Learning From the Best

Why mentors rock-and how they can help you grow your business

News flash: You don't know everything.

That probably comes as a shock to you-you're an entrepreneurial genius who's chock full of inspiration, after all-but it's true. There is someone out there who knows more than you about the whole starting a business thing. Someone who can teach you what to do, how to do it and, most important, how to survive the journey with your sanity intact. Think what Mr. Miyagi did for The Karate Kid.

We're talking about a mentor: part coach, part parent, part impartial judge.someone who will impart wisdom to you and advise you on those days when you want to throw in the towel and apply for a job at a coffee shop. We found a few select entrepreneurs who credit their mentors with their business success: They've been advised, taught and taken under the wing of some bright businesspeople, and though each story is different, each entrepreneur is sure of two things:

  1. That they learned from the best.
  2. That their businesses would not be where they are without the strong guidance of good mentors.

Luke Eddins, for example, is sure his business knowledge came from the time he spent with his mentor at a former job. Eddins, 26, is the founder of Luke Hits, an online company formed to help unsigned bands get their songs onto movie and TV soundtracks. An avid musician himself, Eddins wanted to combine his two loves: music and business. And while he had the music side down, he knew his business skills would be the make-or-break of his business.

Though his mentor wasn't actually in the music industry-Eddins worked for a time at a company in the gem industry under the supervision of Sam Gadodia, a Harvard MBA-he learned everything he could about how to do business simply by spending time near his mentor. "You have to act like a sponge," says Eddins. "I didn't have the experience that he brought to the table."

Working right inside Gadodia's office proved invaluable: "I was able to overhear all the [goings-on]," says Eddins. "I could learn his approach, his tactics, his strategies." Eddins likens it to taking a business course, though a much more real-world one.

But it wasn't just observing Gadodia that taught Eddins. Even after the two no longer worked together, Eddins would seek his mentor's input on start-up issues-"how he would recommend that I approach this client or how I should pitch this a certain way," he says. And though he hasn't had much contact with his mentor since Gadodia moved to India six months ago, the lessons Eddins learned are still fresh in his mind.

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This article was originally published in the August 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Learning From the Best.

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