Mentors are a must!


John Rampton‘s article in Inc entitled 10 Reasons Why a Mentor Is a Must is written from his firsthand experiences as an entrepreneur. The sub-title of the article From not making certain business decisions to fostering certain partnerships, a mentor can help guide you through your entrepreneurial journey is a good summary. As usual I’ll provide my annotations to each of the ten reasons; read the article for Mr. Rampton’s amplifications.

  1. Mentors provide information and knowledge.  As Samuel Johnson said, Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. And I’ll say that knowledge provision to entrepreneurs is of two kinds: general information on how to start and develop a growth company and domain-specific knowledge about starting a company in a specific market. Every startup can benefit from the first. The second takes a mentor with subject matter expertise. Very early stage companies all need the first type of knowledge, as they grow the need for domain-specific mentors grows.
  2. Mentors can see where we need to improve where we often cannot. I’ve never heard of anyone improving themselves or their ventures by being praised. It is only by constructive criticism that an entrepreneur can improve. Friends and family offer provide praise, it’s the mentors who are far more comfortable with the constructive criticism.
  3. Mentors find ways to stimulate our personal and professional growth. Frankly Mr. Rampton’s had a different experience than I had and a different experience than mentorship programs I’m aware of provide. We don’t focus on personal growth at MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, The MIT Sandbox, or MIT’s I-Corps. If you are lucky enough to find a mentor to help stimulate your personal growth that’s great, but I would not count on it.
  4. Mentors offer encouragement and help keep us going. Startups are hard, very hard. That’s why any criticism must be constructive and needs to be balanced by encouragement. A mentor can step back and see the big picture while a founder may feel like they are drowning. But while we can act as cheerleaders, the mentors themselves must have relentless persistence.
  5. Mentors are disciplinarians that create necessary boundaries that we cannot set for ourselves. Again my experience as a mentor is quite different. While we do provide perspective and help founders focus, we hardly see ourselves as disciplinarians. Founders must have self-discipline.
  6. Mentors are sounding boards so we can bounce ideas off them for an unfiltered opinion. Well here’s a point I can agree with! Anyone who’s read my blog knows that one of my favorite quotes is from Alan Kay, Perspective is worth 80 IQ points. As mentors we definitely act as sounding boards. Though in team mentoring often there will be a difference opinion amongst the mentors. It’s up to the founder to follow the advice or feedback they find most helpful.
  7.  Mentors are trusted advisers. Without trust advice is worthless. Building trust takes some time. But we inform every entrepreneur we serve at MIT that their information is held in the strictest confidence, bound by the NDA all mentors must sign.
  8. Mentors can be connectors. The key words here are “can be.” Mentors often provide connections to their network, but connections are definitely not something founders should expect. What they should expect is unbiased advice, feedback, and guidance. Not every mentor will have a connection to offer every founder, there are simply to many fields or markets for that to be practicable.
  9. Mentors have the experiences you can learn from to prevent making the same mistakes beginners make. I tell my mentees, Be creative, don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made, make your own! Everyone can and will make mistakes. What separates the winners from the losers is how they react to those mistakes. Mentors can put the founder’s mistake in context and often offer options on how to recover from them.
  10.  Mentors are free, which makes them priceless in more ways than one.  …they are driven by the satisfaction of helping another entrepreneur, paying it forward from a similar experience they had when starting their own business. Well said, Mr. Rampton! You will pay for coaching, but the cost of mentoring is born by a parent organization, such as a university, incubator or accelerator.


Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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