Qualities that Startups Should Look For in a Mentor

Being a founder/CEO of a new startup can be a challenging experience. It can be overwhelming for some, and it demands much of the person to keep the startup afloat and running while navigating the various obstacles faced along the way. Therefore, having a mentor who can provide guidance and knowledge during tough times and when facing dilemmas is a boon for any startup team. 

Of course, choosing the right mentor for a startup is just as important as, say, selecting the right accelerator program. The right mentor can inspire a fledgling startup to greater heights while a mediocre mentor might not get the startup anywhere. Here are some qualities that a startup should look for in a mentor to determine whether they are a good fit for the startup’s team.

The mentor should be a living example of what he teaches or believes in. Put another way, the mentor should be able to walk the talk. There are many people out there who can talk up a storm, but when it comes to action they just cannot do it. Mentors worth their salt are built from the experience and knowledge gained from their actions, not from merely reading or talking about it. A basketball mentor should be able to hoop, a coding mentor should be able to write and develop working programs, a fitness mentor should be fit and healthy, a startup mentor at best should have also undergone the journey and process of bringing up a successful startup themselves. When searching for a mentor, the startup should seek out those who have already established themselves through their deeds in the field or area that the startup is operating in.

A mentor should also preferably have a sound understanding of the dimension and depth of the art of running a successful startup. The individual should be able to answer any basic questions that the startups may have concerning the what, why, and how of operating a successful startup, from the early, nascent stages to the mature and exit stages. Without the proper know-how and tools, the mentor may be limited in helping the startup to derive the greatest potential benefits of their relationship.

Besides being knowledgeable and experienced, the third quality that startups should look for in a mentor is that the individual must be both systematic and generous in the mentorship. Someone who is very successful and skillful in creating successful startups, but who mentors  haphazardly or withholds much of what he or she knows, cannot be said to be a good mentor even though that person may be very accomplished. 

The fourth quality that transforms a good mentor to a great one is radiating inspiration. Indeed, just as with great leaders that inspire and lead, so too should great mentors inspire startups under their care to accomplish achievements that they otherwise would not have believed possible. It is a joy to learn from a great mentor even though the approach may be tough and straightforward, with no sugarcoating. A hallmark of a great mentor is one who inspires and guides the startup to be the best version of themselves, sometimes even beyond the level that the mentor has attained.

No less important, the mentor must be ethical and principled in his or her dealings and approach. Startups should look to trustworthy and honest individuals for guidance and advice. A ‘yes-man’ kind of mentor is not entirely helpful and may not always be truthful; instead look for mentors who are not afraid to be honest and are willing to challenge comfort zones. A mentor who is ethical and principled also ensures that the startup does not get on the wrong side of the law.

Startups under the guidance of a great mentor are well on their first step towards realizing their vision or goals. Choosing a capable, trustworthy and inspiring mentor can mean a world of difference for any startup, as the right guidance and mentorship can spur the startup to achieve great accomplishments that they may have otherwise thought not possible.