Mentors can help tremendously through the most dangerous phases of starting up. But how do you make it specific and make sure you get more than a coffee from meeting them?
The trouble with the dynamic between start-up entrepreneur and mentor is that the relationship is at a very high, fuzzy level. “Want to be my mentor?”, “Sure”, “Err, now what?”.
Firstly, there are two things a mentor should be able to do before they consider themselves to be a mentor: introduce you to potential customers and investors. If they can’t do that, they’re not a good mentor for you.
Ideally, a mentor should also be an investor in your company as well. No matter the size of the investment, it shows they share your vision and are passionate about what you are trying to accomplish.
If they say yes, they will also be more likely to be engaged and more likely to introduce you to said customers and investors.
The introductions will also be more likely to pay attention to the request because of the strong signal of belief an investment sends.
Beyond that, choose a role for each mentor you have and match it to their skills set. Think of it as almost hiring for a position.
Can they help with your online marketing? How about hiring developers? Do they have experience in complex sales environments like large companies?
Thinking about the roles will also force you to focus your search for mentors on the problems you are running into right now and also help you filter the feedback you get.
Paypal co-founder Max Levchin put it best: “Figure out one thing each of your investors is genuinely really good at, and insist they help you with that. Among other things it will save you from their help in other areas.”
At Startmate (side note: applications for our next program are now open), by design each start-up is subjected to a fire hose of mentors.
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By focusing the mentors first on introductions and by helping the start-ups figure out what problems are the most pressing in the business we can hopefully avoid a useless loop of “good job, looks great” type feedback and help start-ups achieve lift off.