Mentors – how to use one and how to be one – Martin Hedley interviewed by Monique Chambers.
Originally recorded and broadcast by CampusFM.
A full transcript of the interview is below:
Monique: You’re listening to the Entrepreneur Clinic on campus FM with me Monique Chambers and my guest this week, Martin Headley. We are discussing being and using a mentor So, mentors, what are they?
Martin: Mentors are generally guides who have been there done that and they can guide people through not only the rigmarole of administration but also perhaps temper, the enthusiasm of entrepreneurs so that they can actually be effective. Because I would say, as a mentor, you’re guiding and you are teaching in a way but you’re teaching by asking questions to the entrepreneur that you know, they will guide them to their own answers and their own enlightenment as opposed to a teacher.
Monique: Okay. And so all startups and entrepreneurs, they all benefit from having a mentor. Martin: Yes, absolutely. I mean, they, they all benefit from a mentor at any time. But I think
what they have to do is choose their mentor carefully for the stage that they’re in.
Monique: And for the right reasons, because I can imagine it must be quite hard. A mentor, I’m guessing as you said is somebody who’s been there, seen it and done it, would they see a startup as a competition?
Martin: I would hope not. Many mentors typically have a little more gray hair than the entrepreneurs, in my case, 100%, but really you are giving back to the entrepreneurial community the one that you took mentoring and coaching from years ago to be successful. So it’s a rite of passage going through the entrepreneurial streak, but there’s a payback at the end. And the payback is that you have to help others as you can the way I see it. So yes, I don’t see that being a conflict at all.
Monique: So how do you identify then obviously, well, not obviously, do you go for somebody who’s in a similar market to you? if you’ve invented a piece of software or app that does something for a particular vertical market? Do you go for somebody who’s been successful in that market?
Martin: You want the mentor to complement your team. So if it’s defining a market and going after it, then yes, somebody who has got deep experience of that market and preferably, some
significant network partners of their own that can get you introductions in that market, that’s important. But that may change because once you’ve identified your market, you may then have rapid growth. And that particular mentor may not be [Monqiue interrupts]
Monique: You might grow your mentor. Martin: Exactly, yes.
Monique: And so then you would look for a mentor potentially with internationalization skills, or product development skills or something else? Not necessarily the same level you’re at before?
Martin: Yes, it could be again, the mentor never actually does any work in the business per se, okay, they are coaching, otherwise, they’d just become another employee. and that’s not the idea. You would perhaps pick somebody say, who had experienced that on Amazon or something like that, where they’ve had rapid growth and a sale of the product is such that you can’t get it out the door fast enough, you need somebody who’s been there and done that.
Monique: How do you actually find one? Is it as sort of search on LinkedIn? Is it a look around the marketplace? How do you find somebody and then approach them to be your mentor? Do you have to build a business case like you would a sort of investor because essentially, they’re going to be investing time in you.
Martin: Yes, I do think that having a business case, at least an outline in your pocket, the traditional ten page, quick investor pitch is not a bad idea to have with you. Because you can give that to the mentor and the mentor can look through it very quickly and get a rough idea of what you’re doing.
But LinkedIn, of course, is extremely powerful, probably is one of the best ways to find individuals, or pinpoint an individual that you might think would help. But from my experience, it’s good to be involved with an organization that has a number of mentors around it. In a way, I was lucky that the first entrepreneurial work that I did was in the Seattle area, which is flushed with entrepreneurs, many of them with Microsoft or Google heritage. And so if you went to any event in Seattle where entrepreneurs gathered, there were always about 30 or 40 mentors. And you could ask the first mentor that you walked up to, and say, I need somebody who would help me to get into this market. And they just simply smile and point you right over to the person who you need. So if you can get into an organization where there are a number of mentors either already present or can come to see you, it’s a great way to pick the right people.
Monique: So in Malta, putting it in our own real context, is there a sort of pool of mentors?Are there events like this that can come up that you can walk in and find a mentor?
Martin: Yes, absolutely, with the takeoff program, then mentors abound there, and the staff at take off will help an entrepreneur identify mentors, but similarly, as a mentor, we can find other people. So for example, if somebody from takeoff came to me and said, I need a mentor that has specific experience in telecoms, then I will think through my network and I’ll find somebody for them who may or may not be interested, but that person will then find somebody else. And eventually, you build the mentoring network that you need.
