How Integrating a Mentorship Program into Your Startup Can Drive Success

Published July 10, 2020

For startups and entrepreneurs, the journey to growth can be a rocky one. When you work with people who have been there, done that, you can learn from their struggles and successes. That’s what makes mentorship so important — especially in startup culture.

How Integrating a Mentorship Program into Your Startup Can Drive Success

Illustration from Icons8

In this article, we’ll explain:

  • What startup mentors do (and why they’re valuable)
  • Who can benefit from mentorship?
  • The difference between internal and external mentors
  • 4 surprising benefits of mentorship for your startup

Let’s dive in!

What are mentors?

Mentors are experienced individuals who help others improve and grow in their careers, by sharing their first-hand knowledge of an industry or career path.

Mentors have years of experience in their career or industry and are willing to share that experience with others.

Startup mentors might be:

  • Founders
  • Venture Capitalists
  • People who have worked to get funding for a startup
  • People with experience taking a company public

What do mentors do?

A mentor develops a long-term professional relationship with the person they’re mentoring (the mentee). This relationship should be one of mutual respect, where both people feel comfortable asking questions, sharing knowledge, and having honest conversations.

Mentors help their mentees identify ways to grow in their careers, such as networking opportunities and skill-building. Startup mentors might also focus on company culture and industry expertise — especially if you’re in a fast-growing industry like SaaS. Mentors who have experience succeeding in a crowded niche know what it takes to achieve your goals — whether you want to expand internationally, build a brand new product, or take your company public.

Overall, a startup mentor provides insights from their own experience. This gives their mentee the experience, skills, confidence, and perspective they need to succeed not only in their current role but throughout their career.

Okay, so how does that differ to a coach?

Mentors differ from career coaches in the scope of their focus. Career coaching often focuses on getting a client from point A to point B (like to a new job or promotion), rather than building a relationship.

Coaches are also less likely to have direct experience in your line of work; their full-time job is coaching, not being a professional in your field. For example, a coach will help you improve your networking skills, while a mentor will introduce you to the powerful people they know.

Who can benefit from mentorship?

The short answer? Almost anyone can benefit from mentorship!

Many people think of mentees as people brand new to their career or industry, but mentorship can be helpful to anyone looking for expertise and guidance in their professional development.

Founders and early employees at startups are often so busy getting things done that they don’t have time for introspection. Mentorship adds someone to your personal team — someone who can help you have those big picture conversations and ask yourself the hard questions.

If you plan to start a mentorship program for your company, make sure that you set your employees up for success. Know that not everyone wants to be mentored — but make it easy for potential mentees to get involved, no matter their job titles. Everyone can benefit from startup mentorship, even founders and executives.

Internal vs external mentors — which is right for your startup?

When you introduce a mentorship program at your startup, you have two options for sourcing mentors: internal mentors and external mentors.

Internal mentors are members of your team, with lots of experience in a certain role, responsibility or skill set. With these guys, you can match them up with more junior employees who want to follow a similar trajectory.

Internal mentorship can be a great way to build better relationships across your organization. And because internal mentors have experience at the same company as their mentees, they have more relevant experience and can give more tailored advice.

That said, internal mentorship can sometimes cause a conflict of interest. If a mentee feels uncertain about their career path or wants to grow beyond their current company, they may not feel comfortable asking their internal mentor for advice.

If you do make use of internal mentorship in your startup, be sure to offer mentor training. Mentor training helps mentors feel confident and ready to empower their mentees and can help take office politics out of the equation.

External mentors are mentors outside of your organization. You can find external mentors through platforms like MentorCruise that are designed to match mentors with mentees. External mentorship platforms help make mentorship accessible to everyone.

One huge benefit of external mentorship is that everyone at your organization (not just junior employees) can find a mentor. When you only match employees with internal mentors, you risk leaving half of your team mentorless. A platform like MentorCruise can help you find vetted, experienced mentors for everyone on your team — from new grads to founders.

You also don’t need to worry about convincing your employees to mentor each other. When you work with external mentors, you’re more likely to find mentors who enjoy mentoring and are passionate about sharing their expertise.

4 surprising benefits of mentorship for your startup

Still on the fence about launching a mentorship program for your startup?

Give us four more chances to get you onboard:

1. Mentorship boosts employee confidence

When you invest in your employees’ success and growth, you show them that you value their skills and their work. And what better way to invest in them than to help them find the right mentor?

Mentorship can also make your employees feel more confident in themselves — and confident people do better work.

Psychologist Jim Taylor explains:

“Confidence impacts every other psychological contributor to performance in business. If you’re confident, you’re going to be motivated, relaxed, focused, and have mostly positive emotions. In contrast, if you lack confidence, you will likely feel unmotivated, stressed, distracted, and experiencing mostly negative emotions.”

2. Mentorship provides access to an expert community

Mentorship helps you form long-term partnerships with experts in your industry. The right connections can help a startup grow, get funding, and even go public.

And even if you opt for an internal mentorship program, these mentors could stay with the company for so much longer as they’re emotionally invested in its growth.

Finding mentors in your niche helps you build a community that’s rooting for and invested in your success (and can even connect you with potential clients).

3. Mentors help future-proof your business

According to research by UPS, mentorship can actually reduce the risk of failure for startups: 70% of small startups who received mentoring survived their first five years of trading. That’s double the rate of small businesses that don’t receive mentoring!

So why does mentoring make your business more likely to succeed?

Startup mentors have already faced many of the struggles that come with starting and growing a business. If you encounter an obstacle as your business grows, you have someone in your corner with experience overcoming something similar — and they can teach you how to do the same.

4. Mentor programs impress investors

Raising funds can be one of the hardest parts of growing your startup. But when you create a mentorship culture at your startup, you show investors that your business is focused on long-term growth and success.

Mentorship also shows humility and a desire to improve — you’re showing that you don’t have it all figured out yet, and that there’s still room to do more. And that is music to a Business Angel’s ears. Investors want to work with businesses with the ability to listen, learn, and grow.

Find startup mentors with MentorCruise

At MentorCruise, we’ve taken the hardest part of mentorship — finding mentors — and made it easy. MentorCruise connects mentees and businesses with mentors across industries and experiences. Start your startup mentorship program here.