Startups · Entrepreneurship

What makes a startup mentor great?

Itana Prljevic Social Media Strategist

September 14th, 2016

Some of the most successful founders all had a mentor guiding them throughout the journey. I would love to understand what are the patterns of the traits of a really awesome mentor.

Irwin Stein Very experienced (40 years) corporate,securities and real estate attorney.

September 14th, 2016

A good mentor complements you. They listen and they talk you through it.  A good mentor has made their own mistakes and understands how mistakes feel. A good mentor keeps you focused and grounded. A good mentor is a rock that will help you anchor your dream.  A good mentor gives you homework and encourages you to get it done.  Good mentors say things like: "break that down" " "make a list of what you will need" and asks you questions that you never thought about.  A good mentor takes pride in your success. 


September 14th, 2016

They can see the short term and long term curve balls before they're thrown; and they are completely honest, even when it comes to the casual thoughts we don't tell each other. ............................ If you have an extra one of these lounging around feel free to send them my way.

Joe Albano, PhD Using the business of entrepreneurialism to turn ideas into products and products into sustainable businesses.

September 14th, 2016

Great mentors spend less time telling you how smart they are and more time showing you how capable you are. 

Rod Abbamonte Co Founder at STARTREK / @startupHunter / @startupWay / @CoFounderFound / @GOcapital / @startupClub / @lastminute

September 15th, 2016

Deep experience and knowledge, honesty and love.

Sebastien Mirolo CEO DjaoDjin inc.

September 14th, 2016

Like any good teacher, they sometimes know when you are making a mistake, don't say anything and wait until you are ready to listen.
As an operational person with experience bringing four companies from table napkin idea to revenue, that was the hardest lesson to learn when I started mentoring.

Ansar Hafil Business Consultant at Winning In Business

September 15th, 2016

Somebody with a lot of business experience in different industries, areas of business (product development, manufacturing, sales, communication, aftersales service, ....) and working with small and large companies. 

Steve Owens Startup Expert

September 15th, 2016

- Done it before - hopefully a few times
- Best if there is a team of them that know how to make decisions in a collaborative environment - avoid the ones who already know all the answers.
- Some incentive for the business to succeed.
- Have the bandwidth to dedicate to the project
- Are empirically based decision makers
- Process driven

George Vukotich Advisor / Educator - Startup Companies/Incubators/Accelerators

September 15th, 2016

Stay tuned. I have a book coming out on  the topic in about a month. Here's the current intro:

Mentoring Startups
Introduction: Why this Book? Why Now?

According to the most recent U.S. census there were 27.9 million small businesses registered in the United States as compared to less than 20,000 companies of 500 employees or more. The most important thing to note is that 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms are small businesses.

Given this it is easy to understand why we look to startups and small businesses to create the majority of jobs and build our economy on. Although just 21.5 percent of all small businesses are employers, almost half of the nation’s private sector
workforce (49.2 percent) is employed by small business--that's 120 million people! And since 1995, small businesses have been responsible for creating two out of every three--or 64 percent--of net new jobs in our country. Accounting for 42.9 percent of U.S. payroll dollars, small businesses drive consumer spending into the U.S. economy, as well as income tax dollars into our government's budget.

Small businesses also lead the way in terms of tech and new product innovation. In an evaluation of all "high patenting firms," or firms with 15 or more patents in a four-year period a study conducted by the Small Business Administration found that small businesses produced 16 times more patents per employee compared to larger patenting firms. Considering that small businesses account for 43 percent of high tech employment, it's not surprising to note that tech startups account for a significant portion of that innovation.”

The challenge is how to help these startups and small businesses that don’t have the resources that large corporations have. Mentoring and building networks of individuals that can help is the answer.

I can tell you from my many years on this earth one of the greatest benefits of age is wisdom. Whether you agree with it or not, I hope you’ll agree that experience is the best teacher you’ll ever have. This is certainly true if you’re starting an entrepreneurial business and your experience changes your behavior and attitude for the better.

So what do I mean by better? For the entrepreneur, it simply means better results. And better results are typically the result of asking better questions. Yet until you have the experience to draw upon, you may not know what these questions should be, let alone where to find the answers. In such cases, you’ll benefit immeasurably by getting advice and assistance not in the traditional classroom, but in the “classroom” of a mentoring relationship.

