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Finding a Mentor for your Startup: The 5 Most Important Things to look for


Finding a mentor can make a significant contribution to a startup’s success. You need to look for someone with empathy, experience, problem solving ability, compatible communication and time. But why? Read on to find out.

One mentor organisation found that mentored entrepreneurs enjoy an 83% early stage survival rate and create 2x as many jobs as non mentored entrepreneurs.

Identifying and finding a mentor can be difficult and a bit daunting, particularly if your professional network isn’t already established. But how do you know where to start?

This blog will cover how to find mentors that can help you launch and grow your startup.

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Finding a mentor

Before you start finding business mentors, you need to identify what it is you want from a mentor. Finding a mentor is hard enough, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

A mentor’s role is dynamic and relies on the specific needs of the mentee. A business mentor should have a well rounded background with a range of relevant experiences. If your mentor has only ever worked in a niche market, their insights may not translate to your needs.

Two people talking over documents

Likewise, if the support you need is mostly financial, or technical, it might not be a mentor you’re looking for. An accountancy firm or consultancy might be better suited to help with these aspects of your startup.

But, if you’re looking for advice and support with things such as the timing of fundraising, finding investors and where to allocate limited resources, a mentor can definitely help.

Before we talk about where to look for a mentor, we need to know what sort of things make a good mentor. Below are the 5 things to look out for when finding a mentor.

1. Experience

Relevant experience to be exact. When finding a mentor, you want someone who has been through the process themselves, (possibly several times) and is able to relate this to your area of business. Certain aspects of entrepreneurship can’t be learned unless you’ve been through it personally.

If your mentor has been there and done it, they’ll know how to communicate with you during these times and provide guidance that’s relevant and specific.

Document with the word experience highlighted

Their personal experiences are also important. Everyone has different strengths, interests, backgrounds and experiences. Although we’re not looking to find mentors that went to the same school we did, you do want someone that might be able to offer a different perspective.

Different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds offer valuable opportunities to access creative thinking that doesn’t follow what we might be used to. This can be a fantastic resource for your startup.

2. Empathy

It’s important that any mentor you find is able to relate to you. If they can’t understand your perspective and feelings, how will they be able to offer valuable insights? If a mentor isn’t able to put themselves in your shoes and feel your challenges, then when you’re having a bad day and really need them, they won't be able to help you work through it effectively.

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While you're here...how's your sleep?

Too often, we see founders sacrificing sleep for their startup. If this sounds familiar, we recommend you give this School of Startups talk a watch. Our co-founder and CEO Wes Rashid discusses the science of sleep and how it's important to founder success, with sleep experts - Sleep School.
Watch now

3. Overcoming challenges

A strong mentor candidate will have a background of overcoming business challenges. Often, successful business leaders will have a history of risk taking and to some extent failures. These set backs provide excellent learning opportunities and these lessons can be accessed by you, for free!

4. Communication

A high quality business mentor should, ultimately, let you decide your own career path and startup growth plan. Helping you to achieve whatever goals you’ve set yourself.

A mentor should be able to communicate desires, opinions and advice in a way that isn’t dictating your growth plan. From the outset, an effective mentor will be talking to you about expectations and boundaries, so that both sides are clear about what value the relationship will bring.

If all parties share similar hopes for the professional relationship, a mutually beneficial and dynamic resource will be on hand to help guide and assist. With good communication as the foundation, an open discussion can be established, encouraging creative thinking, and reflective practice allowing for questions and concerns.

Good communication means not judging. If you feel like your mentor is judging you, you might start to feel insecure about approaching them with problems. A mentee must be able to confide in the mentor and establish trust. Without it, the relationship will not succeed.

Two people talking over documents

5. Time

Perhaps the most valuable thing to look out for, but also the easiest to overlook. Any potential mentor must have the time to support you. If your startup growth journey is fast paced and frenetic, you might want someone that is on the end of the phone, not someone that has a fortnightly meeting with you planned in advance. Being open and upfront about your needs and expectations will make sure you find the mentor to support your journey.

Close up of an smart watch

Where to look?

There are plenty of places to look when you want to find a business mentor, such as:

  • Online business communities

  • Networking events

  • Existing professional and personal networks

  • Cold calling specific individuals

  • Mentoring websites and events

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