Choosing the Right Mentors

We are huge believers of the power of mentoring at Real Ventures and Founderfuel. One of our core beliefs as a fund is that the best entrepreneurs can raise capital anywhere, which means investors need to bring more than $. And solid, engaged mentoring based on operating experience is one of the first value propositions that great investors should be serving up.

When founders think about what types of skills to surround themselves with they often think of areas where they are not strong personally. As an example, many of the founders I back or advise love my background in finance and metrics since it complements their strengths.

That’s all good, but I actually think the most powerful mentoring collaborations come from working with people that share your expertise.

If you think of professional athletes, they are highly specialized. They are not coached to become well rounded. They are coached to excel in their specific area. The well roundedness comes from the team as a whole, not the individual.

As founder, you need some grounding in all the core areas of your business so that you can manage and hire for them. But I would also encourage you to seek outside collaborators or mentors on the areas where you are strongest.

Startups usually succeed by doing one thing really well (gross oversimplification). And for the startups we back that thing tends to be reflected in the product / user experience. For this reason we tend to back product-centric founders.

But imagine the possibilities in terms of clarity of focus, time to product / market fit, etc that could come from enhancing your strong product skills with outside mentors?

Many founders I know keep in contact with other experts in their core area, but few have taken these relationships to the point of structured mentoring. I think that’s leaving value on the table.

Finally, I think it’s a great idea for founders to be mentors themselves. Teaching and sharing our knowledge is an amazing way to learn. Sometimes we don’t realize how much we know till we start sharing that knowledge.

  • eraneyal

    I can't agree more, Mark. The recent trip to MentorCamp in Canada brought this realization into stark contrast for me. It's tough sometimes when so deeply in execution in a startup to see the forest for the trees. You're so deep into the process of "doing".

    The time I spent with the mentors made me see opportunities that could well be the "make-or-break" aspects of my startup's model- but the best advice came in the form of taking what I had built up and expanding or expounding on these. I thought these parts of the model were waxed, but the experience of mentors who "had already been there" were able to add new dimensions to my thinking.

    On the matter of becoming mentors – I spent quite a while being a student of Kung Fu… When I really started to understand what I had studied was when I had to teach it to others. Until you've had to help someone weather waters you have sailed, you're never full tested. Sometimes how much we DON'T know about what we think we know only comes to light when we share it with someone else.

    • http://startupcfo.ca Mark MacLeod

      Great comments Eran. Thanks. Love that mentorcamp challenged things you thought were already fully baked

  • http://www.justinstore.ca Charles

    Great post Mark. I understand your viewpoint, but I'd be hesitant to follow your advice early on. At the start of a new venture there are so many moving parts that the first thing you think of is filling the biggest knowledge gaps. Finance, marketing, SEO…Maybe once you reach a certain level you can become more specialized but I'd be a bit reluctant not to have mentors in areas that I consider to be our weaknesses!

    • http://startupcfo.ca Mark MacLeod

      For sure at the beginning you want to complement your strengths in areas where you are not strong. But to truly succeed you need to very quickly move into the mode of maximizing your strengths, both personally and for the whole company. Focusing on balancing weaknesses is a great way to be an average performer

  • http://www.mymusic.com Rob Lane

    Absolutely agree. It's something I've given lip service to in past companies but was one of the first things I did at MyMusic. My view is that you look at the complete lifecycle of the business and add mentors/advisors to give input at each stage. Find the best people in the market, not just the people you know in your network.