 Until you have the experience to draw on and the successes and the failures that come with it you’ll benefit immeasurably from the types of teachers that can help you learn how to run your business more effectively. Those that have been there and done that. The adventures a startup goes through are many. One of the definitions of “adventure” is that there is an undetermined outcome. When someone jumps into the startup world, it’s every bit an adventure in the true sense of the word.

That’s where this book comes in. To make your startup journey an adventure in all the best ways, and in as few of the bad ways as possible.

One of the greatest challenges for any entrepreneur is finding a network of individuals that can act as mentors. These mentors can contribute greatly to the success of the entrepreneur by helping guide their passion and ambition in the right direction as they build and grow their business. For entrepreneurs building such a network is especially difficult because they don’t have the resources that individuals in a corporate environment have available to them. In the startup world it’s about developing skills and learning to run a successful business, rather than leveraging relationships for career advancement.

In the startup world a mentoring relationship is a learning relationship. While many people will offer advice, their counsel is often based on thoughts and ideas rather than substance and experience. And sadly, it is frequently offered with the goal to impress--rather than to help--the entrepreneur improve. For mentors, it is not just about saying things to look or sound good, it is about doing things to be good. It’s about helping those entrepreneurs you work with make a difference in what they are doing and looking to accomplish.

Identifying good mentors and measuring the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship is more of a challenge in today’s knowledge economy than in the past when an individual learned manual skills. Today, knowledge workers need to know how to make decisions--the right decisions--that impact their overall business in positive ways.  Mentors add value by helping entrepreneurs learn how to approach problems, and how to make smart decisions.

The traditional mentor model is more about a senior executive giving advice to a junior individual. It usually starts by choosing likely candidates who are selected based on their potential for future success and/or as part of some special program. In many cases, it’s based more on whom they know than any innate talent or potential they may have.

In the entrepreneurial world it’s not seniority that drives a mentoring relationship, but rather the skills that individuals have to offer each other. It’s not just hierarchical. It’s peers helping peers, and knowing specialists that have the knowledge needed to solve specific problems, regardless of age or title. And yes, it’s not just the young college graduate that gets in a startup today. Many more skilled 40, 50, and 60 somethings with big ideas are trying to bring them to life in a startup environment. Diversity is also a big part of the scene today and yes; it takes a serious set of skills to work with individuals from different backgrounds.

While having a fixed schedule of face-to-face meetings helps build a mentoring relationship, in today’s society the flexibility also needs to be there to have virtual relationships. Mentees in a startup environment often need just-in-time and point-of-need help. Having modern tools and technologies now allows mentoring to be done in ways that were not possible in the past.

Over the years I’ve set up a number of mentoring programs in many large corporate and business environments. I’ve been mentored by both good and bad mentors, and I’ve mentored others where I have hopefully made a difference. My reason for writing Mentoring Startups is simple: to fill a need. You see, while there’s no shortage of books and articles that give direction on how to set up mentoring programs and how to build mentoring relationships in corporate environments, there are few if any, that offer effective direction for setting up mentorships in a startup environment and that’s where this book comes in.

Mentees in a startup environment often need help in numerous areas. Some of which they’re aware of, and others that they may only discover during their entrepreneurial journey. The key lies in learning how to find individuals that can help them learn and improve. It’s not just about knowing someone, but knowing how to work with someone in a way that will make a difference.

This book is designed to teach how to do both.

Mentors come from many backgrounds, whether based on personal or professional knowledge, skills, and abilities they can add value and help those they mentor. At the same time while many individuals want to be mentors and have knowledge that can benefit mentees they often do not have the skills to do so effectively.

In this book we’ll also provide some tools and insights to help make aspiring mentors more effective in how to communicate what they know so they can leverage and share their knowledge more effectively. Finally, we’ll look at the unique challenges faced by mentors and mentees, provide some structure on how to build a relationship, and offer some approaches and techniques on how to make those relationships effective and dynamic.

Much of the information in this book in based on my experience as the Senior Vice President of Programming for a high tech incubator known as 1871. Based in Chicago. 1871 was recently ranked as the most effective incubator in the U.S. and the fourth most effective incubator in the world by UBI-Index. During my time there I had the good fortune to see the impact mentors can have on startup companies. In my role at 1871, I led the efforts to build a highly effective mentoring program along with supporting workshops, networking and education on the topics startups needed to address in order for their businesses to be successful.

