Do you know what Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos have in common? Aside from running multimillion dollar companies and transforming the tech landscape, something else stands out: they were both mentored by the same man, Bill Campbell.
The CEO Whisperer, as Campbell came to be known, was just one of the numerous advisors who Silicon Valley entrepreneurs love turning to for help and guidance. In fact, data from TechCrunch shows that 33% of the top performing startups in NYC had received mentoring help.
So there is a competitive advantage. But does it mean mentorship is available for your startup? Do you really need one? And what makes a good mentor anyway? These are all questions we’ll answer in this post.
What is a Mentor, Anyway?
As a startup founder or entrepreneur, you may find that everyone around you has their two cents about how to run your company. Some of them even do it for a living. But not all of them are equally as qualified to partake in your startup journey.
This is why it is important to figure out, what is that you actually want? For starters, there are important differences between coaches, advisors and mentors. Let’s break down what each does below:
You may have heard that coaches, in the sports world, might not be the best at doing what they coach for. This is certainly true, but it doesn’t mean they do not know what they are talking about. The job of a coach is to give you strategies and tools for achieving specific results. This is why they often specialize in niche areas, such as “focus” or “leadership”.
Unlike coaches, advisors aren’t there to help you meet a goal, but rather to offer guidance at specific turning points. They are there to give feedback about very specific questions. It can be something very technical, like building a SaaS model, or the legal requirements for entering a local market. Like hiring coaches, it usually involves a contract – not too different from hiring a consultant.
The biggest value mentors will offer is that of wisdom. Thanks to their experience, they are able to offer guidance, insights, and advice, although it’s not always specific. They can sometimes just be there to act as a role model. They can lead by example through their life, career, relationships, health, finances or even spirituality.
In fact, “role model” is probably the closest term to what a mentor ought to be. Which is to say, it could be anyone from your best friend to a university teacher or even someone you’ve never met. Mentors are there to inspire, guide, and reveal insights into your own challenges. And unlike advisors or coaches, the relationship is often informal, and based solely on conversation rather than clear goals and KPIs.
I Need a Mentor – How do I Find One?
One important point to note is that mentor – mentee relationships are often organic, and based on mutual respect and kinship rather than a fixed-fee contract. It’s an informal affair, and one that can last a lifetime.
However, there is an increasing amount of services designed to facilitate mentorship for entrepreneurs. You will also have to do a bit of groundwork by following these steps.
Create a Wishlist
Before searching for a mentor, you need to set out your expectations on what kind of a person you wish to find. For instance, think of who your business role models are: What have they achieved? What is that you admire in them? What is it that you would like to have help with?
We recommend creating a wishlist with max. 5 main characteristics you’d wish to find in a mentor. These could include characteristics like:
- Professional Background
(In example: a startup founder or a CEO)
- Professional Journey
(In example: has faced hardships in securing investment)
- Personality Traits
(In example: is calm and reassuring)
- Industry Knowledge
(In example: on healthtech and bioengineering)
- Regional Knowledge
(In example: knowledgeable on German market)
- Availability & Commitment
(In example: likes to meet face to face once a month)
(In example: is looking for a possible role as an Angel Investor)
DIY: Map Out your Network
Think of the game “six degrees of separation”. Even if you’ve never met your ideal mentor, chances are you know someone who does. So see how much effort it would take to reach out to mentors by visualizing your connections – you might even stumble on other potential mentors along the way!
We recommend using methods like:
- Mapping out your co-founders existing networks
- Chatting up friends and colleagues
- Reaching out to your 2nd and 3rd connections on LinkedIn
- Talking to past colleagues and employers
- Participating in meets & greets in startup events
Get assistance: Join a Mentorship Programme
Mentorship is gaining such a powerful reputation in the startup world, that some startups now specialize in facilitating it. Which is to say: you do not need to do the whole process all by yourself. You can signup to several online & offline programs who can help you find the ideal mentor. Google is your friend here, but here’s a quick selection of links for some of our favourite programmes.
- In Denmark: the Copenhagen Municipality has a programme, and so does VentureCup, for university startups.
- In Sweden: a good example is the programme started by the Swedish Chamber of Commerce.
- In Norway: The Professional Women’s Network has a noteworthy mentorship programme for female entrepreneurs.
- In Finland: NewCo Helsinki has a programme, and so does Yrityskummit. Suomen Mentorit has helped 2000+ people find mentors so far.
- In Northern Ireland: Enterprise Northern IrelandWomen in Business NI has a mentorship programme to help your startup foster business growth, whilst has a dedicated mentorship programme for female founders.
- Cross-Nordic: If you are a startup working with the Sustainable Development Goals, we also recommend you take a look at our sister platform +impact.
Reach out to a Possible Mentor
There really should be no need for a step-by-step guide on how to reach out: we are all just people after all. But it can definitely feel intimidating to send out a cold email or just call up a founder you look up to. So we did create a template you can use for the email reach out, as well as a hefty list of questions you can use to foster a prospering relationship with your mentor-to-be.
You can also get assistance for the reach-out from the mentorship programs. These programs usually have their own procedures, usually involving a matchmaker who will facilitate the conversation and ensure your goals are aligned.
Startups and Mentorship – Key Takeaways
You’ll find more and more professionals recommend you get a mentor – especially in the tech and startup sphere. While mentorship has been shown to reap significant rewards, always make sure you’re not just jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it.
First, it helps to really consider if you need mentorship, and what kind. Maybe you find it easier to focus on self-growth, which the best mentorship programs cannot replace. Maybe you like the structure of a contractual mentorship – one provided by a third-party.
Second, an easy way to start the reach outs is to ask the possible mentors something about their experience and life story. This is the easiest way to get into a real, insightful conversation with a person to determine if they may or may not be mentor-material.
Finally, it is good to remember just because mentors exist doesn’t mean you need to stop asking for help and assistance informally. It is always beneficial to foster your circle of trust and make sure you are surrounded by people who are not afraid to give you authentic and honest feedback.