So, I tend to blog about a bunch of stuff and try to do so with a few different, but specific categories in mind.
One category that I think is really important has been appropriately titled ‘Stuff You Need’ or ‘Startup Stack’ and my aim is to literally talk about the vital stuff you need as a startup founder or founding team (based on the mistakes I’ve made and some stuff I’ve learned).
Some of the resources or ‘stuff’ I’ll talk about may not be that exciting and I will be rattling on about topics such as lawyers and shareholders agreements, accountants and accounting software, but not all of it will be related to compliance and some of it will hopefully have you on the edge of your seat, pumped and ready to go.
Personally I think today’s topic is particularly exiting and that’s mentors.
I’ll go on the record straight away to say that early on in my startup journey I never had anyone who was defined as an ‘official mentor’.
This is something I definitely regret because there were so many times when I wanted to really ask questions, get perspective and be schooled because I was likely making the wrong decision. But because I didn’t have someone who filled this role, I had to deal with a lot of pretty hard stuff by myself.
I wouldn’t advise this for anyone if you can help it, particularly if it’s your first time starting up (if it isn’t your first time then I’m sure you know the value of a great support system and mentor/s).
Fortunately my support network has grown significantly due to my deliberate efforts and I have some very smart people around me who help me make a lot less mistakes than I would without them.
I also find sharing parts of the journey with people I respect really rewarding.
I’ll put it out there and say that I feel extremely fortunate to now be apart of the team at Edgelabs (@edgelabs).
A few of the senior team members (Simon, Jen and Stuart to name drop) here are people that I certainly look to for mentorship on a regular basis. The diverse backgrounds, skill sets and experiences that the Edgelab Ventures team has provides an amazing opportunity for me and the other startup teams and founders that we work with day in and day out.
That said, enough about my mishaps and me, let’s talk about what we need to do and some of the questions a startup founder would ask when looking to find and get the value they need from a mentor.
First of all, why do you need one?
The ‘startup grind’ is a seriously tough gig and going at it alone is a bad idea. One way to ease the certain burden of your startup journey is through a seriously good support system.
These support systems can come in various different forms including; family, friends, colleagues or you may even be fortunate enough to be part of a really good incubator or accelerator in which there is serious human capital at your disposal.
All of these options are great and some are absolutely necessary.
However, one of the wonderful things about a great mentor is having a central point of contact. One person who can give you a high five in the good times but still keep you grounded, and the same person to give you a stern talking to then pick you back up during the hard times.
Someone with leadership skills that you admire, emotional intelligence and a capability to stand outside the realm of your world and offer the type of advice you may expect from a championship football coach.
This type of relationship can be something very special for both the mentor and mentee and it’s something that I am a huge advocate of.
For a mentee, a great mentor can be the rock you need to get through. For me, that’s enough to validate why.
How do I find a mentor?
This is maybe slightly trickier to answer as there are quite a number of variables that need to be taken into consideration and what you really need to answer is not how do I find a mentor, but how do I find the right mentor for me at this current time?
The search for the right mentor, like anything you do in the startup world probably won’t be easy. You’ll first need to spend a bit of time figuring out exactly what you want.
Who is your ideal mentor? What skills do they have? What have they achieved in the past? What unique perspective do you believe they need to provide? Where do you need the most help?
You could probably ask hundreds of questions if you really broke it down but I’d say stick to 5-10, figure out the answers and go about finding someone who fits the mold.
You’ll likely want to look in the type of environment that you intend to reside in or for something that’s quite specific.
I’ll give you an example; if you’re a ‘guns blazing’ CEO type who moves at the speed of light and typically doesn’t think too much about the ramifications of your actions then having a mentor who is a seasoned CFO might be a good idea.
They presumably have a very different skill-set to you, the can likely provide a unique perspective and I’d dare to say they will make you think about things that you may never have even considered.
Broadening the information or input into your decision-making can be hugely valuable.
Don’t take that example too literally. This type of thing is very personal and there is absolutely no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ when you’re looking for a mentor. Just know that you need the right person at the right time to really deliver value.
What can you offer in return?
This is a question that may or may not ask early on but think about this; you’re panicking about your cash flow and you know that you’ve only got 17 days left before you’re out of business and you really need to speak to your seasoned CFO mentor and get advice on what to do.
In this case your mentor will likely provide the stability that you need to make the best decision under the circumstances. That’s pretty valuable.
However, that said, giving back to your mentor is certainly something that you need to think quite carefully about.
Not everyone is fit to be a mentor even if they have the exact skill set, experience and success story you are looking for.
The mentor needs to find value in the mentee and it’s likely that the reason the mentor accepted your invitation (after a few meetings and conversations) to formalise your ‘arrangement’ is because they can see themselves both giving and receiving value from the engagement.
They may see massive potential and want to impart knowledge and help guide you through your journey. They may even want to be inspired by someone who truly believes they are going to change the world for the better.
I cannot pinpoint the exact reason a mentor will work with you as a mentee, however it is important to keep in mind that they also have their reasons.
Finding out what these are will go a long way to getting you what you want out of the relationship, and of course providing the mentor with the value they seek.
Just remember, this is a highly personal relationship that you need to think very carefully about. Your mentor will help shape you into the successful founder you want to become and you are undoubtedly going to experience many highs and lows together.
Don’t make this decision lightly. Figure out what you want and go get it!
There’s no time like the present
Yoda and Luke; a great example of the mentor / mentee relationship!