Mentoring has become a crucial factor in entrepreneurial success over the last decade. While there have always been mentors in business environments, the incredibly fast pace environments start-ups operate in requires the support of mentors with a highly-intrinsic motivation to help innovative businesses gain traction.
Before you can aim to acquire the best possible start-up mentor for your project, it is important to think about your personal thoughts on this topic. Many people are not sure if they even need a mentor. They may have studied or already founded another company and are experts in their respective fields – at least that’s what they think. But, to welcome a mentor into your start-up you have to be very clear about your motivation to learn, embrace feedback and openness to new ideas and different approaches. And you have to respect their time.
Listed below are 6 critical elements to look for in a good start-up mentor:
A good mentor is 100% sure about their intrinsic motivation and understands that any start-up support is not financially compensated. With this mindset, a mentor is most valuable for your start-up. For a good mentor it’s all about the exchange, the learning and the mutual growth that happens in a good mentor/mentee relationship. These are people that believe in sharing the lessons they’ve learned. They aim for the contagious energy and the inspiring exchange with young entrepreneurs instead of equity.
This seems to be a no-brainer, but the actual industry or business knowledge of your mentor is crucial to a successful mentor/mentee relationship. If you are operating in a niche it’s not enough to acquire a mentor from the same industry – it has to be an expert in your niche to be able to actually support you, otherwise, it is just an exchange of questions that none of you are really able to answer and this could lead to an unsatisfying experience for the both of you.
Depending on the stage you are at with your start-up you have team members, investors, business angels or other stakeholders that you involve in your decisions. Whenever you talk to one of these parties, there are different interests, hopes and motivations involved in their answers and opinions. A mentor is an independent, objective source and sparring partner for sharing and exchanging ideas, strategies, challenges, and opportunities. With a mentor you can have honest, open discussions about those things without having to fear that you step on their toes, make them fear their future standing or experience financial loss.
A good mentor makes time for you. But what a good mentor is also very good at is making time for themselves. They have their own jobs, responsibilities and projects they have to focus on, so it’s very important to respect the time and effort that a mentor is putting in your project. A good mentor/mentee relationship has a clearly defined scope with meetings or communication channels. Make sure to clarify your ways of communication and set up weekly or monthly meetings when you define the goals with your mentor.
A vital part of mentoring is helping start-ups to connect with the players they need to succeed. A good mentor will open their contact list within their personal scope and support you with introductions to companies, investors, advisors or other mentees. As a good mentor it is important to sustainably support your mentee start-up with your network. This is not about the quantity, but about the quality of available connections and intros that can ultimately lead to the start-up’s success.
While it’s good to have a rational sparring partner that makes you step back and look at your decisions and challenges from realistic angles, it’s also very important to have a visionary mentor on your side. Someone who pushes you forward when you are too cautious to make the right decisions and supports you on the sometimes very intimidating path of pivoting, changing your team or disrupting the business you’re in.
Overall, be careful and listen to your gut feeling when choosing mentors. A single mentor doesn’t necessarily have all of the elements listed above. Choosing two or three mentors with different perspectives and approaches can be very rewarding.