How I Found My Startup Mentors
When tackling problems and challenges at startups I often suggest finding a mentor to help. Ideally everyone who works in a startup should have a mentor, preferably 2.
Mentors will help with some of the day-to-day concerns that can crop up in a startup environment. They can ensure you stay focused and keep things in perspective. A really great mentor can also help prepare and advise you if you decide you want to be a founder yourself.
Finding a good mentor
When looking for a good mentor here are some of the things I’ve learnt along the way:
Your mentor should not be a work colleague or associated with your startup in any way. He or she needs to have a different perspective and offer an impartial view.
Your mentor should have had experience of working in startups. Startups have their own unique set of challenges so your mentor needs to understand these. Ideally your mentor should have worked for a successful startup so they know what good looks like rather than just focusing on the bad.
Everyone makes mistakes and your mentor will have too. A good mentor will be willing to share those mistakes with you and discuss what they learnt from them.
You should be able to meet your mentor in person. Even if it’s not often being able to see someone face-to-face will make all the difference and help you build a better relationship.
Your mentor should have a good network that he or she is happy to introduce you to.
Your mentor will be able to learn from you. Mentorship isn’t a one-way relationship so how can you help them?
3 great mentors
I have 3 key mentors I talk to on a regular basis. One works for a big tech company after running a failed startup. One was the founder and CEO of a very successful startup. And one has been a CEO and non-executive director at several startups, although has never been a founder herself.
I made contact with them in three different ways. Number one was a friend of a friend. Number two was someone I approached directly as I was hoping to build a business in a similar area to where they had worked. Number three I met in the startup ecosystem as she was working in the same co-working space as me.
It required time and effort on my part to build relationships with them all. Friendship and professional intrigue was of course an important factor but I also had to be proactive and show a willingness to learn. Sharing my first pitch deck with the successful founder was nerve-wracking. It was torn to pieces, but I took on board their feedback and they appreciated much more my second draft.
Do not be afraid to bring on new mentors as your needs change over time. When I worked for big businesses my mentors were very different with a different set of skills and experience. These old mentors have not been forgotten. They are still friends but I spend less time talking to them about my career and business ideas.