Monique: So how does a mentor actually help you? Are they asking you questions to help you find your answers? [Laughs] Is that it because it sounds sort of very simplistic, but on the other hand, when you think you need a mentor it sounds like quite an investment of time from the mentors.[Laughs]
Martin: Well, after career of my length, it got to be easy. No no, it’s not actually. Knowing the right questions to ask, of course, is critical. But beyond that, once the individual entrepreneur or the team of entrepreneurs has decided what they’re going to do, that’s when they need start asking the mentor questions and the sort of questions that they’re going to ask is, you know, can I really sell this many? Or can I really produce that quantity? Or can I really ship to this country, etc. And the mentor is likely to say, well, you need to check on A, B and C, they probably checked on A, B and C, they never thought of, Okay, I see. That is where the rubber meets the road for a good mentor. You help them avoid the pitfalls that you’ve been through in the past, or pitfalls that are quite obviously in front of them and they haven’t seen them yet.
Monique: That’s through experience and this sort of enthusiasm that you’ve mentioned. [Laughs]
Martin: Yes, I suppose this is one of the best things about being a mentor, frankly, is you are around almost perennially enthusiastic people. And it’s fun to be around them, because they’re motivated, they are very upbeat, and they don’t think anything’s going to stop them. In reality, there’s a ton of stuff out there is going to stop them. But as they have to maintain that attitude in order to be able to break through any barriers.
Monique: So mentors can help you take an idea forward. How much time would it take, if you were a mentor? How much time does it take to look after one startup?
Martin: When the startup is just developing their idea, typically, I would say, an hour a month, okay, talking to them, it’s not very much unless you have some deep industry knowledge or something that they really need to pick on. Once they start to mobilize and possibly go out and talk to investors, talk to other mentors, then they really need a lot more help. And I would say, an
hour or two a week is not unusual. Then they start to execute their plan, and then it drops back to maybe an hour a month, and then they have a problem. And it can be almost full time.[Laughs]
Monique: And the problem obviously can be the product has taken off, and then now need help, too.
Martin: Oh obviously, it could be a great problem, it could be a bad problem, but doesn’t matter, the result for the mentor is the same, the phone is burning.[Laughing]
Monique: What’s actually in it for the mentor? You’re sort of giving this time, essentially, you’re sharing your knowledge, okay, you’re giving back into your startup community, but what’s in it for a mentor?
Martin: Depending on the organization that you’re with and what they’re trying to accomplish, there may actually be some ownership in the company, they’re may be a paycheck, or even just a bonus commission once in a while. But for most mentors, that’s not the reason that they’re doing it. The main reason is that the feeling that you get working with excited people, and the feeling you get when you actually see a new product or new service hit the market, and people are adopting the new concepts, and they actually enjoying this, it’s hard to describe that feeling, actually. But it feels good.
Monique: It’s like being an uncle, I suppose a bit sort of, yeah, you know, you, you remember the families out and you just proud of that new members.
Martin: Yes, you are very proud of the new member of the family, but you don’t have to look after it.[Laughs]
And so in that respect, I think that’s enjoyable. But in many cases, mentors meet other mentors. And that leads them to other opportunities quite apart from the entrepreneur that you’re dealing with. And so there’s a benefit there in building your own network.
Monique: And so there isn’t a definite financial implication, but if there is a financial application, if the mentor wants to take a share of your business or whatever, that’s quite a good signal, then that your business does have legs to stand on.
Martin: It’s a very good signal, because typically, the mentor won’t have time to worry about the contracts and all that kind of stuff if it wasn’t a go. You can be a mentor to let’s say, you’ve got two or three people, I think they have a great idea, it’s in the very early stage. So you just give them the advice and you help them along,
When they start getting serious, then you might want to take a different approach. I’ve known people actually, who have mentored companies with fledgling ideas for two or three years, just for fun. But when that company started to take off, then they actually took the position in the company and progressed with it.
Monique: Okay, so how do you know if you would be a good mentor?
Because having, you know, 20 to 30 years of experience is one thing, you know, doesn’t necessarily make you a very nice person or genuine or giving person. So what actually makes a good mentor?
Martin: The good mentor is either an absolute expert in their particular area or they’re a great leader. And so that sort of almost pushes out your middle management people. People that end up in middle management and are happy there, you know, that haven’t made that leap to leadership typically don’t become good mentors, because they try and guide, direct, and then eventually run the organization, which is exactly what the mentor can’t do. What a leader does is inspire, motivate people to achieve a particular goal. And then you know that they’re not going to get it initially, you know it’s going to be harder than they thought. But you’re there to encourage them when they fall and pick them up and point them back in the right direction. So if you’ve got those skills, and you’re recognized for those skills, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be a good mentor.
Monique: It’s sort of like applying for a job almost in a way because the startup is hiring you for want of a better word to help them be successful, almost not an invisible CEO, but sort of hiring you for your skill set. So would they be able to talk to other people you have mentored to see.
