Mentors are usually asked for two things: advice and introductions. Advice is an evergreen resource. Just because I give you some advice that doesn’t mean my advice reservoir goes down a bit and I have now have less to give to other entrepreneurs. Quite the contrary, feedback on that advice and seeing how it actually plays out can add to my advice resource.
Introductions or referrals, are as they say, “are a whole nother thing.” As someone I once asked for a referral to an important Silicon Valley executive told me, “Sorry, Steve, but you know I only have so many arrows in my quiver with this guy and I can’t afford to use one for you.”
Why might that be? I didn’t ask, but most likely he did not think well enough of my startup to refer me to his contact. He feared “loss of social capital” if his contact came to the same conclusion and felt like “why is this guy sending me this not ready for prime time company?” It might effect his ability to connect or otherwise leverage his relationship with the guy I want to connect with, or ding his reputation for recognizing exciting startups.
And now, years later having been in his place myself, when for example, people ask me for an intro to say the CEO of PopSleuth, I have to decide is this worth taking up Andreas Randow’s time or not? Sometimes this answer is “no.” As a mentor you need to both nurture and protect your relationships and respect their time and interests. Entrepreneurs should be very careful about their “asks” – make sure you are ready for prime time and have a very compelling reason to ask their mentor for an introduction.
“Steve I have a bunch of questions I’d like to ask your CTO” is not what I want to hear. Something like, “I know your CTO is an expert in flight simulators and we’ve developing a mobile flight sim program, that’s also a multi-player game and we’d like to get his take on whether we should do a web app version as well” is going to work much better as they are right, Andreas is a flight sim maven, and I know he’d be interested in seeing their software.
Their are two types of intros, the warm intro, which can be an email introducing both parties to each other and including a one line bio of each and the reason you are introducing them or a cool intro in which you provide the contact info – almost always email – and say “it’s ok to use my name.” A variation on the warm intro is actual phone call to your contact or a conversation explaining why they should take an upcoming call from the mentee or meet with them.
Finally, if you are a mentee and get an intro – do your homework, check out the person you’ll be seeing on LinkedIn,Twitter, Facebook and other places, like Crunchbase; know exactly what the best case outcome of the meting will be, what your “ask” is, and be flexible about how the connection is made: phone, Skype, F2F – whatever, wherever, and whenever works best for the person you seek to connect with.
And when you do meet with them, make sure before you leave that you say something to the effect that, “If there’s anyway I can ever be of help to you please don’t hesitate to contact me.” And make sure they do have all your contact info.