The Essential Role that the Mentor Plays in a Startup
In a startup, as well as the founders and their team of collaborators, we can find other roles who influence the business and very likely the decision-making of the founders: mentors and advisors.
What do you think Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and Steve Jobs have in common? These are all extremely successful entrepreneurs. But they also have one other thing in common – They all received guidance from mentors. Yes! Even the famous founders of these great companies got by with a little help, advice, and support from time to time. No matter who you are, where you’ve come from, or what you have achieved, a good mentor is an invaluable asset in business.
In the entrepreneurial world, this figure is more and more settled and it provides the new business creators with the security to take their first steps and better their positioning. It is someone who is willing to dedicate their time and experience to guide the development of the business and of its entrepreneur. Many mistake the term mentorship with coaching. Though similar, they are substantially different because the mentor is a source of knowledge and support, but does not search for a change in behaviour or habits like coaching does.
The main purpose of a mentor is to help entrepreneurs with specific questions by sharing their knowledge and contacts harvested through their years of experience. Therefore, a mentor must not only fulfill their executive functions, but also understand the process and evolution of the project.
Why is the contribution of this figure so important in a startup?
Turning to a mentor can have various clear benefits for entrepreneurs, the main one being the transferral of knowledge in an effective way, as well as helping your business grow in every aspect.
When talking about the importance of mentoring, the English author and businessman Richard Branson couldn’t have said it any better– ‘ No matter how incredibly smart you think you are, or how brilliant, disruptive or plain off -the-wall your new concept might be, every start-up team needs at least one good mentor. Someone, somewhere, has already been through what you are convinced nobody else has ever confronted! Okay, so their version may have been analogue rather than digital, but trust me, many of the business fundamentals are exactly the same. Building a new business takes more than technological skills and creative genius – it needs people, and if you’re going to create a great culture as well as a great product, those people need tending to in a plethora of different ways.’
Overall, mentors work as a kind of fuel for entrepreneurs and are equivalent to those manuals which tell you where to place every piece to build a good piece of furniture.
Types of mentors
In the market, we can find different mentors who have had different successes with their own businesses and now offer their experience to entrepreneurs as well as professionals who support new ideas.
On the other hand, we can also find mentors from business schools who contribute a more technical knowledge, and who can be focused on a specific area of business (marketing, finances, product, international expansion, fundraising, legal, etc.)
Which would be ideal? Mixing both profiles.
Roles and contributions of the mentor
Some of the teachings, tasks and knowledge which a mentor shares are:
- Their work experience
- Brings a good reputation and credibility to the business
- Information from their own journey
- Advice in a strategic plan as well as operative
- Orientation in the resolution of problems
- Can support in the commercial work of the enterprise
- Motivation in difficult times
- Help to establish goals
- Identify resources
- Help to professionalize the management: business culture, process, recruiting talent, etc.
- Developing and sharing contacts, and therefore can help open doors
Stages of counseling
- Initial: The support provided is mainly focused in the incubation of the idea and how the product or service will be launched. In this case, the mentor must offer general advice to the whole team.
- Acceleration: Aid specializes in the startup ecosystem. In this stage, how money will be generated, and the way in which the results will be measured is studied.
- Growth: Here the startup must become a company and formalize the business lines to go from turning over thousands to millions. Aid must be focused on management.
The mentor-mentee relationship: what makes a successful mentorship
The mentor-mentee relationship is a process based on trust and effort invested by both parties. You can’t expect that your mentor will magically remove all the obstacles on your way or remedy all your mistakes. The mentor’s advice will be effective only if you’re willing to listen, learn, and implement.
Be honest about your business’ positive and negative sides, your flaws and capabilities, as well as your fears.
Before the first meeting with your mentor, make a list of your expectations. What can your mentor help you achieve? What obstacles are you hoping to overcome? This will help your mentor understand what needs to be done and come up with a plan.
You’re not restrained to using the services of only one mentor. Maybe you need help in different segments of your business that require different mentoring methods. One mentor can be good at your product strategy, while another might help you grow as a leader. You are allowed to seek a range of advice that will help you formulate a well-rounded perspective.
Finally, keep an open mind and accept your mentor’s honesty, no matter how hurtful it might sound.
How is the service of a good mentorship?
- A good mentor talks from experience, and shares it in a truthful way so that it can be of help to the mentee;
- Listens to the entrepreneur and gathers all the information to give advice later on;
- Empathizes with the challenges faced by the entrepreneur and shares his or her experiences;
- Is capable of establishing trusting long term relationships;
- Enjoys contributing to the growth of the entrepreneur;
- Motivates and channels the energy of the entrepreneur towards his or her objectives.
- The usefulness of the mentor also depends on the entrepreneur. Building a business is not an exact science and professionals must be capable of listening and knowing what to ignore.
“Mentorship is a critical component for building a successful startup. Having a good product or service that fills a void in the marketplace is great, but a good mentor is crucial to help you grow.”DAVE SCHNEIDER
At Bcombinator we have prestigious mentors-entrepreneurs who are specialized in different business areas, such as: product, business strategy, marketing, finance, legal, fundraising, and leadership, among others.
Do you have a mentor? We’d love to hear about them. Share your experience below.