Being a confirmed introvert myself, the article Best 5 Tips for Introverted Entrepreneurs by Larry Alton on Small Business Trends caught my eye. But as I’m now a mentor to entrepreneurs, not an entrepreneur myself, tip number 3 really got my attention.
3. Find a Strong Mentor
If you’re struggling to make contacts through conventional forms of socializing, like networking events, or if you aren’t sure where to start, find yourself a strong mentor. Entrepreneurs who have already found success will have a wide network of contacts you can borrow as you start to make your own progress. Most introverts also find it easier to communicate with people they get to know well over time, so as you spend more time with your mentor, you’ll have an easier time communicating and learning.
There are two parts to the tip. Part one is using your mentor to find contacts. This is a common conception, but I (and the MIT Venture Mentoring Service) consider this a misconception. Your mentor may provide you with contacts, but assuming your mentor will will provide you with contacts will either greatly limit your choice of mentors or result in disappointment. Mentorship is about providing advice, feedback, and guidance based on experience. It is not about providing contacts per se, though I’m always glad if I can provide a mentor with a useful contact, as are other mentors I know. But expecting us to be “walking Rolodexes” open 24 x 7 to entrepreneurs is not a good idea.
The second part of the tip, Most introverts also find it easier to communicate with people they get to know well over time, so as you spend more time with your mentor, you’ll have an easier time communicating and learning. is certainly true in my experience. And helping founders better communicate and learn is a foundational aspect of mentorship. At the end of the day, mentoring is an educational endeavor, not a networking endeavor. But if you are just looking for contacts, use LinkedIn, Facebook, et al and attend the dozens of networking events out there. Going to these events with a friend can be helpful if you are an introvert. But if you want to learn how to learn, improve your business communications, get feedback on your business concept, and get advice and guidance based on real world experience, then find a mentor.
But if you are an introverted entrepreneur it’s worth reading Larry Alton’s full article. As he points out:
…there are many examples of introverts who have become successful business owners. Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, is notoriously shy and introverted, yet is able to lead one of the biggest tech companies on the planet. Bill Gates, too, is open about overcoming the challenges of introversion on his path to becoming one of the richest men on the planet.
And it’s not just the tech world, either—consulting maverick Sam Ovens describes himself as an introvert, having overcome a fear of pitching his business to others at the start of his entrepreneurial journey.
And while I’m at it, trying to set your expectations for a mentor, don’t expect us to help you raise capital either. Again, if we know an investor who’s a fit for your venture, we will certainly be glad to make an introduction. But keep in mind, investors judge people like us who refer founders to them by the quality and readiness of the ventures we recommend, so you may well have more work to do before we would be comfortable making an introduction to an investor we know. As a mentor of mine once said when asked for an introduction to a prominent VC, “Keep in mind, I only have so many arrows in my quiver.”
I hope I haven’t discouraged you from finding a mentor, it’s a rare founder who can’t benefit from advice and guidance from a neutral third party. Advice from friends and family may be all well and good, but mentors aren’t either, so they will tell it to you straight. And that should be the way you want to hear it if you are serious about improving yourself as an entrepreneur and increasing the chances your venture will be successful.