How Mentorship Boosts Your Startup Culture

April 30, 2015

11:00 am

The term mentor comes from Homer’s classic The Odyssey. During the ten years that Odysseus struggled to return home from the Trojan wars, Mentor served as a surrogate father to Odysseus’s son Telemachus.

Most entrepreneurs understand the value mentors have in their careers. Mentorship can come in various forms: From advice from a family member, to a group of experienced entrepreneurs at an incubators, to an investor in your seed round of funding. Successful founders recognize that mentorship can bring great benefits to their personal development. A 2012 Dimensional Research survey revealed that mentorship was the number one request by millennials worldwide, with 42% requesting help finding a mentor. Steve Job said: “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.”

More entrepreneurs are not only seeking mentors but also looking to build a work culture that encourages mentorship within employees. In the long term, this helps companies solidify. Meaning, as employees and employers exchange knowledge, the company’s bottom line grows. According to research conducted by Sun Microsystems and published by Forbes, both mentors and mentees are approximately 20% more likely to get a raise than people who do not partake. Furthermore, employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who didn’t have mentors.

Tech.Co asked entrepreneurs to share how mentorship affects their professional development. Their experiences shed a light to the important role mentors play not only on a personal level, but also in solidifying a team. Here is what some entrepreneurs had to say:

Mentors Motivate Entrepreneurs

Keisha Blair, Cofounder of Aspire-Canada: “Mentorship has played a great role in both the creation and sustainability of Aspire-Canada. I believe networking and mentorship is critical in today’s knowledge based economy. It is extremely hard to succeed in a vacuum when technology moves at such a rapid pace. ”

Shane Park, Founder of Coinplay.io“When it was appropriate, they motivated me, they challenged my ideas or plans, and they helped with next steps when there seemed to be no visible path ahead. Beyond knowledge, my mentors helped me derive insights from experiences much faster than I would have gained by myself. They helped me form good entrepreneurial behaviors like critical thinking, analysis, and lean processes.”

Elle Kaplan, CEO & Founder of  LexION Capital“Mentors often have a larger vision of success than you have for yourself. They will push you to dream bigger.”

Jane Wang, CEO of myHealthSphere: “It’s important to teach your employees how to “fish” for the right solutions, by asking the right questions. Leadership and learning is an apprenticeship and a journey, not an event. We sincerely invest in inspiring.”

Aihui Ong, Founder and CEO of Love With Food: “One of my very early investors made a pact with me. He would only invest if I promised to have lunch with him once a month and share all the good, [the] bad and [the] ugly. I thought it was silly at first, but I made the promise anyway and it’s one of the best things I’ve done. I fully understand his intentions now because this can be a very lonely journey, and having someone that fully understands what you are going through, is crucial. There is no line between work and personal life when you become an entrepreneur so having a mentor to listen that has been through it before, to tell you stories and give encouragement that what you are doing is right is very comforting. And it makes the journey less lonely.”

Arram Sabeti, Founder of ZeroCater: “One of the things they teach you in Y Combinator is that you make what you measure. YC Partners had us choose a top level metric and just focus on improving it week over week. Sometimes they would refuse to talk about anything that didn’t have to do with our key metric. It worked. Our growth accelerated shortly after we got into YC.”

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Mentors Help Entrepreneurs Stay Focused

David Burrows, Founder of Washugo: “Mark Cuban was my first mentor as he was also my boss… Mark taught me how much you can do with so little. Also, how to lead by example, manage expectations, stay focused on your core business and not be afraid of reaching beyond yourself. My advice is to always HAVE a mentor and always BE a mentor. That way, you’ll never stop learning and you’ll always be sharing and inspiring. One of the best assets of any company are its employees. If you can consistently show them you care about not only their career within your organization but that you care about them as a person and invest in their long-range personal path, you’ll have the most loyal and productive teams anywhere.”

William Shuhaibar CEO and Cofounder of TheBathOutlet: “In the last seven years, I sat in with my dad in every single one of his business meetings. He taught me about things like inventory and logistics, and shared his beliefs about business philosophy. He took me around the world to meet with his business partners, not because he wanted me to join his business, but because he wanted me to learn how business is conducted in other countries. We met every single Sunday and talked about how we could improve his business and mine, and we talked about the day-to-day details and the long-term future.”

