Why you need a mentor

Being a startup founder is hard.

I know that’s not news to anyone who’s in the hustle. But what may be news is that there is a way to make it easier and to greatly increase your odds of success.

The answer is: find a mentor. Consider that a mentor is someone who’s been through the grind and came out the other side with experience. Mentors have learned things you can’t learn from a book, and most are happy to share and help other founders.

Here’s an interesting observation about entrepreneurs: If you ask them how things are going, you’ll get the answer, “Going well. Lots of work, but it’s going well.” But the reality is much different.

Most startups have issues with suppliers, customers, vendors, employees, finances, making payroll, etc. If you happen to see two entrepreneurs sit down and get honest with each other, you might be shocked to see what happens behind the curtain — unless you’re a founder. And if you’re reading this article, you probably are.

And if you haven’t seen any tough issues in your company yet, hang tight. They’re coming.

Early on in my startup journey, I was lucky enough to have a group of startup CEOs who committed to meet every few months and work openly and honestly on any challenges we chose to share with the group. Terry Cox of Charlotte’s BIG (Business Innovation and Growth) Council set up the group, and it was an assortment of industries at various stages of funding and growth. David Jones — founder and, at the time, CEO of Peak 10 — set the group up for success during the first meeting when he said, “We don’t know each other well yet, but we need to have a forum where we can be open and honest with each other. We all face challenges in our day-to-day businesses, and together we can help each other be more successful. We can also support each other. Another key is to respect the confidentiality of what we share. We all have issues in our business. I know this because all entrepreneurs do, but often they have no one to help them work on these issues.”

Then the flood gates opened. Each breakfast meeting was a gem that lasted hours, yet always seem to pass too fast. Again and again, I found that, if a founder brought up an issue, two members of the group had faced it and had valuable advice to share, another CEO was going through the same issue, and two could see it coming in their company. Those breakfast conversations added much value to our respective companies and entrepreneurial journeys. In hindsight, I feel it’s one of the reasons that two-thirds of that group hit their objectives and grew their companies to where they could realize the entrepreneurial reward of selling their company and exiting successfully.

I would jokingly call it group therapy for entrepreneurs, and honestly, that’s almost what it was. But it was also a team of mentors, all working with and for each other. Value was created not only at the group meetings, but also in the one-on-one relationships that developed. Any of us could call the other at any time to ask for advice on an issue. We could also call just to just, or when we needed a pep talk.

There are organizations that can help you duplicate that team effort (the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Vistage, etc.), but you can also source a mentor, or team of mentors, on your own. The key is to establish an open, honest conversation. You might be embarrassed about the issues you’re facing, but trust me, we are all going through the same journey. When you find a good mentor, you’ll have a trusted ally and a true supporter to help you with your hustle.

That mentor can greatly increase your odds of success, but keep in mind that much of the responsibility for that success lies in the hands of the founder. What you get from the relationship is what you put into it.

Next week we’ll cover how to find a mentor and ask for help, and the week after we’ll cover how to interact with a mentor.

Keith Luedeman is the founder of Goodmortgage.com, an investor with Charlotte Angel Fund and a business mentor with the QC Fintech accelerator.

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