The incredible success stories of self-made entrepreneurs that you see in the press may lead you to think that today’s celebrated founders made it to the top all on their own. What headlines usually don’t say is that they all had experienced mentors to guide them. Just think of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, or Sir Freddie Laker and Richard Branson, to name a few legendary mentor-mentee duos.
There’s evidence that startups with mentors do better. In an analysis based on interviews with 700 tech startup founders based in New York City, TechCrunch found that 33 percent of founders who are mentored by successful entrepreneurs go on to become top performers themselves. Studies have also shown that 70 percent of mentored businesses survive more than five years, double the rate of their non-mentored counterparts.
As a business student at ESEI who’s thinking about launching your own startup, you may be wondering whether you need a mentor to accompany you on your entrepreneurial journey. According to ESEI’s Director Carlota Estera, there’s no question that you do need one. She has shared with us what to look for in a great mentor so you can get the most out of this important relationship.
Why it’s crucial for startups to have a mentor
It’s not impossible for a startup to grow independently. However, it would be difficult to find successful entrepreneurs that have never received at least some kind of mentorship or guidance.
“Just like humans need water, food, oxygen, sleep and shelter to survive, startups have basic needs that must be fulfilled, too. The way I see it, having a mentor is one of these basic needs,” Carlota says.
“Entrepreneurship is a complex ecosystem that mentors are a fundamental part of: they have the experience, knowledge, motivation and leadership skills to help others along their journeys.”
The number one asset that mentors bring to the table is clearly their knowledge and experience – which cannot be learned from books or university courses – and there are many other reasons why their input is indispensable for success.
Mentors have an unbiased point of view and are not as emotionally attached to your project as you are. When it comes to the dreaded moment of “Should I stick to my original idea or should I pivot before it’s too late?”, entrepreneurs have a hard time accepting that their project may not be feasible. A reliable mentor could make you see reason when you’re too emotionally involved to think straight.
Moreover, having a mentor with relevant industry knowledge could make or break your competitive strategy.
Mentors often also have a network that’s much more extensive than your own. This means they can help you find the right investors or hire the best people for key positions in your team.
What to look for in a great startup mentor
1. Great mentors are generous with their knowledge
“Great mentors start mentoring because they feel a calling in their hearts that they cannot resist. Their happiness stems from being able to transfer their knowledge to others and seeing them succeed,” Carlota says.
Even though investors can be of tremendous help to entrepreneurs, it’s not advisable to rely on them as mentors because they are not financially impartial. A good mentor, according to Carlota, is “a committed, trustworthy and available person to whom mentoring comes naturally and who does not have any financial motives. Their only interest is sharing their experience, transferring valuable knowledge and giving advice.”
You may find yourself in need of many different kinds of mentors throughout your life. But as an entrepreneur, your best bet is to find someone who’s been there, done that.
“The ideal startup mentor is himself an entrepreneur who has experienced success and failure and knows what they’re talking about. They’re a business-savvy individual who cares about you and your business,” Carlota adds.
2. They help you survive the most difficult moments
When you’re getting into something that you’ve never done before, it’s great to have someone to support you, someone who has been in similar situations before and who has a different perspective.
“It’s easy for inexperienced entrepreneurs to feel lonely when they encounter difficulties, face seemingly insurmountable challenges and begin to doubt themselves and the viability of their projects. In such moments of vulnerability, it’s crucial to have a mentor you trust to give you advice or just replenish your energy and motivation to keep fighting for your dreams,” says Carlota.
In the end, you will be the one making the decisions that have to be made, but your mentor will be your rock when there’s no one else around who can understand what you’re going through.
3. Great mentors stick with you all the way
In the above-mentioned study, TechCrunch found that sustained relationships and consistent contact are imperative for good mentorship.
The way Carlota sees it: “If you have a specific problem that you need help with, you can find a mentor who will support you for a specific period of time to transfer their knowledge. However, ideally, you want to find a mentor who can be there for you at the start and keep supporting you indefinitely. In my opinion, it’s important for a mentor to have the same level of commitment at all times, but at the same time be flexible and understanding.”
How to find the mentor who’s right for you
According to Carlota, finding the perfect mentor is like finding a girlfriend or a boyfriend.
“You should have a certain level of intellectual connection, trust, admiration, and common values. If you become friends with your mentor, that’s even better,” she says.
So where do you start looking? Whether you’re doing an MBA, a Master in Business Management or any of our other programmes, at ESEI you are surrounded by potential mentors – just think of the ESEI teaching team or the mentors of the ESEI Masters in Digital Entrepreneurship – skyrocket Programme. We strongly believe in the importance of mentorship and we’re always ready to support you!
Have you ever had a good mentoring experience? Share it with us!