Every startup can benefit from having a mentor.
- Steve Jobs mentored Marc Benioff
- Socrates mentored Plato
- Plato mentored Aristotle
- Obi-Wan Kenobi mentored Luke Skywalker.
But every mentor is different, and so is every startup.
While one startup might need help with growth marketing to help their business impress investors, another startup might need help positioning their company ahead of an initial public offering (IPO).
So what type of startup mentor should you be looking for?
Here’s what startups should look out for when choosing a mentor:
Familiarity with your industry
If your startup’s in the B2B SaaS space, talking to a mentor that only has experience in the restaurant industry might not make the most sense.
Talk with mentors who’ve traveled along the same path that you’re about to go down.
Why talk to a startup mentor from your industry:
- You don’t have to explain your buyer personas to them. They already “get it.”
- They may have a pre-existing audience that’s highly relevant to your business. If you’re lucky, they might let you leverage it!
- They probably have a ton of awesome ideas that they’ve been wanting to test, and they might just let you run with them.
- Their advice will be non-generic and highly relevant to your actual challenges.
Does that mean that there’s no value in talking to mentors from other industries?
Skills are transferable and there’s no shortage of people who made their name in one industry before moving into another. Just look at Elon Musk, who’s involved in everything from private spaceflight to electric cars and hyperloops.
But if you’re looking to maximize the bang for your buck, it’s always best to find a startup mentor that can deliver actionable advice right out of the gate.
Can help with immediate problems
It’s certainly true that there are benefits to fostering long-term relationships with your mentors. At the same time though, those benefits are less pronounced for early-stage startups that are dealing with dozens of simultaneous challenges.
Steli Efti - Founder Close.io
Get advice from someone one step ahead of you, and give advice to people one step behind you. Otherwise it’s just inspiration.
It’s normal for needs to change over time. When that happens you may find that the perfect startup mentor that you found a couple of years ago is no longer really in touch with what you’re trying to achieve today.
That’s why it’s a good idea to think in both the short-term and the long-term when you’re identifying a potential mentor.
If you do find a startup mentor who’s where you want to be in three years, keep their details on file and maintain a relationship with them. You can contact them in two years when you’re in a better position to take advantage of their advice.
Ideal for your startup’s lifecycle stage
This is kind of a “part 2” on the previous point.
You have to match your mentor to the current stage of your startup’s development in its lifecycle.
A well-matched mentor will be easier to relate to and the tactics they used to grow/scale will be more practical and relevant to your startup’s current situation.
For example, if you’re not swimming in millions of dollars of VC money and your startup is currently in the MVP stage, it might make more sense to get mentored by a founder with a lot of experience launching bootstrapped lean startups.
Not sure what stage your startup’s in?
Read the post below:
Can validate your ideas and tactics
In my experience, startups, and entrepreneurs like talking to mentors because they can validate the work that the startups are already doing.
When you’re working on your startup and you come up with a new product feature or growth strategy, it’s easy to get excited about it. At the same time, it’s also easy to start obsessively thinking about all of the ways that the idea could fail until you talk yourself out of even trying it.
That’s why it’s so important to find a mentor that can help you validate your ideas but also one that is able to tell you which ideas need further analysis and development.
Cosette Gutierrez - Social Responsibility Leader
If your mentors only tell you that you’re awesome, it’s time to find other mentors
In other words, it’s not a mentor’s job to tell you that you’re already doing great. It’s their job to tell you what you’re doing right, what needs more work, and possibly what ideas need to get tossed out altogether.
Got the right personality match
For whatever reason, personality, culture, you name it – certain people just don’t jive well together.
I’m a passionate conversationalist and enjoy having chats with loud and similarly passionate people. I mean, I’m Greek at the end of the day. On the other hand, I know plenty of introverted people who are the complete opposite. And that’s totally cool!
There are almost 8 billion people on the planet.
Is it really that impossible to find a mentor that you actually enjoy talking to?
You’ll get a lot more out of mentorship if you enjoy the conversations — and who knows, maybe you’ll become friends.
Not afraid to hurt your feelings
If your idea is bad, you need to be told about it.
Just because you should find a mentor who you enjoy talking to, doesn’t mean you should make compromises when it comes to discipline.
Finding a mentor that you like is great, but be sure that you also find someone who’s not scared to put your ass to the fire.
This is why I like to seek advice from people that I know have no hesitation to challenge my beliefs and are not “afraid to hurt my feelings.”
Has a network that could be useful
If your startup is in Fintech, choose a mentor who has a network of contacts in the Fintech startup scene.
Don’t ask the mentor if you can use their network.
That’s bad form, especially if it comes at the start of your relationship.
If you must ask, wait until you’ve built up a solid rapport and you’re firmly in “the friend zone.”
There’s also always the chance that they’ll share one of your posts on a social networking site and put you in front of the right people by accident.
The more you impress them, the higher that chance.
Has technical skills
Don’t choose mentors that are too far removed from the early hustle just because they’re super successful.
Focus instead on finding someone with technical skills who can provide hands-on advice. They’ll be more relatable and the tactics that they used to grow and scale their businesses will be top of mind and still valid.
High-level business mentorship is great, but when you’ve read the horrid statistics on startup failure rates (+90% fail) – you’re naturally going to focus on practical advice.
Most of the time, that’s going to mean dealing with the nitty-gritty: tools, setups, configurations, best practices, procedures, etc. So having a mentor that has practical and applicable hands-on experience will be key.
Culturally and geographically relevant
If you plan on expanding globally, you should talk to startup mentors from the countries that you want to expand into.
Your aim should be to better understand the local mindset and to identify those subtle nuances that separate one culture from another.
International personalization can increase your relevance overseas and also improve your conversion rate.
You’ve probably heard the phrase:
“Now you’re talking my language.”
Talking to mentors in the countries that you’re expanding into will help you to speak the language of your target audience and to give you insights that you’d never otherwise have access to.
There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to finding a startup mentor.
If you want to find the right mentor for your startup, then you need to think about where your company is and where you want it to go, as well as what kind of advice is going to make the biggest difference.
Always remember that mentoring is a two-way road. You need to give just as much as you want to receive. Don’t expect your mentor to give you the answers. At best, they’ll listen to you as you tell your story and ask you the questions that inspire you to arrive at your own conclusions.
Hiten Shah - Founder of Kissmetrics
Mentees have to engage as much as their mentors engage with them, if not more. A good mentor will let the questions roll in, but then encourage you to seek the answers as they’re relevant to your business and your own path.
The good news is that here at Growthmentor, we’re all about helping you to find the perfect mentor, no matter who you are or what you’re looking for.
We vet all of our mentors to make sure that we only accept the very best, so quality is one thing you don’t have to worry about. That leaves you free to focus on relevance and finding the right mentor to guide your business into the future.
If you’re looking for a startup mentor then we’ve got you covered — no matter what stage your startup is at, we can help.