Meeting Your Mentor

Meeting Your Mentor

“You don’t know man.  You weren’t there”

Panda waterfall

The Entrepreneurs Organisation has a rule.  When groups of members meet in a small group called a Forum, they bear a simple mantra in mind;

“Speak Only From Experience”

With 7,500 members in 38 countries, this is a wise saying from a great organisation.  Entrepreneurs love to give advice, and all too often, they quite literally don’t know what they are talking about.  During ‘Forum’ meetings, the principle is followed.  Afterwards, perhaps at the bar, members are welcome to tell each other what they ‘really think’ someone should do, what their ‘hunch’ is, or what they would do in the same situation.  But during Forum, experience beats guesswork every time. 

I’ve been thinking about the subject of mentoring this week.  One question being asked in the UK at the moment is how we can get more entrepreneurs mentoring each other. 

First of all, I’m not one of those people who think that you have to rise to some kind of super-hero, millionaire status before you can begin passing on the lessons you have learned.  In the words of HorsesMouth, the online mentoring site, we all have something to teach and we all have something to learn.  Not only might we need different mentors at different stages of our adventure, but we might need different people for different days of the week, depending on the challenge being faced. 

I think that some of the major business organisations have a major opportunity here.  I’m thinking about the IOD, the CBI and the Chambers of Commerce especially. 

Here are a couple of ideas;

Why not, either individually or together, work with either a HorsesMouth or a White Label Dating company to create a Mentor Matching platform?  With the rule that you MUST speak from experience, members could search the database, like they would a dating site, and ask questions of the other members, who would list their particular skills and expertise.

Why not speak to the team at Yahoo! Answers about how their platform could be customised to create a National Mentor Platform, supported by some of the above organisations?

Perhaps the IOD, for example, is only interested in mentoring between its members.  What if, on the other hand, they were willing to share the wisdom of their members with the next generation of young entrepreneurs?  This could give them an amazing opportunity to invite up-and-coming business owners to enter their own ‘Mentor Exchange Programme’.  I’m sure that many of the younger ones would have things that they could teach the older ones too. 

Aside from asking specific questions online, we have to start organising more events, all over the UK, where entrepreneurs can meet a potential mentor.  Of course I’m biased, however I suggest a Speednetworking element to these, as it will help guests to meet many more people, and chemistry is important.

Let’s imagine a series of events, hosted by the IOD, CBI or Chambers of Commerce.  They would be in charge of bringing their members.  Through a partnership with a publisher, other entrepreneurs seeking mentors could be attracted.  How about Growing Business, Real Business, StartUpsTelegraph Business Club, Smarta, BusinessZone or Fresh Business Thinking?  It would be a good way for the members organisations to attract new talent and by attending the events, the publishers could find interesting stories and even contributors. 

If any of the parties above claimed not to see any good reason to get involved, then perhaps there might be a limited role for Government in stepping in to catalyze the process.  Not necessarily with money, but perhaps by getting creative in thinking about spaces or access to inspirational speakers, who could be personally invited by a minister, for example.

Now, all we need is someone prepared to make a fool of themselves by compering a few of these events, blowing a whistle and holding the stopwatch…. 

Let know if you would be interested in plotting this further!

Mentor:  Someone whose hindsight can become your foresight

5 Replies to “Meeting Your Mentor”

  1. Hi Oli,

    I felt so excited when reading this blog post. Actually, this is what we are planning to do for MinuteBox.

    Here are some info for your reference:
    Demo video:
    How it works:

    We really hope to create a great expert/metor pool for entrepreneurs to get advice in an instant and cost efficient way. We have all the technology with us, from matching the problem entrepreneurs have with relevant expertise, arranging the appointment to facilitating the advisory session via our multi-media chat application on line.

    I am really keen to discuss collaboration further with you.

    Please let me know if you are interested.



  2. Hi Oli,

    Nice idea and one we have been toying round with for a while. we had good chats with a few of the organisations you mention.

    In my view mentors are a key part of the landscape of enterprise support and certainly, an online facilitation would help.

    I think there are two things that need addressing though to shift our mindset in relation to mentoring.

    Firstly, it’s my view that there is still a lack of appreciation of the benefits that mentoring can bring. so I would argue that the awareness part still needs addressing. This is particularly true of people/groups who lack social capital. I think your council on social action did some good work in this space.

    Secondly, I think there is a tendency to confuse the role of mentoring with things like coaching etc. I dont think you have done this above, but i think some people regard mentoring as the panacea to entrepreneurial support. It definitely has a role to play, but I think a bit more work is needed to flesh out how, when and where mentors can support start-ups and the growth of companies.

    Few other thoughts;

    – I am a massive fan of the idea of getting something going and agree that there are probably ways to get things going without resorting to government intervention. One would have to be clear of the market failure first before setting up a governmental scheme. Schemes have been tried before. There is probably a role for the emerging LEPs to get involved in this.

    – there are also companies like Rockstar who are showing that providing mentoring can actually be a business.

    – perhaps there is a role for someone to help share good practice on both sides of the fence in terms of being a good mentor and a good mentee and avoiding any potential pitfalls.

    thanks for yet another interesting provocation, Oli


  3. Oli

    As you know this is a very difficult nut to crack – but a nut well worth the trouble cracking. I think it is so much more important doing our best to help businesses grow and survive the tough times than encouraging people to start businesses.

    If you’ve jumped into the deep-end then there should be lots of people that can help you swim – if you arent ready to jump into the deep-end then dont!

    Anything you think we can do to help?

  4. Fabulous idea Oli and speaking on behalf of, we’d love to get involved should such an initiative be created.

    I’ve been to (or followed on Twitter) a lot of events recently (including the MADE Festival, the NFEA annual conference and the Virgin Media Pioneers Disruptive Influence report launch) and at all, a network of good quality mentors was a major topic of discussion, particularly when it comes to young entrepreneurs. At MADE, entrepreneur Lara Morgan went so far as to say that every successful businessman or woman has a duty to mentor at least one aspiring entrepreneur. Imagine if they all actually did that!

    We’re all in agreement that it’s enterprise and entrepreneurs who will get us out of the economic mess we’re in so it’s vital that those with the experience mentor those who want the experience. and other organisations like us with a reach in the small business community are perfectly placed to help make that happen so I say to all those with an interest in assisting the next generation of entrepreneurs, let’s talk!

    Dan Martin

  5. Oli

    Good post. As Dan says, there is a good deal of talk at the moment (from Government, enterprise agencies, business groups and private sector companies) on mentoring and the value of this.

    My thought on mentoring is that a company needs different mentors on hand at different stages of company development, and even for different tasks so my advice to small business owners is ‘surround yourself with a strong support network made up of various skills, talents and types’

    The more mentoring is discussed and the more mentoring schemes launched (by groups and people such as Doug Richard and SFEDI), the better.

    One final thought for small business owners: look for 2 types of mentors:

    1. Those who are good listeners when you just need to verbalise the issues/opportunities you have in business
    2. Those with technical skills whom you need to approach with a specific question.

    More mentoring, please!

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