from Entrepreneur Magazine 14 Nov 11 enhance by Peter.CXO Wiz4biz 10/14
Why? Great business mentors can have an enormous impact on early-stage startups. Their connections can open doors that would otherwise be closed and their experiences can save entrepreneurs from suffering from the same startup mistakes they’ve already made.
How? But finding the best mentor for your business isn’t simple. You’ll need to be able to recognize what makes a great mentor, know how to approach one and then how to maximize the relationship. At TechStars.com (the mentorship-driven seed stage investment fund I co-founded in 2006), we’ve seen all types of mentor relationships, successful & not. Here are three steps for finding the most compatible mentor to help bring your startup idea to the next level:
1. Recognize what makes a “great” Mentor. At TechStars, we’ve found that the best mentors are those who ask a lot of tough questions and challenge you to exceed your goals. In doing so, they should share their own experiences and help you uncover new opportunities. The best mentors don’t tell you – exactly what to do. They understand their role as an advisor and that it’s your choice of how to run it. Those who tell entrepreneurs what to do, and become upset when their instructions aren’t followed, often cause more damage than good. Sometimes a mentor may ask to be compensated for his or her help and advice. But the best mentors will usually never ask for compensation and will be satisfied just by helping out.
2. Find a good Fit. A common mistake we’ve seen is going straight for the busiest, most well known, most visible mentors. While this may occasionally work, it’s often more productive to analyze your own personal network, for mentors whom you respect with relevant experience. Think about approaching the founders and key executives of companies in the same or similar field – who you admire. Those people are usually more likely to invest time in your business, than those with crushing demand from strangers.
3. How to Ask. To make that first connection, you might try sending a short Email explaining what your startup is doing and why you are reaching out. Avoid “form” emails and always make it relevant and easy for the prospective mentor to help. Take a few minutes to read the person’s Blog or Twitter account and learn about his or her background so you can personalize your note.
4. Selling your Organization. Build up to that first meeting by establishing a series of interesting and thought-provoking Email communication. Demonstrate that you’re making regular progress on your product and always close the feedback loop, so the mentor knows you’re listening, analyzing & responding. When you do eventually ask to speak face-to-face, request a 15-minute meeting at his or her office. Approaching a smaller number of mentors who have an actual connection to your business or your market and making sure they understand that connection early on usually leads to better long-term engagement between the Mentor & Mentee.
5. Maximize your Mentor relationship. Once you’ve established a connection, and there is interest from both sides, it’s important to “build a relationship” over time. One way to do this is to communicate regularly by Email. Mentors should love to see your progress and take pride in knowing that their input has been helpful. As a minimum, send a monthly Email that reminds them of your past conversations and updates them on your progress. Ask one new question in these emails to ensure the dialog continues. It’s important to keep these Emails short, to the point & not ask for too much at a time. As needed – with significant questions – a short Phone Call is the best way to have a discussion about a significant issue. And as appropriate have a meeting after your Quarterly results to discuss what did & didn’t work.
Compensation. While mentors shouldn’t ask for financial compensation, if they are consistently spending a considerable amount of time helping you get going, you might consider granting them a small amount of equity in your company to offer a long-term incentive.
Conclusion: Great founders intuitively understand the importance and role of mentors. They recognize that startups are challenging, but realize that a great team, paired with the presence of experienced & engaged Mentor can make an enormous difference – and is often a significant factor of success.
Comments: Anything you can add about finding & using a Mentor?