Men mentoring two women
Matthew Custage
Matthew Custage is the Senior Vice President of FUEL Partnerships and a Global Ambassador for The Startup Studio

The Power of Mentorship

Think about the most successful entrepreneurs of our time.  Did they all get there entirely on their own?  While there may be a few outliers, nearly all of the top entrepreneurs had help getting where they are.  Some had help with the idea, some with finances, but almost all received help in the form of trusted advice and guidance.  Does that make them any less successful?  No.

Mentorship is a subject that we can write about and discuss at great lengths, but for the purposes of this piece, let us focus on a high-level overview of the importance of mentor relationships and how to approach them.

Consider this ranking of what may be the top three most important factors to contributing to an entrepreneur’s ability to successfully execute their concept:

  1. Strong mentor relationship(s) and network behind it
  2. Financial resources (if required)
  3. The business idea

 

While this is of course not a complete list of factors, it may surprise you that I ranked the “the business idea” third behind mentor relationships and financial resources.  Depending on the business idea, we might argue whether financial resources or mentor relationships are more critical, but the harsh truth for young entrepreneurs is that the idea alone is not enough.  I have watched entrepreneurs pitch brilliant concepts and then fall flat on their face when they try to bring them to life. Why does that happen?  More often than not, it is because they overlook the importance of having a mentor in their life to help them.

A traditionally accepted definition of mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.

Many young people may associate this definition with someone with “gray hair” telling them what to do.  However, if practiced correctly, mentorship can be so much more than that.  A strong mentor can fill many roles including:

  • Teacher:   Provide you with practical knowledge you otherwise would not have
  • Guide:  Direct you to a new path or alert you to an upcoming obstacle
  • Networker:  Open a door for you
  • Honest Broker:  Provide direct feedback and third-party perspective on matters
  • Sympathetic Ear:  Pick you up when you are feeling down (and you will feel down)
  • Active Participant:  Join you in the venture in some capacity

 

Study that list closely and think about the advantage that can be obtained by having these positions filled by the right individual(s).  These roles can be far more valuable to a young entrepreneur and their business than any injection of capital and frankly, could be much more of a determining factor of success or failure.

 

Embrace Asking for Help

I have on more than one occasion come across young entrepreneurs that express they are reticent to seek out help.  Admittedly, this was something I experienced in my early years as an entrepreneur.  There can be an unfounded internal resistance to involving others in your quest for success.  Some of us would rather do it on our own than involve others. This is a mentality that needs to be broken as soon as possible if you wish to succeed.  In a world as competitive as ours, it often comes down to who you know or can gain access to.  There should be no shame whatsoever in taking full advantage of the resources you have, both personal or otherwise.  If you doubt this, ask yourself whether you would rather have a successful venture with the help of others or a failed concept because you refused to seek assistance.

 

Approaching Mentorship

Equally as important to deciding to seek mentorship is determining who the right mentor(s) is/are for you.  The mentor relationship is founded in trust.  They trust that you will take their counsel seriously and you must trust that they have your best interests at heart.  How should you go about finding the right partner?

 

Identify the gaps in your skill set

Being able to clearly articulate where you need the help is the beginning of this process.  If you are a young entrepreneur, chances are you don’t have a ton of experience in any one particular area.  That means you might have a good idea pertaining to a specific industry, but you don’t know the nuances or have enough real-world knowledge to bring it to market in the smartest way possible.

  • Action:  Put together a description of the skills or knowledge that you are seeking
      • Tip:  this list will inevitably grow, so start off with the key things that you think are important right now.

 

Considering candidates 

  • Long-term, but not forever
    • This is a good time to point out that when thinking of mentorship, we want to consider people that we think can be long-term advisors.  However, long-term does not mean forever.  There may be a mentor that is better suited for you in the nascent stage of your business but not necessarily as you begin to grow or mature.  It is perfectly natural to transition your mentor relationships as your business progresses through its life cycle.
  • Mentor by committee
    • Similar to the above-mentioned point, it is important to accept that there may not be one single mentor for you.  It might very well be that you have several mentors you can consult with depending on their areas of expertise.
  • These may be helpful questions to think about when deciding to work with a mentor:
    • Can this individual(s) help me grow as a person and entrepreneur?
    • Do they possess missing skills/knowledge that I am seeking?
    • Will they be brutally honest with me and not simply serve as a cheerleader?
    • Will they devote the appropriate amount of time to this relationship?

 

Getting started

As in any business relationship, I recommend establishing the parameters of the mentorship at the outset.  Work with your mentor to outline what it is you hope to achieve in working together and how you will govern your activities.  Approach it with care and with the understanding that in most cases, the mentor is not gaining anything other than the satisfaction of helping you.  The most valuable asset we possess is our time.  Any mentor that is willing to offer some of their time to your own growth as a person and entrepreneur is worthy of your full respect and appreciation.

Now get out there and accomplish great things together.

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