My Experience with Startup Mentors
It’s now been almost 4 years since I moved to Orlando, Florida from the Northeast United States. When I first moved down to the area, I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed entrepreneur working on my first eCommerce business on the Amazon Marketplace. For the first year or so, I very much ran the business with my cofounders based off our knowledge of the industry and our best judgment for the future growth of the company. We conducted extensive research, discussed decisions before moving forward, and learned from our mistakes.
It wasn’t until 2014 that I started to seriously network in the Orlando area seeking out members with years of experience in the business world where we weren’t necessarily experts. I got involved in LinkedIn and started setting up meetings with anyone that would meet with me to further grow my network.
Two Years Later
Two years later and I am extremely appreciative to have an amazing network of startup mentors whose expertise range from organizational psychology to software development to mergers and acquisitions to sales strategies to fundraising. I’m well connected in the Orlando tech community and have been able to build my own brand with reputable individuals who have introduced to me more intellectuals in the entrepreneurship field. I view this as a key step to successfully building your own business and strategically growing as an entrepreneur.
In this column, I’d like to introduce you to 6 key startup mentors that you should strive to meet and welcome into your entrepreneurial growth. They will be there as positive figures as you build your business, seek advice in the darkest times, and they will push you to become the best version of yourself.
The 6 Key Startup Mentors to Recruit to your Founding Team
Before you begin the dating process, it’s essential that you clearly outline who you want on your startup mentorship team. Dependent upon your company’s industry, it will vary, but below are the 6 most common types of mentors that I highly encourage finding. Surrounding yourself with these people will increase the chances that you have of turning your startup idea into a legitimate and profitable business.
As you read through the 6 key individuals that I’ve outlined, keep this quote in mind…
“We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
Mentor #1: The Industry Expert
Find someone who has been in your industry and whose opinion is well respected. This mentor will be important for advice on your business model and new ideas that you have for your core product. Your industry expert should be passionate about your product with the belief that it could make a significant impact on the industry. It’s also ideal if this individual is also still running a company in your industry. This will ensure that they are at the forefront of industry trends aligning with your current business efforts.
Mentor #2: The Legal & Accounting Whiz
This startup mentor is someone with an expertise in business contracts, financials, and best accounting methods. As you build your company, you are always going to run into situations where you could use help with contracts or your company’s financial modeling. Instead of hiring a lawyer for all contract reviews, this mentor can help as much as they are able to.
Similarly, it is of utmost importance that your company’s financials are organized as best as possible from the get go. Having a startup mentor with years of experience in managing the accounting or financials of a business will put you in a much better situation as you start and grow your business. While they may not be able to perform the actual work, they will be able to refer experts that they know will take care of your business.
Mentor #3: The Technological Expert
If you are running an online business that requires any degree of web or software development, you will want a technological expert in software development or web technologies. If you are a nontechnical founder, this mentor can provide clear guidance for hiring web developers and architecting your software. If you are a technical founder, this mentor will be an amazing individual to bounce technological ideas off of. They will be able to understand your approach and provide advice on how they have found success in the past.
Mentor #4: The Sales and Distribution Expert
With any startup, it will eventually be your job to grow sales, and in effect, customers. Having a mentor who has built multi-million dollar sales teams and distribution methods will give you great advice when structuring your company’s models. They will constantly remind you of the importance of marketing and distributing your product once it has been built.
A famous mistake that many entrepreneurs make is building a great product and thinking that the customers/users will come. You can build the best product in the world, but if you do not effectively distribute it to your potential customer base, your startup will crumble. The best startups in the world understand that there must be a harmonious balance between developing the product and getting it out to the target market.
Mentor #5: The CEO
If you are the founder and CEO of your startup, I highly recommend finding another CEO that you highly respect and asking them to be your personal mentor. A CEO with more experience will understand the toughest times for your startup and can coach you through making the most difficult decisions.
An experience CEO mentor adds value by developing your abilities as an entrepreneur and leader. They can teach you about hiring & firing, building a culture, structuring communication within your organization, and many more topics specific to the CEO.
Mentor #6: The Fundraising Expert
Finally, you should be looking for an entrepreneur who has successfully raised funding in the past if you are ever planning to do so. Fundraising becomes the full time responsibility of a startup’s CEO and this mentor will help you in the process as you research, court, and speak with potential investors.
The process of fundraising is constantly evolving and requires extensive preparation in order to prove your hypothesis to investors. If you surround yourself by someone who has recently raised funding for their venture, they will be able to provide you with their blueprint for successfully raising a round of investment.
The Undefinable Value of Startup Mentors
I can’t express how valuable it is to have a group of mentors that are genuinely interested in seeing you succeed as an entrepreneur. They act as a backbone in your toughest of times and are always looking for opportunities to introduce you to other entrepreneurs who you can learn from.
If you’re interested in starting an official board of advisors, I refer you to one of my previous columns titled “8 Reasons Why You Should Build an Advisory Board.” Learn more about how these startup mentors can leave a positive impact on the founding and growth of your business.