Martin: I think taking a reference or chatting to other people in the network is very good idea. Because, you know, you’ve got to have skills that are useful, you’ve got to have this leadership ability that you can step back and let them go with the right kind of guidance and you also have to have a cultural fit. Okay, so for example, I don’t think I could ever have been a mentor to Zuckerberg, when he created Facebook think I probably would have infuriated me that mean he wasn’t very very successful at all, but it’s just not my style. Okay, I know that I’m more interested in techniques that sort of fundamentally change our existing ways of business to do it better, not creating something totally new. So if somebody came to me with an idea that was just totally off
the wall, I probably wouldn’t be able to help them until such time as they’re already into doing it, by which time they’ve already found mentors. So I would consider that to be not an issue, I wouldn’t waste my time and I wouldn’t want them to waste my time.
Monique: And I’m guessing as a mentor, you know quite quickly if this is the right company for you to be mentoring?
Martin: I think so, usually within the first two meetings. First of all, you as the mentor have to get excited about the people. And then secondly, you have to get excited about the idea. And if that’s not really there, you know, I mean, it’s, you’re dating, you’re basically dating with the organizations and it feels about the same sometimes.[Laughs]
Monique: Late night phone calls. [Laughs]
Martin: Especially when it doesn’t work, yes. [Laughs]
Monique: So can you actually learn to be a mentor or is it just a skill that you’ve acquired over time. So something you know, there isn’t a school for mentors[Laughs]
Martin: No there isn’t a school for mentors, but if anybody really wants to develop into mentorship, then I think they need to develop their leadership skills. Because the two are very closely linked. It’s a matter of being a good mentor than is having those excellent leadership skills, but then having some skills that are appropriate to the startup that you’re looking at. And the startup really has an opportunity. So I always say that there are like three circles if you can imagine it, that overlap. One is the passion one is the skill set. And then one is the opportunity to make that passion and skill useful. If you can find that sweet spot, then that’s the startup for you to mentor.
Monique: And what if, say you had a fantastic career and couple of businesses, and then the third one failed? Are you still a good mentor?
Martin: Yes, absolutely. I mean businesses particularly startups fail for a number of reasons. And usually you can never pinpoint one or two, there are a lot of reasons. Sometimes it can be simple as the product being too advanced for the market or you haven’t defined your market well
enough, sometimes it’s the product just doesn’t work, of course, too hard to deliver. But that is not predictable to the level where you can say that any one individual has responsibility for the failure of that business. It also depends on how you define the failure. I’ve seen some very good startups that have got to a certain level and have not been able to achieve either the financing that they needed or the level of market penetration they needed. Does that qualify as a failure? Okay, yes, they didn’t become the next Facebook, alright. But you know, it was a good product, it was used by people, and it’s not a sustainable business model as it exists.
Monique: And actually stepping away might be a sign of strength
Martin: Obviously because any entrepreneur will tell you after their first gig, the lessons that you learn from being an entrepreneur are pretty harsh, you would never do it again the next time, no matter how many times you’ve been through the cycle. [Laughs]
Monique: You learn and it stays with you.
If you’ve just joined us you’re listening to entrepreneur clinic on campus FM with me money chambers, and my guest this week is Martin Headley, who discussing mentors how to be one and how to use one.
Monique: So if you’re a startup wanting to use a mentor, how do you go about it? What’s the first thing you do?
Martin: I think one of the first things you do after establishing the relationship is to understand how that mental wishes to be contacted, how they want to work with you. And that’s a two way street. So obviously, the mentor is not expecting to be asked to do things specifically the mentor may offer but I think it’s good to realize you’re not going to have a mentor around very often. The mentors are typically quite busy. Yes. So you’re going to have maybe an hour sometimes only 30 minutes on the phone and you want to get the maximum value out of that. So a good mentee has an agenda in front of them and it’s an agenda which says I need to have these questions answered and I got 30 minutes to do it and that way the mentor recognizes that his or her time has been considered and I think that does more than anything to improve the relationship with the mentor.
Monique: So you’ve got your listing fun to you, you’ve got your agenda you need to pre organized you’ve got your mentor on the phone, do you expect to meet your mentor and in real life, so just so to speak, as well? Do you get any face time with them?
