I’m fortunate that I get to work with many startups, both independently and through great accelerators like Techstars and Bolt. There is no better way to learn than through teaching (I believe that learning is the most fun you can have, at least for a sustained period) and there are few better students than entrepreneurs. Good entrepreneurs always want to know why they should do something and not just what they should do. They test, challenge and refuse to take anything for granted; they’re highly motivated, smart and understand success is not about them as an individual, but about the team they can build; and they strive not only to make their first venture a success but also to become strong, solid leaders and managers that can build many great companies.
So, with all these qualities, it shocks me how often entrepreneurs choose a mentor or an advisor based on the fact that they’re the loudest person in the room. You know that person, the one who likes to talk incessantly about all of his or her accomplishments and is quick to give advice on any and all subjects. The person who speaks before listening and has never had any failures. Yeah, that guy. Somehow, in the sponge-like desire that good entrepreneurs have to vacuum up every morsel of knowledge, they often attach themselves to the first person who sounds like they know anything. Unfortunately, that’s usually the one who brags the loudest.
So, here’s a simple three-step plan on how to avoid adopting Mr./Ms. Know-it-all as your savior:
- First, recognize that you’re your only savior, everyone else is there merely to supply data, offer up some wisdom and, maybe, hold your hand.
- Second, put yourself in a situation where you can get access to many mentors. You can do a load of legwork or sign up for a program like TechStars where mentorship (and a boat load of mentors to choose from) is the core of the program.
- Finally, ask questions. Don’t grill a potential mentor, after all, you’re looking for free help. Instead, have a conversation and learn about what the person has actually done – how they’ve succeeded and how they’ve failed. Make sure they have real accomplishments and real failures (you learn more from failures than successes) and can communicate what they learned in a way that works for you. If hubris is what you hear, try somewhere else.
I’m no psychiatrist, but the loud braggart in the room is probably making up for something else (get your mind out of the gutter, I was referring to some business deficiency) or has had too much to drink. Either way, they do you no good. Be selective, find an adviser with both good advice based on things they’ve actually done plus the ability to communicate they way that works best for you. You’ll be much happier and likely, more successful yourself.
Want to learn more about how to get and utilize mentors and advisors? Check out The Startup Playbook for more juicy tidbits.