a particular topic. Highlight your issues in the form of videos or some other creative tactic that sets you apart from tonnes of entrepreneurs out there seeking advice.
How Not to Approach a Mentor
There are some basic no-no’s that one needs to consider while approaching a mentor at first. Never be so abrupt in seeking mentorship in the first meeting. The first meeting does not give you enough time or information to comprehend if that mentor-mentee bond can be shared between you two. Engage in general conversation at first and seek permission to approach that person pertaining to some better insights into your business issues at a later stage.
Second, not setting the ground for further follow-ups can be another approach done wrong. The first meeting is an excellent opportunity for you to set a mutual consent for further meetings. Engage the person in such a way that he likes to meet you again and/or respond to your emails pertaining to the discussions you had during the first meeting.
Third, remember that mentors are busy individuals so respecting their time is a crucial aspect that needs to be covered at all times. So, while setting up a meeting schedule with them, be flexible and never reply to them with ‘I am not available during this time’, unless it is a genuine reason. Ultimately, it is your business need so your flexibility is needed more.
A common mistake startup founders tend to make is to chase big names to seek mentorship neglecting some relevant experience they have. Consider for example a startup enthusiast who plans on opening his own coffee shop. The wrong choice of a mentor here would be to approach the CEO of Starbucks because, at this stage, it is not practically feasible to do so. A more valid approach would be to look for someone who has opened his own coffee shop and is doing great. While you can get a lot of insights from the Starbucks journey as well, but a personal insight can be gained better from someone who is more approachable.
Fifth, refrain from asking them questions that are too basic and the information for which is so easily available on the internet. This would be a time waster for the mentor in particular as he would prefer to answer more tricky and meaningful queries that need an in-depth analysis.
And last, never undermine the value of gratitude in a mentee-mentor relationship. Express genuine appreciation to your mentor for his valuable insights and his time so that he feels acknowledged and is encouraged to help you further down your startup journey.
How to Build Relation with Mentor
In order to build a healthy relationship with your mentor, establish regular contacts with them, considering their time convenience. Keep them informed with regular updates in your business and make sure they do not feel neglected. Consistent contact is critical for a sustained relationship between the mentor and his protégé. Establish a meeting schedule with your mentor in advance to stay connected with them.
Define the roles and responsibilities of the mentor clearly keeping him in the loop. Share your goals with the mentor and work mutually to achieve those goals. If needed, be a part of regular training sessions organised by the mentor. Upon receiving any feedback from the mentor, make sure to be reflective on your actions and work towards the improvement of your actions on the basis of the feedback received.
What to expect from Mentor
- Expertise and guidance in your field of business
- Providing constructive feedback and suggesting ways to mend any loophole
- Highlighting any operational or planning flaws in your business
- Introducing industry experts and potential investors
What not to Expect from Mentor
- Advice on idea validation
- Spoon feeding or fixed number of hours of mentorship
- Excessive personal bonding
- Relying on the mentor too much
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