How To Be a Great Startup Mentor

Karen Lawson sitting
Karen Lawson

Karen Lawson

Aug 12, 2016

Entrepreneurs need strong mentors – it’s critical to the success of any startup venture. But making the most out of being a mentor is tough unless you manage expectations and align to the right founder.

While we become mentors to give back, the conversation is often consumed over ‘cups of coffee’ with limited structure.

As pointed out by Slingshot’s founder Trent Bagnall, it is the responsibility of the mentor to drive the conversation around a set of agreed outcomes. Providing feedback and asking questions is critical in developing the founder’s ability to take control. A startup is generally faced with day to day problems and working on the business is often a stretch. So good mentors create space for the founder to think about the big picture, motivate and inspire.

Having run several corporate accelerator programs, Slingshot has successfully used mentoring to assist its startups achieve outstanding survival rates. The first part of the startup journey is often about proof of concept and validation, and a good mentor will challenge the status quo in a safe, nurturing way.

Perhaps the best way to describe mentoring is to understand what it’s NOT:

  • A one-way relationship
  • Coaching
  • Adhoc
  • Being prescriptive and having the answers
  • Hope pedalling
  • A chance to get on your soapbox
  • A talkfest

Instead it’s a journey both the mentor and mentee commit to with a goal to:

Mentees are often looking for validation and inner certainty, and mentors can help in this leadership journey. More than anything, it’s important the mentor believes in the mentee and they share a sense of values. It’s not product centric, its people based. Personal rapport and alignment generates the most prosperous outcomes. In most cases, the mentor grows just as much as the mentee from being exposed to fresh thinking outside of their comfort zone.

Lastly, partnerships and mentor relationships have to be built on a mutual value exchange. So, if you’re a mentee, try to think of ways you can give back to your mentor.

If it’s a one-way relationship, it’s unlikely to survive the demands that senior leaders have on their time


By Karen Lawson

Karen Lawson

Karen Lawson is a renowned food and travel writer. She is also the CEO of accelerator company Slingshot. She was previously the CEO of CareerOne, winner of BRW Most Innovative Company. Karen is a huge ‘foodie’ and has been a food and luxury travel journalist for over ten years, writing for a diverse range of publishers. She enjoys researching and writing trips to uncover the world's most luxurious places to stay, places to pop your taste buds and is always on the hunt for new and notable extra-ordinary experiences. She is also an inspirational speaker and a regular on the speaker circuit.


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