Martin: I think that FaceTime is essential. It’s very very very hard to mentor a specific group from a distance. Nothing wrong with the occasional question. I mean, some of the companies that I mentor I get phone calls when I’m traveling or whatever and they’ve just got a quick question and I’m always very very happy to answer that if I can but if it’s a more formal session I’d like to meet with the mentee. There’s always as you know, when you’re asking a question just like in this interview I would imagine, there’s something to do with the facial expression something to do with the body language that gives you a little bit more color in the question and so when you’re doing that virtually there’s always a danger that you’re going to miss something and a miscue and give them slightly incorrect information or guidance. And that, of course, isn’t the whole idea. But having said that, once you’ve met with the team two or three times, you know, from a mentor’s perspective, then you know where they’re coming from. And as long as you’re speaking to them on a regular basis, it’s not a big surprise. Similarly, if you’re the mentee, then it’s very important to realize that the mentor has not been through the last three weeks of discussion that you’ve been through. And so might need a little bit of briefing on the topic before you pop the question.
Monique: And things like email communication, and that sort of thing is normally expected as well, you’re not limited to these goals, or it depends on each mentor?
Martin: I think that does depend on the mentor. I know some very successful mentors that are extremely regimented. They only take calls at certain times of the day, they only do visits or they will not do emails. That’s possible actually, if you don’t have an itinerant role, but in my case, I’m traveling a lot. So I have to be much more flexible in order to be able to support the people I’m mentoring.
Monique: That’s because they want your full attention for that brief period of time that they have you to be able to move on to the next stage in some cases.
Martin: Yes you definitely don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’re a roadblock. Similarly the mentee should not put their mentor in a position where they’re hanging on a waiting for that and you know, if they just can’t get the mental when they need them, maybe that’s not the right mentor.
Monique: And how important is chemistry because the idea might be stonking it might be the best idea that the mentor has seen but the people fit just isn’t there that, you know, the startup is not just ambitious, they might actually be borderline arrogant, or is there something the mentor can do to help not just temper them but actually guide them and the way they’re doing their business, not just the idea of actually running their business?
Martin: Oh, yes, definitely. I mean, you know, there’s, there’s an old adage that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, right?
Startups that get arrogant tend to be doing well, just to start off with, okay, so in a way they’ve got a reason to be arrogant. But the point is, it doesn’t do them any good in the long run. So, yes, you do have to temper it. If you have the right chemistry between you and the entrepreneurs, then you’ll be able to tell them. So now, Monique, you really should handle that little bit better. Because, you don’t want to alienate that person. They might be useful in five years time and the entrepreneur should say, maybe you’re right, I’ll think about that next time. But if they say no, I disagree with that. I’m just gonna go ahead and do this anyway. I’ll say, Okay, well, is this the group I want to be with?
Monique: Are there any other NO NOs for entrepreneurs when working with mentors? Is there a couple of things that you really just should not do?
Martin: Yes, the first one is just call up for a chat, you know, nobody’s really going to call the mentor just for chat, but just to say, this is happening and that’s happening from the mentors perspective. It’s like, Well, so what you know, that’s very interesting, but we could do that at any time. So, you know, don’t surprise them with unnecessary questions.
Monique: Okay and whatelse?
Martin: I think the idea the mentor knows everything in terms of can predict everything I should say.
Mentors can look into the crystal ball just like anybody else, and they’re all as fallible as each other. So a mentor can guide you a mentor can suggest what you might hit and how to be ready for it but nobody can predict exactly what you will hit. So to understand that the mentor is just helping you through not necessarily is savior.
Monique: And when a mentor introduces you to their network as well. That’s something to behold I guess.
Martin: Yes. When the mentor does that, that is a tremendous gift. I mean, a tremendous gift and it should be treated with the appropriate reverence, you don’t want to embarrass your mentor with his or her network.
Monique: Because it not just that you’ll be damaged, but they wouldn’t allow anyone else be recommended to them?
Martin: Absolutely. You cut yourself off and you’ll find yourself in a very difficult position, not because anybody’s making it difficult for you, but you’ve just put yourself in a box.
Monique: And so how long have you been mentoring just to put into context.
Martin: I’ve been mentoring about six years because prior to that, of course, I was involved with a lot of startup companies and was actually doing the work but once that was over, I started mentoring and just a little bit at first, but it sort of grows on you. It does grow on you. And given that my main line of businesses is mentoring and coaching in organizations, it’s just a natural fit for me.
Monique: So you mentor people in Malta based out of take off and some others?
Martin: Yes, absolutely. I’ve got companies in the UK, Qatar, Malta, Ireland and the United
Monique: So you are actually always on a plane. [Laughs]
Martin: Yes, my gold card and my briefcase is not there by accident. [Laughs]
Monique: [Laughs] Excellent. So well, thank you very much for spending the time with us here in Entrepreneur Clinic, Martin.