Finding a mentor is one of the most important things a founder can do. It’s hard to overestimate the value of a confidant from whom you can seek feedback on your idea, advice on strategy, or a little support when that entrepreneurial energy flags. But cultivating a mentor can be difficult – it takes finding the right person, and then a lot of investment. One of the benefits of living in the Bay Area is that we rub elbows with people nearly every day who have achieved things — created new products, built businesses — that we would also like to achieve in the future. This means we have a lot of opportunities for mentorship. The good news is many high-achievers want to share their lessons-learned with a young founder, because doing so adds to their own fulfillment.
I created a company that incorporates mentorship into the sales process. My first company in college, UCMS, mimicked my mentor, Grif Frost. He had an international trade company and I ‘copied’ a marketing company after it because I argue that selling to college students is like selling to a foreign country because students consume different media, live in insulated dorm environments and communicate using IM/chat/sms.
I like mentorship. I love the dynamics between student and teacher. I love the short cuts to learning and insights that mentorship fosters. I mostly love the fact that it taps a higher consciousness and improves decision-making. One of your jobs as a founder is to tap into this resource for mentorship to help yourself learn better and faster.
With this in mind, I offer *8 Tips on Mentorship* that I have collected from my own founder experiences, and my voracious consumption of books on the topic:
*1) Woo your mentor by reading* so you’ll be ready to meet him.
There’s a quote: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” Well, I don’t know that it’ll be as magical for you but I do know that if you don’t prepare, you won’t be ready. Read what they read and if they tell you to read something, email them with follow-up questions.
*2) Follow-up.* A kiss of death is to NOT do something immediately that your mentor has told you point blank to do. Trust me, the email follow-up technique is critical and effective. Follow-up with regular snail mail too…. follow up early and often.
*3) Bribe your mentor with a personal touch.* Sure you can use gifts but mentors also seek thankfulness or recognition. Sometimes people access people of power by going through the mentor’s kids. My bribes come in the form of handwritten cards — simple, I know, but that’s what works — notes interwoven in office junk mail to brighten up the post box leave an impression.
*4) Find a C.A.T.,* a “Consumer Advocacy Truth,” to gain access to VIPs and amplify your megaphone. Aligning with a powerfully good CAT gets you access to powerful people. My mantra at d.u.c.k.9 is “interest is a KILLER” and “college students FICO prepped”. It gets me branded and gets access because of the C.A.T. halo.
I met Congressman Tom Campbell based on a CAT that aligned with his legislative agenda. I argued at a previous company called CampusBackBone that college students’ private information shouldn’t get sold by the three reporting credit bureaus. Congressman Campbell invited me to introduce a privacy bill and he pointed me towards DC resources in our government affairs push.
*5) Thank your mentor publicly.* I have this guy that I think is genius. I met him on a panel at Stanford VLAB. He’s helped me for free for a few years now. When I see him at networking events, I point and say: ‘Hey look there’s my mentor!’ That makes me look good. My mentor hates being embarrassed but you know what?? He answers work snafus via email in under an hour even when he’s on vacation. I found him by using the next tip…
*6) Be a value-added stalker.* Let’s say you hear a book recommendation for “Moneyball” from Roelof Botha at Sequoia Ventures during a panel. Email him about it. Stalk him into being a temporary book club pen pal. Study buddies turn into work buddies and work buddies will mentor you.
*7) Leverage mentor dynamics.*
*a.* People that are like each other, tend to like each other
*b.* Father-son or mother-daughter dynamic. Maybe their kids don’t listen. But you will, and you’ll get their help. In my family, the men listen to their uncles more than we listen to our fathers.
*c.* Gender dynamic. I can’t speak for women, but there’s a woman who wrote this book called “Goal Digging”. She dates men for mentorship. I can’t make this stuff up. Maybe I should ask Jessica Simpson about FICO score hacks at our next dinner.
*d.* Mentorship involves BOTH parties learning. Often the mentor gets to solidify his knowledge in transferring it to you, so mooch away know that you are helping smarten your mentor too.
*8) Kiss mentor butt region.* Hey, I read your blog post, your book (or your article on Found|READ! hahaa jk) and I am a fan. Entrepreneurs or investors who write personal blogs are probably good candidates for becoming mentors because they’re already demonstrating a desire to share. Authors often publish an email address on the back of their books, and certainly on their websites, so use them.
Try out these tips and let me know how they work for you. Comment below what *ONE thing* you’ll change/adopt/coopt or candoodle in the comments section to publicize your effort to get mentored. I hope the mentor who will take you to the next level is right around the corner!