College Treps is a weekly column that puts the spotlight on college and graduate school-based entrepreneurs, as they tackle the tough task of starting up and going to school. Follow their daily struggles and this column on Twitter with the hashtag #CollegeTreps.
If starting up is akin to running a marathon, a mentor is might well be considered your trainer. He or she will help keep you on track and goal oriented, while also telling you when to kick it up a notch.
Finding the right mentors can be tough, however. Here's what we did to find mentors that helped us pick up our pace:
1. Email, LinkedIn, cold calls: Reach out to anyone whom you would like to learn from. And don't set any limits for yourself. Reach out to some of the most famous entrepreneurs in the world, anyone you see on TV or on the news. You'll be surprised at how high the response rate will be.
My co-founder and I were able to meet with the founders of Ciplex, Branchout, Expensify, Storenvy, Highlight Cam, Contacts+ and Kiip. Everyone can be reached somehow. If they don't respond to email try LinkedIn. If that doesn't work, cold call their office. You may think you're being annoying, but most mentors will appreciate your tenacity.
2. Get prepared: Once you reach out to a mentor you have to make every minute count. I make sure I know his or her background and accomplishments before we meet. If you want to stand out from the other hundred startup entrepreneurs trying to fight for your mentor’s time, you have to create a plan before your meeting. I make it a habit to research each mentor I talk to for at least an hour before our conversation so that our conversation feels smooth and practiced.
3. Get out of your comfort zone: When my co-founder and I reach out to mentors, we make it a point to try and meet face to face. If a mentor is within driving range, do your best to meet them for coffee or lunch. Most mentors will agree to this, and these can be some of the most memorable experiences you'll ever have. To this day, my co-founder still talks about the fun he had hanging out with the programmers in the Kiip office and eating lunch with Ciplex founder Ilya Pozin to name a few instances.
4. Always look for ways to expand your network: When we moved our company to Indiana from California this summer, we were lucky enough to meet venture capitalist Elizabeth Rounsavall. She is probably one of the most well connected people in the Midwest because she always is finding ways to grow her network. Seize upon that desire. Go to every networking event you can, chat with as many people as possible and never get lazy about following up. It's the entrepreneurs that go to events and are open to new things who find success.
5. An interested mentor should be prized: Our mentor team has a variety of backgrounds. We have been able to recruit the founders of LocalView, Expensify and Affinity.IS. We are passionate about finding the best people, and once we do, we make sure to hold onto them as a connection. Never be afraid to ask a mentor to be an advisor for your company, the worst they can do is say no.
6. Be open to the unexpected: When I first tried contacting mentors, if I sent an email and did not get a reply back, I usually gave up and moved on. My co-founder was more persistent. He would never stop trying unless he got a definite 'No.' This is the mentality that is required to be successful in entrepreneurship.
My co-founder never sold a company for millions, and he doesn't have an MBA from Harvard. But he is fearless. Being able to learn this skill has helped me improve my own track record tremendously. Always try to learn and respect everyone you come in contact with, you'll be surprised how helpful the most unexpected people can be.
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