The Forbes article How Startups Can Find the Yoda of Mentors by Meghan Larson, founder of Adistry, is a very good, short introduction to the value of mentoring to a startup.
There is a simple strategy that typically gets overlooked that can increase your startup’s chances of success more than anything else: working with a mentor.
The article outlines four steps to finding a mentor. I’ll list them, with my comments attached, As always, read the original article for the author’s viewpoint.
- Think about what you need help with the most. While it’s ideal to find a mentor with domain expertise in your market and experience working in that market, it’s not a requirement. Mentors don’t have infinite time to spend with you, so think carefully about what issues you need help with? Creating the right company culture? Organizational design? Feedback on your investor pitch deck? A truly experienced mentor who has succeeded in business will be able to help you regardless of what industry they gained their success in.
- Establish a mutually beneficial relationship. . Unlike executive coaches, mentors do not charge for their services. Mentors are thus fully aligned with the goals of the company, unlike coaches who’s motivations may be more focused on their personal monetary gain. However, there is nothing wrong with giving a mentor shares of stock to thank them for their help. My rule of thumb was to allocate 1/2% to 1% of the company’s shares to an entire advisory board of six or seven members. Instead of a four year vesting program that is standard for employee you might want to make it one year for a mentor and look at renewing your relationship on a yearly basis.
- Network like a pro. The most common question from founders is, “Ok, but how do I find a mentor? The author recommends networking: “Technology meetups, hackathons and industry conferences are optimal environments for discovering your ideal mentor.” However, before that I’d recommend you try your personal network and the personal networks of your co-founders. Always better to have a warm introduction. As Meghan Larson points out, your investors have a portfolio of companies to tend to. “They excel at helping you with your next raise.” Rely on your mentor for advice, guidance, and feedback on an as-needed basis.
- Trust your instincts. You need the right chemistry with your mentor – it’s a relationship of trust. However you also have to protect the company. You should have a Letter of Intent with your mentor that spells out what they will do for you and how many shares you will grant them under what T’s and C’s. And of course, mentors need to sign NDAs, as they will be privileged to confidential information about the company. Meghan has a great tip on this LOI: “A great advisor will suggest improvements to your agreements before signing.”
Here’s her close to the article:
Recall Yoda’s wise words when entering into a mentor-founder relationship: “You will find only what you bring in.”
While this article is a good start, there are several other articles on my blog un the Mentor category, including posts like Mentor/Founder Fit and Don’t just find a mentor. Allow yourself to be mentored.. There’s a lot to mentoring and being mentored. That’s the purpose of this blog: helping both mentors and mentees.