Paula Young-Libby is the CEO of MycoCann, Inc. an ag-tech startup with sights on revolutionizing how cannabis is grown. Join us here once a month as Paula gives us an exclusive peek into the entrepreneurial experience.
Every movie has one: The wise old man, woman, or child who knows exactly what to do at a critical point. The person who’s been there, done that, and knows the pitfalls to avoid and the opportunities to seize. They are vital to every good story and they are especially vital to the stories we entrepreneurs are trying to create. Mentors make an impossible road possible.
It’s not just their expertise, their connections, and their perspectives that help us chart a course through dangerous waters. It is their hearts, and their willingness to donate time, energy and sometimes even resources to helping a noob navigate from startup to successful company. This desire to give back, to guide the next generation along, is at the core of a good mentor, and finding one is often harder than it looks.
There is an eco-system surrounding startups that can seem very chaotic for an entrepreneur first entering the space. Cannabis adds an entirely new level to the chaos, as the legal gray areas and regional compliance issues create additional hurdles that other industries don’t have to jump. Swimming around in this ecosystem are the usual service providers, social media marketers, investors, entrepreneurs and interested parties. You can meet all manner of people in the course of getting your company off the ground and you should pay special attention to finding the people most likely to become a great mentor for you. (If you are not out there attending business meetups or angel investor networking events, then consider doing so. Now.)
The danger is that when you are new to the industry, you don’t always have a good yardstick. A good mentor can help be that yardstick and can explain the reasons for making various distinctions and decisions. This is important information, and the earlier you have access to it, the better. You need more than one mentor because you need more than one sounding board to run ideas past. Each mentor brings a different perspective and a different set of skills and pieces of knowledge that can give you an edge when it counts. Find people who believe in you and want to see you succeed, but who are not afraid to criticize constructively or point out glaring errors. They will become invaluable.
In contrast, bad mentors can undermine your decision making, your confidence, and even your ability to position your company successfully. They can create doubt and division or can hamstring you in other ways. Thankfully I have not experienced this personally, but I have heard horror stories about bad mentors transforming from trusted advisor into deadweight parasites after manipulating their way into a paid board seat. Other ‘mentors’ are only after your money in other ways, either through demanding consulting fees or demanding payment for services.
Always ask up front if there are fees attached, and if there are, weigh the pros and cons of engaging in that type of relationship. People who are good at what they do tend to want to be paid for their expertise, and there is nothing wrong with that, but those folks are advisors. They are not really mentors.
Bad advice is out there and can come from both good and bad mentors. Always fact check, even if the person advising you has decades of experience. In an extremely fluid industry, what was true six months ago may no longer be true today. The future of your company is up to you, and no matter who is advising you, the decisions that are made are ultimately on your shoulders.
You owe it to yourself, your employees and your investors to make the best-informed decisions you can. Remember that.