No man is an island, and every entrepreneur needs a support network. While it’s important to have a network of peers, friends and family, it’s equally important to have a mentor to act as a sounding board, hold you accountable and be the voice of reason. But finding the right mentor is about more than just finding someone you admire and asking them for advice.
So we asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invitation-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs, this question:
“As a Gen Y entrepreneur, what do you look for when seeking out mentorship from business leaders?”
Here’s what they had to say:
1. Failure Plus Success
“I want advice from people who’ve done it a few times, and seen failure and success along the way. Failure gives an entrepreneur a lot of insight into the raw process of building a business. Alongside a breath of experience I look for specific domain knowledge–someone who’s got deep insight into distribution, fund-raising or product development, for instance. Specialized insight is valuable.” ~ Derek Shanahan, Foodtree
2. Experience in My Industry
“You should select your mentors based on their lifestyle. For instance, if you want to run a big technology company someday, then it’s wise to choose a tech executive. On the other hand, if you want to become a professional speaker, you should go after an experienced speaker who can offer you insights and advice.” ~ Dan Schawbel, Millennial Branding
3. Someone Who Aligns With My Values
“There are tons of successful people in the world; however, only a few will truly align with your values and world view. Make sure to find a mentor who can truly connect with your vision of the company and how you are looking to change the world. Also, look to see if their track record is similar to the one you envision for yourself.” ~ Brenton Gieser, JoynIn
4. More Than Just Advice, Relationships
“I look for a successful individual in a complementary business to my own–someone who has established relationships with a network of potential partnerships. By involving a mentor in the process of building my business, he or she will take pride in it and want to see it grow and prosper. With their existing relationships, the access is just an introduction away.” ~ Benjamin Leis, Sweat EquiTees
5. A Track Record of Proven Success
“I look for great business leaders with a track record of proven success. I also consider their story, where they started, what they started with and what they have become. I like to connect with mentors who share a similar story to my own because those are the mentors who have truly been in my shoes. Of course, mentors with good connections are nice as well.” ~ Lucas Sommer, Audimated
6. Someone Who Recognizes That My Path Is Different
“When I decided to go out on my own, obviously my mentors were some of the first people I turned to with the news. If you’re lucky enough to have awesome mentors, they’ll know that the path they took is going to be different from yours but can still offer advice that can help you. If your mentors start trying to dissuade you or mold you into a younger version of themselves, find new ones.” ~ Sydney Owen, 3Ring Media
7. A Straight Shooter
“As a Gen Y entrepreneur, I look for business leaders who are straightforward to mentor me. I value the unedited, honest and sometimes brutal experiences and truths that they have to share. I don’t want them to sugarcoat their advice because their wisdom will undoubtedly make me a better businessperson.” ~ Lauren Maillian Bias, Luxury Market Branding
8. A Two-Way Street
“I look for someone who can not only bring value to me with their advice and connections, but also someone to whom I can bring value. The best mentorships are two-way streets. If you are just trying to learn from someone, they are a teacher, not a mentor. It should be a give-and-take relationship.” ~ Nathan Lustig, Entrustet
9. Someone Who Gets Where I’m Going
“It helps if we’re simpatico, if they ‘get me’ and understand where I want to go with my business. I also look at how they run their business. If they look like they’re happy and having fun, that translates into someone I’d love to learn from.” ~ Nathalie Lussier, Nathalie Lussier Media
#3 and #7 are the biggest ones for me. They mirror the idea of finding the right “fit”.
Finding the right mentor can be tricky… I am lucky as my father is my biggest mentor. I have made it a habit of reaching out and connecting with very successful executives at companies i have worked for and they have become life long advisers with a real interest in my success! None of know as much as all of us know!