9 Things You Should Look for in a Mentor
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Today’s Question: Many experts say that entrepreneurs – especially those who are new to the startup life – should look for mentors who can help guide them. We want to know is, what kind of qualities or characteristics should entrepreneurs look for in their mentors? How do they know when they’ve found the right person to be their mentor?
Entrepreneurs get feedback from people all the time. Inevitably, there will be times when entrepreneurs ignore the advice they are offered. At Techstars, there’s a term specifically for this phenomenon: “mentor whiplash.” The right mentor needs to understand that, ultimately, it’s the entrepreneur who’s in the driver’s seat.
— Weiting Liu, Codementor
2. Encouragement – and Some Challenges, Too
Entrepreneurs face a lot of failure. Often, an entrepreneurial venture is an uphill battle for an extended period. It is important to have a mentor who will support your mission and encourage you through those hard times.
At the same time, it is also important to have that same person challenge the execution of your mission. They should ask “why” on certain decisions. They should tell you to explain your idea. They should open your eyes to other possibilities.
You don’t want a mentor who dictates the correct thing to do all the time. The ultimate mentor can combine encouraging and challenging in a way that allows the entrepreneur to reach conclusions on their own.
— Brian Scanlon, Play to Win
3. Complementary Skills
If an entrepreneur has a great idea but isn’t very good with financials, the best possible mentor would be someone who can analyze the financial ramifications of a particular idea and tell the entrepreneur whether or not the idea is economically feasible – without sugar-coating the answer. Similarly, if the entrepreneur has a great idea and understands the financials but has trouble articulating their idea to a potential investor or customer, a great mentor would be a sales/marketing expert who could tell the entrepreneur that their pitch was rotten and help them come up with a clear and concise alternative.
— Grant Gulovsen, Antipodal Talent International, LLC
The biggest mistake people make when looking for a mentor is selecting someone with extensive experience in their industry. While industry experience can be helpful, the single most important factor is the fit between the mentor and the mentee. In a strong mentorship, the business owner must be comfortable calling the mentor when they encounter challenges in their business.
The true value of a mentor is that they can serve as a resource when the business owner faces new and different challenges. The mentor may not have experienced the exact situation, but they can be a sounding board or brainstorming partner who helps the business owner reach a solution.
— Rick Davis, Rick Davis Legal
I am a recent college graduate who recently began working at a startup in San Francisco, StudySoup. When coming here, I knew I wanted to work for someone who had a strong work ethic and proven success with their startup so they could serve as a mentor for me. I was careful to find a mentor who takes initiative, is confident, committed, has strong communication skills, and a positive attitude.
You know you’ve found the right mentor when you want to accomplish everything they’ve accomplished. And not only will you admire and strive to match their business strengths, but their interpersonal skills as well. My mentor who encapsulates all of these qualities is Sieva Kozinsky, founder of StudySoup. It has been a rewarding experience learning from someone so hardworking and dedicated.
— Courtney Reimers, StudySoup
6. A History of Success
It’s important that the mentors you look for have been successful in a particular area of focus. I was fortunate to have a mentor from the finance team at a Fortune 500 company teach me about budgeting and cash flow. My current mentor was successful in significantly increasing sales as the owner of an insurance company.
You know you’ve found the right person when you can apply what you learn from them to your own business right away. In addition, your relationship with your mentor should feel like a safe and natural environment to work through challenges.
— Mike Veny, Unleash Your Groove
7. A Wide Range of Experiences
New entrepreneurs should seek a mentor with a wide range of experiences – both successful and not-so-successful. One of the best ways to learn is from someone else’s mistakes. A good mentor will not only share these failures, but also be able to explain why and how their venture failed, and what they would do differently a second time around. Also, don’t assume your mentor has to be in your niche industry – often, cross-industry collaboration can be just as beneficial and inspirational.
— Simon Slade, SaleHoo
Although we can learn huge amounts from business owners who have found great success, we can often learn even more from those who have had significant failures.
In a move that would shape my career, I joined a very small company during my early twenties, consisting of three other members of staff. My boss had once ran a hugely successful digital marketing company that had gone bust, and he was forced to start again completely fresh. Despite his failure with his previous company, his continuing passion for and dedication to his work was absolutely infectious. The way he took risks, regardless of the fact that it was risky decisions that sank his previous company, ignited something within me and helped me to catch the entrepreneurial bug. It made me realize that the perfect mentor should be reckless, passionate, brave, and ultimately, imperfect.
— Sam Williamson, SEO Fife
9. And Remember: It’s Okay to Have More Than One Mentor
Don’t be afraid to have more than one. I am mentored by two people: one mentors me on my creative ideas, and the other mentors me on business growth and development. Each knows of the other, and each understands that they cannot be an expert in both areas.
— Rich DiGirolamo, The RECESSitator