Most startup accelerators feature an impressive roster of mentors “ready to help you take your company to the next level.” With the explosion of accelerators, there’s actually an “arm’s race” to sign them up.
But how do you know if they have the right qualifications, motivation and time commitment to help you? The only way is to try to get to know them beforehand. Be demanding.
We’ve come up with four simple questions to help you evaluate if your future mentor is likely to meet your needs. First, here’s what to expect of mentors.
What to Expect from Mentors
1. Plug a Skills Gap
It isn’t realistic that you’ll have assembled a team that covers all the skills you need for your startup. Bring in a mentor, however, and at least some of those skills gaps will be plugged.
With so much to do when you’re starting up, it is challenging to know what to prioritize. A mentor with decades of experience will guide you towards what you should be spending the most time on.
3. Make Connections
An experienced mentor will have a more extensive network than yours. They are able to introduce you to people who can really help make things happen for your venture.
4. Build Credibility
The presence of a mentor in your team can also help you gain the trust of investors, once they know that you’re taking advice from a voice of experience.
5. Avoid Mistakes
A major benefit of having a mentor on board is that they’ve been there, and done that. They’ve already made the mistakes you’re at risk of making and can give you guidance.
Rate Your Mentor
When evaluating a mentor, ask yourself these four questions, then attach a score, 1 being low, 4 being high:
Does the mentor have successful operating experience – founding or running a company, raising venture capital, selling the company or taking the company public?
Is the mentor’s interest aligned with yours? Does the mentor really care about helping you to build your business, or is the mentor more interested in joining or investing in your startup or doing business with it?
Does the mentor spend a lot of time telling you the “right way” to run your company instead of listening to and asking you questions that get you thinking?
How available is the mentor when you have a burning issue? Does the mentor use regular one-to-ones with you as the means of mentorship, or does the mentor swoop in for one-to-manys?
What the Score Means
Total your score and divide by four. Here’s what the score means:
1.0 to 2.99 – Your mentor is just a contributor.
3.0 to 3.99 – Your mentor is, well, a mentor.
4.0 – Your mentor is a super mentor, the kind you want.
Its Really Up to You
While there is a lot of value in having a network of advisers with different skills, we think you still need a super mentor with decades of successful experience behind them who is a very shrewd business strategist and who regularly provides advice and feedback.
At the Venture Development Center, we have an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Dan Phillips, a veteran of four venture-backed startups, dedicated exclusively to the small group of entrepreneurs. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he isn’t looking for his next gig or scouting for potential startup investments. He doesn’t have to.
At the end of the day, though, a mentor, no matter how qualified, committed and motivated, is never a substitute for independent thought. No one understands your business as well as you do. Take all their advice, stew on it for a bit and then draw your own conclusions. The best mentor will respect what you decide.