Finding a startup mentor is a step in the right direction for your startup to move to the next level. As an entrepreneur, you need a startup mentorship to provide you with a valuable resource in building a strong foundation for your business.
Starting a business can be tough, more so if you’re doing it alone. It takes a huge commitment and a knack for innovation to build a startup from scratch. The good news is that you don’t have to be on your own on this journey.
Finding the right support system is essential to guide budding entrepreneurs to scale their startups for growth. An exceptional mentor understands your business goals and can help you reach them with tried-and-tested ideas and expertise specific to your industry. So, how do you find a business mentor? Read on as we provide some practical tips for finding and sustaining a strong relationship with a mentor.
What is a startup mentor?
What do Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? Apart from them all being successful entrepreneurs, these three were supported and guided by their business mentors at one point.
Generally speaking, mentors have trusted figures with extensive career, entrepreneurship, investment, or industry-specific experience. They guide their mentees (promising individuals or students with less experience)to realize their potential and take their ideas into action.
Mentors do this pro bono, without any expectations of payment or reward for their service. They share their knowledge, skills, and experience to help mentees stay grounded and focused on reaching their goals.
In the world of startups, having a startup mentor can bring a remarkable difference in setting your dreams into motion. They advise startup owners on how to understand and use their abilities to capitalize on their target markets.
Examples of Famous Mentor and Mentee Relationships
A few examples of mentors who were behind the success of their protégés are:
- Larry Summers. A top-tier American Economist and former Treasury Secretary. He was a pivotal influence on Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg in different stages of her career. They first met at Harvard when Sandberg studied Economics. He was her college professor and invaluable mentor when she and her friend created Women in Economics and Government, a student organization aimed at encouraging women to pursue a career in these fields. In 2019, Sandberg was ranked by Fortune Magazine as one of the “Most Powerful Women in Business” and a distinguished executive in a predominantly male-dominated tech industry.
- Warren Buffet. A highly-acclaimed investor and business mogul. He was also a key mentor to Bill Gates. He was an instrumental figure in helping Gates run Microsoft as the CEO back in its early days. Gates turned to him for advice when it comes to business, picking stocks, and philanthropy, which led to the creation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
What should you look for in a startup mentor?
Well-Informed about the Industry
New entrepreneurs, with their apparent lack of experience and knowledge about the business, have so much to gain from a mentorship. A startup mentor who comes from the same industry can fill in the knowledge gaps surrounding your niche. They help you better understand the market and how to address its needs.
We recommend that you go for industry-specific mentors. A general mentor often gives common advice that may not target the specific nuances of your industry. Look for a startup mentor who is invaluable at filling in the blanks; one that has tread the same path as you, and can expertly guide you to navigate around the challenges of your startup.
Creative Problem Solver
What makes a startup mentor great? They know how to find creative and efficient solutions to problems encountered by startups. A smart mentor lets you see the different angles to solving various problems, depending on a startup’s situation.
They are also visionaries. They have the ability to foresee business trends and changes in market direction. Overall, they are there to advise you on other ways to make the most profit and dominate your position in the market.
A mentor with a strong network in the industry will open potential doors of opportunity for you. Your startup mentor can tap their connections to help you with strategic partnerships, potential investors, customer trials, and many more. He or she is successful in building a strong network with the right people or organizations in the startup industry.
In fact, investors are more likely to invest in a startup referred by someone they know from their network. The same applies when engaging with future B2B customers. Rather than cold-calling customers, a referral from a trusted vendor can give you more leverage with your marketing outreach.
Propel Ideas into Action
You already have some great ideas in your head. So, what’s next? You might need someone to guide you to transform those ideas into action. A trusted mentor gives you the inspiration you need to turn all your to-do’s to something more results-driven and tangible.
They give you a different outlook when dealing with the challenges faced by your startup. They empathize with what you are going through and boost your confidence to continue.
