By Amy Neale, Business Leader, Mastercard’s Start Path Global programme
Like all early-stage companies, you want to be a survivor. You don’t want to be one of the 80% of startups who won’t get past their first five years. You’ve exhausted your pool of local advisors but your company now has roots and a traditional accelerator program is not going to work when you’re managing an ever growing team.
The good news is, in an increasingly connected society the tools now exist to get business mentorship from anywhere in the world. It’s now possible to develop relationships with experts who, despite living and conducting business in other places, share their diverse skillsets successfully through virtual meetings and virtual cups of coffee.
Get out of the office
Unlike most virtual experiences, scouting a qualified cyber mentor requires you to step away from your laptop and into the meetup scene. Seasoned entrepreneurs attend events like these in major cities to grow their networks and stay connected. Introduce yourself to professionals who have a global perspective and knowledge across multiple business models and markets. These people will bring a fresh outlook and help you understand where your company sits in the overall ecosystem. Be patient and strategic when seeking an advisor – establishing a virtual mentorship is a bit serendipitous, but it’s important to find the right person to challenge you.
Run a tight ship
Securing an advisor is only half the battle – the second half focuses on using the partnership to maximize your success. During your first meeting, establish the parameters of your relationship – are you bound to a set period of time or will it continue long-term? In the same session, clearly communicate your objectives and scope exactly what you want to work on. Identify your company’s pain points and bring forth ideas for the customized support you need. If resources allow, host this introductory meeting face-to-face for team bonding. Afterwards, plan to video conference weekly or biweekly at minimum.
Working from these early overarching objectives, develop an agenda for each meeting to make sure conversations remain on task in their allotted time. An effective session means you can identify clear, actionable items to tackle afterwards. These items should focus on solving near-term challenges that pave the way for advancement. A tip for staying on track is to begin each meeting with a brief discussion of your development from the start – it also refreshes your busy mentor’s memory about where you’ve been and where you’re heading.
While practicality is key, it’s also important to have bold ideas and big asks. In fact, at Start Path Global, the most impressive requests we receive from startups are sometimes the least specific. In other words, it’s easy to think creating a list of precise favors seems that you’ve done your research – like asking for an introduction to your mentor’s colleague, for example. While your intentions are to form a relationship with this colleague in a new market, your clear-cut thinking actually limits options. Instead, flip your question to highlight the big picture goal – “How can you help me enter a new market?” You’ll create a more comprehensive plan this way and show that you see exactly how your advisor’s expertise fits into your grand scheme.
Amy Neale is the Global Lead of Mastercard’s engagement with startups. She leads Start Path Global, which is the company’s effort to support innovative early-stage, global startups. Start Path is currently accepting applications for its winter intake – more information can be found in the press release here.