During my tenure, the mentoring program at 1871 grew from less than 50 mentors when I joined, to over 500 in just two years. Prior to my arrival, mentees had less than 50 opportunities a month to meet a mentor. This created an environment where individuals were trying to get any help they could rather than the help they needed. My first step was to increase the number of mentoring opportunities each person had on a regular basis. Soon 1,200 meetings were taking place each month, allowing mentees to learn with (and from) mentors that had a wide range of skills, in a wide range of areas. And, even more importantly, the quality and the impact of these relationships was able to grow. It was humbling to see just what a difference it made in business paths chosen and results achieved. You just can’t overestimate the importance of the right teacher at the right time.

I’m proud to say the mentoring program I nurtured at 1871 continues to blossom today.  Mentors come from a wide range of industries including the financial sector, law, marketing and technology. Over 500 mentors supporting over 400 companies, with over 1500 individuals and the numbers of mentees and mentors are still growing. But then, there’s always more to learn! And personally I still continue to mentor and be an advisor to a number of companies there today. Once good relationships build they’re hard to walk away from.

This book is a tool to help you set up and build mentor/mentee relationships of your own. It’s about providing resources to help make your relationships more effective. It will give you ideas on how to get things going, and will help when things get tense and/or stuck. It is not about a one-time read to go over and put on a shelf. It’s a reference that will help and enrich you as often as you’re willing to open it.

Why this book? Why now? Because more people than ever are looking to start their own business and a good mentoring relationship can make an invaluable difference between success and failure. I hope you find the insights shared in this book enable you to build helpful and productive mentoring relationships throughout your career and life.

This book is a tool to help you set up and build mentor/mentee relationships. It’s about providing resources to help make your relationships more effective. It will give you ideas on how to get things going, and will help when things get tense and/or stuck. It is not about a one-time read to go over and put on a shelf. It’s a reference that will help and enrich you as often as you’re willing to open it.

When someone considers becoming a mentor in a startup environment they often wonder:

- Do I have the skills that will be effective in helping a startup?

- Will my values be compatible with those of the mentee?

- Will the mentee appreciate what I have to offer?

- What, if anything will the mentoring relationship lead to?

Some mentors even wonder if they will be able to make money from the relationship. And while events can lead to this it should not be the reason a person decides to be a mentor.

When an individual thinks about finding a mentor, they often wonder:

- How do I find the right person to be a mentor?

- What should I look for in the experience and background of a mentor?

- How will the mentoring relationship work?

- What if anything will the mentor want in return?

Some even wonder if anyone would be interested in mentoring them at all.

But what exactly is mentoring, and in our case more specifically, mentoring in a startup environment? Why would a mentor want to invest their valuable time in companies that are often likely to fail? Why this book? Why now?

Because more people than ever are looking to start their own business and the value a mentor brings can make the difference between success and failure.

To be upfront, mentoring in a startup environment is much different than mentoring in a traditional corporate environment, and unfortunately, individuals that have often been successful mentoring in large corporate environments are not successful in the startup world. There is no set matchmaking, no defined relationship rules, and the overall goals revolve more around success as a startup than how an individual can move their career ahead in an organization.

While writing this book, we interviewed[2] a number of individuals who have been startup entrepreneurs, mentors, mentees along with other crucial players in the startup environment; angel investors, individuals that run incubators and accelerators, and people who work and write about the workings of the startup world. The number of startups is growing worldwide. Changes in the world related to process, technology, and mobility have opened the door to new opportunities that larger organizations are simply too slow to take advantage of.

Here are some key points related to mentoring from a mentor’s perspective:

*      It’s not a "transaction," but a way to help people immediately without a specific expectation of benefit in return (#GiveFirst is what Techstars calls it).

*      If you do mentor, and mentor well, you get a substantive return that goes well beyond money, many times over.

*      For some it’s an opportunity to return to their entrepreneurial roots and help someone develop and grow.

*      You get to keep up to date on the latest cutting edge ideas and technologies. You know that the world of new business startups is constantly changing. Mentoring keeps you on that inside track.

*      You get a first look at interesting companies to invest in as an angel. If you are an angel investor, why not be right where the action is?

*      You can help shape and build the entrepreneurial community in your area.  I was glad to see that of the many people I interviewed, there were a majority who gave this reason as to WHY they became mentors. It was gratifying to see that the passion for making a difference and helping others exists in many people’s hearts and minds.

Whether you’re a mentor, mentee, or in some cases both go forward and make a difference.

a href=""> There are quotes from many of them in this book, but the interviews were much lengthier. You can find several of them in full in the Appendix at the end of the book.