Building Mentor Relationships
December 26, 2019
“Spoon feeding, in the long-run, teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon” —E.M.Forster
As you begin your career as an entrepreneur, one of the most helpful things that you can do is find a mentor. Mentors are people who are more experienced than you are in certain areas, and can often provide you with a reliable sounding board that can keep you and your ventures on track. If you’re like most of our Launchies, who we pair up with mentors through the summer program, you might be wondering how you can make the most of your mentorship relationships. How should you go about scheduling meetings with them? And, once you do meet, what should you even say?
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- The role of your mentor
- How to communicate with mentors and schedule meetings
- How to build a meeting agenda and lead a productive meeting
What is the role of mentors?
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that your mentors are volunteering their time to you. Their time can be extremely valuable, so we like to think of it as a donation of their time, effort, and insights when mentors work to help develop students. They take the time to do this because they are passionate about entrepreneurship and education, and they know that young innovators have the potential to create real impact, now. Keep this in mind and always make sure that you are using their time wisely.
The second thing you need to know is that your mentor is not here to tell you what to do or how to do it. While it may be tempting to look to your mentor for definitive answers, you and your team are in fact in a better position to make decisions for your company because you know your customer better than anyone. This goes back to the quote at the top. Your mentor is not here to spoon-feed you anything but to try and help you grow.
Your mentor is available to be a sounding board and to give you a real-world perspective. Your team is responsible for all decisions, actions, and results. Your mentor will check-in on your progress and ask questions that require your team to explain the choices you made. In some instances, your mentor may even ask you “Have you considered asking this interview question?” or “Are you sure you have enough customer feedback to prove this MVP works?” By asking open-ended questions, rather than spoon-feeding you their own opinions, your mentor will help guide your team to determining your next steps.
How should you schedule meetings with your mentor?
We recommend that you interact with your mentor professionally, representing yourself and your company in the very best light. If you’ve never worked in a professional setting before, it may seem intimidating to initiate communications and schedule meetings with your mentor. Not to worry—so long as you are gracious for their support and respectful of their time, you will be fine.
Here are some tips for emailing a new mentor:
- What should you include?
- Thank your mentor for their support
- Briefly introduce your company and team
- Tell your mentor what you’ve accomplished so far and how they can help you
- Suggest three potential times for your meeting
- Ask your mentor which meeting platform they’d like to use
- What should you not include?
- Long explanations of what your company is or what you’ve done so far (one to two sentences is enough!)
- Too few or too many meeting options (keep it to three!)
Show respect for your mentor by keeping your communications as brief as possible. It may feel strange at first to suggest meeting times, but your mentor will actually be grateful that you provided them with a few options to choose from, so to minimize the back-and-forth.
Once your meeting time is set, send your mentor an invitation on Google Calendars, or a similar platform, to ensure you both remember your meeting time. After your first meeting, we suggest that you put a monthly standing meeting on the calendar (example: you always meet on the first Tuesday of the month) so that your team and mentor can set aside that time in advance.
What should you do if your mentor doesn’t respond to your email?
Sometimes, your mentors might get caught up with their lives and work and might not reply as promptly as you expect. Wait one full week and if you still have not heard from them, write them a polite follow-up note on the same email thread as your previous message. Here’s an example:
You’re probably very busy right now, so I wanted to push this back to the top of your inbox. Please let me know if you are available for a meeting on any of the dates I suggested. If an afternoon meeting time is too difficult, our team can also make time in the mornings before 9 am.
How should you prepare for the meeting with your mentor?
As your meeting approaches, you’re likely to feel eager to share some ideas with your mentor. DO NOT email your mentor to share these questions or ideas. Show your mentor that you respect their time by saving all questions and conversation topics for your scheduled meeting.
A couple of days before your meeting, sit down with your team to put together a meeting agenda. Your mentor will be able to help you talk through some of your company challenges, but they don’t know your company as well as you do. Your team has to be ready to drive the discussion.
Here is a recommended agenda for your meeting. Notice that the time adds up to 50 minutes—be respectful of your mentor’s time by not letting your meeting run over an hour.
|1.||Greetings and introductions||Build rapport with your mentor by asking them about themselves! Ex. What do you do for work? How did you get into that? What college did you attend? What do you like to do when you're not at work?||5 min|
|2.||What you've done||What have you accomplished so far? Ex. So far, we've identified a business opportunity and we've done our customer research. The way we went about research was by interviewing elderly people on their routines, preferences, and challenges for communicating with family members. We discovered that...||10 min|
|3.||What you're doing now||What are you working on now? Ex. Now, we're working on designing our prototype.||10 min|
|4.||Challenges and questions||What are you unsure about? Your mentor won't give you answers, but they can help you to think through challenges. Ex. We're not sure if our minimum viable product is testing the right thing. Can you help us to talk through the behaviors we should be testing so that we can find the best way to do that?||10 min|
|5.||Next steps||What goals do you hope to accomplish before your next meeting? Ex. We'd like to finish building our prototype and start testing it before the next meeting. Do you have any advice or feedback for us before we start testing?||10 min|
|6.||Schedule next meeting||Before you leave the conversation, be sure that you put your next meeting on the calendar and send a calendar invite to your mentor (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k94ZVRCCMw). Ex. Was this meeting time okay for you? Should we schedule the next one for the same time next month?||3 min|
|7.||Thanks and goodbyes||Be certain to thank your mentor before signing off!||2 min|
How should you follow-up with your mentor after the meeting?
Within one day of your meeting, follow-up with your mentor to show them that their time was well spent. Include the following:
- Thank your mentor again meeting with you
- Tell them what was most helpful/ valuable about the meeting
- Restate the goals your team will be working toward before the next meeting
- Remind them of your next scheduled meeting
Thanks again for taking the time to meet with us yesterday. Talking with you about our plans for testing our prototype helped us to gain more clarity around how we should be running these tests so that we get honest feedback from our customers.
Before our next meeting, we hope to test our product with 30 customers. We look forward to sharing these results with you at our meeting on January 22 at 4 pm.
Do’s and don’ts for managing your mentor relationship
We hope that this article helps you to build a positive and productive relationship with your mentor. Remember—the entrepreneurial process is not a math equation—there is no one right answer. Your mentor’s role is not to give you answers, but to help you to consider possibilities.
In sum, here’s one final list of do’s and don’ts to help you manage your mentor relationship like a professional:
- Choose one person on your team to be the mentor’s point-of-contact
- Only use email for scheduling meetings (not for sharing ideas)
- Suggest potential meeting times
- Show gratitude for the mentor’s support
- Send a calendar invitation (here’s a how-to!)
- Share your agenda with your mentor one or two days advance to remind them of and help them prepare for the meeting
- Be respectful of your mentor’s time and show gratitude for their support
- Send lengthy emails
- Send emails with your ideas or questions in between meetings
- Let your meeting exceed one hour