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The Art of Finding a Mentor: Interview with Dan Martell of Clarity

For every startup Cinderella story, there are exponentially more failures.

“Very few companies achieve their initial projections,” Shikhar Ghosh said in a quote for a Harvard Business School blog post.

That’s why mentorship is so important, says Dan Martell, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor with a portfolio of about 18 companies. These days, he’s working on building Clarity, a marketplace for up-and-coming entrepreneurs to get advice from established founders over the phone.

“The inspiration came from growing up in a small town, without having anybody else in my network and failing twice – once when I was 18 and then again when I was 20,” Martell said. “Then, when I was 24, I reached out to a former minister in a midnight email. He replied, giving me the names of three people who would eventually become my mentors. They gave me great advice, which enabled me to build Spheric.”

Martell grew Spheric Technologies to 30 employees before he sold the company in 2008. The company grew by 152 percent each year, earning a number of business awards.

Here’s what he’s learned along the way:

Believe in yourself enough to reach out – successful people want to help.

“There are three elements to it,” Martell said. “First, tell the person what you’ve done so far. Be confident in yourself. Brag a bit. Try to be as open and as honest as you can to get the mentor to respond. Show that you are a person of action and that there’s a real potential that they can affect your business. Get them to want to help you. Second, be specific about what you want to talk about. Third, if you know that there’s something that the mentor went through, mention it. Pinpoint what you have in common.”

Know what you want, and know how to ask for it. That’s the key.

Just let it out, but don’t be a drag.

“I think the best advice I would say is to be as open and honest as you can, but don’t give them three or four paragraphs. Just get a conversation going, and say what you have to say. If you can get a conversation on the phone or in person — even better,” Martell said.

Start with who you are, what your company does, and the customers you’re targeting.

“Make sure that your elevator pitch is solid,” Martell said.

Always listen, and be grateful.

“Even if you don’t agree with the advice, don’t be confrontational. Write it down, take it, and be honest,” Martell said. “Never say ‘thanks, yeah, I get what you’re saying, but that won’t work for my industry.'”

Always remember to say thank you.

“After the call or the meeting, follow-up with a short thank you. Mention key takeaways from the conversation. Ask to circle back in two or three weeks, and share what you’ve learned from the experience. You’d be surprised by how happy that makes people,” Martell said.

Final thoughts – be natural.

“You should never ask somebody to be an advisor or mentor. It’s something that happens naturally. It’s something that they ask you,” Martell said.

Just live in the moment and appreciate the advice for what it is. Make the most of what you’re learning.

Do you have a mentor? How have they helped you grow your business?


Interview with Clarity’s CEO and Founder, Dan Martell.

  • Dan Martell

    Thanks again for the opportunity to share some thoughts! :)

    • Allison Canty

      Anytime! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Dan.

  • Jordan Graham

    I like this interview a lot and would love to hear Dan’s thoughts on how to evaluate prospective mentors, from the perspective of a mentoree. I suspect a lot of people are both good mentors, and good business people, but most are likely one or the other.

    Sometimes people get caught up in the glitz and glam of certain businesses and seduced by success, resulting in a pursuit of the wrong traits in a mentor, since some of the most valuable lessons come from failing. I think a good mentor needs to be willing to put everything on the table, and not just share how succeeded, but also talk about when they sucked.

    My question: When engaging a mentor, is it appropriate to bring up or ask about failures and shortcomings? My first instinct on that is that a good mentor will appreciate it, and the person you offend likely wouldn’t be a good mentor in the first place, so waste-of-energy prevented.

    Would love to have some feedback.

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