​Mentors: The Secret Weapon of Startup’s

Gary C. Bizzo |


Call it your company’s secret weapon or secret sauce; both are apt descriptions of the advantage a quality mentor brings to your startup.

Mentors can be paid confidantes or volunteer advisors to your operation. They can be industry specific or a business generalist but in whatever form they come to you they are an entrepreneurial advantage for your startup.

I struggled for years in my first business as a commercial photographer. It took me 10 years before I was able to ask the price I knew I was worth. I only broke that barrier when I found an industry professional who offered to mentor past my insecurities. If I had found a mentor earlier in my business I would have zoomed forward in my career instead of growing at a snails pace, exerting energies in all the wrong places. I am a mentor so I can save people that angst.

70% of business owners who use Mentors will survive in business twice as long as those who don’t.

People often assume mentors are free. There are a couple ways of looking at that, mentors who can afford to offer advice because they are retired and want to give back to other entrepreneurs can work for free. I ‘pay it forward’ as a volunteer mentor with a national youth loan program as well as with the Richard Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship. We are asked to spend no more than 2 hours per month with our mentees so it’s not a hardship on me to do so. The second mentor is the skilled professional who is paid to provide exceptional advice, put forth strategies, help with presentations and support the mentee at every crossroad. By being both I can give my expertise to entrepreneurs who normally would not be able to afford advice and make a good living from those who can afford to pay me.

There are distinct differences between a consultant, a coach and a mentor. The consultant tells the client the issues and what to do to fix them and is gone when the issue or project is completed. The coach provides a structured environment with the founder to identify goals and help the founder attain them. Consulting and business coaching are not the same as mentoring. Mentoring involves a developmental relationship between a more experienced "mentor" and a less experienced partner, and typically involves sharing of advice. A mentor is a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who wants to learn.

Back in the days of VHS videotape, I was a coach to the owner of a start-up video rental store. It was a challenge because while I could coach him I didn’t have the experience of a video storeowner so I came up with a plan. I called the owner of a video store about 350 miles from my client and asked for advice. Since we weren’t competition he was very open with us and offered inside tips that would take us years to figure out. At the end of a lengthy conversation he offered to come to Vancouver and work with us to develop a plan for my client if we paid only his expenses. Seriously? He delivered what he said he would and became a valued mentor to my client for a long time.



Feeling the need for a mentor can be looked at from many areas; gender, industry specific, or a specific need of the leader, e.g. finance, marketing etc. It is always based on advice from someone with vast knowledge of the subject or issues.

Mentors can be found among your peers who have experienced the relationship of a good sounding board. Since it is all about relationship it is best to find a mentor through personal networks. The connection must flow well from both sides and both mentor and leader must feel there is a match. Both parties need to evaluate if there is a match in order to develop a strong bond and relationship.

A start-up is a fluid dynamic exercise to find the right mix of talent, ideation, money, opportunities, customers and skill in the shortest period of time to define success. Phew, having said that it is a scary proposition and not for the faint of heart.

While the entrepreneur is building his start-up and addressing all these issues a strong mentor can bridge any gaps in the armour and help the entrepreneur find success faster while reducing the founder’s stress.

A strong mentor who can help the entrepreneur avoid the pitfalls he will face and offer advice based on experience is a necessity for stable growth and success. You wouldn’t start a major start-up without a plan it also makes sense not to start a business without a mentor.

Consider your strong suit of skills and look for a mentor who is complementary. Sometimes it’s more important to find a mentor with specific skills that work with you rather than finding a mentor with good business skills.

I know of a start-up entrepreneur who is an excellent programmer who hired a mentor with amazing programming skills. It really didn’t work because the mentor started offering design changes, which were counter-intuitive to the direction the founder wanted. The relationship soured quickly but also put the start-up in a downward slide because the founder started to doubt his direction. Sad!

A mentor should offer a new way of thinking without compromising your start-up’s vision and challenge you in ways that are constructive while taking you out of that often-noted comfort zone.

The benefits of a mentor are numerous. The mentor who is an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) in a structured accelerated start-up is the go to guy for help on any aspect of the business. How does one put a price tag on this form of relationship – it’s priceless?

The mentor will raise the company’s standards. Imagine having a mature professional as part of your management team who can cover every one of your young executive’s jobs. He can hold everyone accountable while objectively assessing the direction and decisions the company is moving in and offer advice based on years of his own success. He can also ask the tough question because that’s part of his role.

Try asking a coach or consultant to open their network to you. The mentor sees opening doors for you as part of the deal and will clearly relish in setting you up with other experts in business who can push you another mile in your progress.

On those bad days when the revenues are coming in too slow or your manufacturer sent you inferior product your mentor is a comforting confidante.

Many leaders will realize when they need a mentor. Leaders cannot lead in a vacuum and the business owner must be open to the possibility of asking and accepting help. I like to say, ‘will you let your business die rather than ask for help?

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer

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