Whilst sitting at Heathrow Airport last week trying to catch up on some emails, I heard a loud panicky scream. It was the scream of a little two and a half year old boy who had lost his mommy. The sense of panic in his voice and in his eyes really pushed my buttons, to the extent that my eyes teared up uncontrollably as the little boy and his mom were reunited.
As I sat there reflecting on my reaction, my first thought was that perhaps I was lost as a kid, and that this incident had stirred up the emotions of panic and fear that I might have experienced decades before. But I hadn’t, I had never had that experience. So where did the emotion come from?
The relation to that feeling was more recent for me. Had I been lost in a scary 3rd world country? No. Had I been left behind on a tour perhaps? No. And then it dawned on me. I got lost on my entrepreneurial journey. As I wandered into my first weeks and months of my new business, there where moments where I felt this deep visceral panic. I felt lost and and alone, and if I’m being honest, I felt scared. What if I don’t have what it takes? What if I’m doing it all wrong? What if they find out I don’t know what I’m doing? How do I solve this issue and that challenge?
Even Brad Majors in the Rocky Horror Picture Show cried out for his mommy, when he found himself in a situation “beyond himself”. Starting our entrepreneurial journey for the first time is like a 10 year old being dropped in New York City, in the middle of winter at midnight, with $10 in his pocket and an address he was told to memorize. You are old enough to be alone, but not old enough to be alone in a new scary city. You have some money to last you a few hours perhaps, but not enough to last you the whole trip. Where you will find the balance of the funds is unknown. And then there is the memorized address, your vision, that you keep having to come back to in your mind as you deal with the threats and challenges of every moment on every street. There is no GPS, no mommy. Its flippen scary.
I would contend that even those little boys that might have been given $1000 (by a VC, Angel funder or other) would still find it scary. Is this the right bus to take? Who might mug me?
So we cry for help, we seek out an “adult” to guide us on our way. To protect us, to council us, to motivate us, to keep us on the right path. We do this by seeking out a mentor, someone who knows the streets. They do not know all the streets in New York, but they do know the bad neighborhoods to avoid, the best value for money transport and where it’s safe to sleep.
I believe that you will find it very hard to find a significant number of really successful entrepreneurs over the past 200 years, that never had a mentorship relationship during their journeys. The statistics of an entrepreneur not just surviving 10 years but really making it big, are like the probability of a newly hatched sea turtle making it to the sea, and then to adulthood (1 in 1000), probably worse.
It’s never too late to seek out a mentor. Here are a few pointers if this is the route you choose:
- Choose 2 to 4 mentors that have different types of experience, preferably completely different to one another
- Do not play one mentor off against another. Deeply respect the experience and advice of each one
- Become vulnerable sooner than later. Lose the ego, lose the bravado. Your mentor should feel like a safe pair of ears to you
- Start talking about your challenges first before you talk about your successes
- Write down what they say. Spend time reflecting on their input after your time with them
- Come prepared with what you want from the time together. Do not just come to have a chat
- Use your own mind, their advice or experiences might not be fully applicable to your situation. Use their input as a foil to your own thoughts, trust yourself in the end. You will soon learn how to balance the relationship between your experience and theirs
- Be grateful for their time and treat it with respect. Do not come late and do not linger
- Do what you say you will do. If they advise you to take certain action, and you agree, then do it. If they feel their words are not being followed, or you lack the conviction to act, they will pull away
- Do not create dependency on your mentors, they should be regarded as temporary (but long term) scaffolding and not the superstructure of your journey