The Right Fit
Before you ask someone to mentor you, find out if they’re the right fit. But how do you know if you’ll work great together? Make sure that you know what you’re looking for and set a clear direction for your vision.
Look for someone who understands your entrepreneurial endeavors and the vision you have for your startup. Being successful does not guarantee that he or she will be the right mentor for you. Success is only one aspect, so consider other areas such as their industry knowledge, attitude towards work, and values they stand for.
While positive affirmation from family and friends is always appreciated, this might not work if you want to steer your startup in the right direction. Sure, they can cheer you on to build your confidence, but they may not be the right people to turn to when you have tough questions that need to be answered.
Look for a trusted mentor who can give you honest advice on how to do things better. Someone who won’t sugarcoat things. Instead, he or she will be forthright with their opinion and point the right solution. Go for someone who can challenge your idea, and with whom you feel close enough to build a mentor and mentee relationship.
Ways to Find the Right Mentor for your Startup
Startup Incubators and Accelerators
Aside from funding, management, and network connections, startup incubators and accelerators provide education and mentorship programs for high-growth, early-stage startups. They offer wide access to professional advice to grow your company.
While on the incubation and acceleration program, you’ll work with mentors with subject matter expertise specific to your company’s needs. It’s crucial to search for incubators and accelerators that are the best fit at a stage where your startup can benefit from a startup mentorship.
Upcoming events in your area
Are there any local events related to your business? Perhaps, a non-profit organization will conduct a conference or seminar in your field. This is a perfect opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs and possibly meet your mentor.
Attend these types of events and make sure to engage with other attendees. Ask for their business cards and give yours, as well. Introduce yourself to your potential mentor and build your connection from there.
Enlist in professional organizations
One of the best places to find your next mentor is through professional organizations. Look for someone who is at a level of success you plan on reaching and is not a direct competitor within your industry.
Generally, professional associations are non-profit organizations aimed at supporting a particular profession or field. It’s a great place to find and engage with like-minded individuals. Who knows that one of them could be your next mentor? All you need to do is join and see for yourself.
There are tons of online resources where you can rub elbows with a potential startup mentor. You can sign up for free to any of these sites:
- LinkedIn – A social media platform geared for professional and business-driven members. Use their search bar to look for related industry groups. Once you’re accepted as a member, make sure to engage with other active members. Don’t just post something to the group and let the conversation flow without any effort on your part. If you found someone who you think will be a good fit to be a mentor, then send a connection message about your goal.
- US Small Business Administration – Find local mentors in your area through the U.S. SBA site here. They provide assistance on funding programs, federal contracting, and Learning Center knowledgebase to grow your business. It won’t directly point you to a mentor but it’s an excellent place to find a possible mentor in your locale.
- Find a Mentor – It’s a free online tool where mentors and mentees can match in over 1,900 categories. You can also sign up for free daily mentorship or inspirational email newsletter and build your own mastermind group.
- SCORE – It houses a large network of volunteer business mentors dedicated to guiding small business owners to achieve their goals. They offer free education and mentorship programs to its over 11 million entrepreneur members.
- Meetup.com – An online site where you can meet people in your local community who share similar interests OR start your own group if there’s none.
Be Mentored—The Right Way!
Mobilizing your startup into a successful business venture can be a steep climb to the top. Yes, the rewards are possibly endless, but it doesn’t come without any obstacles along the way.
You don’t need to take this journey alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and guidance from an expert mentor. You’ll be surprised that there are people willing enough to help you put your ideas to work.
If your startup is at a stage where you need all the mentorship you can get, we recommend that you go straight to the startup experts—someone who has the expertise, knowledge, and experience to grow your startup. Matt DeCoursey and Matt Watson are the startup mentors you need to move from Point A to Point B. They are the dynamic duo that built Full Scale, a former KC startup that has grown today as an offshore software development company. Get free startup mentorship when you listen to their Startup Hustle podcast, available on most podcast platforms.