Q. How do you ask a mentor for feedback on your next business idea? What should you bring to the table?
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth.
A. Draft a Summary
Entrepreneurs’ ideas are often most easily “felt” through passion and an intuitive belief that great potential awaits. When expressed verbally, however, the vision can be easily misunderstood. Avoid this by taking some time to write a concise, one-page Executive Summary that you can share with mentors you respect. This will ensure they understand your idea and offer relevant and quality feedback.
A. Time Is Valuable
If you’re in a mentoring relationship with someone who is also an entrepreneur, there is one thing that you both know is ridiculously valuable: time. Regardless of whether your next business venture is the greatest or worst idea you’ve ever had, keep the call focused to keep mentors in your life. Have an agenda and stick to it. You can make small talk later. Time is money; spend it wisely.
A. Can They Even Give?
There’s nothing worse than showing up to a meeting seeking advice when the person on the other side of table tells you they can’t help. Before asking a mentor for feedback, you need to make sure they have relevant advice and experiences. All you really need to bring is educated questions, and if they really have domain expertise, they’ll start spilling the beans without asking for an equity stake.
A. No Hesitation
While preparation is important in pitching a business idea to anyone, the best tip for asking a mentor for feedback is not to hesitate about it. Your mentors are there for you to bounce ideas off. Most mentors are thrilled when you come to them with questions or feedback solicitations, so don’t pause in engaging them in your project. They — and you — will be glad if you don’t wait.
A. Short and Sweet
A. One Small Step
They’re busy and smart, so treat them as such. Don’t ask for a long term commitment up front and don’t waste their time. Start with a short email with options you’ve thought of to a problem you are facing. Ask them to simply reply with which option they think is the best. Implement, thank them, and show them how their advice got you results.
A. Revenue and Breakeven
What separates a great idea from the rest of the pack is how the idea positions itself as a revenue generator. Be sure to lay out any and all of the potential revenue models that might exist and forecast the numbers involved. Most mentors will want to see a breakeven analysis to determine if it’s worth the time and resources for you to pursue.
A. Show Your Appreciation
Always show them your appreciation for sharing their feedback with you. There may be some feedback at times that you disagree with, but always thank them anyway, and keep your opinions to yourself. If you criticize them, they may never share the gift of their experience and knowledge with you again.
A. Just Do It
Don’t be afraid to approach successful people. They will respect your brazen attitude more than a weak attempt for a handout. These are people who didn’t quit when things got tough, and you shouldn’t either. Hopefully they will be honest with you and help craft your idea into a solid monetizing business.
A. Don’t Waste Your Time
Too many entrepreneurs get excited with ideas, but ideas are cheap. Execution is the stuff that real entrepreneurs are made out of. You should bring to the table a thorough plan of exactly how you will execute, and what you see as the biggest challenges facing this potential business.
A. See the Full Vision
It’s easy to come up with a good idea, and that’s when most people get excited. Many make the jump to presenting that “good” idea well before it deserves the light of day. It takes vision to see where an idea can go, how it fits in the marketplace, who should be your management team, and all the other details that ensure success. Your mentor already knows this and will appreciate your preparation.
A. Ask For Specific Feedback
If you’ve chosen the right mentor, they have a wide body of expertise and experiences to draw on. Too many entrepreneurs present a lot of information to mentors and then ask something akin to, “What do you think about all this?” That gets nowhere. Better to have structured information and ask for specific feedback: “Is this key assumption realistic?” or “Is this an appropriate place to start?”
A. A Succinct Elevator Pitch
Don’t spend hours walking your mentors through the ins and outs of your brain. Come to them when you can sum your idea up in one clear sentence. If you can’t, it’s probably too complicated to “stick” out of the gate, and you won’t be setting your mentors up to give you valuable feedback.
A. The Magic of Three
I appreciate how busy my mentors are and I really value them offering to help when I need it. To use their time most effectively, I prepare three main questions that I have. I get feedback and a few different perspectives a lot faster that way and they appreciate that I’ve focused on specifics. Most of the time they also offer to give more feedback if/when I need it.
A. Be Passionate and Clear
Mentors want to give advice and spend time with people who believe in their idea — not people who just do it to follow a trend. Also, be clear on the problem you are solving and how the mentor can help solve it! It’s all about making them feel part of the journey.