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How To Find A Strong Mentor To Guide You To Business Success

Why every entrepreneur needs multiple mentors.

Vahid Monadjem

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While the challenges of being an entrepreneur have been well-documented, reports often fail to describe the feelings of self-doubt, loneliness and isolation that tend to plague aspiring entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey.

No amount of angel funding, slick technology or strategic business consulting can really assuage the feelings of doubt that accompany starting a brave new enterprise.

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Yet this is where strong mentorship can play a critical role – and in fact can prove to be far more valuable than landing an investment deal or angel fund backing.

Mentors can keep tired and frustrated entrepreneurs on track, and provide guidance and inspiration when they hit those inevitable speed wobbles.

So how does one find these mentors, and ensure that they are the right fit?

From my experience, every entrepreneur needs to have several mentors – each of whom will play a different role, at different stages, and serve a slightly different purpose.

Some of these mentors will be deliberate choices on your part, while other relationships will evolve and become ‘mentor/mentee’ connections over time.

Different roles mentors play

For example, when making the move from consulting group McKinsey to a new career, I deliberately stayed in touch with certain clients and colleagues from the company, and actively sought out their advice and opinions.

As a result, some of these individuals have become valuable mentors – providing an outside perspective and helping me to interrogate my own business strategy and tactics with regards to new endeavours.

In contrast, my brother, who is also co-founder of the business, has become a valuable mentor to me – even though this was never a deliberate strategy on my part. The relationship simply evolved, and he now provides an invaluable source of outside guidance and perspective.

The nature of the connection with each mentor will also be different. For example, some mentors will provide only business or industry advice and insight, while others may play more of a life coach or ‘counseling’ role.

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In my view, entrepreneurs need to have mentors who can assume these various roles – because each is necessary for the rounded growth and success of an aspiring entrepreneur.

Do you and your mentor have shared values?

It’s important to note that for any ‘mentor/mentee’ relationship to work, there undoubtedly has to be certain shared values, as well as mutual respect.

Having said that, it is beneficial for the mentee if there are differing perspectives and professional/life experience. It helps, for example, if a mentor comes from a completely different industry or background, and can help the mentee to identify the blind spots that often come with being in a certain industry or profession for many years – or being too caught up with a new idea or concept.

Trusted independent perspective

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A fresh and honest interrogation from an outsider can prove to be invaluable when looking to solve deeply ingrained problems that are unique to one’s industry or sector.

Good mentors also show humility, and are willing to share the mistakes they have made and how certain failures affected them.

I believe mentors should also be pseudo-independent – and at least one step removed from your enterprise – so that they are always alleviating your stress, rather than compounding it.

These relationships, like any other, need to be nurtured and worked on. I meet with my mentors once a month to discuss any business challenges I might have, and to bounce off any new ideas or developments.

I usually approach these meetings with a few key points in mind so that the discussion will have some direction and serve a definite purpose.

Giving back should be the norm

As an entrepreneur, it’s always important to realise that you have a great deal of valuable experience and expertise to share – so ensure that you are open to giving back and being a mentor to someone else.

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Without doubt, the more wisdom and guidance you receive from your own mentors, the more you will want to give back and support others who are also embarking on this difficult journey.

Vahid Monadjem is the founder and CEO of Nomanini, a South African-based enterprise payments platform provider that enables transactions in the cash-based informal retail sector.

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How Netflix Is Now Disrupting The Film Industry By Embracing Short-Term Chaos

One wrong move and Netflix could have been nothing more than a footnote in the history of entertainment. But by staying ahead of the curve and embracing disruption, the company is threatening some very entrenched competitors.

GG van Rooyen

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Attendees of the annual Cannes Film Festival are typically not afraid to be vocal in their dislike of a new film — booing and hissing are both surprisingly common — but the recent film Okja possibly set some sort of record. The crowd was booing and jeering before the film had even properly begun. In fact, all it took was the name of the studio behind the film: Netflix.

