Careers · Mentoring

Finding a Mentor

Daniel Eberhard CEO, Koho

June 13th, 2013

Thanks in advance for your help. 

More and more I come across information stating the value that a mentor brings in developing a career. I have a had a good deal of success for someone my age but I've learned most of my lessons the hard way and often just do what I think is best as opposed to tapping an experienced resource. Time and momentum are extremely valuable  commodity so its frustrating making mistakes experience would of avoided. To that end I have a few questions about the mentoring relationship and process. Any advice from mentor or mentoree's on one or all of the points is really appreciated. 

a.) How did you find your mentor/mentoree? 
b.) When and how does that relationship become a formal mentor/mentoree situation?
c.) How can you create value for your mentor in order to create a mutually beneficial relationship?
d.) Are there any resources for minding mentors people have had success with? 

Thank you

Patricia Estridge Android Programmer

June 13th, 2013

Hey Daniel!

This is a great question - I've heard it said by many people that a mentor can be a fantastic way to further your career, and that having a mentoree can also be extremely rewarding.

Sheryl Sandberg wrote a great chapter on finding a mentor in Lean In, which I found really interesting (and helpful). Heres what stood out from what she said:

- Mentors can come from anywhere, and they don't necessarily have to be someone who much more successful than you, someone who is one or two steps further on in their carrer, and some of your peers, can make great mentors
- If you are approaching someone extremely successful, chances are that they don't have a great deal of time to spare, so have specific questions and advice to ask them about and be as succinct as possible
- Volunteer to help and work with someone that you would like to build a relationship with, don't ask them to "be your mentor", then let the relationship grow naturally as you learn from them and ask for their advice

Hope that helps a bit!

Trevor Collins Crowdfunding Entrepreneur & Co-Founder of 100 Danish

June 13th, 2013

Daniel - great you're looking into this. There's no doubt it's advantageous to learn from someone who has already played the game you're playing. I heard Gary Vaynerchuk once say in an interview that he likes to sit next to older people on airplanes and have conversations with them. Like as many 80 or 90 yr-olds as possible. It might sound strange, but his motivation is for that same reason.

My vantage point in answering comes from a book called 'The Success Principles' by Jack Canfield. He mentions that it might seem daunting at first to contact successful people and ask for ongoing advice and assistance. However, he outlines a process that might be easier than you think to enlist mentors far above you.

David hinted at this above - be specific in what you're asking. Relationships are one part communication and one part expectation. Be clear from the start what you’re expecting. I personally have 2 mentors I speak to each month for 15-20 min. Here’s a sample of what I wrote to my mentor Doug after I briefly met him at an event:

“...I am just beginning in entrepreneurial endeavors and finding my way in the Engineering field.  Doug, it's no worries either way, but I would really appreciate if you would consider being my mentor.  All that would mean is spending ten minutes on the phone with me once a month, so I could ask you a few questions.  Would you be open to that?...”

Jack Canfield explains this well - ‘The truth is that successful people like to share what they have learned with others. It is a human trait to want to pass on wisdom. Not everyone will take the time to mentor you, but many will if asked. You simply need to make a list of the people you would like to have as your mentor and ask them to devote a few minutes a month to you.’

I can’t even quantify how valuable my short phone conversations have been each month with Doug. He just cuts right to the heart of whatever issue I’m grappling with. And then doles out a priceless piece of advice on the spot. Just make sure you’re completely organized with questions and have your ducks in a row before each call. 

Hope this helps. Feel free to reach out with any follow-up questions. Cheers, Trevor

David Crawford CEO and Janitor at Metrica

June 13th, 2013

Hi Daniel,

I've found mentors through friends, but also by approaching people I meet at talks or meetups.  One tip is to ask everyone you meet to introduce you to someone they think could help.  Do this once you've talked to them enough that they can recommend you.

I can't say I've ever had a "formal" mentor relationship.  The only time I've considered that is in offering equity for my startup.  The trouble with asking for a formal relationship is that you're asking for a commitment, but not really specifying what the commitment is.  Maybe what you really want is to be able to have coffee once a month, or get 15 minutes of feedback every week.  Ask for that, so they know what they're signing up for.

I understand the impulse, but you don't have to work hard to make sure you're contributing value to the relationship.  Mentorship is mutually beneficial in it's own right.  Teaching is one of the best ways to clarify your own thoughts, so just having someone smart and unbiased to ask you questions can be valuable for a mentor.  It's also energizing to be around ambitious people, and you probably have a unique perspective since you come from a different context than your mentor.

I agree with Patricia that the best mentors can be just a step or two ahead of you in their career... they've got the most relevant advice to your situation, and are easier to get time from.  You can read the books written by the greats, and probably get more value from that than from meeting them in person.  What you want is someone who's willing to listen and understand your situation, and give you personalized feedback.  You also want someone who will get to know you well enough to give you hard, direct feedback.  See Randy Pausch's last lecture for a great story on that.

Clynton Caines SharePoint Developer at Discover Technologies

June 13th, 2013


These are excellent points already, so I'll just write from my own experience. I've had a number of mentors and pointed out a few in a recent blog post. The take away is that you yourself should aim to help others. Ask yourself what you know/do/etc that could help someone - anyone!

To answer some of your specific questions though:
How and where? As already mentioned, it could happen anywhere. The idea is to keep an open mind when you meet someone. Sharing your background and perspective with person A, might give them enough insight to recommend that you meet person B (without you even asking). That first person might say to him/erself "he's just like this friend of mine was 10 years ago..." and take it from there. 

How? This is best achieved by starting with the premise that you're there to make a new friend. If the new person you meet is a jerk, then you'll instinctively block meaningful lessons from them (unless you're studying to be a jerk of course). Only later, once you've gotten to know someone, do you understand what he/she offers that you really want to learn.

Put another way: a mentor once had this email signature "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." You just never know until later that a person you've learned a lot from was actually a mentor. At least, that's my experience.

Why? That's simple... Like with this forum, good people just want to help/give back/whatever you want to call it. Many don't because of time constraints, but they'll often find a few minutes here and there to help out. Call it seeding the universe with good karma. 

Stay hungry. Share something...

Joey Carlini

June 13th, 2013

Yeah, I can understand completely, being out in the relative boonies in Michigan, and one of the things that help some are, or specifically the SCORE guys if you can set up an appointment with your local chapter.