Good Mentors and Bad Mentors
Good mentors are important, but they are incredibly hard to find. You want to take guidance from those who have actually done what you are planning on doing – in other words, they have built a business from the ground up.
Avoid current or former full time employees who are in senior or C suite positions but have no experience in building a business from scratch. Many of these VPs or C suite’ers are wealthy angel investors and may offer to invest in you – and this makes it doubly hard to refuse their advice because there’s the subtext of “I’m rich, therefore I’m smart and you’re not rich, therefore you’re not smart, so you should follow my advice.”.
Few of them know anything about creating a business and building it – instead they grew wealthy being led by others and contributed tremendously to the business they’re in, in a narrowly defined field. Their wealth came from Amazon or Microsoft or Google or Facebook or Twitter or another Big Co stock options. They are not founders of an early stage business, they know not of what they speak and they are full of advice, often based on the latest issue of Harvard Business Review or the latest edition of the Silicon Valley echo chamber.
In one case I saw someone like this invest in a business and later team up with a c0-founder, fire the founder and appoint themselves CEO. I’m guessing they wanted the founder experience they never had as an exec in a much larger company. I sat in Starbucks many years ago with the affected founder tearfully telling me this tale.
I’m sure at this point you can tell that I’m not setting out to make friends with this blog, as there are a large number of very wealthy biz execs who are now royally pissed at me. But that’s the reality. If you haven’t done it, you only know the theory. The best mentor, investor and advisor you can find is another entrepreneur who has built a business from scratch, had their asses kicked and come back fighting, and then actually won.
You should also avoid folks like my former self from 2005 to 2010. I used to blog about business, but I’d never actually kicked ass and built a fast growing cash generating business. So in 2010 I decided to deny myself the right to advise until I had built a successful biz – and I’m now at the point where I have, and here we are.
There are quite a few well known folks out there who spend a lot of time blogging about entrepreneurship, and their blog is successful, but they haven’t yet figured out how to do it themselves. So take that advice in context. It’s easy to appoint yourself as “mentor” or “business coach” or “leadership coach” or “motivational speaker”.
I was incredibly fortunate back in 2008 to meet a great mentor who became an investor. He had built a well known dot-com during the dot-com boom, got beaten up in business conflict, came back fighting and actually won. He is an amazing person who invested in my business with two friends and introduced me to other very smart and well known people. He has remained on my board and is a trusted advisor to this day. If you find someone like this, you are incredibly fortunate.
Most people start without a mentor other than family and folks they already know. Reaching major milestones in business and even failing will attract mentors to you. Mine found me because I had hit exponential growth with a viral product, after trying for years and blogging about my experiences.
The message here is that you should persevere on your own and not wait for a Deus Ex Machina to descend onto the stage and rescue you. And when I say persevere, don’t just go through the motions. Assume you will never get any help and proceed accordingly. Build your business on your own.
Work hard, learn, fail, learn more, and begin to win. The worst case scenario is that you will become your own mentor.
Best of luck!