How to Find a Mentor?
Whatever you want to achieve, it’s necessary to have a person to Mentor you who can have seen the path before and can guide you well to your destination.
Finding a Mentor is never straight forward and not hard either. It’s like finding a good friend. You only know the right fit when you spend more time working with them. But here comes the tricky part. Startup Mentors are busy most of the time. How do you get to use some one’s time for you?
Following are few points that will help you to get a Mentor
I met my first Mentor(we still are in touch very much) in 2012 in a Startup Weekend event. That was my first encounter with a startup event. I didn’t know how to build a startup or which direction I wanted to get into, but I had fair Idea that I wanted to get into training space.
When I met him I knew I need to learn a lot on starting up he is the right person. While I had to move on from my first startup, I recently was speaking to him and in conversation I told him. “Sir, it’s funny how I was initially, I was running all over to do something and was trying to everything I could”. His words are “To know where you have to stop and stand and know it’s the right place, you need to run around to find where to stand”
My point is, it’s really hard to know where you are standing or if you are searching for a thing to do. This is a very early phase of while you are still in an Idea stage. While it’s a good Idea to think about having a mentor at an early stage(and if executed well you will get one too), you need to have at least the minimum direction(for me it’s in education and training) to be able to make the right connection with the Mentors.
Remember that Mentors time is very limited but they like to spend only with people where they can see results for their efforts being kept.
Mentors should be experts in your field
While you look for Mentors it will be very confusing on what kind of Mentor you need to look for. If I were you, I would look for a Mentor who has executed or been successful in my Industry. Ok , what’s the big deal about this, its so simple right ?. Here is where it gets confusing.
When you get to meet a lot of people, you will often find a lot of Mentors, Founders, Investors in different events,and through your connections. You might find a Mentor who is good in UX or someone heading an accelerator or incubator or CEO of a big company. All these people seem very tempting to get as Mentor. While I don’t at all doubt that they would be great mentors for you, but I really doubt if they can emphasize as much as someone who have traveled a long way in the Industry you are trying to get into(unless they are one by themselves).
Having the Mentors who are experts in your Industry should be your first filter.
What to expect (and know what to ask)
Everything in this world(expect love from family) is given and take. Good Mentors spends their time mostly for these reasons.
- Give back from their learnings to ecosystem
- Wants to encourage Founders for working on new solutions those matter
- Wants to be involved with amazing products so they can provide value to the company itself
Good Mentors know what they are getting into and why. It’s you who should figure out if you can match their expectations. You will be surprised to see how many people will just be willing to give you time to spend if they figure out you are genuinely working on something important and very passionately.
You need to know pre hand what you want to ask and unless you are getting an expert in Industry as Mentor, you would end up hearing getting the right questions(which is good) while you miss getting a lot of answers which you could have got directly even before encountering if it’s not a domain expert.
Places to find good mentors
There are no magic places to find mentors. Most of the times you can find Mentors through these ways
- Events/Talks: This is where you can find Mentors most of the times. Find out who the speakers are, see who are domain experts in your Industry and try to get their attention off stage. All you need to do is do a “1 line pitch” of your company, ask their opinion and tell them you need few minutes of meeting with them. You will be surprised on how many mentors will share their contact and even more surprising that many founders do not follow up after taking their contacts . If you think he/she is the one you want. Keep following up until you get their time. If you desperately need a good mentor, followups are worth doing.
- Referrals: As a founder, you need to do a lot of networking Initially. Go to events, meet many people as you could and see who are potential to you and keep in touch with them. Find out who can help you connect with more people and build rapport with them. Getting an introduction to people is the most authentic way of getting a Mentor’s time.
- Cold Mails/Calls(rarely): I haven’t seen a lot of successful Cold emails or calls that worked pretty well. But there have been always stories of how Founders sent impressive cold emails or calls that worked. While I don’t suggest this, but if you don’t have an option, try it anyways. Make sure you are telling them 1) What problem you are solving 2) how you got their details and why you want their time 3) why is it important for you to have his/her time for you.
How to ask mentors time and to build initial trust
Once you get to speak to a Mentor , the next thing you want from them is their time. Set up a meeting with them and request their time for discussion. If they like your Idea and they see you are passionate about what you are doing, getting their time for the first time should be relatively easy.
Once you meet them and discuss your Idea on what stage you are in and how you are in executing, there are very fair chances that you will get some feedback and changes to be made.
If those makes sense to you and you now think he is the Mentor you want, go back to your desk, make the changes, execute the plan and once done, reach out to them and let them know you have followed their advice. Ask time again to discuss further, meet at least once a week with them. Rinse and Repeat the process till you get a fit with each other in terms of working together and getting their advice.
Keep it going
Once they see you are executing their advice and they see producing results for your from their advice, there are fair chances they will Mentor you for a long time.
PS: If you don’t see it going well, look for another Mentor. It’s completely fine as you are saving their time and your time. Keep looking and follow the steps again. Rinse and Repeat until you find the Mentor to fit you for long term.