Figuring out how to grow a business from the birth of an idea to success is a challenge, regardless of how much funding or education you have.
There is a lot to learn in the startup world, and one of the best ways to learn is from experience. But if this is your first rodeo, you might not yet have experience to learn from.
That’s when you turn to a mentor.
A mentor might be someone who pledges to coach you through a specific journey in life. They might be someone who you only met once or twice, but whose advice left a lasting impression. They might even be a close friend or family member.
But finding a mentor can be more difficult than it sounds, especially if you are starting your company in the garage of your house at two in the morning all alone.
We asked some successful entrepreneurs about their mentorships, and they shared their stories and advice:
'Meet As Many People As You Can'
Andrew Young, Co-founder and CTO of Swill
Not everyone has what it takes to be a good mentor nor does everyone want to be a mentor. You really need to put yourself out there to talk and meet with as many people as you can. If you want to find a mentor in the finance world, go where they congregate after work. When you feel that it’s the right time, ask them if they would like to be your mentor, and don't be offended if they don't want to be.
It takes a lot of commitment to be a really great mentor, but when you do find someone that could be a great match, you will know that it’s the right one.
[pullquote]Most mentor/mentee relationships start off as friendships[/pullquote]. The more you hang out, you will start to understand the type of person they are. Can you get along? Do you like and dislike the same things? Do you have the same type of political views? Do they treat other people with respect?
Over time, you will start to figure out who they really are. It's really important to be yourself because you want them to do the same around you.
'My Mentor Was Right In Front of Me'
Brooke Stone, Founder and CEO of Brooke Stone Lifestyle Management
Consider the obvious! When I started my business, I searched for a mentor externally and just couldn’t seem to find the right fit. One day about a year ago, in a moment of complete overwhelm, I called my dad.
I had resisted leaning on him, a successful entrepreneur, for advice for fear of complicating our great kid-parent relationship. Yet, in my moment of need, and without second thought, he was the one I called.
He talked me off the ledge and gave me excellent solutions to challenges I was facing. From there we began to explore this new layer of relationship and he has been a tremendous mentor ever since.
Often the people closest to you can be the best mentors because they know you as a person so well. They will get to know you as a businessperson, and your relationship will grow deeper, becoming satisfying and productive in a new way. Don’t be afraid to complicate your great existing relationships-- they are great for a reason!
'It's Just a Matter of Connecting With Them Around a Shared Passion'
Casey Gibbons, Co-founder of Maki Fund
Most entrepreneurs have a lot to learn. Mentors help entrepreneurs navigate the roller coaster ride that is a startup.
I was extremely lucky with finding a mentor. During my senior year of college, I connected with an incredible mentor who took an interest in me. And over the course of the next couple of months, he helped me put together a business plan for a company that I wanted to start. Then he invested seed capital to get the business up and running.
Most people who are qualified to be your mentor actually do want to help. It's just a matter of connecting with them around a shared passion. Find experienced people that share the excitement and enthusiasm for what you are building, and you'll probably end up with some great mentors and potential investors.
Mentors are everywhere, even in non-traditional places.
'I Learned Invaluable Skills from Being In His Orbit'
Lynn McCary, Founder and Principal at Lynn McCary Events LLC
I never had a specific mentor as I began my career, yet I had many people who played that role unofficially.
My first full time job after college was an entry-level position at a photography gallery, working for a world-renowned dealer. The opportunity to work with prestigious colleagues and famous photographers represented a unique and challenging environment. In my eagerness to not only fit in but also excel, I offered to do extra work and learn new skills.
The dealer was a demanding perfectionist, who could offer both high praise and swift criticism. The need to find the balance between those two made for some fast learning. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was my most important, yet unofficial, mentor.
I learned invaluable skills from being in his orbit: basic accounting, overall bookkeeping, inventory management, proper correspondence practices, leadership and hospitality, not to mention self-awareness and empowerment. There is not a day in my business life that I don’t draw on the skills I learned from him many years ago.
Where to Find Mentors
Right where you are. Look around-- your mentor might be your best friend, your dad, or your aunt.
Consider people in your extended network, like a friend of a friend who has your dream job.
Conferences, networking groups, and industry events, including trainings (Check out Meetup.com to find local ones).
BNI, Kiwanis, Rotary, and Chamber of Commerce Clubs
Small Business Development Centers
Local universities (either through events or courses)
Through a paid service like Clarity.fm, where you can talk to industry experts an start a relationship.
Someone to Hold Your Hand
The journey of an entrepreneur in the startup world is not an easy one. Finding a mentor to guide you through it will not only make it more enjoyable, but will also increase your chances for success.
Depending on who you are and what you’re looking for, there isn’t one type of mentor out there that is right for everyone.
Your Turn: What are your challenges with finding a mentor? Where have you looked? If you do have a mentor, what is your story?