Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

Mentors and Advice

“Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.” Publilius Syrus

Mentors at the most basic level, provide you with advice regarding your current business. This advice is the result of many years of experience in the particular segment that you are getting mentored on. Having been through similar situations they are able to provide insight on the best manner to tackle a problem and point out the best possible solution . Over the past couple of years my mentors have provided me with great insights regarding the business ventures I have been part of. The range of advice ranges from legal clauses in partnership agreements to help in correctly valuing my companies and even how to balance my work and personal life.

There are a couple of things that should be kept in mind to maximize your mentors advice :

1. Be clear on the precise subject: In my experience mentors have a tendency to go off tangent when you ask for advice on broad subjects. When you want advice on ramping up sales in your organization make sure you are specific in talking about the details. For example instead of “we need to increase sales for xyz product how do you think we should go about it” say, “The current sales volume of xyz product is 1000 units a quarter with 3 dedicated sales staff, we want to achieve 10% growth every quarter of 08, in your opinion what would be an effective strategy to hit our targets.”

2. Listen carefully: Due to the depth of their experience mentors are continuously bombarding you with information. Your job should be to listen diligently and take down comprehensive notes to help you understand the basic concepts. This will help you create a reference point, ask specific questions if you don’t understand a particular topic and show respect to your mentor. The last thing you want to do is day dream when your mentor is giving advice.

3. Get opinions: I respect my mentors for the advice they have given and continue to give me. However before I implement them I get multiple second opinions from partners, associates and maybe some of my other mentors. This helps you get multiple perspectives before making any major changes to your organization.

4. Use the advice: When a mentor gives you the framework to help increase sales by 10% a quarter and you get positive feedback on the system, get to work on it asap. Mentors want to see progress and if you keep taking their advice and doing nothing about it you are asking for trouble. Being proactive and action oriented are two essential qualities for all entrepreneurs.

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Finding a mentor

“The important thing about a problem is not its solution, but the strength we gain in finding the solution” Anonymous

“I don’t know anyone who fits the profile”. Do not worry you are not alone in your quest to find that perfect mentor. At this point many say….”It’s not worth it”, “It will take too much time” or “I will get one later”. You need to get rid of these thoughts as soon as possible. Nothing that is worth getting, is ever going to be easy at any point in life. It all comes down to how badly you want something. If being a successful entrepreneur is what you strive to be, then finding good mentors must be very high on your priority list.

You need to start gathering market intelligence on the movers and shakers in your industry, city and country. Look for individuals who have noteworthy experience in the industry you are currently operating in. Getting to these individuals requires much perseverance, which as I have mentioned countless times, is a characteristic that needs much working on, specially if you are an entrepreneur.

If you are planning on setting up an online book shop, Jeff Bezos is a natural choice. Given we can’t reach Jeff Bezos we have to find ways of finding people who he have worked closely with him. Searching through ‘first line of contacts’ usually closest connections to gauge if they know anyone who has worked with companies such as Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, also explore looking into those who have worked in the brick and mortar segment of this industry to get their insight and perspective as well. If you are unlucky with the immediate network use services such as linkedin or facebook to find those who could help you connect to the right individuals.

Using this example from my linkedin network I found someone who recently left Amazon as a SVP and joined Yahoo. She has more than 15 years of experience in this industry and is linked to me through my 2nd degree network. Now I have one name on my list, this process will continue till I have a list of names which can be tapped into. I will then decide the best approach to contact these individuals either through an email, a phone call or at a networking or industry event. Once you have decided on your approach get started and take one name at a time. Feeling nervous or even intimidated is a normal reaction. Be confident, have a clear purpose and you should do great. Give this all that you have got because the benefit of finding a good mentor can be the difference between success or failure of your startup.

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Planning for a Mentor

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” Stephen A. Brennan

Before you set out to find your mentor it is best to first develop a plan determining why you are getting a mentor and how you aim to benefit from this relationship. You have to understand that you want a favor from an individual who has little time to give . Keeping that in perspective, build a value proposition for them which clearly outlines what you are looking for, what sort of commitment is required and how both sides can mutually benefit from this relationship. Break it down to these 3 broad working categories .

1. Outline what you are looking for: This section requires you to clearly define the business that you operate in, it does not have to be a perfect model. Defining your business model is what you may want the mentor to help you with. The whole concept of this section is to help the mentor understand what you want to accomplish and your methodology for reaching those goals. Once you have outlined your objectives you can pinpoint certain segments where you require help. It could be with your business mode, sales, human resources, IT or just about any other part of your business you are having trouble with.

2. Outlining commitment: Keeping in mind that time is a scarce resource for mentors you need to clearly define how much time commitment is needed from them. It could be a telephone call once a year or it could be a 2 hour breakfast meeting every Saturday. Like all deals there will be negotiations and you will arrive at a commitment level which should be mutually acceptable to both parties.

3. Mutual Benefit: This section will differ from mentor to mentor. I have come across mentors who have helped me in the past in return for nothing, it was their way of giving back to society. Others have asked for certain monetary compensation while others have even requested for equity. The level of commitment really plays a key role in this section. If you want the mentor to give substantial attention to your business, you will have to come up with a situation in which both sides will be content .

Once you have all these sections planned you will have a clearer idea of what sort of skills your mentor needs to have, what level of commitment does he/she needs to give to the business and how you are going to make it worth his while. Now you are ready to go find yourselves a mentor!

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Mentors

“Mentor: Someone whose hindsight can become your foresight” Anonymous

Imagine being blindfolded in an alien space. Having someone to guide you at this point so as to avoid bumping into random objects along the way is really helpful. A mentor provides this service in the real world whether you are starting out on a new business venture or figuring out a career path. Instead of relying on advice from sources who have not achieved the sort of goals you have set yourself, the mentor is able to use his/her experience to guide you in a professional manner to help you achieve your targets.

It is not necessary to have a single mentor, you can have multiple mentors to help you grow and progress in different areas. Over the years I have relied on the advice of my multiple mentors to develop businesses, determine my core strengths and weaknesses, understanding of complex financial and legal issues as well as how to bring balance in my life as a whole. Their advice has been critical in my relatively short journey and I sincerely believe they have been vital catalysts in helping my progress .

Finding and benefiting correctly from your mentor will provide you an undeniable advantage over the competition. Over the course of this week I will share steps you can take to identify potentials, build relationships with them and how to benefit from this relationship.

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