Emma ‘The Gecko’ Davidson, Founder of Gecko Clothing: “As an entrepreneur you have so many hats to wear to make your business happen. It can be hard to keep the bigger picture in mind, it can be hard to think big and just know where to go next. Our mentor has helped us with all this and so much more.”

Marcia Bennett, M.Ed of Live to Manage: “I have found that mentors provide you with the “shortcuts” to success. It is best to get a mentor who has experienced your struggles previously, or who has been in the same situations you have been in. This creates a congruent alignment of thought that allows you to feel connected with your mentor. As an entrepreneur, we have blind spots that we cannot see. It’s great to work with someone who suffered from the same blind spots, but overcame them and are now successful…My motto is ‘I only learn from the best, because I want to be the best.'”

Erik Chan, Founder CEO of RocketClub“The roles of my mentors have changed throughout my career. From the business side, they have changed from making sure I am on the right track and asking the right questions… One of the key things mentors [should] always do is give you perspective -a third party observation about where you are, what you have achieved, or the hard truth that you need change… Millennials particularly care about growth and opportunity, no one wants to feel like they are at a dead end job.”

Momchil Kyurkchiev, Cofounder of Leanplum: “Beyond having a great idea, those launching a startup for the first time need three things: the know-how to launch and run the business (everything from financials and approaching investors to customer development and differentiating in the market), a wide network to tap into for investors, mentors, and vendors, and the growing alumni network that’s even more important in the growing stages of the startup. Accelerators are the perfect environment for first-time entrepreneurs, as it provides all of these three key elements, along with the full-steam-ahead mentality guided by experienced mentors to make sure that not only are you productive but you are getting things done in a way that will maximize chances of success.”

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Mentorship in the Work Place

Rachel Margaritis,  Marketing Director of  Acupath Laboratories, Inc“I’m not sure that entrepreneur mentoring is something that should be regulated by big business. Mentoring is a gift, and regulating it would- I fear- harm the process that seems to naturally join the expert with the inexperienced. I cannot speak enough to the gift I was given by all of the mentors in my life who pointed me in the direction of my destiny. I can’t imagine where I would be without them. Had one been forced to help me, I’m not sure the assistance would have been so genuine.”

Dave Carvajal, Founder and CEO, Dave Partners:“Strive to create a learning organization, an environment where learning is welcome and encouraged. One strong tool for creating a learning environment is to identify preferred business books, which you can use to create a common vernacular and framework among your company’s leadership.”

Avinash Cavale, co-founder of the startup, Shippable: “The biggest risk with mentoring for entrepreneurs is ‘mentor whiplash.’ Most mentors typically give you advice based on their personal biases. As an entrepreneur your thought process and business may be radically different from those biases. Personally as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that you have to take a mentor’s advice with a pinch of salt. Some of the best mentors I’ve had have always said ‘You know your business best…we can only offer our perspective.”

Brett Farmiloe, Founder & Managing Partner of Markitors“It’s amazing that my most influential ‘mentors’ range from a goat farmer in rural Tennessee, to Michael Jordan’s shoe designer, to the co-founder of Kiva. By approaching mentorship as a thirty minute interview, rather than an ongoing commitment, the possibilities of who you’re able to connect with open up immensely. Companies today should abandon the traditional mentorship model, where an employee is randomly paired with someone senior to them for the foreseeable future. Instead, imagine what mentorship would really mean if employees at companies spent thirty minutes with everyone at the company – from the front desk receptionist to the CEO – and really learned from them and their experiences. That would be mentorship at its truest form.”

Dan Adler, CEO of Winkbeds“In theory, a work culture that encourages leaders to mentor employees sounds good. But what is more important is that employees who have the desire to eventually become strong leaders, seek out their own mentors. The mentor/mentee relationship is a little like dating: There needs to be chemistry or else the relationship won’t last very long. If two people happen to have chemistry in the workplace- great, if not, don’t force it.”

