As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably been mingling in startup events. You have probably met knowledgeable people, with experience in areas where you and your team are quite lost. And you should take every chance to talk to them. Many of those events — or accelerators, or incubators — call such people ‘mentors’. They are likely to share with you their opinions on your ideas, as well as give you interesting tips.
But tips are… well, the tip of the iceberg (sorry for the terrible pun). Tweet this. They might be missing context information about your business. They might not know about your market. They might not understand your idea, maybe even because you don’t understand it. Or you might just not have the time to get into the juicy details.
We believe that mentoring shouldn’t stop there. Tweet about this!
You need to build a relationship
It’s much more valuable for both sides — the mentor and the startup — to have a longer discussion, where both sides have something at stake. This makes sure that the mentor understands well the startup. It gives the mentor a reason to look more into the specific market or business of the startup. It gives the startup the chance of knowing the rationale behind the mentor’s thinking, and when and how to apply it to their business.
Of course, our mentors also attend events to meet the startups, but that is often only the beginning of a relationship. At the end of the day, for entrepreneurs, it also pays off to go beyond one-night-stands with some people.
When we match startups and mentors, we try to make sure that both of them will benefit, one way or another. And that requires knowing their needs and motivations very well. They typically discuss a few times about the startup’s business, to see of they are a good match. At the end of the day, with a good advisor, you want to make sure that there is some “chemistry” between you. Tweet this.
At that point, both have gotten a bit better, but there’s still a long road to go.
You need to make it stick
If you really want a mentor to contribute to your startup, you need to be serious about it. If you’re asking the person to give you tips every now and then, it will stay like that: tips every now and then. That means that the entrepreneur is treating mentoring as a hobby. Even if the mentor is happy to do that for a while, on a midterm they’re likely to find another hobby.
If you want to be high on the mentor’s priority list, you need to make the mentor be an extension of your team: an advisor. Tweet this.
Our expectation when we match startups and mentors is that, if things work out, the mentor becomes an advisor of the startup. They explicitly discuss how much dedication the mentor will have: it can range from a meeting per month to having a secondary role in the company.
They also explicitly discuss a compensation, e.g. a percentage of shares of the company, provided the advisor stays with the company for a number of years. It’s important to find a level in which both parts feel that the compensation is fair and that the relationship could go on indefinitely. You want to make sure that if the company wins, everybody involved wins as well. Tweet this.
You need to know what you’re getting
Advisors can be very different to each other. There are several roles that they can take. Advisors can be:
- Great coaches for the founder team, and making them think about the right things. Tweet this. They will make use of their experience to make sure you are considering the right factors, but they will not push you in any particular direction. They are likely to focus on your development — as an entrepreneur or as company — instead of the direction that you’re taking.
- Great sounding boards: you can tell them what your plans and ideas are, and they will give you a reality check based on their experience and industry knowledge. Tweet this. Everybody believes their own ideas, sometimes you need somebody else to confirm or defy your thoughts.
- Great door openers. One thing you need in a startup is contacts, and some people are particularly gifted at connecting you to the relevant people. Tweet this. It might be potential customers, it might be companies that can help you grow, or it might be people that you don’t know yet how they will help you.
- Investors in the company. And some of them help you in funding rounds later on. In any case, some advisors are particularly useful for you to find resources for your startup.
Most of them end up being some combination of all of those. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand the value that different advisors are bringing (and to look for the right ones). At the end of the day, your advisor is part of your extended team, and that’s one of the most important success factors in a startup.
In short, the best mentors are the ones that will become advisors of your startup if things go right. Tweet this.
Dr. Daniel Collado-Ruiz, @ErCollao
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