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Honesty is Key When Mentoring a Startup

Des Moines Startups Honesty in Mentoring

May 22, 2017

You can be a great mentor, but you must be honest.

The Importance of Mentors

In the startup world, nothing can do more for a startup than a great mentor. In many cases, mentors are more valuable than funding. Square One DSM, an initiative of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, was set up specifically to connect entrepreneurs with potential mentors. Mentors make connections, provide advice and challenge mentee assumptions. By attending events like Accelerate DSM, held annually in May, small-business owners spend an entire day with other entrepreneurs and keynote speakers making worthwhile business connections. These connections can lead to mentoring relationships that help attendees accelerate their business growth.

Startups and Mentoring

It is important to remember that the role of a mentor is not to be part of the company or to be a cheerleader. A mentor’s role is to provide the mentee with a sounding board and a safe place to ask questions. To be a great mentor, you must tell the truth in a respectful, direct manner. The line between being honest and being hurtful or damaging is narrow and hazardous. If you cross that line as a mentor you run the risk of damaging or killing the mentor-mentee relationship. Being honest means disagreeing, questioning and challenging.

Communication is Key

Let’s explore how this would play out in a conversation:

Mentee: “I will sell 20 mid-sized business licenses next quarter.” Mentor: “How many of the 20 mid-sized businesses have been identified by name and agreed to a demonstration this quarter?”

As the mentor, my questions to the mentee should inspire ideas and critical thinking about their business goals. From discussing marketing funnels, the sell-cycle in days for the average mid-sized customer, to questioning potential outcomes, the mentor’s job is to lead the entrepreneur to reflect on how to get to their desired result. The results of these leading questions will depend on the entrepreneur, their particular skills, as well as their past experiences, but it is the mentor’s job to create an environment of ideas that enable the entrepreneur to make the right decisions for their business.

Mentoring and Communication

When mentoring startups, be honest, stay respectful and ask questions. From there, it is up to the mentee to make the next step.

Hear the stories of other small business and startup business owners in the community in The Partnership’s Small Business Resources Hub or sign up for the Small Business Resources newsletter to stay connected for information about upcoming events, other resources and the latest announcements in the small business community in Greater Des Moines (DSM).

Mike Colwell

As executive director of entrepreneurial initiatives of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Mike Colwell leads works with startups to build their business model, financial model, marketing strategies and capitalization plan. He is also co-manager of Plains Angels, a group of Iowa-based Midwest angel investors. Mike spends his days coaching, mentoring, consulting and asking tough questions to help entrepreneurs reach their full potential. Mike assists with business strategy, business planning, business plan execution, business model development and capital acquisition strategies.