Finding Mr. Right – on how to find (and keep) the best mentor for your startup
Idea execution is not the least of any founder’s concern. Finding the right co-founder and mentor who fit into their dreams and businesses are two tasks that sometimes take really long.
Experts say that good mentors are almost like the co-promoters or co-CEOs of companies, and really understands the opportunities and trends of a startup so that they can really help the startup.
One of the well-known examples of mentoring that worked well is in the case of Phanindra Sama, Founder and former CEO, redBus. Phani attributes most of the company’s success to the timely insight he received from his mentor Sanjay Anandram.
Anandram, a former executive at Wipro, advised Phani and his co-founders to switch their business model and sell bus tickets to the public rather than cater to bus operators, a change without which redBus might have even shut down.
Who is the perfect mentor?
- When you set out to find a mentor, you need to target someone with a specific set of skills, not just a good business sense. Try to find a mentor whose skills are complementary to what you bring to the startup.
- Find someone that has the kind of wisdom that can keep you from running into certain obvious problems. This person, usually, has a few more years of (or startup) experience than you have.
Where will you find this person?
- Attend local startup and tech events in your area. Do your best to meet everyone there and figure out what each person does. Carry a little notebook to put down a few names and core strengths you notice from your interactions.
- If you are from a smaller town, your perfect match may be a few circles outside your current circle. Get out of that comfort zone and meet as many people as you can.
- Find the successful companies in your sector and network with the founders. Search among some of the companies you know on LinkedIn, and see if there is a shared connection that can introduce you to this person. If there's no connection, take a direct, candid approach. Twitter works well for such direct approaches too.
How do you prepare for your mentor?
- Start the process by working on your elevator pitch. If you are able to articulate what you want to accomplish and, more importantly, what you need from a mentor, you will start the relationship on a stronger note.
- When you meet with a mentor, you should lead the discussion. Your mentor should not be driving your business, or expected to provide critical feedback on actions taken or missed. It’s most effective if the entrepreneur proposes the agenda and drives for specific insights, but never forgets to press the mentor for broader or related implications.
- Set clear objectives for yourself in your business growth. Decide exactly what you need mentoring on, before you start thinking of the ideal person to work with. If you don’t have an objective, you won’t know what you are driving your business toward.
What do mentors expect from you
- Respect the mentor's time.
- Share your vision with the person.
- Define your problem or opportunity well.
- Build trust by acting on suggestions they give.
- Don’t be adamant and make a nuisance of yourself.
- Send regular notes to communicate progress and current tasks.
- Don’t have too many mentors.
When should you back off?
Red flags must come up when the relationship strays from being a positive and productive one. If your mentor is repeatedly unresponsive or on a different wavelength on more than one issues, bow out of the relationship immediately. Be aware not to burn bridges, though.