The Right Mentor for the Job

The big name executive is not always the best for you and your company.

Key Points:

  • Find mentors that are 1–2 years ahead of you. They know what you are going through and how to resolve pain points like yours.
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Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Introducing early stage startups to mentors and influencers is an integral part of my day-to-day. Founding a startup can be an overwhelming and isolating job, but a mentor can be the key to building your community. Many times, your mentor will become as important as the rest of your distributed team. If they are the right fit, they can help you close your funding or be your ticket to meet your next early customer.

Finding the Right Mentor.

Here’s the surprising truth:

The CEO of an established startup or company might not always be the right mentor for your company.

While it’s quite inspiring to hear top executives talk about scaling their companies and teams, what they experienced might not always be as relevant to a young startup. Many times, those with high levels of experience will be looking at how they manage their 30K employees, not focusing on their first VP of sales as you may be.

In early stage, it’s more helpful to find mentors that are 1–2 years ahead of you — founders who have recently raised capital or are currently working through exponential growth. The pain points you feel are very likely akin to what they have experienced and the resolutions are fresh in their memories.

If you are raising your series A in the next 6–8 months, find a founder who has just gone through the process. Better yet, find mentors who struggled to raise yet were still successful.

The first and most profound mentor I had was Stan James, who is currently with Origin. When Stan and I first met, he had a booming startup called Lijit (now Sovrn) and had just gone through an acquisition, hired a CEO, and completed many other pieces of the puzzle I was still navigating. Even though he was also new to this process and only a year or so ahead, Stan had the relevant experience, in addition to domain expertise, to help along the path.

Mutually beneficial mentors are like your workout partner, telling you to run that last mile, put in 30 more minutes of focused work, or to leave your laptop and get some dinner.

However, great mentors can come in all different shapes and sizes. What they have in common is that they help an entrepreneur find and fill in their blind spots, and keep them grounded and honest while also lifting them up.

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Harli Marten on Unsplash

Throughout the years, Stan and I became very good friends invested in each others’ personal growth and have continued to stay in touch. I even rented his apartment from him in San Francisco for about a year. In instances like these, we’ve become mutually beneficial mentors––those who you help just as much as they help you. Complementary partners keep each other accountable. They are like your workout partner, telling you to run that last mile, put in 30 more minutes of focused work, or to leave your laptop and get some dinner. They have your back and know you have theirs.

Meeting a Mentor.

Get out to events geared towards your interests in entrepreneurship and talk with people, even without an agenda in mind. Ask those you know to connect you with someone who would be helpful given your set of questions.

Prior to meeting with a particular person, always be prepared with your questions and research your mentor to learn more about them prior to the meeting. With an early stage mentor, be precise with your questions. Talk about the specific business challenges and hurdles that you’re experiencing. It might also be easiest if you match the type of company they are building with yours to address specific pain-points. For example, the struggles of a SaaS company — their metrics, timeline, and successes — are much different than those of a hardware startup.

How do you know when it’s the right fit?

Obviously, you should get along –– mentorship is built on mutual respect. Conversations should be a flowing two-way street, and great mentors are happy to make intro’s and drop knowledge. Mentors will make time for you and be responsive and engaged, and vice versa. The best mentors are ones you can call even when things aren’t fully going your way. Like any relationship, they will take some work, but eventually, the best ones feel seamless.

Hi! Thanks for reading. I’m Theron, a founder, investor, and past banker. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great companies and brands over the last 15 years like Pivotal Software and Silicon Valley Bank.

I like to write mostly based on my experiences as a founder, mentor, investor in scaling enterprise startups.

I hope my articles help you to avoid and learn from my mistakes as well as gain knowledge from my wins.

Follow me at @theron on Twitter and LinkedIn and please feel free to reach out to theron@fiifi.co.

Keep shipping product and never look back!

Thanks to those that have helped craft and publish this post.

Written by

The Founder VC; founder/CEO at fiifi.co; past Managing Director @SVB_Financial #startups, Investor at Acceleprise

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