Diversity & Inclusion

An Invisible Ally: 3 Ways Mentors Help Founders Start (And Scale) Their Businesses

Mentorship matters.

Take the story of U.B..

Born to Panamanian immigrant parents in 1958, she was raised by a single mother in a New York City housing project. 

U.B. started out as an intern at an office technology company. Three strategically-selected mentors later and she would become the first Black woman to be appointed CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

U.B., otherwise known as Ursula Burns, is the former CEO and chairwoman of the very company she interned at - Xerox.

According to Burns, her mentors collectively instilled in her the belief that she was capable of achieving far more than she ever thought possible.

So, mentorship matters.

And given that a thriving and vibrant entrepreneurial scene tends to be indicative of a healthy economy, there are few areas where mentorship is more important than in the startup world.

It is through mentorship, as well as events, education and training that the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center supports the next generation of entrepreneurs.

These critical resources help them to create, launch, scale, and sustain their businesses – unlocking their full potential in the process.

Impact of mentorship on startup survival

Today’s startup survival rate doesn’t exactly make encouraging reading for would-be entrepreneurs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, roughly 20% of small businesses fail within the first year and 50% collapse within the first five years.

But one age-old tool can buck this trend: the mentoring relationship.

According to a 2013 survey by The UPS Store, “70% of small business owners that receive mentoring survive for five years or more – double the rate of those who do not receive mentoring.” In the same survey, 88% of business owners with a mentor said that having one is “invaluable.”

The late entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, once said, “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”

Mentoring involves one sharing their knowledge, skills, experience, and connections in service to another’s growth and development.

Here are three main ways that mentorship helps founders start and scale their businesses.

Mentors inspire

Effective mentoring is less about instruction and more about inspiration.

Typically, a mentor has already been where a founder wants to go. So, oftentimes, the mentor’s example alone serves as a source of inspiration for a founder.

While a mentor isn’t there to tell a founder what to do, they provide an effective springboard for a founder to bounce their ideas off.

Through intimate co-working sessions, a good mentor will encourage a founder to reach their own conclusions about the state of their business and the direction it needs to go in to become (or remain) successful.

A founder is the captain of their own ship. No one else should be at the wheel. Ultimately, a founder is responsible for the success of their business. A mentor can only guide them along the way.

Mentors champion (and challenge) ideas

Mentoring not only involves championing a founder’s ideas, but challenging them, too.

A mentor will be a chief cheerleader when a founder’s business is on the right track. They will also play the role of a critical friend when it’s heading in the wrong direction or is at risk of doing so.

Similar to muscle growth in the human body, a founder’s thoughts often develop and mature when they’re met with even a moderate degree of resistance. So, a mentor who takes the path of least resistance by simply agreeing with everything a founder says or does is inadvertently doing them more harm than good.

But when a mentor challenges a founder’s beliefs, it exposes the founder to new perspectives and prevents them from becoming too fixated on their ideas.

Inevitably, a responsible mentor will occasionally share some hard truths with a founder. But the mentor will likely have the emotional intelligence to make a founder see their flaws without making them feel like they’re on the receiving end of a barrage of stinging criticism.

Mentors grant access to their networks

A mentor may make their black book of industry contacts available to a founder.

Connecting a founder with the right person, at the right time, and in the right circumstance can be as valuable to the advancement of their business as a multi-million dollar seed investment.

Networking can help a founder find a new investor, team member or even an additional mentor. (Different mentors add value at different stages of a business, so it’s prudent for a founder to have multiple mentors where possible.)

Mentors: Invisible allies with visible advantages

When it comes to finding information about starting or scaling a business, Google is a founder’s best friend.

But not everything a founder needs to know about entrepreneurship is published online or easily accessible for that matter. Sometimes, working with a seasoned mentor who has ‘been there and done that’ is the only way to access exclusive insider knowledge.

In summary, quality mentorship can help a founder:

  • Navigate the range of financial challenges of starting a business – from overseeing accounts and managing cash flow to assessing risk.
  • Find their target audience, maximize their advertising spend, and scale their business.
  • Devise an exit strategy and assist them in targeting potential buyers for their startup and choosing the right time to sell.

Having a mentor can potentially save a founder a lot of time, effort, and money. It can also help them to keep pace with (and even outpace) their closest competition.

A mentor is an invisible ally, which affords founders a visible advantage over their non-mentored counterparts.

But even with the best mentor in the world, a founder will likely never maximize their true startup potential until they are truly open to receiving their mentor’s advice, learning any relevant lessons from it and course-correcting when necessary.

For a startup founder with growth ambitions, a mentor’s mantra is simply this: listen, learn, adjust, and repeat.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Kieron Johnson

Kieron Johnson is a content/communications consultant to emerging and established brands.

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