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How to become a good startup mentor?

Give a person a fish and feed them for a day. Teach them how to fish and feed them for a lifetime. – Takeoff on Maimonides

A mentor is someone who has the ability to provide insights and guidance in an area of expertise in which they can help others learn, grow, and develop.

Giving a helping hand to others can be a very rewarding experience. 

Mentorship is not for everyone. You might possess rich work experience working in top management positions for fortune 500 companies. But that doesn’t make you a top mentor.

You should only become a mentor if you truly want to help people, have the time to do it well, and most importantly, have the right skills to help individuals who want to reach their true potential.

A good mentorship experience consists of the right mentor, the right mentee, and the right purpose.

If you are a mentee looking for a mentor, you might want to check our posts on where to find mentors and how to work with them.

How to mentor someone?

You may have expertise in certain areas such as finance, funding, legal, marketing, product knowledge, or business strategy.

You may also have developed skills from their experiences such as; starting a business, growing a business, or selling a business, along with a wide range of knowledge that comes with startup experience such as; how to hire the right people, how to raise money from venture capitalists, how to do PR or how to market your business. 

As a mentor, you will have the opportunity to share all the valuable experience with your mentee. 

However, note that mentorship is not about giving someone the answers, but more about helping them understand how to think to find the answers. You are trying to show them the way so that they can find their own path. 

So, how to become a good startup mentor? Let’s look at the steps you need to take before taking the role of a mentor.

List your areas of expertise

List 3-5 areas of expertise you have that you can share with your mentee to help them become better. Using lessons from previous experiences, whether good or bad, can help you prepare for how to approach a problem and how to work with the mentee to have not only a positive relationship but also an impactful one. 

List what you have learned from your mentors

Who were your mentors and what have you learned from them? Make a list of things that really helped you in your journey.

Write down what worked and what didn’t.

And if you have had a mentor/s in your life that had a negative or not so useful impact on you, list those as well. Don’t do these to anyone. Remember mentoring is about sharing experiences to help. Often the most impactful learning comes from failures and bad experiences we have had. 

The key is that we need to feel comfortable enough with what happened to talk about and analyze those experiences so we can use what we learned to help others.

Be ready to play varying roles

Depending on who your mentee is or the circumstances they are in, you will have to play different roles at different times. Sometimes you will have to play the role of a therapist, in other cases, you will have to play the role of a father, a bigger brother, or even a taskmaster.

Sometimes you wind up in situations you can’t anticipate. It’s critical to know why you’re getting into mentoring and to be honest with yourself about your abilities and motivations.

Decision making assessments for startups

Make a list of your most helpful networking contacts.

In the past, you have worked with many people with varying skillsets. Make a list of all the people with whom you are on good terms with along with what is their trademark skill.

When you are brainstorming in a mentorship session and come across a problem that needs solving, you can reach out to someone on the list who can help you out with that particular problem.

Learn the tools of the trade

Learn some of the essential tools to help founders navigate their way to success. Some tools like the ‘Lean Startup Canvas’ and the ‘AARRR’ i.e. acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, referral –  pirate metrics frameworks can help you design a proper strategy to guide startups.

You can also use some essential business matrices like the ‘importance-urgency’ matrix or the Ansoff matrix to help founders focus on the right tasks at the right time.

Lean Startup Canvas

Lean Startup Canvas

Start from the end

Mentors don’t always know where to start. A tip from Steven Covey; “Begin with the end in mind.”

Asking a mentee why they are in business, to begin with, is a good starting point. What is the problem they are trying to solve? Why this and not something else? Why does anyone care? Is anyone willing to pay for it?

Tie it to measures such as; productivity of individuals (many apps focus on this), quality of life (how and how much will people be willing to pay for it), and customer acquisition and customer loyalty.

Look for measures or indicators of interest and how to identify what progress is being made. A simple question upfront is; “What does success look like?”

How to give feedback?

One of the most important skills a mentor can develop is the skill of giving feedback. Many mentors are smart. Many mentors have vast amounts of relevant experience and knowledge, but the ability to share it clearly and in a non-threatening way is critical to whether the message is heard and received. Questions to ask before giving feedback

– Is your feedback based on facts?

– Can you reference specific examples of behavior?

– Can the feedback be acted on?

– Is the timing of the feedback in line with the conversation?

– Can you clearly communicate the issues associated with the feedback and provide suggestions for improving on them?

– Do you have a plan to follow up to review specific issues again on a specific date?

Effective listening.

Mentorship requires less talking and more listening. If you don’t know what your mentee is trying to say, how are you going to help them solve their problem?

Here is a great method for effective listening: The speaker speaks. The listener listens and then repeats it back in his or her own words. Voila! Both parties know that it was understood and now they can effectively move forward and have a meaningful conversation. No backtracking. No guesswork.

urgency importance matrix

Urgency-Importance Matrix

To sum up,

  • Take your role seriously. Focus on the mentee.
  • Use questions to help the mentee understand and learn.
  • Provide feedback based on facts.
  • Develop your best signature stories to make your point.
  • Have a way to follow up to see what actions were taken and what results were achieved. What lessons did the mentee learn?
  • Have a heart-to-heart talk with your mentee.

Mentorship is a key role in the life of an entrepreneur. And your role as a mentor is to guide them to success. The idea is to help your mentee become Luke Skywalker and not Darth Vader:)

To read more interesting posts on startups, visit our Tactyqal blog.

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