Filtering Mentors and Advice — Looking Through Their Lens

Aspiring entrepreneurs and startups face an onslaught of mentors and advice now more than ever, as meetups and information sessions become more common and their advice is overwhelming. For new businesses, knowledge from those who’ve been there is invaluable. But you’ve got to know who you can trust.

It’s tempting to take in all the advice at face value, but be aware of who the advice is coming from. Figure out the intentions of these advisors — are they purely altruistic or do they have a hidden agenda? See if their plans align with your plans. This will give you criteria to start with and will save you the confusion of listening to conflicting advice.

Don’t be skeptical of every person that wants to give you a hand — refusing advice would leave you nowhere. Take advice with a grain of salt. Trust your instincts when acting on someone else’s suggestions.

See through their lens

It’s critical to get to know the people that approach you; ask them questions and try to assess the situation from their lens. Clarify their objectives: see what they want to do for your business and what they expect in return. Ask them about their plan and how they see the outcome of working together. Keep your eye on certain aspects of a person’s story along with your own understanding and hunches.

Been there done that

Good advice goes beyond someone’s fancy degree or title. The best advice will come from someone who has walked down the road of starting their own business and has gone through the challenges, pain, struggle, and sacrifice of starting their own company. Valuable experience will come from someone who has done what you’re trying to do now, and has come away stronger and more knowledgeable.

Do they have a hidden agenda?

Unfortunately, not everyone will give advice with no strings attached. Info sessions and meetups geared toward entrepreneurs and startups are often motivated by hidden agendas. They focus on providing just enough knowledge and information to give a context that can be spun into an intimidating or urgent scenario. When a hopeful entrepreneur who attends this info session approaches them with concerns, some advisors hope that the entrepreneur will be more easily persuaded to hire them, even if it isn’t the right time for their business to focus on that. Although advice is readily available, this doesn’t always mean that it’s the right time to follow it.

There are those who offer advice to succeed, and then there are those who offer advice to pay to succeed. The best way to sort these people out is to find out exactly where their interests lie.

How to find the best advice

The best mentorship comes from someone who shares your interests. Get to know the people who approach you by stepping into their shoes and looking at the situation from their perspective. Ask yourself if they have anything to gain, and whether their gain is only attainable through your success, and then ask them these questions, too.

Valuable mentors should share your interest in fostering the success of your startup. Can they only profit through an equity in your business, or do they want to be a part or simply because they want to give back without the expectation of any return? In either case, both mentors are invested looking for a successful startup, and neither of them would accomplish anything in failure. But you need to know which one you’re accepting advice from, and how their advice dovetails with the goals of your startup.

Listen to the people that want to work with you to reach the goals you set for yourself. Listen to those that offer relevant advice; filter out what doesn’t seem to fit. Find those mentors that are willing to take on the mutual weight of your journey with your startup and the accompanying struggles before they try to jump in to share in your rewards.


Ray Chan is the co-founder and managing partner of K5 Ventures.
K5 provides resources and capital to early-stage technology startups. For more information, visit
http://www.k5ventures.com.