Why the animosity? Netflix is disrupting the film industry, and the traditionalists aren’t happy. After debuting at Cannes, Okja wasn’t released in cinemas. No, instead it was released right to Netflix, free to stream as long as you have an account.

Of course, few would have guessed a few years ago that Netflix would ever get into the business of making its own television shows and movies. According to industry lore, entrepreneur Reed Hastings launched Netflix because he was annoyed with the exorbitant late fees of video/DVD store Blockbuster.

Instead of having to return a movie once you’ve watched it, he conceived of a business that would ship DVDs right to your door through the mail.

Related: Meet The 40 Richest Self-Made Entrepreneurs On Earth

It was a clever idea, but not one that seemed terribly disruptive. The whole process could be a bit of a hassle, and it required you to schedule your entertainment well ahead of time. Blockbuster even had a chance to buy Netflix, but decided that it wasn’t worth it.

The rise of streaming

Even as Netflix was hitting its stride in the early-2000s, the tide was already turning. It was becoming increasingly clear that the Internet was going to be an incredibly disruptive force, but many companies failed to notice. Or, if they did notice, they failed to take adequate action.

By 2007, the potential of streaming TV shows, films, music and books online was clear, but the DVD business was still doing well. However, Netflix decided to prepare for the future (and disrupt its own operations) by launching a streaming service. It did this by going to the traditional movie studios and television networks, and asking to licence their old content.

In the view of these studios and networks, old pieces of entertainment had run their course, so they were pleased with the new revenue stream.

This brings us back to Okja. Netflix has been creating its own content for the last few years because it realised that studios and networks would eventually catch on. At some point, they would understand that they were giving Netflix the ammunition needed to disrupt the industry. Why have Netflix stream your content if you could create your own streaming service?

“The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us,” Hastings said of one of the most popular American cable channels back in 2013.

In a mere 20 years, Netflix has gone from a low-tech operation that sends DVDs through the mail to one that not only streams content online, but is also producing its own content — content from some of the most respected actors, producers and directors in the world. All of this is costing Netflix hundreds of millions of dollars, and it remains to be seen if this strategy will ultimately pay off, but betting against Netflix is risky.

Related: How To Make Money Investing, According To Ashton Kutcher

Netflix has shown itself to be uniquely capable in drastically shifting its business model. Here is how Hastings explains it: “Short-term optimisation about being efficient is the death of long-term success and innovation. Building Netflix, we created a company that tolerated some short-term chaos, and we manage right at the edge of chaos. The value of that is keeping and stimulating the amazing thinkers, so when the market shifts, like DVD to streaming, or licence to original content, we have in Netflix all kinds of original thinkers, and that is the long-term optimisation that all of us in organisations want.”

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SME Leaders: How You Can Manage Growth

Fresh growth is all around us this Spring – find out how you can powerfully manage growth as you provide leadership to your SME.

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In the transition from start-up to scale-up, a critical factor for a growing business is the quality and strength of its leadership team.

Learning to trust and empower staff is a crucial step for SME leaders who wants to grow their business upwards.

As a business grows, one of the biggest challenges for the business founder and leader is the hand-over of an idea from the founder to the people who work there, The brand moves from being one person’s idea to being the professional focus of a whole group of people.

Without effective leadership, small businesses will be held back, more than three-quarters of SMEs provide no leadership development for their staff. What does this mean for you?

Related: We Went up Against A Highly Regulated, Entrenched Industry. Here Are 4 Tips For Getting Your Foot In The Door

If you lead your business with vision and clarity, you set yourself apart from your competition. Here’s how.

Lead the pack

A growing business creates more work than a leader can handle alone.

As the team grows, founders often react by micromanaging the details of their business. In trying to take on everyone else’s job, the founder often leaves the most critical position vacant: strategist and vision-setting.

Learn to trust and empower others in the organisation and you will find you have room to innovate, which is critical for business growth.

Related: What I Learned About Dating That Will Transform Any Business

Steady the ship

An effective leader will also engage others in the business to embrace and adapt to change as growth continues.

