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Why Every Startup Founder Needs a Mentor

So you are building a startup and will be looking for funding at some point. If you're doing this for the first time, and you've started gathering what has to be done and the many hats you will be wearing, you're probably freaking the F out! There's so much to learn, so many decisions to take, and only yourself to really rely on. It's easy to get overwhelmed.

One part is being organized, and the other is finding the right guidance. That's where a mentor comes in. The person/people that can make all the difference in helping you survive and thrive. In the last week, this is all I have been speaking about - so we will explore the benefits of finding a mentor, a few red flags to watch out for, and how to build a relationship with your mentor that is mutually beneficial.

Advantages of having a mentor

🧐 Gain valuable insights

Fast track yourself to pivot, or even better, success with the right mentor. The Mentor has been around the block and most likely had both successes and failures. The wisdom gained from these is invaluable to founders, and won't be found on Youtube or TikTok. They can offer invaluable insights, from customer development to fundraising, and everything in between. Working with a mentor, you can hack your way to success while avoiding common mistakes and losing hair and sleep.

🤝 Build a strong network

Networks are very important to help you grow. Mentors will help you expand your network through strategic introductions - be it a potential partner, customer, or investor. These connections can be invaluable for your personal growth and the growth of your business.

⚖️ Empathy

A mentor that has walked the path is better equipped to walk this journey with you. It's very easy to get discouraged, especially when things are not going to your plan. A mentor can provide the emotional support and encouragement needed to help stay motivated through good and tough times. If you thought, as an employee, you don't have balance, think again - as a founder, you will find yourself working long days and nights, sacrificing time with loved ones, and even passion projects, all in an effort to build your business. Mentors can help you find ways to manage all of it, to prevent burnout.

🏁 Keeping you accountable

If you were an employee, you were accountable to your boss. Now you are the boss, but there's no one there to hold your hand or hold you accountable for achieving your goals and vision. A mentor will not really tolerate excuses as you have so much more riding on the line. A mentor will help you set goals, build your vision, and hold you accountable to achieve them.

👍👎 Objective Feedback

Feel free to deny this, but you will only be lying to yourself. We live in our minds as entrepreneurs. Founders get emotionally attached to their ideas and can struggle to see matters objectively. There will be many times you won't be able to see the forest for the trees, and without having that sounding board, you may miss the obvious. You will find yourself ruminating and stuck in the same position 3 months later. Objective feedback from a mentor plays a big role in helping you build a resilient and entrepreneurial mindset - especially in the early stages.

🔬 Access to resources

I'm yet to meet a mentor who has not shared resources with their mentee founders. Mentors are there to help you grow, and avoid as many mistakes as they can. Some of this can be through sharing resources like industry reports, research studies, online tools, and the likes.

🧭 Navigate challenges and setbacks

If you are used to winning, entrepreneurship will certainly humble you. You may find yourself facing legal, financial and operational challenges. Mentors and advisors will help you navigate these choppy waters by providing guidance on how to overcome them.

For example, if you are struggling with fundraising, an advisor with experience in fundraising and finance can help you create a solid pitch deck and connect you with potential investors. The same applies to other aspects of your business.

So how do you go about finding mentors and advisors?

Start by thinking of your mentor as an investment into your success. Do not start with the expectation of getting free advice, especially from mentors who focus on building, scaling and investing in startups. Look for fit - in terms of what you business needs, as well as energy fit. A person/people who share your vision and are willing to walk the path with you. To help you find mentors that may be willing to get involved you should try several, if not all of these approaches:

🤝 Networking

Network with intention. There are tons of events for small businesses and startups, organized by various organisations. Find events in your geographical area, focusing on your sector. If you are keen to travel and attend events outside your area, even better - just be sure to check that it's actually applicable to you. Join relevant online communities and groups. You never know who you could meet, who if you took the time to build a relationship with, can open up doors later for you.

👥 Startup accelerators & mentorship programs

The startup space has a number of programs from many credible institutions. Programs such as the Founder Institute help you get your idea off the ground. Techstars and Y-Combinator take you and catapult you to scale. The Venture Mentoring Team, provides group-based coaching depending on your specific needs, and Investable offers customised coaching to help you raise funding. These programs can be a great way to find a mentor or advisor who has experience in your industry and can provide guidance specific to your business. Keep in mind that you may be asked to give away equity in exchange - but it's worth it as these mentors go through a strict selection process and have been vetted by the best.

📧 Cold outreach:

Linkedin is your friend. During my corporate life, and pre-covid, I used it to showcase my CV. Linkedin has evolved into a sales tool of note! Just take note. -before reaching out to people, have a look at their profile and write a thoughtful connection note. Follow them, and build a relationship with them before asking them to be a mentor or advisor.

Lunchclub is another favorite of mine, where you are automatically matched with people, based on your networking objectives. The system's algorithms will find, match, and setup a meeting with someone looking to mentor founders in specific sectors and niches. It's like automated speed dating for Founders.

Social Media:

I personally can't keep up with social media platforms like Twitter, but when I get a gap, there are a number of mentors, coaches and advisors I connect with, who I later partner up with to mentor founders on various programs. There are a number of thought leaders who are more active on Twitter, than they are on Linkedin or any other platform. Clubhouse is another platform where audio conversations are held by mentors and investors, where you can get mentoring for free.

Tips to build healthy mentorship relationships

Mentorship is a two-way street. A mentor will give up their time, expertise, skills, and insights, so it's beyond imperative that you as the founder remain cognisant and respectful of the mentor's time and energy. It should be a positive and energizing experience for both parties.

Irrespective of whether the mentor is being compensated financially, there should be a mutual respect that lays the foundation for a fruitful and lasting relationship. If the mentor is helping you pro Bono, i.e. giving you their time with zero compensation, it's important to be respectful of their time and priorities. you will, unfortunately not feature high on their radar, unless mentoring is a high priority on their value list. It's equally important to show gratitude, which can take many forms such as thank-you notes, testimonials, making introductions, etc.

The boundaries of both parties should be respected at all times. For mentors who are not charging for their time, be particularly respectful that they have their own priorities, commitments, and responsibilities and probably will not drop everything because you are eager to meet. It's unreasonable to also expect extensive support, especially for services or advice they currently get compensated for.

In conclusion, it's important to maintain a respectable, positive, and supportive relationship over time. Do your research and speak to founders who they worked with for reference if you need further comfort. Show the mentor that you are worth investing time, energy, and resources into. Be clear about compensation expectations. If you are able to compensate your mentor, do so. This energy exchange speaks highly of one's drive to succeed. With these principles in mind, any founder can benefit from the guidance and support of a world-class mentor.

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