Finding a mentor can be invaluable for every entrepreneur. Yet, finding the right mentor can be tricky. Many entrepreneurs seek advice from people who have achieved enormous success -- the kind we aspire to achieve someday. In reality, being mentored by someone like this can kill your business.
In the past six years since I launched my family-network company, Life360, I’ve learned a lot about the types of mentors who are most valuable for a CEO with a young and fast-growing business. The biggest lessons I’ve learned about mentorship bucked the traditional advice one usually hears about finding a mentor.
Those lessons boil down to three key things:
Find someone that makes sense for the stage you are at. It’s natural to gravitate towards extremely successful or powerful people and assume they must hold a lot of the answers to business success.
In the early days of building Life360, I sought advice from someone who had been a great mentor to me in a previous job. He worked at a major investment bank and had helped hundreds of companies navigate multi-million dollar deals. He worked with enormously successful companies every day, so I thought surely his advice on how to build my own company would be valuable. I was wrong.
He was not the right mentor at that stage in my entrepreneurial journey. It had been a long time since he had been down in the weeds -- in the scrappy early days of building a company. What I really needed was someone who knew how to achieve small but critical successes like developing a great product, putting the right team in place and attracting those first 100,000 customers.
Key lesson learned: Hot shots don’t have all the answers. Find someone who has walked in your shoes. If you’re in scrappy, build-it-from-scratch growth mode, find someone who’s successfully navigated that and ask them for advice.
Seek advice from your peers. Most entrepreneurs have a healthy dose of self-confidence, and we all want to exude an air that we have everything figured out, which can make it daunting to seek honest advice from our peers. Finding someone who is truly a peer -- a fellow entrepreneur or someone else in your industry also grappling with many of the same challenges you face right now -- can be an enormously valuable professional relationship that includes mentorship and moral support.
My business is based in Silicon Valley, a place where entrepreneurs can be fiercely competitive with each other. Over time, I have developed some strong friendships with other entrepreneurs that can be classified as mutual mentorships, too.
Key lesson learned: Drop the façade and open up to a trusted peer who can offer helpful outside perspective. A mutually-beneficial mentorship with a peer can be enormously valuable for you both.
Learn from your customers. “Listen to your customers” isn’t new advice but thinking of customers as possible mentors isn’t something most entrepreneurs consider. However, there are a lot of really smart people out there using your product.
I’ve found that every once in a while as our team sifts through emails and calls from customers, we’ll run across a thoughtful suggestion from someone offering an incredibly smart idea. It would be easy to simply thank the customer for their feedback and possibly implement their suggestion. In my opinion, that’s a missed opportunity. A customer with one incredible idea for your business probably has more great ideas or other valuable feedback to share. Reaching out to that person and asking for more feedback can be the start of an unexpected mentorship.
Key lesson learned: be mindful that mentoring relationships can come from unexpected sources and look for those possibilities in every interaction you have with customers and others.
Related: The Genius Of Mentorship