HOW TO choose a smart mentor

In Others by Sébastien FluryLeave a Comment

As a startup founder, you’re alone. Or your have some co-founders, but who don’t have all the necessary experience and background to cover everything you’ll be confronted to.

Alongside building your Minimum Viable Product and trying to convince people, I think that you have to surround yourself by smart people, who can boost your skills and be a honest counterpart. What you need is people who desire to help you, and challenge you. That doesn’t mean being nice everytime with you. But they can help you avoid common mistakes and open your mind.

Finding a mentor is not necessary easy. But you’d be astonished how many people really desire to help. But the challenge is not to find a mentor (everyone will be happy to give you advices, even if it’s crappy and they don’t realize it!). Greatest challenge is to find and convince a smart mentor. But how do you know that mentors are so smart?

An amazing checklist to assess your potential mentor is “The Mentor Manifesto”, written by Techstars founder David Cohen:

The Mentor Manifesto

  • Be socratic.
  • Expect nothing in return (you’ll be delighted with what you do get back).
  • Be authentic / practice what you preach.
  • Be direct. Tell the truth, however hard.
  • Listen too.
  • The best mentor relationships eventually become two-way.
  • Be responsive.
  • Adopt at least one company every single year. Experience counts.
  • Clearly separate opinion from fact.
  • Hold information in confidence.
  • Clearly commit to mentor or do not. Either is fine.
  • Know what you don’t know. Say I don’t know when you don’t know. “I don’t know” is preferable to bravado.
  • Guide, don’t control. Teams must make their own decisions. Guide but never tell them what to do. Understand that it’s their company, not yours.
  • Accept and communicate with other mentors that get involved.
  • Be optimistic.
  • Provide specific actionable advice, don’t be vague.
  • Be challenging/robust but never destructive.
  • Have empathy. Remember that startups are hard.

I truly believe in everything written in this Manifesto, which I’ve tried to practice during these last 4 years and hope to always remember. And nothing is more true that the relationship becomes two-way: every entrepreneur that I’ve helped by now has provided me so much value.

I can only recommend to startup mentors (or wannabe) to integrate completely these principles. And as a startup founder, do use it to test your potential future mentors!