Kristin and Tim Mezel’s story is a common one.
As the cofounders of Mezel Mods, a 2 year old custom pinball accessories manufacturer and onlineretailer, they have all the right problems. It’s a creative business with no direct competitors, they’re passionate about what they do, and in addition to a market size that tops $200 million they’ve seen plenty of demand for their services.
But after working with several mentors, Kristin and Tim both realized that they hadn't been taking their business seriously enough.
I met them this past fall during the 2015 Creative Startups Accelerator when they sat down with me for a mentoring session to help hone their pitch for demo day. Overwhelmed by the day-to-day demands of their business, lost and without a map, they couldn't figure out what to do next.
“We were stuck working on the small details of our business,” said Kristin, “and hadn’t taken the time to focus on the big picture. How could we pitch investors in 6 days? We didn't know what to do next. We had lost our bearings.”
During the week leading up to the demo day, several mentors including myself (each with different backgrounds, specialities, and perspectives) worked with them.
Those new perspectives, Kristin says, helped them see their business objectively for the first time. Not only did it help them create an actionable strategy for the future of their company, they landed the demo day top prize.
A big part of the reason that the other mentors and I were able to help Mezel Mods create a viable strategy so quickly is because we’ve been there ourselves. We’ve undertaken the same risks they are, so we know what it feels like to be stuck in the hustle, and how to rectify it. Thanks to our own experience with mentors we’ve survived, so paying it forward by mentoring others.
Mentors are one of the most powerful foundational assets you need when you’re getting a business off the ground. The results from a good match are undeniable, and, predictably, every business bootcamp, incubator, accelerator, and “ zero to revenue in 2 weeks” program boasts about having the best of them.
Here are a few easy tips (tried and true) on what to look for in a great mentor, what types of mentorships there are, and where you’ll find them.
Beyond Experience And Resources: Attributes of A Great Mentor
● Someone who challenges, and empowers you
A great mentor believes in you while at the same time challenging you to see another perspective, step beyond your comfort zone and try things you may not have considered.
● Honest and specific
A great mentor is direct, and gives you constructive feedback in a way that no one else is willing or able to.
● Someone who is objective and nonjudgmental
While a great mentor wants you to be successful and thrive, they are objective about your decisions and not so attached to a specific outcome that they take it personally if you stumble on your path to success.
A great mentor willingly and without expectation of return shares their experience, wisdom, knowledge and resources because selflessly sharing their hardearned lessons for your benefit actually feels good.
Types Of Mentorship
In addition to general qualities, it’s also helpful to be clear with yourself about what type of mentor relationships you need, and to identify specifically who you will ask. Most mentor relationship fall into one of these two categories:
● Informal and organic
Many of the longest lasting mentor relationships develop with friends, family members and business acquaintances as a casual exchange of advice and support.
Shivani Bhargava, Founder of TheRightMargin, a goal oriented writing tool that helps you finish what you write (and 2015 participant in the Creative Startups Accelerator), has a casual but acknowledged mentor relationship with her life partner. She says they think of each other as “peer mentors” in that they act as a sounding board and advisor for each other. “Not being in business together is what allows us to offer each other objective insight and valuable practical advice,” said Bhargava.
● Intentional and structured
Rather than asking someone to be your mentor right off the bat, start by asking for feedback, advice and direction.
Over time, as the exchange proves to be helpful and beneficial to both parties, it often evolves into an intentional and structured relationship.
When Shivani needed feedback on her investor pitch, she turned to her uncle, a successful entrepreneur and recent graduate of the Distinguished Careers Institute at Stanford GSB.
“My uncle and I always shared a passion for business and talked about it at family gatherings, but recently he's invested a lot of time helping me get my pitch deck to the next level. During that process of formally scheduling meetings not associated with a family get together, we acknowledged that he is a mentor to me. We meet often, either in person or on a scheduled call and we structure our conversations around my specific needs at that time.”
Where To Find A Mentor
If you work in a corporate setting, there are probably quite a few potential mentors, but when you’re an entrepreneur, odds are you have to look outside your own business.
If you’ve tried to get a mentor by emailing your business hero, chances are you are still mentorless. While you probably could learn a lot from Elon Musk, Richard Branson or Oprah, you can’t expect them to clear their schedule to talk you about the trials and tribulations of launching your business. Cold calling successful, busy people rarely gets the results you hoped.
Most of the time it makes sense to start with an existing connection. Like Shivani, think about people that you already know that have a passion for business as well as specific experience and knowledge that could help you succeed.
Sift through your Linkedin and Facebook pages for friends, family members, former employers or coworkers, someone from your alma mater, fraternity or apartment building, or someone you heard speak at a business conference or that you already do business with.
Lynn Grossman, Founder of Secret Road Management, a music licensing, publishing and management company, says that she has created an inner circle of casual mentor relationships that she cherishes. “I was introduced to or met through business events and networking all of the people I think of as mentors to me. Since I work in the entertainment industry, I can feel isolated because confidentiality is critical. I have found people that I trust and respect and we’ve built lasting relationships based on reciprocating advice, support and resources,” Grossman adds.
Make finding at least one great mentor a priority. A rewarding Mentor relationship will not only continue to give you support and perspective on what to do with your business, you’ll experience growth in all areas of your life.