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Dec 4, 2016   |   Jeffrey Turnock
There is one thing that can have the biggest impact on a new entrepreneur or fledgling startup. It’s not seed funding, or a great idea, or a killer marketing strategy, and yet it can open doors to getting all of the above and more. I’m talking about working with someone with the skills, experience, and network to propel your startup to the next level; someone with the willingness to share that hard-earned knowledge. An aspiring entrepreneur’s best friend: A mentor.
It’s a fair question. The bond between a startup and its founder is sacred, and many people enter the entrepreneurship world so they can be their own boss. It’s your creation. Your passion. So why would you start a company only to have someone else tell you how to run it?
But having a mentor isn’t tantamount to giving up control of your company, and you’ll need more than just passion, technical skills, and business acumen to make your company a success. It takes knowing the right people that can help you, and a mentor is the most invaluable person an entrepreneur can know. Whether they are serial entrepreneurs, or industry experts, their experience could help you avoid pitfalls that could ruin your company and instead propel it further than you ever could on your own. Even the world’s greatest entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have credited their success to working with the right mentors.
In his book ‘The Virgin Way’, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson writes that the first step to finding a good mentor is admitting you can benefit from one. He recognizes the ego, nervous energy, and parental pride involved in early startups but ultimately claims, “Going it alone is an admirable but foolhardy and highly flawed approach to taking on the world.”
So, set aside your ego and look for experts in your industry who have knowledge to offer. Don’t go in with a pitch about your company, claiming it’s going to be the next big thing and you’re a complete expert in absolutely everything related to your startup. You’re looking for a mentor, not an investor and as such, it’s not just okay, but necessary to admit you don’t know everything. Willingness to learn and acknowledgement of your own weaknesses are what makes you ‘mentorable’.
Once you’ve made yourself mentorable, it’s a matter of taking the time to network, being respectful of someone’s time, and staying flexible.
While every entrepreneur hopes that they will find that one person who will give them the answer to all their questions, introduce them to their first big customer or investor, and is available at all times with a moment’s notice, this is rarely the case. A good entrepreneur has many mentors - some of them you can only speak to for an hour each month while others are much more flexible. They may be an expert in a particular field, or maybe just a whiz at a piece of software you want to use. They’ll inspire you with their shared passion for your company, while respecting that the ownership is yours. They aren’t motivated by financial gain but to pass on their knowledge and oftentimes, because they had someone help them in their early days.
This leads to the most important thing about mentorship: Paying it forward. As a founder, you are constantly learning and growing as a person. As you build the wisdom that can only be gained through experience, take the time to mentor others and give back to the community that has helped you so much. After all, as a mentor, you could have the biggest impact on a new entrepreneur or fledgling startup.