I started my entrepreneurial life when I was 17 years old. I didn't exactly know what I was getting into, but I knew I was terrible at sitting in class, and I knew that I wanted to make my own money. My father used to say, “Why climb a ladder when you can hold the ladder?" That got my blood pumping.
Truth is, when I was starting my first business, it was not as glamorous as it is today. The word “startup” was not a household name. Many things have changed drastically over the years, especially driven by what I like to call “an entrepreneurial renaissance,” One thing that changed is the perception of the role of a mentor, and what mentorship actually is.
I am now a mentor. I mentor hundreds of young entrepreneurs, through my role at Techstars, AlleyNYC and other organizations. I was not always a mentor (obviously), and I never had one specific mentor when I was coming up.
So what exactly is a mentor? I believe that there are some misconceptions about mentorship so I decided to share with you my experiences on mentorship from both sides. As in most cases, this is very subjective and it is my own personal view and based on my experience.
The shitty people in my life
This may sound weird, but I have learned the biggest lessons from the most difficult people in my life. Some of these lessons include: how to deal with shitty people, how to overcome stressful situations and most of all, how NOT to be a shitty person. I have to say, If mentorship is based on lessons learned, for me, shitty people make the most effective mentors.
The community at AlleyNYC teaches me new things every day. I use the term "community" to reference our members and the people/audience we touch. Some of you may view these people as your clients, but I learned a while back that community is much a more powerful way at looking at your clients. The community teaches me how to build things and what they need to help create value in their lives. They also keep me focused on creating the best experience possible for them. I believe that the best products and services come from this level of thought. My community, as a whole, is my biggest mentor.
This is sort of obvious, but I like to bring it up every chance I get. I would be nowhere if it was not for my family. My family has supported me in every way you can imagine. My father is filled with crazy stories of corporate drama he dealt with as VP of a huge company. My mother was an award-winning kindergarten teacher and she changed the game in her field. Although they were not seasoned entrepreneurs, their knowledge helped me make major decisions that their support has gotten me through the toughest times in my life. Mentors to that!
The people that say no
This sort of relates to the shitty-people category. However, people that say that I cannot accomplish something deserve their own level of attention. Someone once told me that I should get a job and that I should not be self-employed. Twenty years later and I made a pretty damn nice life for myself. Someone once told me I couldn't build a coworking space. Well, I built one of the biggest coworking spaces in the world and I did it in the heart of NYC. BOOM. When someone tells me no, I am super-motivated to prove them wrong. I guess that is part of the entrepreneurial spirit. I like to be challenged.
I say things like “I built it” and “my company,” etc., but the truth is I say these things because it's easy to digest. Being a CEO basically means that everything rolls up to me, both good and bad. Fortunately, AlleyNYC is kicking ass and I look like a total rock star. The truth is that in most cases I am just the messenger. I work with an incredible, innovative team that pushes the needle forward everyday. AlleyNYC is a special place because the team is special and extremely talented. I learn from the team everyday and they make me a better person and I am motivated to be a good CEO and represent their work the right way.
Everyone is a mentor
Daddy Warbucks, the Easter Bunny and the Perfect Mentor have something in common: they don't exist! You're more than likely not going to have some rich relative reach out and tell you that you're a millionaire, Easter Bunnies are good for chocolate munchies and NOBODY is perfect. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, with all different skill sets. I like to think as life as one HUGE lesson and we can learn from EVERYONE. I love to stop and talk to people. I love to listen. Listening is a gift, and in my opinion we should not talk over anyone. How can you listen and learn when you are busy trying to prove your own point?
I would like to dedicate this article to everyone I have interacted with in my life. My family, my amazing team, my investors who invested in me and a special thank you to all the d-bags that told be I couldn't do something. I love you all!
I always say that I don't know everything. I know a little bit about a lot. The reason for this is the different people who have been in my life and spending time listening and learning from them. I suggest that everyone re-evaluate the term mentor, and apply to potentially anyone you meet. We can all learn a bit more, from everyone around us. The world is your oyster and your mentor. HUSTLE ON.
(Editor's Note: Entrepreneur Media, publisher of this website, is an investor and partner in AlleyNYC, a coworking space based in New York.)