Finding a mentor for your startup
As a startup founder, you will face a plethora of challenges and uncertainties along the way, from raising capital and recruiting top talent to navigating the complexities of the marketplace and scaling your business. The journey of a startup founder can be unpredictable and risky.
One of the most valuable resources you can have at your disposal as a startup founder is a mentor. A mentor is an experienced and knowledgeable person who is willing to share their wisdom and advice with you, their mentee. They can provide valuable guidance on business strategy, leadership skills, industry-specific challenges and more.
Benefits of having a mentor
The decision to find a mentor is a smart one. You’ll be happy to know that 70% of startups that receive mentoring are still going strong after five years. That’s double the rate compared to those that don’t.
Here are a few ways a mentor can be beneficial to you as a startup founder:
Offering objective and unbiased feedback
As a startup founder, it can be easy to get caught up in your own vision. A mentor can provide a different perspective and offer honest and constructive feedback on your business ideas, strategies and challenges. This can be valuable for those who may not have a strong support system in place or who may not receive regular feedback on their work.
Providing guidance on business strategy
A mentor can help you develop a solid business plan and strategy that will guide your startup to success. They can provide knowledge on how to identify your target market, develop a marketing plan and make key business decisions.
Introducing you to their network
A mentor with a strong network can introduce you to important players and help you make connections that can further your venture.
Offering support and encouragement
Being a founder is a stressful and isolating experience at times, and a mentor can lend an ear and offer emotional support during difficult times. They can also encourage and motivate you to keep moving forward.
Developing your leadership skills
A startup founder needs strong leadership skills, and a mentor can also provide guidance and support as you learn to lead and manage your team effectively.
How to find a mentor
While the benefits may be obvious, the question still remains; how do you go about finding a mentor as a startup founder? Here are a few steps you can take:
Identify your needs and goals
Before you start looking for a mentor, it is important to have a clear understanding of what you hope to gain from the relationship. Are you looking for guidance on business strategy? Do you need support and encouragement? Identifying your needs and goals will help you to find a mentor who is well suited to your needs.
Look within your network
One of the best places to start looking for a mentor is within your own network. This might include colleagues, friends, family members or professionals you’ve worked with in the past. Consider reaching out to people you know and respect to see if they’re willing to mentor you.
Join a mentorship program
There are many mentorship programs available that can help you connect with a mentor. They’re typically industry specific and can be a great way to find a mentor who has experience in your field.
Attend industry events
Industry events and conferences are a great way to meet potential mentors. Attend events in your field and network with professionals who may be willing to mentor you.
Use online resources
There are also a number of online resources that can help you find a mentor. LinkedIn is a great place to start, as you can search for professionals in your industry and connect with them directly. Check out FounderDating or MentorMatch too if you haven’t already.
What to look for in your mentor
Putting yourself in the right place is good, but knowing what questions to ask is the icing on the cake. According to Stephenson Mansell Group, our partner in Stone & Chalk’s flagship Mentor Program, here are the nine questions founders should be asking themselves when evaluating a mentor.
1. Are they accomplished in the area that is relevant to me?
Choosing a mentor who has experience and success in your field can equip you with invaluable resources to accelerate your startup. Barbara Sharp, CEO & Co-Founder of Pax Republic, says, “I have to pinch myself when I think about the access to the real smarts that the S&C mentor program has given me. I mean, company directors, banking executives with 30 year careers, people who have done deals that I dream about. The startup dream is so much more doable when you have such a rich resource as a sounding board.”
2. Do I relate to and trust them?
This is perhaps the most important question to ask yourself, as a mentor will provide input to help you make decisions that can have a major impact on your business and your life.
3. Do they have a mentor mindset?
A true mentor should desire to selflessly help their mentee succeed and achieve their goals without competing agendas.
4. Can they provide the right balance between challenge and support?
A good mentor is prepared to ask the tough questions and challenge you, as well as providing you with a safety net of support.
5. Are they a good listener?
Whilst a large part of a mentor’s role is to share their knowledge and insights, mentoring is not all about them doing the talking. A good mentor should actively listen and give you their full and undivided attention, and empathise with you.
6. Do they ask good questions?
Good questions will challenge your thinking, provide insight, deepen your understanding and allow you to see things from a different perspective.
7. Are they well connected?
One measure of success as a mentor is a highly developed network. A good mentor will introduce you to relevant contacts who they believe can inspire and assist you further. One of our mentees, Nigel Lovell, Founder of OpenSparkz, has a great example of this from his experience with Stone & Chalk’s MentorMatch program. “One of my mentors burst through the door unannounced, blurting that she had found somebody to invest in the business!” he shares. Dmitri Muntean, Managing Director of Payshield, explains, "The mentor program consists of mentors who have been in the industry for decades and who have access to all possible connections. It provides invaluable help.”
8. Do they realistically have the time and energy for me?
Mentorship is most effective when mentors have enough time and energy, and the right level of commitment to work with you. Make sure there is an understanding before pairing up about how often you will meet and what the expectation is around what they can provide as a mentor.
9. Can they read me and the situation?
Being a founder of a startup can present massive challenges and come with a lot of pressure. That’s why it’s critical that your mentor understands who you are as a person and is able to identify the difference between normal levels of stress and signs of burnout. This will enable them to advise you on steps required to help manage your stress or refer you to someone who can.
Finding the right mentor for you requires some effort and persistence but the benefits of having one as a startup founder are numerous. A great mentor will provide valuable guidance, support and encouragement as you navigate the unpredictable journey of building a startup. If you don't currently have a mentor, consider reaching out to someone you know has experience in your field and pop the question.
All Stone & Chalk residents are offered the opportunity to be matched with highly qualified, experienced and committed mentors.