Networking and volunteering time to help other entrepreneurs can result in meaningful experiences that inspire and encourage. Many young entrepreneurs feel they must wait until they’ve exited a company or are older to give back – but the truth is that it’s never too early to start, and there’s never too small an impact to make. Sharing your entrepreneurial journey and aligning yourself with founders from other industries can directly contribute to your company’s growth and make you a better business leader.
Mentoring doesn’t have to revolve around offering expertise on a topic – it can simply be sharing your own personal experiences or just listening to the other person. Many young founders are looking for confirmation and moral support. I started mentoring to share perspective on my own journey as an entrepreneur and to talk about the early mistakes we made.
I recently mentored a group of enthusiastic entrepreneurs who had built an impactful device, but they were shying away from taking on a sales role in the initial stages of the startup. I encouraged them to stumble through the pitch process and learn firsthand how to sell their product. This led them to refining the sales pitch and even the product by listening to feedback and concerns from potential clients. Finally, when they hired the sales team they were more confident in training and delegating the outreach. By simply encouraging this young team and providing a different perspective, they were able to move forward with an improved product and confidence.
Find the Right People
Aligning yourself with smart people and cutting-edge innovation can only improve your own skillset as a business operator and contribute to the overall growth of your business. The ability to learn and improve from others’ insights will give your peers and customers confidence in your desire to continually serve their evolving needs. Mentoring entrepreneurs teaches me about new technology, solutions, and products, while also serving as a healthy reminder of the pace of growth that we incurred in the early years – and should still be challenging ourselves with. In investing in 15Five, our most recent portfolio company, we’ve implemented a very effective, yet simple, way of providing ongoing feedback to managers from team members. I truly enjoy surrounding myself with people who are passionate and believe no problem is too big to pursue or requires prior knowledge to understand and solve.
Never become complacent by being ahead — always play like you’re fighting for the top position. For example, our commitment to improving chronic disease care is demonstrated not only through our own activities but also through our investment in the company Sproutel, which addresses a similar market but is focused on educating children. Our member practices and industry sponsors have all benefitted from learning about its products. Find synergies, and make as many connections as you can. This will propel your endeavors and help you stay ahead of the curve.
Remember to be positive and honest. It’s a good idea to begin by congratulating other founders on starting a business. A support system of encouraging people who are willing to listen to ideas is one of the biggest unmet needs of young entrepreneurs.
While it’s important to provide encouragement to other entrepreneurs, it’s also crucial to give genuine and helpful feedback. Voicing your true opinion will only help others in the long run. Ask tough questions, be honest, and tell the person seeking help that he or she would benefit from several perspectives.
No matter what stage of the game you’re in, it’s never too early to begin networking and lending a hand. Nevertheless, be wise about how you allocate your time and resources. What goes around comes around, and chances are that by giving back, you’ll learn something great along the way.
Shradha Agarwal is the Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of ContextMedia, a leading media technology company that educates and informs consumers as they make critical decisions about their health. Shradha was named to Crain’s Chicago Business 40 Under 40 list, and she was the Stevies’ 2012 Female Entrepreneur of the Year.