How to ask a mentor for help

I mentor a lot of startup founders through various accelerators and incubators.

Some founders come to me with very specific questions, but others who ask for my time are quite vague about what they want to discuss.

“Hey, can we hop on a call or grab lunch this week? I wanted to get your thoughts on how I should approach raising money.”

This is a bad way to ask for help.

Why?

Many reasons. With that type of request, you’re:

  • Asking for time without asking a question (you’re just providing a topic)
  • Not providing any context on your specific situation
  • Not explaining what research you’ve already done
  • Not helping the mentor prepare so that they can give you a better answer
  • Not explaining why you think they’re the right person to help you
  • Not allowing the mentor to disqualify themselves as the right person to answer
  • Not respecting the mentor’s time (a clear question might be answered more quickly via a quick text or email)
  • Not showing that you’re efficient with your own time (a clear question might be answered more quickly via a quick text or email)
  • Giving the impression that you don’t take initiative to solve your own problems

So, how should you ask a mentor for help?

1) Articulate a clear, succinct, specific question

“How can I get meetings with angel investors?”

2) Explain what research you’ve done on the topic

“I read these 3 blog posts by famous investors, and these other 2 by founders who raised money last year. I also spoke with the other the other founders in my class and the lead mentor at my accelerator and learned that …”

3) List out all of the options you think have

“Based on my research so far, I think I can use the following strategies to get investor meetings: cold-email, intros from founders, intros from service providers, join pitch competitions, or …”

4) Explain what option you think you should go with and why

“I think I should focus my time on getting intros from founders because … I think I should also do pitch competitions because …”

5) Explain how you think the mentor can help you

“Since you’ve raised angel money for your last 2 startups, and you mentioned that you had leveraged your founder relationships to get introductions, I wanted to see if you could provide me with details on how I might be able to do the same”

By preparing for framing the question that way, you will probably answer a lot of your own questions and end up asking your mentor much more specific and tactical questions.

The framing of the question will provide your mentor with context and help her (or him) prepare their answer and help you both make better use of your time.

Your mentor will also likely be willing to respond faster and help you more often in the future.