Startups are hard. Very hard. Especially in the early days when you’ve yet to get traction in your key metrics and can’t yet see a path to accelerate growth into the thousands of customers. The good thing about startups, though, is that if you get them right they eventually become successful companies.
Some founders of successful companies love mentoring first-time entrepreneurs to help them avoid the same mistakes they made growing their business. Why would successful entrepreneurs mentor first timers you ask? Well, the best way to learn is to teach, plus it keeps them close to what’s happening in the startup scene, especially if their company has thousands of employees and isn’t as nimble as it may have once been.
In this post I’m going to explain why having a startup mentor is so important and how to find a mentor who can help you get through the challenges you’re currently facing.
Regardless of whether you’re building a startup, trying to win an NBA championship or looking to break into the billboard charts as the next up-and-coming rapper, a mentor is someone who has “been there, done that”. They can dramatically condense the time it takes you to experience success and can give you advice based on real world experience in the same or similar situations.
Everyone you admire in the business and sports world has a mentor. LeBron James has Hakeem Olajuwon and Steve Jobs had many mentors. The point is that no one person can possibly learn everything they need to experience success on their own.
Everyone you admire in the business & sports world has a mentor. LeBron has Hakeem Olajuwon and Steve Jobs had many: http://t.co/ecqVXNBUKW
— Mitchell Harper (@mitchellharper) March 28, 2014
So how do you find a mentor? First up you need to think about why you want a mentor. Start by asking yourself a few questions. Where are you currently frustrated in your business? Where do you spend the most time in your business? Which skill do you lack that you think you need? Which key role do you need to fill now or soon?
Answers these questions and then write down the names of everyone that come to mind who could help. List people like Richard Branson, Marc Benioff, Jack Dorsey, etc. Go crazy and don’t think about whether you can actually get to those people or not.
Next to each person you wrote down, start another column and list the reasons why you listed each of those people. Which skill/skills do they have that you’d find useful? Once you’ve done that for everyone, start looking for skills that are common to multiple people on the list. You might end up with a list like this:
- Has built a business from 0 to 1,000 people
- Has built a great team
- Has expanded internationally
- Is the clear leader in their space
Now take that list and go to LinkedIn’s Influencer page. This lists everyone that contributes content as part of LinkedIn’s Influencer program. Scroll all the way to the bottom and keep scrolling until you reach the very end of the list.
Everyone contributing content here is doing so to expand their reach, share their message and grow their following. They’re also great teachers and excellent communicators, otherwise they wouldn’t have been accepted into LinkedIn’s Influencer program.
Work your way up from the very bottom of the list and look at the LinkedIn profile of each author, check out their business, etc and see if they’re a match to the skills you made a list of earlier. If they are, send them a request on LinkedIn to connect that looks something like this:
My name is Your Name and I’m the founder of Your Company. I’m currently looking for a mentor that would be interested in providing advice to a smart, hardworking and ambitious entrepreneur. Would you have time for a quick call in the next week or so to discuss?
Simple and to the point. There are hundreds of people in LinkedIn’s Influencer program and you should easily be able to find 10 or 20 that you feel could be great mentors to you. I’d estimate that if you send a LinkedIn request to 20 of the influencers, you should get at least 2 or 3 who are interested. You can then jump on a call and tell them about your business, the problem you’re trying to solve, why you’re so passionate about it and what you’ve love their help with.
Once you’ve found a mentor (just start with one, for now), I’d suggest meeting in person or over the phone or Google Hangouts once a month for an hour. Prepare an agenda with a few questions or topics before hand and email it to the a few days before you’re scheduled to meet, so they can have time to think about how they can help.
In terms of remuneration, most mentors will expect nothing in return because as I mentioned, they’ll have fun and will learn a lot from you as well. Some of the more successful mentors may ask for some equity in your startup and if that’s the case you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons of handing out the equity. For reference, all of my mentors have equity in Bigcommerce. And it was the best investment I ever made because their advice is priceless.
If you’re smart, hard working, ask the right questions and execute then there’s a good chance you’ll outgrow your mentor in 1-2 years, which is a great thing. When that happens, just repeat the steps in this post to find a new mentor. Growth is a good thing and I’ve been through at least five mentors in the last five years or so.
If you don’t have any luck with LinkedIn’s Influencers, there are two more approaches you can take. First, go to the 500 Startups mentor page and again, find the LinkedIn profile of the mentors that you feel would help you and repeat the steps above to message them on LinkedIn – or email them.
The second approach involves going to the Inc, FastCompany and Forbes websites and take note of authors who are guest contributors, i.e. they have written content that’s been accepted to publish but they don’t work for any of these websites as a full-time contributor.
Take your list of guest contributors and find them on LinkedIn, see if they’re a fit for the skills you need and reach out to them. Simple.
There are thousands of potential mentors out there, you just have to know where to look and have the courage to ask. You’ll be surprised how many say yes and you’ll be surprised at how much you learn in such a short period of time.
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