How to choose the right mentor for your startup?

I’ve been working with startups since 2013, in a variety of settings, industry verticals, life stages and countries across Europe, and I’d like to share a few tips that I’ve picked up on the way.

Having the right mentor in your corner can seriously help when it comes to developing the right product features, battling your competitors, winning a critical funding round, and learning new tricks along the way.

To find out just how to identify and attract the right mentor is not an easy task at hand for any founder. So, from my experience I have identified three key characteristics to look for in a mentor and five take-away point to keep in mind when forming a relationship.

Find someone who can help you hit the nail on the head

The fundamental problem in any startup is lack of need by potential customers this translates into nonexistent product-market fit and eventually to failure for a startup. A mentor can help you get into the mindset of your target audience, especially if he/she is an industry professional. Therefore, the ability to put your product into the hands of a potential customer and get their direct feedback can be the most valuable information you’ll ever get as a startup founder.

Therefore, you should use our mentors as a product-market fit test group. First identify your potential customer base and then develop you customer personas. Lastly, identify the mentors that fit within these personas or has a deep understanding of what these personas would be looking for, based on their prior industry experience.

The right network can bring more value than just funding

If your startup is in great need of external funding, a killer pitch deck / product won’t be as effective at convincing investors as a personal recommendation from a well-connected mentor. Having the external stamp of approval from an industry expert, can bring assist in gaining both external funding and more customers.

A mentor doesn’t necessarily have and probably should not have all the answers, provided they have the network within their business to find them. A good mentor can also be someone, who’s just very good at influencing others to get involved. And last but not least, a well-connected mentor can refer and connect you to other mentors/ experts in fields that a startup needs.

Get out of your comfort zone

It may be relatively to engage with a mentor that has the same experience, a similar mindset, and technical background, but selecting someone who will think the same way you is not what’s best for your startup.  It’s important to look for someone who can be supportive but can also provide constructive feedback.

A mentor should challenge assumptions when they feel their mentees are headed down the wrong path and be able to have those tough conversations. While praise can be highly motivating, finding someone who can and will tell you what you could be doing better is invaluable, so look for people outside your area of expertise because the diversity they bring on-board is highly useful.

And four take-away on how to attract your ideal mentor:

Show you care

To attract interesting mentors, it’s about passion. Being passionate and charismatic about who you are and what you do, is very honest and authentic and really attracts people.

Drop the technical jargon

Even if your product and what it does may seem obvious to you as an insider, it might not be to other people. So keep it plain and simple when you communicate to an outside audience.

Set realistic goals upfront

The best way to get the most out of a relationship with your mentor is to set clear expectations and deliverables from the start for both parties from short goals to logistics around meeting and updates. In a nutshell you need a process that fits both parties, so it’s best to define all of this upfront so you set expectations from the start.

Build long lasting relationships

Build your network before you need it. Look for opportunities to truly connect with people that you admire or have kinship with professionally. Ask them for coffee, share opportunities, and stay in touch, professionally. Those are the relationships that over time yield the best mentors and the best referrals.

Look at it as a give and take relationship

Don’t be afraid to approach a potential mentor, but do keep in mind that for mentors, especially when coming from a corporate environment, the speed of decision making and the ability to directly influence the development of a new product can bring the rush that makes mentoring a worthwhile investment.

Want to learn more on how-to-do, drop us an email and we will be happy to share our knowledge and insights with you!

For Hippocampus.io,

Christos Lytras – Managing Partner

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