Finding the "Right" Mentor

The Startup Genome brings up the factor of the “right mentors” and how they positively influence the startup's ability to raise funds. However, the startup genome doesn't articulate what it entails to be the right type of mentor. In order to discover the “right” types of mentors for startups, I conducted interviews with novice entrepreneurs, experienced entrepreneurs, and read through academic research.

A novice entrepreneur and I at Philly Tech Meetup’s happy hour were discussing why he would want a mentor. He said, “mentors speed up interpreting the metrics and figuring out how to act on them.” He went on to add, “mentors are good at pattern matching." We continued our discussion in an email dialogue. I asked him to described what a great mentor would look like for his company. He defined a “great” mentor as an individual with “deep knowledge” of their respective industry, to “have connections to others to fill in gaps in their, [the startups] experience, and business links that would help grow the company." According to this entrepreneur, the right mentor is a well connected and deeply knowledgeable individual in one or more industries, with the respective business experience to go with it.

In one of my interviews with the startup Inhabi, I learned that they’ve already attracted their first set of paying customers. They've been setting up experiments to test one product feature over another, and they currently have a lot of data on their users. From their perspective, they also believe that mentors are good at “pattern matching" for the purpose of making decisions on data that's been acquired during product tests. This startup seemed interested in making sense of on the data they were acquiring because they're concerned about how to acquire more customers. In other words, they're improving their customer acquisition.

Another entrepreneur with the startup Dine&Ditch, when finding the right mentor, he "tends to look for weaknesses of core competencies of specific aspects of the business model and team."

And for your viewing, the following set of entrepreneurs were asked a single question, "How do you identify a mentor for your business?"

While interviewing various entrepreneurs, it seems that it's the norm to have several mentors at the same time. Whether that mentor is providing strategic advice on how to refine the product, the business model, or even customer acquisition, it's also the norm to have each mentor satisfy one particular area of expertise for the novice entrepreneur's business. 

From this data, it seems that the right type of mentor for a startup, or novice entrepreneur, is a person with expertise and connections in an area the novice entrepreneur or the startup team lacks.

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