By Gary McDaniel, TCV Partner -
Starting up, establishing, and growing a successful business requires a myriad of things. These include: a business idea or concept, a market need, a product or service that fills that need, financial resources, a solid plan, a talented team to execute that plan, the support of family and friends, a lot of grit and determination (some might say insanity).
As an entrepreneur, it's exciting to go it alone and create something on your own. However, the reality is that while you have a great idea, you will not always know exactly what you should be doing at various times to develop a sustainable business.
Therefore, in order to be successful, one of the most valuable resources you can have is a handful of mentors that you can rely upon to help guide you along your entrepreneurial journey. Launching and running a business does not have to be an intimidating experience, riddled with unknowns. It can and should be a collaborative journey working with mentors who have already built successful businesses, and who can help you grow and avoid known pitfalls based on their years of experience.
What to look for in a Mentor
Guess what? You don’t know everything (hard to believe, I know). Try to improve upon your weaknesses by seeking mentors with different skill sets than you, who will complement you rather than mirror you. These kinds of mentors will approach problems from different perspectives than you, they will challenge you, and they will break you out of your comfort zone. Bottom line - you’ll learn more from these people than from those who are just like you.
You can have multiple mentors. So, search for mentors who are expert on your specific business size, in your specific industry, or in a specific area (finance, legal, IP, marketing). You can even look for short-term mentors, on a case-by-case basis, to help with a specific business problem (e.g., a marketing issue or a technology issue).
How to use your Mentors
You need to keep in mind that mentors are confidants who give you direction and options; however, at the end of the day, you have to make your own choices. It is, after all, your business. Your mentors aren’t there to tell you what to do or how to do it. They are merely there to provide guidance to help you down the path you choose to take.
John Rampton from Inc. magazine wrote an article entitled “10 Reasons Why a Mentor Is a Must”. It is a great read and I highly recommend it. His list pretty much sums it up:
1. Mentors provide information and knowledge.
2. Mentors can see where we need to improve where we often cannot see.
3. Mentors find ways to stimulate our personal and professional growth.
4. Mentors offer encouragement and help keep us going.
5. Mentors are disciplinarians that create necessary boundaries that we cannot set for ourselves.
6. Mentors are sounding boards so we can bounce ideas off them for an unfiltered opinion.
7. Mentors are trusted advisers.
8. Mentors can be connectors.
9. Mentors have the experiences you can learn from to prevent making the same mistakes beginners make.
10. Mentors are free, which makes them priceless in more ways than one.
I have relied on several mentors during the course of my career, most of whom I am still in contact with, and with whom I still occasionally consult. All have graciously helped me along my entrepreneurial journey and all have contributed in some way or another to my success. Thank you mentors!
“No one learns anything by driving blind except what it feels like to crash”
― Paul De Leo