What is a mentor and how do you find one?

Daniel Sevitt
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A mentor is a teacher or someone who offers wise and trusted counsel. In today’s business world a mentor can provide founders and entrepreneurs with a valuable sounding board for ideas and tap into the wealth of hard-won experience to help inform startups and aid them with decision making.

There are no rules about who can become a mentor or about when you should seek one out. There is nothing that limits you to having one mentor only, or that restricts you from having different mentors for different stages in your startup’s growth.

What type of person makes a good mentor?

A good mentor will have relevant, and sometimes less relevant but relatable, experience. You want a mentor who will listen to you and support you, but who can also be tough and tell you things that are harder to hear. A mentor provides more than occasional conversation. A mentor is someone you feel comfortable meeting with on a fixed schedule or turning to periodically when you are wrestling with a particular issue.

A mentor should have empathy for everything you face as an entrepreneur because they’ve been there and outgrown the t-shirt. A mentor is someone who values the idea of giving back because they understand that maintaining the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation is bigger than the success or failure of any particular startup. Encouraging the next generation of founders is part of the unwritten founders’ bible.

How do I find a mentor?

Before you can find a mentor or even benefit from one you already have, you have to understand your own needs. As a founder you must be honest with yourself. Where are my gaps? What am I unsure of? What do I need help with? Asking yourself tough questions means you are ready to bring in someone to help you grapple with them.

There are many ways to find a mentor and formalize the mentor/mentee relationship. It may happen organically through networking and meeting people whose opinions you value. It’s probably not a good idea to approach someone as a fangirl/fanboy and breathlessly declare your admiration, but in the course of a normal conversation with someone who shows interest in you and your ideas, you can start to build the basis of a mentor relationship.

Alternatively, you can choose a more formal route. Ask a colleague or friend to make an introduction to someone you think could provide value to you and your business. Meet with them and be honest about the kind of mentor/mentee relationship you would like to form. Mentorship is a two-way street. There needs to be a good fit on both sides, so always make room to listen to what your prospective mentor can offer and be candid about whether you think the relationship might be fruitful.

A good mentor can be a valuable resource both for your own personal growth as a founder and for the growth of your company. Finding a mentor or mentors that you can lean on and learn from should be a continuous motion for you as an entrepreneur.