Tammy Uyeda, founder of FitSpark: “Putting people into mentorship or management roles who did not have the time or proper support and resources did NOT work well. Mentorship should be a dedicated and organized relationship/structure to ensure proper feedback, good follow through and a constructive working environment.”

Jessica Mah, CEO of inDinero:  At inDinero we just don’t see the benefits of a tough love or a sink or swim mentality to find and keep top talent.  If you set people up for success by providing a nurturing environment while still requiring maximum thoughtful effort; we end up with the inDinero-perfect mix; this is our culture.  We also look for the right candidates to nurture; we call them mini-CEOs, people with an entrepreneurial background that know what it takes to run the whole show and thus can become a nurturing influence on others they will eventually manage.

Andrew Schrage, CEO of Money Crashers: “I think companies should create a work culture that encourages leaders to mentor employees. When you open up the lines of communication and foster mentoring more, everyone benefits. Your less experienced employees will avoid a lot of the mistakes which are commonly made, and your more seasoned workers will play a stronger role in business development.”

D. Anthony Miles, CEO and Founder, of Miles Development Industries Corporation: “Companies should create a work that encourages leaders to mentor employees. However, in some organizations, that is counter to their culture. In this dog-eat-dog world, it is the Darwinian survival of the fittest. It is every man for himself. Smart leaders take this approach but it is very difficult in the corporate or work environment. Mentoring can not only help employees with their career path but also help the organization.”

Sue Heilbronner, CEO of MergeLane: “I like the idea of building mentorship into company culture. The caution I have is that mentors need to be the kind of people who enjoy coaching, and proteges need to be the kind of people who are open and coachable. I think it’s hard to force people into these roles when they’re poorly suited or simply not interested…I think doing this is particularly useful in larger companies where mentors and proteges can be in separate divisions so that they don’t have a formal reporting relationship on top of the mentoring partnership.”

Atul Varadhachary, M.D., Ph.D., Managing Partner of Fannin Innovation Studio: “There’s a real need for businesses to groom future leaders and open doors to opportunities it might otherwise take years to acquire. Internship programs provide experiential learning outside the classroom, which not only nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit, but also provides an increased understanding within an industry that traditional curriculum can’t teach. However, there are some important considerations when developing an internship program. Managing interns well takes time, so companies must balance interns with bandwidth availability from a mentor-supervisor with the right temperament.”

Bryan Sory, Co-Founder of Qwyvr LLC“At Qwyvr we’ve inculcated a culture of authenticity. My direct reports get to see me as ‘human’, my failings and success being forward-facing. ‘The General that drinks with his men, becomes his men’, Ghengis Khan. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I am talking about is that by showing each of them, down to the lowest developer, the strategic direction of the company, the agreements we’ve struck, the ones on which we’ve failed (I’ve failed), they know what is to be strengthened and what can be left aside for a second. In so doing, I don’t have to hold their hand and give checklist-like guidance daily – they just know.”

Everette Taylor, CMO of StickerMule: “The fact that I never really had a consistent mentor in my career makes me understand how valuable it can be, and the importance of mentorship. Without mentorship from leaders, young employees and entrepreneurs can feel like they are out on island by themselves without any guidance. It makes it that
much harder not only to succeed, but also more difficult to maintain a positive and progressive company culture. I’ve learned from the lack of mentorship that I experienced and instead of following that same path, I’m very supportive and hands on with my employees.”

Susan Bender Phelps, Founder of Odyssey Mentoring & Leadership“A culture of mentoring and leadership development should be part of their comprehensive strategy. Overloaded managers and flattened organizations mean there is no career ladder for young people to climb. An effective mentoring program provides the experience that climbing the ladder to advancement used to provide.”

What role has mentorship played in your life? Share with us your experience. 

Image Credit: Karate Kid (1984)/GoodFilms.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Camila has been heavily active in South Florida’s tech startup community, where she is a co-host of a local radio show called pFunkcast. Camila previously worked at Greenpeace International and the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in various communication roles. A proud Brazilian who spent most of he life in Peru, she is passionate about traveling and documentaries.

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