5 tips to find the right mentor for your startup

No matter what kind of business you are starting, you should find a mentor at some point. Actually, not A mentor – rather THE RIGHT mentor. Here are five things to keep in mind when looking for one:

1. Your mentor doesn’t have to be 50+ years old with 20+ years of industry experience.
Sure, the more your mentor has gone through, the better advice he or she can provide. But in some of the industries – such as digital marketing – it is nearly impossible to find someone with 20+ years of experience. I was recently invited to mentor at the Startupbootcamp’s Pitch Day during the Pioneers Festival in Vienna. And as a mentor, I tried to stick 100% only to my field of expertise. I focused on marketing, branding, using the right channels, getting to know their market etc. I could have provided my opinion about their business model, product, team etc. But that would be a personal opinion rather than a mentor advice. Be careful – not too many mentors realize the difference.

2. Your mentor’s expertise has to be strong where your weaknesses are.
This one seems pretty obvious. You can create the most amazing website as a web designer or a programmer. But you have no idea how to make money out of it. Or you’ve got the coolest product ever. But you have no clue how to get it to your target group (or even no clue what a ‘target group’ is). And there is nothing wrong about it! Don’t try to be Chuck Norris; try being Steve Wozniak and know your shit as perfect as you can. Then surround yourself with the best team and mentors. Of course it is easier to reach mentors in your field as you might be confused who the right expert elsewhere would be. Ask who your friends or ex-colleagues admire and who the opinion leaders in their domain are. And then start googling and get on your LinkedIn. Or maybe new Google Helpout service might help in the future.

3. Your mentors don’t have to know they are your mentors (and they don’t even have to be alive).
Having mentors does not necessarily mean knowing them in person or being able to talk to them. They can be authors or gurus in any sphere. Find out everything you can about them. What do they read? What routines do they have? Who do they admire? What influences them? How do they make decisions? Read book(s) or articles about them, but also the books they read. And no, your mentors don’t have to be alive either. Of course, if the person has died a century ago you won’t be able to get regular follow-ups over Skype. But if their message is still alive after such time you can be sure it will most likely be valuable.

4. Aim for the best. Even they feel good about being helpful.
Just like with your team – always aim for the best. If you ask for help reasonably and have adequate expectations, it is very likely you will be advised. It’s not that hard to get someone’s e-mail address and usually it’s just matter of time until your potential mentor gets back to you. Again, please do have reasonable expectations. A local entrepreneur or a university professor can for sure dedicate more time to you than an international big shot.

5. Don’t rely on being mentored.
One of my mentors is Seth Godin (see point 3). In his last book ‘The Icarus Deception’ he says:

“Those lucky enough to start with a supportive mentor and access to resources begin walking up the ladder and, with some pluck, can move quite high in the industrial pecking order.

But they come to that spot where following instructions is no longer sufficient – where they are required to give instructions instead. They’ll hit a gap where the only way to get across is to make rules instead of following them. And they’ll freeze, trapped between where they are and where they want to be.”

Word ‘mentor’ comes from a Greek mythology figure – Mentor. He was a friend of Odysseus and a wise adviser of his son Telemachus. He was a wise adviser; not the decision maker. Do listen to your mentor and use every advice to make the best decision. But always make the key decisions yourself.

And there is one additional tip. Badly chosen mentor is much worse than no mentor at all.

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Originally published as a guest blog post at Startupbootcamp Blog.

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