Starting a business is tough. For every Snapchat, there’s a Color Labs.
One thing that can improve your chances of success is good mentorship. In this post, we’ll explore why that is, and see where you can find a good mentor.
Why Every Startup Needs a Mentor
If you look at the life stories of many entrepreneurs, you’ll find they have one thing in common: good mentorship.
Mark Zuckerberg, for example, was mentored by Steve Jobs and Don Graham. Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey each had their own mentors who helped them at various stages of their success. And looking back a little further in time, Hewlett and Packard’s original Silicon Valley garage startup owed a lot to the mentorship of an inspiring college professor.
But the case for the importance of mentorship is not built only on a few success stories. The Startup Genome Report, based on data collected from more than 650 startups, concluded:
“Founders that learn are more successful: Startups that have helpful mentors, track metrics effectively, and learn from startup thought leaders raise 7x more money and have 3.5x better user growth.”
Some key things mentors can help startups with, according to entrepreneur and venture adviser William Mougayar:
- Filling a Gap in your Skills
- Circumventing Mistakes
- Sequencing your Actions
- Expanding your Network
- Processing Market Signals
- Helping with Challenges
- Trusted Guidance
James Routledge, founder of sport social networking startup Matchchat, says he and his co-founders relied heavily on mentoring to get his business off the ground.
“Mentoring has been a constant really,” he says. “We always knew we were by no means expert, so straightaway we reached out to anyone with more experience than us and talked through our problems and we have kept on doing that.”
He found entrepreneurs to help him through LinkedIn, and then joined a business accelerator program, which helped him bring an experienced sports entrepreneur onto the board of directors. He says that this mentor, along with other informal advisers, have helped the company hone its strategy and navigate the difficult road to long-term success.
“If we face a business challenge the first thing we say is who can we talk to. Often, this is through informal advisers and also through our non-executive chairman. I can safely say we wouldn’t be where we are today without constant mentoring.”
Where to Find a Startup Mentor
For many startups, mentorship comes as part of a financial deal. Venture capital firms and other investors will often provide either formal or informal mentoring to company founders, as a way of securing their investment and helping the startup move in the right direction.
But startups should also look beyond the VC firm for help. Here’s a surprising finding from the Startup Genome Report:
“Investors who provide hands-on help have little or no effect on the company’s operational performance. But the right mentors significantly influence a company’s performance and ability to raise money.”
So by all means take your investors’ advice and expertise where it’s offered, but also look for your own mentors.
You could start by mining your personal and professional networks, of course. Ask friends and family to recommend someone who could help you. Scour LinkedIn for useful connections. Check for fellow alumni of your college, or try fellow members of societies or associations you belong to. Trust is important, so a personal connection, or at least a recommendation from someone whose opinions you value, can help a lot.
Another way is to attend industry conferences and startup events. The more you put yourself out there, the more likely you are to meet the person who could end up being your mentor.
If you want a more targeted approach, you could try a matchmaking service like Everwise’s, which uses a data-driven process to find the ideal mentor for you from a pool of thousands of professionals.
Or apply to a startup accelerator, like Techstars or Y Combinator. If successful, you typically get an investment to help you get started, along with mentorship from some successful entrepreneurs. Techstars, for example, boasts Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, 37signals co-founder Jason Fried, and Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal among its mentors.
Whichever route you take, remember that a good mentor can have a profound impact on the success of your company. You’re not giving up control; you’re just drawing on the experience of someone who’s been there before and can help you avoid some of the pitfalls. That can only be a good thing.