Start-Ups

Startup founders: The pros and cons of finding a mentor

Mentorship is a great tool for founders, but it isn't always a safe bet. Here's how to determine if mentorship is right for you.

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Mentorship has long been associated with many different kinds of businesses. It's a great way to learn from someone else's mistakes and glean their wisdom.

I recently wrote an article detailing some ways that startup founders can find the right mentor, but how do you know that is a journey worth taking? Are mentors even right, or necessary, for every startup founder?

While it is up to you to determine whether or not finding a mentor is something you wish to pursue, there are some factors to help you weigh the pros and cons of mentorship. Here are some things to consider as you set out to decide if a mentor is something that you need.

Mentors are not employees

Deciding whether or not to seek a mentor begins with an understanding of what exactly a mentor does for your business. According to Richard Foster, founder of LaunchPad, good mentors can provide feedback, help with major decisions, and add connections and/or capital.

The key idea here is that mentors exist more in the realm of casting vision than they do to help you accomplish specific tasks. That's not to say that a mentor won't pitch in to help every now and then, but that isn't what they are there for. Mentors are not your employees.

According to Lauren Kay, founder of Dating Ring, if you need help with a specific business task, sometimes it's better to find a consultant.

"If you have a specific, pressing question for your business — say on accounting or a new marketing strategy — it's usually best to hire an outside consultant, rather than relying on a mentor," Kay said. "Mentors can be great for advice on where to look, but they definitely shouldn't be used as part-time employees. "

The positive side of this is that mentors can help you think through tough problems. For first-time founders especially, there are a lot of unknowns to deal with and a good mentor can guide you through those unknowns with their wisdom and experience.

"The right mentor can quickly help you solve problems that might require either a lot of research, a lot of thinking and/or a lot of trial and error," Chris Golec, said founder and CEO of Demandbase.

At a startup, your days are long and often peppered with what seem like life or death decisions you have to make. Yes, solving tough problems is part of the startup life.

Mentorship can give you a shortcut through these problems by leaning on the wisdom of your mentors. However, this comes with its own set of risks, as it could keep you from developing fully as an entrepreneur.

"The best part about being an entrepreneur is all the great stuff you get to learn," said Scott Lininger, CEO at Bitsbox. "If you lean for too long on, say, your fundraising mentors, then it delays the self-education that you need on that very important subject. It's often better to become an expert yourself."

Good founders know how and when to trust their gut. Sometimes, going through hard situations alone helps to refine your intuition.

Mentors require an investment

Mentorship, like any good human relationship, needs effort from both parties to be beneficial. The first of these investments that an entrepreneur must make is an investment of time.

According to Steven Aldrich, senior vice president of business applications for GoDaddy, one of the biggest drawbacks to seeking a mentor is the time it requires.

"It is definitely true that you get out of a mentor relationship what you put in," Aldrich said. "And the most precious commodity you have is how you spend your time. Once you choose a mentor, invest in that relationship through regular update calls and meetings."

Keep this in mind as you are weighing your options. If you feel like your life is too busy already, cultivating a mentoring relationship may be something you can't afford to take on right now. Aldrich also said that one way to make sure meeting happen is to schedule them around meals because "everyone needs to eat!"

As you foster a relationship with a mentor, remember that a mentor's experiences are subjective and if you ask the same question of three different mentors, you may likely get three different answers. In this way, you must invest your intellect and your intuition as the final decision will always rest on your shoulders.

Investing your resources is also something you should consider when developing a relationship with a mentor.

"Always consider compensation for mentors," Foster said. "This does not have to be cash, but a little equity with a good vesting schedule can go a long way to aligning everyone's interests."

Finally, invest yourself as a mentor to people who may be in a position you were previously in. As a founder, Aldrich recommends building relationships with students or other would-be entrepreneurs who you can share your experiences with.

"I've found that when I've given back to others, I gotten a lot of learning by unpacking my own thinking in response to questions from a mentee."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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