8 Characteristics of Mentors Who Are Worth Your Time

The right mentor is invested in your success. The wrong mentor is just somebody telling you how they used to do it.

learn more about Gabe Lozano

By Gabe Lozano

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

"Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill." -J. R. R. Tolkien

I'm pretty harsh on formal mentorship programs. Maybe, too harsh. During two public presentations last year, I called for the startup world to completely "nix our B-grade mentoring programs," driving the point home with a photo of a nuclear explosion. I was speaking to an audience of civic leaders and entrepreneurial organization operators. Naturally, some took offense.

Related: Three Steps to Finding a Business Mentor

It's not that I hate mentors. It's simply that I despise poor mentorship that wastes a startup's limited resources.

What constitutes quality mentorship is situationally dependent but I've pulled together some ideal characteristics based on my experiences co-founding two companies, LockerDome and GlobalHack.

1. The best mentoring relationships form organically. You cannot force a great mentorship relationship any more than you can force a romantic one. There are a handful of individuals whom I trust to provide high quality feedback for LockerDome. These relationships formed naturally by doing business together, not through a formal mentoring program.

2. Valuable mentors have endured the wild ride of a startup. Avoid the mid-level corporate lifer who recently retired and wants to give back. While well-intentioned, this individual doesn't have the slightest clue what it takes to win in the startup world.

3. Valuable mentors are domain experts. Beyond someone who understands startups, you need someone who deeply understands your market, or at least a specific piece of it. Disagree? Walk up to a stranger on the street and ask him for feedback on the most pressing professional issue you are facing right now. The odds of his advice translating into recognized value for your specific market are near zero.

Related: Why Mentoring Programs Work

4. Valuable mentors challenge you intellectually. Initial ideas almost always suck, even for world-class entrepreneurs. Effective mentors consistently challenge your assumptions and pull forward a better strategy in the process.

5. Valuable mentors have skin in the game. Family aside, those who will help you the most have the most to gain. This is okay. Embrace it.

6. Valuable mentors will answer your phone call at midnight. Your top 10 priorities almost never match up with someone else's. The best mentors understand this and consciously make your startup's needs their priority, even if that means taking your call at midnight.

7. Valuable mentors will spend their reputation points. As a budding entrepreneur, you likely have zero credibility. In ideal mentorship relationships, you'll earn credibility by osmosis, assuming your mentors are willing to put their name on the line for you and your startup.

8. Valuable mentors are humble. Mentors who "know everything" will push you to imitate their previous wins. Do that and fail. Markets change quickly, and so do solutions. Work with mentors who are cognizant of inevitable change and understand that the best solutions are yet to be invented.

Related: 4 Ingredients for Successful Mentoring Relationships

Gabe Lozano

Tech entrepreneur. Co-Founder, CEO of LockerDome. Co-Founder of GlobalHack.

Gabe Lozano heads LockerDome, a social media platform built around what you like, as opposed to who you know. More than 40 million people per month use LockerDome to discover, collect and engage around things they like with others who share the same passions. MarketWatch called LockerDome a “future Wall Street darling.” Forbes magazine named it a "2013 Sports Names You Need to Know.” And AdWeek declared the company “in the sweet spot of the digital revolution.” Lozano is also the co-founder of GlobalHack, a non-profit organization that hosts quarterly hackathons and product competitions to spur innovation and foster technology talent. Learn more at lockerdome.com and globlahack.org.


Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Everyone Wants to Get Close to Their Favorite Artist. Here's the Technology Making It a Reality — But Better.
The Highest-Paid, Highest-Profile People in Every Field Know This Communication Strategy
After Early Rejection From Publishers, This Author Self-Published Her Book and Sold More Than 500,000 Copies. Here's How She Did It.
Having Trouble Speaking Up in Meetings? Try This Strategy.
He Names Brands for Amazon, Meta and Forever 21, and Says This Is the Big Blank Space in the Naming Game
Business News

American Airlines Sued After Teen Dies of Heart Attack Onboard Flight to Miami

Kevin Greenridge was traveling from Honduras to Miami on June 4, 2022, on AA Flight 614 when he went into cardiac arrest and became unconscious mid-flight.


How to Detect a Liar in Seconds Using Nonverbal Communication

There are many ways to understand if someone is not honest with you. The following signs do not even require words and are all nonverbal queues.

Growing a Business

Take Action Now to Protect Your Business From a Recession With These 4 Strategies

Business owners can implement these practical measures now to help their businesses grow, even before a recession is officially declared.


After Early Rejection From Publishers, This Author Self-Published Her Book and Sold More Than 500,000 Copies. Here's How She Did It.

Author Karen Inglis breaks down the strategies and tactics you need to generate awareness and sales for your self-published book.

Business News

These Are the Most and Least Affordable Places to Retire in The U.S.

The Northeast and West Coast are the least affordable, while areas in the Mountain State region tend to be ideal for retirees on a budget.