Mentors and Advisers: 4 Qualities That Set Them Apart
How mentors and advisers do the same thing, but differently
By Sharon Lewis
Most people use the words shade, hue, and tint to mean color. An artist will tell you, however, that there is a difference. While hues are the actual base colors, shades and tints are darker and lighter notes of those underlying colors.
The difference between a mentor and an adviser is of a similar nature. Both these terms are used interchangeably to refer to persons offering guidance to a startup. In essence, they perform the same function of supporting startups as they grow, by providing insights and extending their expertise, but the roles are not identical.
While both mentors and advisers counsel startups, the difference is in their advisory outlook and the essential attributes of their relationship with startups and founders. Like shades and tints, the differences are subtle but definitely present.
Mentors are akin to godfathers. They have probably been in the same industry as you, and have clocked in several years of experience doing many of the things you see yourself doing in the future. In essence, they are role models and should be approached for wider strategy planning and macro-level issues.
Advisers, on the other hand, are more focused on smaller company matters. Advisers are experts in specific domains, such as business development and fundraising. They will be able to help you with precise problem statements that your business is facing, unlike mentors, who can be reached out to in more generic situations.
For instance, an adviser could be more effective for reaching specific and measurable business goals, but providing guidance on building company culture in the long term would be a task best suited to a mentor.
Timeline of the Commitment
Mentors are people you want to build a long-lasting relationship with. Ideally, a mentor-mentee relationship emerges from shared values and a sense of personal belief in each other. This is why the value of the relationship is maximized when the relationship exists from the medium to the long term.
An adviser is meant to help you with specific problems which exist in the short to medium term, such as developing a go-to-market strategy. When the problem has been resolved, an adviser may exit or move on to their next business fix.
Nature of the Relationship
While you may invite a mentor to your birthday dinner, meetings with advisers are best kept to office roundtables or a quick business call. With time, mentorship evolves into more personal interactions, whereas advisory roles are more likely to remain formal. One can have a mentor for several years without even formally acknowledging such a position.
This is not a rule of thumb. The nature of your connection with an adviser or mentor should be understood as spectrum, with mentors leaning towards the unofficial side of the scale and advisers on the other end. However, as with any spectrum, mentors and advisers can exist anywhere within that range.
Most advisers are legally associated with the business, which is why they are often featured on the company website. An adviser may have contractual obligations to the company, outlined by official documents such as the Founder/Advisor Standard Template (FAST) agreement, and also tend to be paid through cash or stock.
A mentor, however, is usually not legally bound. It is uncommon for mentors to be outrightly and officially asked to mentor a founder on resolute terms. Even if such a declaration exists, it does not necessarily mean that the relationship will be fruitful. Mentors can receive compensation, but a mentor-mentee equation typically prioritizes the mentee’s personal and professional growth.
Knowing how the type of advisory between a mentor and an adviser differs can help founders make the growth process more efficient for themselves and their startups.
It is best to put together an advisory board when looking for advisers. This gives the startup access to a wider scale of business expertise. When looking for a mentor, however, remember that the key is to build a personal connection.
After all, the Consigliere and the Godfather both make significant contributions, but at markedly different levels. Identifying when to approach whom can help startups efficiently distribute the advisory available to them on a needs-first basis, and make the most out of others’ expertise.
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