You know that lawyer chasing an ambulance after an accident trying to talk to the patient and his family? That was me…only I was searching for startup advice.
Ok, maybe not that to that extent.
I used to attend startup events whenever they would pop up online and in NYC. I’ve been to demos, live pitches, co working spaces, and a subscriber for tons of websites that I knew could help us. My goal was to find some quality mentors to help us avoid reinventing the wheel with our startup. I was in for a heck of a ride.
Let’s Find Someone to Help Guide Us With What We’re Doing
Right from the start I knew that our experience was extremely limited, being as this was both of our first startup, and that the odds were heavily stacked against us. To balance out those odds I started tracking down every entrepreneur I could, both in person and on the internet, to give us a hand with our vision:
The results were usually the same: Sorry Josh, I got my own startup that I’m trying to grow.
One time, someone even had the nerve to ask for $350 / hr for his advice.
Sure…we could barely even support ourselves, and now we were supposed to pay $350 / hr for some guys advice?
It wasn’t looking too good.
Why You Need a Mentor
When I talk about proper mentorship, I’m not just referring to whoever has a startup, I’m talking about every area in life. From choosing the right school to choosing the right major, from choosing the right career to learning what it takes to become an expert at your field, from dating to marriage, from raising kids to buying a house…you name the area – odds are you can benefit from having a mentor. Here’s why:
- I know, you think you know it all – but odds are you don’t. No matter what your experience level is in something, there is someone out there who can take you for a joy ride on the amount of additional knowledge they have in the subject area.
- Many times we’re bound by our own emotions and can’t see things as clear as we should. Getting a 2nd or even a 3rd opinion on something is a great way check your logic on something to help you make the right decision.
- No two people see things exactly the same way. Getting someone else’s opinion can help you gain a new perspective on something that you wouldn’t have been able to get on your own.
- Skip the line and go straight for the gold. Learning from you own mistakes are no doubt a great way to grow – even better when you can learn from someone else’s. Avoid reinventing the wheel and instead leverage someone else’s experience to make the best decision.
Is There Anyone Out There Who Can Help Me?
First, know that you are no where near unique. Sure, you may be the only one in the world with your exact name, who was also born on your birthday, and lives in anytown Wisconsin; but the experiences you have accumulated are no where near unique. For every unique experience that you’ve faced, I’m willing to bet there are at least 1,000 people who have gone through the same experience.
King Solomon wrote this best when he proclaimed “There is nothing new under the sun”. Will Smith once professed his love for books by stating “ There’s no new problem you could have – with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.” Don’t let this fact bring you down (you’re mom is right, you are special). Instead, use it to connect with those who have the knowledge that you’re looking for.
How To Find a Mentor
Start with targeting people who you deem as already “successful” in this area, and be open to receiving advice from people who aren’t, but have had a ton of experience in the area. Only a fool would pass up advice from someone who has failed at something, as there is just as much to learn about what not to do as there is to learn about what to do. Easiest place to start is your own network – friends and family. That could be your cousin who just bought himself a private jet for advice on how to make money (or spend it for that matter), your aunt who graduated with a 4.0 on how to excel in school, or your dad who is happily married after 40 years of marriage for dating advice.
After you’ve gone through all your friends and family, there are a ton of people out there to meet at various social gatherings, whether that be at a related event, at a party, or even while waiting on line for a sandwich. Next place you can look is on the internet / books. Someone wrote an interesting article in an area you’re looking to learn more about? Just finished reading a kickass book about subject that is new to you? Track down the author and get in touch. In today’s day and age, you can find almost anyone’s email address / linkedin profile in a matter of minutes.
Things to Watch Out For
- Advice is great, but it’s just that: advice. Without action, even the best of advice is completely useless. You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t force him to drink. It’s up to you to create the life you want, and no one is going to do it for you.
- Advice is rarely objective, but just a reflection on someone else’s experience. Sometimes you’ll get conflicting advice, and that’s ok. Keep in mind that each person see’s the world differently and has their own method of reacting to things. A good idea can be to get a bunch of different opinions on a matter, then take them all to someone who you really respect in this area and share what you’ve heard to see his / her final thoughts. Recognize that the decision is ultimately for you to make at the end of the day.
- Respect someone else’s time and connect with them however they are most comfortable with. See if they’d be up for grabbing lunch. If that’s too tough, try for a phone call. If that’s too tough, try for an email. Odds are if they are an expert in this area in your eyes that they are busy with other things too.
- Beware of people who claim to be experts without anything to show. Many people are quick to give advice, despite not having a clue themselves. My Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach called it “white belts training white belts”.
Go Out and Get it
The good news is, most of the time you will find people more than willing to share with you their advice in an area that they have a lot of experience in. One of the most rewarding things can be sharing your thoughts in an area that you are very passionate about – especially if it will help empower someone else. We eventually found a huge network of mentors for our startup via the accelerator we joined, and continue to connect with new people every day who we meet.
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