You Are Never Too Old (or Too Successful) For A Mentor













A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.

Despite what you might think, you are never too old to benefit from the helpful guidance of a mentor. At 51 years old, I am proof that even someone with decades of entrepreneurial success (and failure) can become more effective personally and professionally with the assistance of someone who has already walked their path.

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Mentee Whoring

Jason Nazar, Co-Founder and CEO of Docstoc, and a self-professed “Mentee Whore,” discusses his secrets to finding and keeping a mentor in this compelling article.

He also describes how he recruited approximately 100 of LA’s top startup executives to share their advice with him in the following five-minute video.

Jason’s mentors gave him over $500k to start Docstoc, before he had even created his product. According to Jason, “One of the most important things you can start doing today, is to take two hours out of every week… and set up meetings with people that you want to be like. Ask them their story, ask them how they got there, ask them for advice and then ask them to be your mentor. Then follow up with them, time and time again.”

It Doesn’t Have To Be A Bromance, But A Shared Affinity Is Vital

When I graduated for the Wharton Vocational School of Consultants and Investment Bankers, I was one of the few students who did not pursue either of these traditional MBA career paths. Instead, I worked at a small software startup where I reported directly to the Founder and CEO.

This was a fulfilling experience, as I was in my twenties and fairly clueless. The Founder was kind enough to mentor me for several years, allowing me to experience all the roles involved in running a software company, including: sales, marketing, support and product development.

As with most mentor relationships, the amount I learned day-to-day eventually diminished until it was obvious (to both of us) that I needed to move on in order to continue growing as a startup executive.

Fast forward twenty years, a couple IPOs and two multi-hundred million dollar trade sales later, and I remained mentorless. That is not to say I didn’t receive lots and lots of valuable assistance and episodic “mentoring” along the way. I certainly did.

Anyone reading this who lent me a hand during the past couple decades should not take offence – I am grateful to the numerous people who helped me. However, during this time, other than my lovely wife, I did not have a relationship with anyone who consistently provided me with heartfelt advice.

Don’t Always Look Up

I recently established a relationship with a mentor – Dr. Robert (he wishes to remain anonymous). He is a retired public service executive who successfully managed and grew his organization during a long and celebrated career. When describing his average work day, he confided that, “I measured my days in levels of joy.” Who wouldn’t want to hang out with someone who has such a great attitude?

Although he is a charismatic leader with rich and insightful experiences, Dr. Robert’s knowledge of the high-tech, startup world is limited. Yet, even though we come from very different industries, he has been a tremendous help to me, both personally and professionally.

In fact, in many cases his insights are especially relevant because he is not mired in the conventional wisdom of the tech community. Thus, do not solely seek mentors from within your industry. Rather, keep your eyes and ears open for instructive wisdom, irrespective of its source.

It’s Getting Better All The Time

You can obtain generic career advice from almost anyone. However, it is rare to establish a personal connection with someone who knows you intimately enough to offer counsel that goes beyond “one size fits all” platitudes.

As Jason suggests, you should actively seek mentors, but do not expect to manifest such relationships by brute force. A healthy mentor / protégée rapport arises from mutually advantageous interactions. Thus, your challenge is to partner with someone who derives as much enjoyment from the relationship as you do.

In my role as a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, I have been honored to work with a number of highly talented entrepreneurs. In a few instances, I have even become their mentor. I have always intellectually appreciated the importance of this role. However, due to the many years of not having a mentor, I lost my appreciation for the depth of positive energy and motivation a mentee can accrue from such a relationship. Having a mentor has made me a better mentor.

Despite my relatively advanced age, my rewarding relationship with Dr. Robert underscores that it is never too late to benefit from a gentle and thoughtful guiding hand. Think you are too old, too successful, too experienced for a mentor? Think again.

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never Tweet about people too cool for a mentor or that killer burrito I just ate.

Image credit: Philos8

John Greathouse

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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Follow John’s Startup Oriented Twitter Stream. He promises to never Tweet about sunsets, kittens or awesome burritos.

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