(Editor’s note: Duke Chung is co-founder of Parature. Ching-Ho Fung, his mentor, is chairman of the company. They submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
Finding the right mentor to help you steer your business towards success is a challenging, but, often necessary task for entrepreneurs. The insight, experience (and possibly seed money) that the right mentor can provide is often invaluable.
Abot 10 years ago, I was lucky enough to join forces with DC-based entrepreneur Ching-Ho Fung, after meeting him at a venture conference. I was a recent graduate of Cornell, and was, along with some friends, running a fledgling software company from my off-campus apartment. With Ching-Ho’s mentoring aid, we’ve grown that little software company into a leader with over 900 customers.
I credit a lot of Parature’s success to Ching-Ho and the mentoring aid provided over the years, but how did we forge such a mutually beneficial relationship? Here are a few of the ways.
Look for someone who is looking too – The best mentors are often already looking for someone to take under their wing. Look to those with not only a successful start-up track record, but seasoned pros that enjoy the early stages of building a business from scratch in their specific area of expertise.
For example, before becoming involved in Parature, Ching-Ho had a long career with smaller successful companies like load testing software company Performix and education powerhouse Blackboard. He knew the enterprise and on-demand software markets and wanted to get back in the start-up game because he enjoyed the process. When he met me, he saw not only a budding entrepreneur who needed help and expertise, but an up and coming software market.
Ask the right questions and a lot of them – You’ll know if a relationship is going to work if, as an entrepreneur, you are asking questions to your prospective mentor and they are sharing candid answers. When we were in the early stages of our relationship, I would pepper Ching-Ho with queries about business, strategy, growth plans, funding structures and more. That not only indicated I was passionate about the customer service software market, it showed him my instincts were on-track. That went a long way in helping to forge a closer bond, and instill bi-directional respect and confidence.
Make sure the prospective mentor really has the time – Successful business people are busy – and finding a mentor who really has the time to dedicate to helping you grow your business can be difficult. Ensure that before you dive in, your prospective mentor is willing to set up continued meetings on a timeframe that meets your expectations.
Angels and other early-stage venture capitalists with great experience that do not have full-time jobs are often the best suited for dedicating the time required to help a start-up get on the ground and running. People with full-time jobs may have experience to share, but may not have the time required to do so sufficiently.
Give it time – The mentoring relationship is fragile, and should not be entered into lightly, especially when you are accepting funding and appointing someone to your advisory board or board of directors. Take your time before you jump in full-throttle to make sure the relationship fits your personal as well as your professional needs and goals.
You do not want to spend time entangling someone in your business and your life, and, then, subsequently need to distance yourself. Not only can this be a lifestyle headache, but it can lead to legal wrangling that will suck time, resources and funds better spent on growing your business.
Formalize the relationship – To make the relationship a successful and long-lasting one, it’s best to formalize it as much as possible. Make sure your potential mentor knows what you expect. Asking your mentor to join your board of directors or your advisory board means they need to invest the necessary time to make your business a success.
It also requires a monthly time commitment. I have an office at Parature so I’m on-site often, and invested in the culture and the entire team.
Ensure financial upside – Most entrepreneurs are looking for capital. A mentor that invests seed money or participates in subsequent rounds makes him or her more committed and married to your success. Although it is crucial to find the right events, meet the right people and continually engage with VCs and successful business people in your area and industry, finding a person who has the experience, time and financial commitment to help you succeed will forge a close relationship that leads to positive financial gains for everyone involved.
If you’re not in the process of looking for funding or worried about divesting your ownership, take a look at stock or option grants in exchange for participation and time commitments.