Finding Your First Mentor
How young businesses can win over a mentor that ticks the right boxes.
By Sharon Lewis
One way of reinventing the wheel is to find the person who invented it, and get them to mentor you.
As veterans in their fields, mentors can use their experience to help founders hop, skip, and jump past potential hurdles. For an early-stage business, this can keep the burn rate down, accelerate growth, and make the startup market- and investment-ready.
Finding a great mentor can fast-track success in the early days of your startup. Here are some ways to make it happen.
Bring relevant information to the table.
When approaching a potential mentor, make sure to bring something worthwhile and exciting to the table. It is easy to believe that a great idea will do the trick, but the startup world is full of great ideas. Competition in the idea marketplace is very real.
Having evidence of work-in-progress, such as a minimum viable product or a go-to-market strategy, can tilt the balance in your favor. These pieces of evidence demonstrate that founders are serious about building their startup, and have the stamina to see the idea through to reality.
They also eliminate the need for ‘startup small talk.’ Since founders have already figured out the nitty-gritty of their proposals, mentors can jump into the real meat of the business. This optimizes the mentorship experience for mentors, especially for ones who have guided or are currently guiding other startups.
Be ready with your Elevator Pitch.
An investor will look to get their money’s worth, but for mentors, time is money. It is the one resource that they are constantly short of, owing to their own business affairs as well as commitments to other mentees that they must honor.
A shortage of time is one of the main reasons a mentor will choose not take up new projects. Being ready with an elevator pitch can turn a likely rejection into acceptance, or at least open up a window for further discussion.
When drafting your elevator pitch, keep in mind four Cs that you must incorporate in order for the pitch to land strongly. The pitch must be Concrete, Concise, Convincing, and Compelling enough to elicit a nod from a potential mentor.
The world has no dearth of smart and successful people. In the startup world, especially, anyone who has been in this space for a while is sure to have a laundry list of achievements and experiences to their name. Naturally, there may be far too many options, making it tempting to contact anyone and everyone in your field.
However, it would be unwise to reach out to just anyone for mentorship, which is more likely to happen in times of desperation or foolhardiness. Picking the wrong person could ultimately harm more than help your business, or in the best case scenario, someone who is unable to benefit your business because their skill set is completely at odds with your current needs.
List out the qualities and skills a mentor would need in order to contribute value to your startup. This could be growth hacking, brand building, technical expertise, or even leadership qualities – it all depends on what the business needs in the present in order to progress to the next stage.
If you know your startup inside out, this will be easy to do. If you do not, getting a mentor on board is less likely to help.
Follow leads from your learning resources.
Founders should ideally be in a state of constant learning. This does not have to be by way of academic instruction; founders generally don’t have a schedule that allows time to attend business school. Learning comes in a variety of different formats – an interesting book, podcast, LinkedIn article, or just the expansive world of online content are great places to acquire knowledge.
These are also good places to spot a mentor. When consuming content, keep an eye out for individuals in your field who could become good mentors for your startup. They don’t even necessarily need to be in the same country, as long as you’ve taken time zones (and any other potential obstacles to communication) into account.
Take an online-offline approach.
The online versus offline debate is waning, and more people are recognizing that a combination of the two can prove twice as effective.
Leverage online tools such as social media (LinkedIn and WhatsApp groups are useful tools in this space), interactive online conferences, and online platforms such as SCORE, MentorCity, or Mogul to reach out to mentors.
At the same time, keep space in your schedule to attend upcoming networking events, conferences pertaining to your industry, or meet-ups that are happening nearby. Participating and properly engaging with relevant events can lead to a chance encounter with a future mentor, so seize the opportunity.
It is common knowledge that opportunities can open up where one least expects them to, and this is true for mentorship avenues as well. There is no excuse to not be ready for them. To find a mentor that fits the bill, all it takes is to get up and running, and look in the right places.
Header image by KOBU Agency on Unsplash