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Choosing startup mentors

When you are a startup founder, especially when you’re a “first time founder”, everything is new and you have to do 1,001 things. Finding amazing mentors is one of those things. And yes, mentors as in plural, more than one.

When I set up my first company, a computer wholesale company back in 1998, I was not really aware of mentorship but I said often: “I only wish that there was someone that I could ask for advise”. Because you always encounter things you have no answer to or it takes a heck of a lot time to figure out.
But being an entrepreneur means you have to take care of everything, from funding, sales, HR, strategy, office supplies and beyond. As a founder you cannot know all and even if you know all, I’ve seen great designers take on another designer as one of his mentors just to keep sanity checks.

Choosing mentors is not easy, and often very personal. There is no magic formula for the best mentor, as there is no formula for the best founder. Mentors should add value to your startup. As in the tweet, find mentors in different directions, so they are complementary. You could go for 2 mentors in the same “space”, for instance if you’re working on a fin tech startup, you could go for 2 mentors in the financial sector.
A mentor should be valuable to your startup, he could save you time by sharing his experience and help you take a specific route, also often the network of a mentor is valuable. That network is often their core value and having him on board with your startup opens up that network to you, especially is he/she is committed and motivated.

Mentors like to help, but they are humans too and humans incentives. You could keep mentors committed and motivated by give them something in return, like a stake in your startup. This doesn’t have to take much, usually somewhere between 0.1 and 2% depending on the stage of your startup and the commitment and value the mentor brings. Often an agreement is very open and gives the founders a lot of freedom, like: “we as founders don’t think you added value this year, so we didn’t assign any equity for you”. Have a look at this Founder Institute mentor agreement template

Also keep in mind when choosing mentors that the person with the best online presence or best presentation doesn’t always mean she/he’s the best match for you in this stage. Especially when it comes to a mentor in the technical space, quiet types can be very knowledgable and a great help to your startup. I’ve personally have/had several mentors (yes, mentors have mentors too) and it always helps me a lot.
Don’t wait too long to secure your mentors, most of them only take 3 or 4 startups to mentor at any given time.

Also read: Mentor and investor email updates
and: How to get the most out of a startup mentor meeting