How Can I Find a Local Mentor for Our Start-Up? [Gentleman’s Club]

John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysica...
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“No man is an island ” according to John Donne (picture right).

The question from Quora provided a complementary query; “How can I find a local mentor for our start-up?”

The reality is it’s hard at time to fix the problem or improve the situation if it involves you, your and others, or your team (think co-founders, or core start-up team). Self-reflection gets you only so far, and even with mirrors, a spotter or two can make an incredible difference. As my start-up wonk and colleague Dr. Jo Whitehouse of Jumpstart BioDevelopment – who races sports cars as a hobby – might note, when you’re zipping around the track at 100+ miles per hour it’s hard to know if you’re always on track or about to veer into trouble.

Olympic cyclist and gold medal winner Mike McCarthy tells the story of cycling trainer Chris Carmichael (of trainer for Lance Armstrong fame) pulling up behind someone and suggesting they move their seat post down 1/8th of an inch – the better to optimize their leg power. That sort of coaching wisdom is borne of countless rides, innumerable observations, and a fresh set of eyes on a performer who doesn’t know what they don’t know.

Last week my colleague and business strategy marketing wonk David Allen Ibsen pulled five people (they happened to be guys and strangers to each other, which was a total coincidence – just like the fact that three of us had kids in the same grade school) for lunch. The “Gathering of Gentlemen” gabfest had people from different parts of the business world all working on similar challenges. Ideas were tossed around, aha moments registered, and everyone came away much smarter than when they first sat down.

How?

Perspective. Each person could provide a fresh perspective on a current challenge that the person with the challenge just couldn’t see. It was Chris Carmichael and the seat post all over again.

People are out there for the helping but it takes some outbound initiation on your part (or David Allen Ibsen if you’re lucky enough to have an invite.). Great mentors for start-ups can be found; it just takes networking (see this piece here and modify accordingly from job search to looking for advisors/mentor, or look at the answers on Quora) to find the mentors with the right skills and experience (marketing if you’re shy marketing chops, funding if you’re short funding experience, human / organizational smarts if you’re shy people building experience, etc.) Many times they will help for free if the start-up interests them (as I did with Medical Consult and Advisory Services which is doing important work for people like you and me) or small stipends or equity.

New York Yankee baseball great Yogi Berra – the king of malapropisms – said “You have to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” Absent spotters – coaches, Chris Carmichael, mentors for start-ups, Gentlemen’s Clubs – you’re more likely to detour and stumble than succeed.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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