People often say that finding a business mentor is an essential step for an entrepreneur, especially if you’re young. As a college student, and the co-founder of Star Toilet Paper, I can attest to this fact. The only “business” experience I had prior to starting my company included camp and caddying work.
While many people within the startup world are willing to help, there is a big difference between someone who answers a few questions for you and someone who is genuinely interested and invested (not monetarily) in both your company and in you as a person. To me, the most important aspect of a business mentor is the latter; your mentor must have a vested interest in learning more about you and how you plan to change the world with your new company.
But how do you go about obtaining this type of business mentor, and how do you know if they are the right person? Here are four questions you should address as you take steps to find the “elusive” mentor for your small business:
Where can I find a business mentor?
In college, you have access to both people and resources. But you don’t need to be a student to access the people and resources you need. In any major city, there will be a variety of incubators, accelerators and universities which are hotbeds for innovation and centers of knowledge. Consider what is around you and how you can make the most out of those resources. I have found that it is often the third or fourth degree of separation that leads to the best mentor opportunities.
When should I start looking for a business mentor?
ASAP! Even if you have thousands or millions of dollars in revenue a business mentor can be helpful. It is important to know that, no matter where you are in your business, there is always room for improvement and a sounding board. The advantage of having a mentor as that sounding board, rather than an employee or co-founder, is that they come with a consumer perspective. When you work on something 24/7, you begin to lose touch with the thoughts of those who will actually be using the product. Having someone outside the company is a great way to get back in touch with that side without having to test or survey.
How can I ask someone to be my business mentor?
Just ask! Having access to people and resources is helpful, but the relationships do not go as far as mentorship. Generally someone interested in becoming a mentor may send emails saying things like, “Hey, wanted to catch up and see if there was anything I could do!” They recognize how valuable their time is to you and thus, you need to do the same. Tell them what you are looking for and why you specifically want them to mentor you. Demonstrate the value that they will have in the company. And just ask.
Who should I ask to be my business mentor?
Of course, there is no easy answer to this question; it depends on personal preference and what you are looking for help with specifically. For example, in our case, there are multiple possibilities. We are looking for people with expertise in the toilet paper field, in the marketing field, and in the business development field. Chances are, just one person doesn’t embody these characteristics.
That being said, it is better to have different people with different types of expertise so that you know the question you are asking will be answered by somebody with years of knowledge and experience.
Furthermore, when you find someone you believe could make a valuable mentor, ask yourself whether you are comfortable sitting down for hours and talking with that person, both about the company and yourself. Your mentor should love what you are doing and love your passion. Make sure that they are interested in you at least as much as they love the business.
Bryan Silverman is the co-founder of Star Toilet Paper and a junior studying neuroscience at Duke University. His company utilizes a two-ply business model: they first obtain a large public venue to receive toilet paper at no cost, then reach out to advertisers who pay half a cent per ad to target that demographic. He is a New Yorker at heart, a diehard Yankees, Giants, and Nets fan and of course, a Cameron Crazie.