  1. Vision: First, plot the course for where the business should go in the short term, and the long term.
  2. Change: Understand what needs to be put in place to grow the business. You might need to source better business operating systems to streamline this growth, or change a few internal business processes, or rethink how you calculate your hourly rates.
  3. People: Growth equals change, and change equals pain, so if you want growth, budget for pain. Understand that you will need to guide and coach the staff into changing their mindset and adapting to these growth changes.

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We Went up Against A Highly Regulated, Entrenched Industry. Here Are 4 Tips For Getting Your Foot In The Door

Focus on creating value, not disruption.

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Multibillion-dollar legacy industries don’t make it easy for entrepreneurs to step in and create value. There are huge barriers to entry – licensing, pricing, regulations, and cultural/brand significance – that come with being around for a century or more.

However, those barriers shouldn’t stop you from innovating.

Take the utility sector for example, which is perhaps most frightening of all: A trillion-dollar taxpayer subsidized network of poles and wires set up through franchised municipal monopolies. Otherwise known as, our power and energy industry. It’s a mouthful of protection, and as a result, utilities make for a great investment (just ask Warren Buffet), since the likelihood of disruption is tough to even think about. To most reasonable entrepreneurs, the regulated utility sector, similar to the financial and healthcare industries, is tantamount to a “NO TRESPASSING” sign.

But, that is exactly what makes the effort so worthwhile. If you can successfully work with or alongside a monolith industry and produce value, instead of being focused on “disruption,” you’ll be able to achieve massive results.

When we first started trying to provide consumers cleaner and better energy options, getting to market proved difficult as we were trying to break into a utility-customer relationship (paying a power bill) that hasn’t really changed for the last half-century. But, with a clear mission in mind and the understanding that we would have to work in unison with utility providers, we were able to start making our mark.

Related: How to Create a Winning Mindset, to Crush the Competition

Here are a few tips for getting your foot in the door:

1Create value, not disruption

There are some industries where the Silicon Valley catchphrase “disruption” falls flat. Some industries just aren’t meant to be disrupted in the way that people in the tech community are used to. Nearly our entire economy depends on the power grid and we couldn’t come in and totally upheave that. When you’re going after a big industry, you first need to provide value to the customer or the provider. 

Show instead of tell that you have a strong customer base and that people need what you’re offering. And build relationships – working together with the big players in the space will get you much faster and better results for your company and your customers.

2Focus on the customer experience

When you’re a startup, you already have the advantage of being years ahead in your digital experience compared to traditional companies in your space. Own that and hone in on it to make it the best customer experience possible. We looked across sectors to bring modern design, UX and data elements to the home energy experience.

Traditional companies aren’t necessarily thinking that way, and you’ll win people over by offering self-service customer tools, easy payment options and notifications they actually understand. Good communication with your customers goes a long way.

3Start small, build toward the vision

A lot of start-ups begin with very lofty goals – disrupting whole industries and changing the entire way a process is done. We certainly had a broad vision to be the trusted home energy advisor for everything from solar to batteries. But, you’ll never be able to achieve anything if you try to tackle everything all at once in a highly regulated and old-fashioned industry. Instead, to get started, focus on one thing.

For us, it was offering clean energy via renewable energy certificates (REC). By starting small, you’ll be able to learn about and understand the space you’re going into, and will be able to see if there’s a market for what you’re offering. As you learn, you can slowly expand step by step and tackle more complex products in the industry.

Related: Why Flame-Grilled Chicken Franchise Galito’s Opened Up Shop Right Next To The Competition

4Use best practices from other innovative industries.

No industry has a monopoly on good ideas, and the boom in direct-to-consumer brands across apparel, food, finance and healthcare provides a great roadmap for how to build a modern customer experience. Look to other industries that have been there and done it. For example, Mint.com has created an innovation through the consumer interface – in their case to manage finances – while leaving the existing banking and credit card infrastructure in place.

While the thought of breaking into an established industry is definitely intimidating, in today’s entrepreneurial environment it is definitely possible and innovation is desperately needed. Success depends on the ability to shed your typical idea of disruption, and stay patient and persistent.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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