The Importance of Mentorship & How to Obtain Your First One

Mentorship

As we’ve been interviewing successful founders of startups, I keep noticing a recurring theme. Mentors. They all have mentors, and they attribute much of their success to them.

Mentors are an elusive species in the nature of life, love, and the pursuit of entrepreneurship. Seriously, though – most people don’t know they need a mentor or are afraid to seek one out and ask for help. If this is you, I can confidently say you’re missing out on reaching your full potential. Furthermore, many companies have tried to solve this problem (helping people get mentors) and failed.

Why are people afraid to get mentorship?

Deep down, most people are afraid to ask for help, especially entrepreneurs. It’s tough enough being an entrepreneur, and most people think it makes them look bad when they ask for help. They assume they’re failing if they need to ask, and usually wait to ask until they’re on the brink of failure. Even though it may take work to find the right mentor, it’s not going to be painful when you ask that right person for help. The truth is, the right mentors will simply enjoy helping, since they were once in your position. In fact, the more resources someone can give, whether it’s money, knowledge, connections, the more likely they’ll want to give it. In some cases, they need to give it, since they’re overflowing with an abundance of these resources.

So what’s the secret to getting a mentor?

First, you need to know what you’re looking for, and seek that kind of individual out. It’s best not to use a shotgun approach and just find a mentor for the sole purpose to ‘have a mentor’. Spend time clearly defining what you need to move forward and succeed with whatever challenge or solution you’re working on. Perhaps you’re lacking knowledge about finding investment for your startup idea. Find a mentor who knows a lot about that subject and then see if you can get an introduction or just approach them in a catchy, tasteful way. When you find an effective mentor, that person will teach you what you need to know, and connect you with even more amazing people that you may require. It’s also important to give back to your mentor. Often times the greatest reward you can give them is simply to take their advice and succeed, but always be cognizant of their needs, too. What they’re giving you is priceless.

Who’s getting it right

Startup Accelerator programs like 500 Startups, Y-Combinator and TechStars, who literally employ experts and call them Mentors. These accelerator programs are in the business of making a startup business valuable and viable as soon as possible, so Mentors are a key part of their strategy. The results of this are breakaway success companies like DropBox and TeeSpring, who end up having billions in Valuation in the span of several years.

You don’t need to join an accelerator to get amazing mentors and attain amazing results. If you take the time to define what you need and then go find it, you’ll create your own awesome network of mentors. In fact, some of these accelerators openly list their mentors, or you can find them on an easy search via LinkedIn. Get an intro or message these folks!

At ProtoHack, we try and get folks into this mentality by providing product and pitch mentors. While they may not become your long-term mentor, they’ll guide you and show you a glimpse into the benefits of mentorship.

Finally, you don’t solely need to consider a mentor as this person you sit down with for hours with. Mentorship can be fragmented over advice and input you receive from videos, events, conversations and meetings over the span of months or years. A famous VC details that advice here.

See here for some famous mentor / mentee relationships.

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