Seven factors to consider when looking for a mentor

The idea of mentoring startups has received mixed reviews from founders. Discussions in startup groups evoke strong reactions on this subject. Indeed, on many occasions it has not been effective for founders nor satisfying for mentors.

But when it works, mentoring can make a fundamental impact on the fortunes of your startup. As per this article in Forbes, “…mentored founders increased startup revenue by 83% as compared to only 16% for non-mentored entrepreneurs. Furthermore, the study shows that entrepreneurs are less likely to execute on their ideas without a mentor. 42% of mentored businesses started as opposed to 29% without a mentor.

Just like everything else, mentoring succeeds only when the conditions are right. Before anything else, you must be serious about seeking to be mentored. It will require significant commitment of time from you – the most precious resource your startup has. Don’t go in with an opportunistic mindset.

There are many kinds of mentors with different approaches and skills. Choosing the right mentor can make all the difference. Here we look beyond the obvious factors – experience, proven track record, large network.

As an entrepreneur here are eight things you may want to consider when looking for a mentor.

1. Match of expectations between you and your mentor

It is important that you agree with the mentor on what to expect from the relationship. In some cases, you may expect the mentor to immediately start opening doors to customers or bringing in investors. This is a clear and specific requirement that only some mentors are capable of delivering. You may also expect that the mentor stays out of the way for everything else. This is best made clear upfront as many mentors find this condition unworkable.

If you are looking for answers and guidance for specific questions, rather than looking for a ‘mentor’ as the term is used, you may be better served by subject matter experts.

2. Don’t Expect Instant Results

Don’t assume, for example, that getting a mentor will immediately bring in new customers. This hardly ever happens. Even when the mentor is able to bring in sales connects, it must be understood that “from connect to sale” is quite a distance, especially in B2B sales. Some entrepreneurs believe that their offering is perfect and meeting a prospect is all that is required. Rarely is this true. If the entrepreneur is unable to recognise this, with or without a mentor, he is bound to fail.

3. It’s best structured as a long term arrangement

Mentoring works best when you are looking for genuine, sustained, quality advice and guidance on how to grow their business, in all its aspects. As you grow, you face discontinuous changes. These need you to rapidly change your mindset and approach based on situation. A mentor can help you become aware of this and reduce errors in execution. In the least, a good mentor should be able to help you build a sound strategy and a robust business plan. More importantly, he should help you improve the quality of your decisions and actions.

4. Personality Match

This is fundamentally a long term relationship of trust and mutual respect. An intense give and take happens in successful mentoring relationships. This can work only if you and your mentor can connect at a personal level. This requires that you share core values and your styles don’t conflict. It requires willingness to listen from both sides. Are you ready?

5. Humility

A good mentor never assumes that he knows more than the entrepreneur. He is willing to admit that he may be wrong. He does not insist that the entrepreneur execute his ideas. He looks to influence rather than instruct.

Likewise, a ‘mentorable’ entrepreneur is one who actively listens and is able to integrate ideas from the mentor into his own understanding. Be prepared to be challenged on everything. If this makes the entrepreneur feel irritated or even insulted, it’s a red flag. Do an internal check for yourself.

6. Keep your own counsel

When an entrepreneur is in awe of the mentor and blindly follows advise, it may lead to unintended results. Sometimes mentors seek to dazzle you. This creates overly high expectations from the engagement. Watch out for this. A wise entrepreneur is one who receives advise from his mentor but decides for himself what to do.

7. Get out of that armchair

Often mentoring engagements are setup as a series of regularly scheduled meetings. Such an arrangement may succeed if the meetings work towards a clear end goal – such as a strategy for upselling, a plan for expanding to a new city etc. Free flowing discussions without a specific objective in mind are usually a waste of time. Weekly or biweekly would be ideal; a month is too long.

It helps when your mentor recognizes that there are certain occasions in the life of the startup that have extraordinary impact on its’ destiny. Giving you a block of time when you need it – say to prepare for that sales pitch to a marquee customer or to help you rehearse for that investor presentation, or being there for your product strategy discussions, may do much more than weeks of “armchair mentoring”.

Over time you may get more from your mentor – a public advocate of your startup, your influencer in your digital marketing strategy and so on, even a shoulder to cry on!

Here is an interesting article at – ‘Why Entrepreneurs Need Mentors and How to Find Them