How to Find a Good Mentor: Seeking Parents for Your Startup

by Abdullah Alshalabi, November 12, 2012

Starting a new business is like having a baby. I’m no expert in raising kids, yet I know that when your first baby is born you’ll always seek your parent’s advice. The same thing applies when you have your first startup, you should find your parents (mentors) for your newly born baby (startup). Yes, your mentors will be your new parents.

You’ll need mentors that have gone through the ups and downs of an entrepreneur’s life. The mentors should be experienced entrepreneurs that previously built two to three startups and can advise you against making the same mistakes they did. Ideally, they will guide you when you are lost, support you when everyone is laughing at you, and will be honest with you when everyone else is just being nice. Good mentors are usually nice people too, and tend to follow the “Give before you get” mantra.

Unfortunately, good mentors are rare! I’m super lucky to have two great mentors helping us with our startup, fishfishme.com: Omar Koudsi, the co-founder of Jeeran.com, and Migeul Angel Ferrero, the co-founder of quehotels.com. They have opened our eyes to great opportunities and have saved us from doing crazy things.

Now, the question is “how do you get access to great mentors?”

Good question: first you need to do your homework. You need to find out who you want to be your mentor, and why. Don’t be limited by geography or nationality. Next, follow them on twitter and get to know a bit more about them. Let them know who you are by retweeting or replying to some of their tweets. 

Next, try to find out if they are participating in regional events and try joining these events. Then, you have two options: 1) talk to them directly, in person or over email. 2) Find someone who can introduce you to them (the better option).  Don’t mention anything about mentorship yet.

The next step to ask them one or two specific questions about some challenges you are facing at your startup, asking for their advice (over coffee or a Skype call). Do this a couple of times, and then introduce the idea of being a Mentor and a Mentee :)

You can’t imagine the value of having a mentor until you have a good one yourself. It’s still uncommon in our region and people still struggle to understand what does the term “Mentor” means. We need to change this, and Wamda is already working on it; last weekend I attended a great event organized by Wamda called Mix N’ Mentor event (which is also coming to Dubai this Thursday). They invite experienced entrepreneurs and VC investors from all over the world to give entrepreneurs some feedback in their startups and to help them find their new parents (mentors).

I never dreamt I would meet Dave McClure of 500Startups in the Middle East, yet that was what exactly happened. I’m glad I got in touch with Omar and the Wamda team and came to this awesome event.

[From the left in the photo above: Omar Koudsi of Jeeran, Mohammed Alzubi of Global Investment House and Sand Hill Angels, and Dave McClure of 500Startups and Geeks on a Plane. ]

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Abdullah is the co-founder of fishfishme.com, and he also started a blog and a monthly event called StartupQ8 to help building a Startup Ecosystem in Kuwait. You can follow him on twitter @a_alshalabi.

 
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