The world is full of people who want to be mentors. A mentor gets to share advice and have people validate their experiences in return. It’s a real treat for the ol’ ego.
Unfortunately, most advice about startups is wrong. Fast-growing tech companies are all different. That’s the nature of them. No founder steps into the same river twice
Ask any founder, and they’re bound to have a juicy story of how they screwed up by listening to the wrong people. Bad advice can ruin companies. To avoid it, you’ll have to be picky.
Here are five ways to pick your mentors:
1. If you had the position and career the mentor had, would you be happy? For instance: as a startup founder you’d like to have a mentor that built a successful startup, not an agency or consultancy business. What makes you happy is personal, but set the bar high.
2. Do you see yourself making the same choices they have done so far? Ask about the most difficult decision in their career and why their choices mattered. This should tell you if their framework for decision-making fits you and your startup.
3. Do you share a similar background? It’s hard for someone in a marketing background to talk to engineering founders, or for someone from traditional education to sympathize with an autodidact. Mentors should have empathy for your situation.
4. Are they asking to get paid? Good mentors don’t. They learn from you so they can apply it in their work as well. They’ll even pay you by investing in your company, so they get an exponential return on their advice.
We hire fitness trainers or psychologists for their techniques, not for their personal experiences. Similarly, it might make sense for you to hire a coach to help you plan and execute. A mentor is different.
5. Are they currently running a startup? Every day you’re not out there building one you’ll grow more clueless on how to do it right. A good mentor loves being one because it teaches them something to apply in their daily life as well. It motivates them to really listen.
Remember: Most people mean well.
When people take the time to give you feedback, negative or positive, that’s always something worth thanking them for. However, you yourself will ultimately find out if they’re right or wrong. You alone deal with the consequences.
To predict that outcome, look a bit deeper at where the advice is coming from. The difference between “helpful” and “trying to be helpful” is huge.