Lessons I’ve learned being a Virgin mentor

When I’m questioned about the key traits of successful business partners, my advice is to look for a ‘mentorship-driven’ attitude when liaising with internal and external collaborators.

Mentorship-driven attitude is a mind-set that will help you to better invest your time and money – and adopt the correct practices to help you achieve your set goals and prevent mistakes.

We definitely adopted this mindset at Altar.io & 10kstartup and I can say, it’s paying back the effort.

Here is my guide on how to identify great business partners.

What you should expect from a Mentor:

  1. help to focus on priorities: a talented mentor will be able to direct you on what matters the most
  2. honest and transparent feedback on past experiences – both successes and failures
  3. help to prevent obvious – and not so obvious – mistakes
  4. money-free and unconflicted suggestions, with no hidden agendas. ‘ROIs’ must be aligned and both sides need to be committed to make the product / service a success, with more focus placed on long term goals rather than the short term
  5. be taught new skills and helped to improve existing ones whilst increasing your capabilities and knowledge
  6. be provided with meaningful connections – a definite plus. In the ideal world, they’ll be able to introduce you to an established network that could help you grow your business


What you should expect from third parties (including agencies):

As well as the technical and managerial elements – described in the article CTO, Developers, Agency? What’s the Best Way to Build Your Start-up? -there is plenty more to consider when looking for an external collaborator.

Here’s my guide to the key points:

  1. A fast understanding of your main challenges: an experienced collaborator immediately recognises the areas where you need the most help. It’s important to remember that as you’ll be paying for this, the faster your challenges are sorted out, the more profitable your investment will be
  2. An unbiased and transparent relation: be aware that economic interests might undermine the relationship and that your collaborator might only have a short-term vision that conflicts with your longer term plan
  3. A mentorship-driven mind-set from your collaborator: building trust is the first step in your working relationship. An honest and open relationship is essential – while they should bring to the table their knowledge and expertise, but also must be open about their weaknesses. Avoid someone who passes you on to a ‘key account manager’ and not with the team that will be directly working on your project. Great collaborators open doors, introduce you to the team you’ll be working with and provide their vision, process and structure. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself – you’re not there to be dictated to. Find someone who wants success as much as you do.
  4. An ability to listen, to say ‘no’ and question your problems: jumping to quick conclusions rarely works. As well as being able to express your ideas and plans, you must be able to accept constructive criticism. A collaborator who always says ‘yes’ is dangerous – their interest might be to close an agreement as soon as possible for a short-term gain.
  5. The ability to invest time on your project without pushing to close a sales agreement asap. A great collaborator understands good clients come on board because of the knowledge he / she can offer. They must be able to explain the steps that are needed to move your business forward, even if the advice goes against your initial thoughts – but also they might go against the collaborator’s best interest. For example a consultant may advise you to do additional research before moving into a commercial agreement – while doing so will obviously delay the signing of a contract, it’s a positive sign they’re looking and thinking of a long term relationship.


And finally …
In the early stages of your start-up, your investment in time and money should be as precise and accurate as possible. Concentrate on what you’re good at and look for mentors and / or collaborators who will be able to bring real value and help in your weaker areas. You’ll quickly understand they will become a part of your extended work team, with your best interests at heart and will be there to act as your wise and trusted advisor, like Mentor was with Telemachus.