How to get the most value from an advisor or mentor
I’ve been a mentor and an advisor now for quite a few SaaS accelerators, incubators, communities, and VC funds — from Atlanta Tech Village and TechStars to TinySeed and GrowthMentor (and more recently MentorPass).
After running hundreds of calls for both early-stage and later-stage founders alike, here’s some basics for how to get the most value from your first mentor or advisor call:
1. Get clear about your goals for the call
Do you want tactical advice or do you need help with something bigger?
Advisors come with such vast knowledge and information that you want to make sure you’re choosing the right kind of advisor for your needs (and not wasting their time or yours). It might seem obvious, but your goals for the conversation should directly mirror who you talk to.
If you’re looking for tactical help, choose someone who’s going to be able to answer the tactical questions you have. If you need help with something bigger and more strategic, be prepared to choose someone with that experience.
2. Research the advisor
Take some time and get to know your advisor before you actually meet.
What kinds of experiences have they had?
What are they doing now?
What are they writing about or saying on social media?
What talks have they given?
Answering these questions ahead of time will give you talking points and it will trigger other questions you can ask directly related to your needs and their experiences.
3. Send context about your challenge before the call
Provide as much information about the problem as you possibly can. The more context the advisor has, the more likely they’re going to be able to help you.
Give the advisor details about the type of business you have, what you’re selling to whom, and what your goals are. Send them your questions in advance to give the advisor context about what kind of call this will be.
4. Get ready to be challenged
The most rewarding part about advising is helping the founder unpack a complex problem and arriving at a few options the founder can then take to accomplish their goals.
Sometimes, it’s just providing a different perspective that helps the founder unlock something else. The most productive conversations usually happen because the advisor did two things:
1. They asked questions for more context
2. They directly challenged the founder’s line of thinking
Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had were when we took a step back and unpacked how the founder arrived a particular conclusion and the assumptions they’re making.
If you book time with an advisor or a mentor, if they’re great at what they do, they’re going to challenge you. (At least, that’s what happens with me, anyway.)