For many people, launching a startup will be their first ever endeavor into the business world. While it’s true that some will have experienced their fair share of startup failures, a large percentage of people come from a place of inexperience. As is the case when trying anything new, being in the middle of your first startup leaves you with endless questions, big and small, where Google will only go so far. Here’s where a mentor can have an instrumental impact on the early days of your business and its long-term success. Some of the biggest entrepreneurs in the world had mentors, including Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs. And the reality is that no matter how successful you become, you will always benefit from having someone to bounce ideas off.
A sounding board for ideas
A relationship with the right mentor means having someone who can steer you away from the bad ideas before you even consider them. Silicon Valley’s ethos of “move fast and break things” is changing, and now startups do have the ability to take stock and be patient without fear of being left behind. You can guarantee that someone who is 10-15 years ahead of you in their professional journey will have made all the mistakes you are close to making. Mistakes are a part of learning, but having someone to give you the all clear or pull the plug on an idea that could make or break you is totally invaluable.
Build your network
Anyone who has ever tried to break into a new industry will have at some point been told “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. There is some bitter truth in this, in that being a loner in an industry that thrives on connectivity will not serve you well. Authentically building connections is a laborious task, and we can guarantee that there’s significantly less cocktail parties and industry conferences at the moment that would allow us to meet new people. But a mentor will have your best interest at heart and introduce you to the right people – whether this is giving you an email address, mentioning you to their own connections, or pointing you in the right person’s direction.
Find a mentor in your heroes
Mentorship isn’t always black and white. Sometimes it’s done on an unofficial, as-you-need basis, but for others it means regular meetings and sessions. Because of this some mentors ask for payment, and you may not be in a position to do this. Or, it may just be the case that you just haven’t found the right mentor for you. There’s no reason you can’t find a mentor in your heroes – in the books you read, podcasts you listen to or talks you attend. Mirroring their career route and choices can help you to follow a well-trodden path, lessening the risk for you while also providing a source of motivation and inspiration. Books such as The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, and Zero to One by Peter Thiel have been instrumental in many entrepreneurial journeys, and have become unofficial mentors for thousands of people.
When you are young and inexperienced, many people will try to convince you that you need to spend between $10,000-$15,000 on an online crash course that will teach you everything you need to know. You can take this as a red flag if the opportunity ever gets put in front of you. There are dozens of affordable online courses ranging anywhere between $5 to $1000 that will teach you the same lessons for a much more reasonable price. Not only are only courses a great starting point for newcomers who are just looking to learn the basics, but they may actually give you new networking leads and opportunities. If you enjoyed one course in particular, reach out to the host and see if they are offering mentoring.
Ultimately, whether you choose to go with a personal mentor, or you follow the guidance of great authors and leaders until you find your stride, the lessons you learn and how you implement them is the most important thing. There’s no time like the present to find your ideal mentor and start putting words into action.