Every Startup Needs a Mentor Team

Every startup that wants to succeed needs a mentor team.  These mentors don’t have to be a formal board of advisors, but they should be a diverse group of accomplished business people, lawyers and professors.  They don’t have to be experts in the area you are starting your company, but it would be useful to try to find one person who is.  You should be able to call or email them anytime you are stumped on a problem you are trying to deal with.  You should also be able to meet with them every 1-2 months to give progress reports and talk through your business.  Ideally your core team should consist of 3-5 people, but even 1 mentor is a huge help.

It’s important to have a mentor team for a bunch of reasons.  First, your mentors will be able to bring an outside perspective that isn’t as close to the business as you are as the founder.  Its amazing how many problems someone smart who is a little removed from your business can solve.  Second, having a mentor team builds credibility both with others in the business community like potential partners and customers and with potential investors.  When I look at startups, if the founder doesn’t have a mentor team, I start to wonder if their idea is any good or if the founder is totally committed.  Sort of like a partner, if the founder can’t find someone to like them and their idea enough to be a mentor, there might be something wrong with the idea or the team.  Third, mentor teams provide valuable insight into areas that founders many not have experience.  Whether its a tax question or how to approach investors or how to present to a partner company, people who are smart and have been successful before usually are able to help you out.

My mentor teams for my businesses have consisted of a lawyer, successful entrepreneurs, professors.  For my current company, my partner and I joined the MERLIN Mentors program here in Madison to add to our existing network of advisors and mentors.  If you are starting a company, see if there is a program like MERLIN in your area.  It is a great way to gain access to mentors who can help you succeed, especially if you don’t have an existing network.  If there isn’t a program, email interesting professors you find online or in your area.  Write a business plan and enter into a business plan competition.  Join LinkedIN and see if you have any connections who might be able to help you.  Ask your friends and family if they know anyone who might be interested in listening to your ideas.  Not only is it easier than you think to find a good mentor, it’s also one of the most important things a startup can do.  It doesn’t even cost any money!

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5 Replies to “Every Startup Needs a Mentor Team”

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  2. Why would someone want to be a mentor if he isnt being paid? what’s in it for him? How do you avoid meetings for the sake of meetings? How do you get rid of a mentor that you later conclude isnt being very helpful/smart? What does the mentor want from you? Can you work comfortably with mentors if you always hated group projects in school?

  3. Most people who have been successful have had other people help them out when they were just getting started. I can think of six people who helped me for free when I was a 19 year old with no business experience. Most other entrepreneurs have similar experiences. They want to give back to others who are in their situation now. Most mentors want to feel like they are helping someone. Mentors are also curious about new technologies and projects people are working on.

    A good mentor doesn’t call a meeting unless there is a big problem. A mentee calls a meeting or sends an email or picks up the phone when he needs help.

    Since most of these relationships are not formalized, its fairly easy to stop calling/setting meetings if you find someone to not be helpful. Many people dislike group projects because the people you had to work with were not helpful. Mentors are helpful.

  4. Q: Why would someone want to be a mentor if he isnt being paid? what’s in it for him?

    A: It’s called “pay it forward”. It’s also the same reason that people volunteer. While it may not necessarily be a totally selfless gesture, there are a number of non-financial motives for a mentor to help a young business person.

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