From starting up to scaling up, business founders are on a constant learning curve, navigating change and developing new skills to get their business to the next growth stage.
Having external support from a mentor with shared experiences can make a huge difference in their success. And yet, many of those new to business ownership are unaware of the value of mentoring, as research from Virgin StartUp has revealed.
Their recent study found that 75% of new founders have used a business mentor, with 56% getting advice from friends or family and 39% using a professional mentor. But of those just thinking about starting their own business, 40% had no plans to turn to anyone for business advice.
Virgin StartUp runs one of the U.K.’s largest entrepreneurial mentoring programs. Successful startup loan applicants are also matched with a dedicated mentor as part of a broader 12-month program of support.,
Managing director Andy Fishburn says: “From our research, we can see that there is a disconnect between people who are running businesses, who have mentors and see value in it, and those who are planning to start a business and don’t necessarily understand the benefits of mentoring. It has huge value, especially when times are tough. Having someone on your side who can provide that experience, and honest and objective feedback, who can challenge you but also support you, is incredibly important.”
Tiwani Heritage, which makes recyclable hair extensions specifically for women who want to wear their hair in curly or afro styles, was launched in 2020 by Carol Lathbridge and Lola Cawood with the help of a Virgin Startup loan.
“There was so much that we didn’t know about business when we first started, and at times it felt quite overwhelming,” says Lathbridge. “We were able to speak to several mentors about various issues, from general business practice to specifics such as marketing and finance. It has definitely helped us to make smarter decisions.”
Cawood agrees, adding that their mentoring had helped them grow as individuals, business partners, and friends. She says: “Having access to a mentor, someone who’s gone through a similar journey, has given us a sense of empowerment and fearlessness, especially when it comes to taking risks and knowing when it makes sense to take those risks. As a result, we are much farther along our business journey than we would have been without mentoring.”
The pair are now scaling their business and planning to accelerate growth through an equity crowdfunding campaign to be launched in the new year.
Business mentors can be found in many places, including from a founder’s existing network of contacts. Previous employers and senior colleagues could also be worth approaching for mentoring support. They may be able to suggest other contacts from their networks.
LinkedIn is useful for finding people with relevant experience, as is joining a sector-specific networking group. When looking for a mentor, the important thing is knowing what you want out of the relationship.
When Tom Dunlop, founder of Summize, was listening to GoCardless and Monzo founder Tom Blomfield on the Diary of a CEO podcast, he was struck by the similarities between their lived experiences and passion for technology and went on to ask him to become his mentor.
Before launching Summize in 2018, Dunlop had worked as an in-house lawyer at several high-growth software businesses.
“I’d gained so much knowledge from the founders I’ve worked for in the past but experienced very little in the way of formal business mentoring,” says Dunlop. “I discovered that Tom Blomfield had also studied to be a lawyer and experienced the monotony of dealing with manual contracts. He left law and joined the Y Combinator program, where he co-founded Go Cardless. I was looking for a mentor who’d been in my shoes and could offer support beyond business operations, and Tom obliged.”
Blomfield’s mentorship has been pivotal to the successful scaling of Summize, contributing to its latest round of investment and providing crucial mentoring around high growth scale, future investment, and U.S. expansion.
“The most tangible benefit, however, is Tom’s opportunistic mindset,” adds Dunlop. “International expansion is our next growth objective, and the U.S. is a huge potential market for us. Having a mentor who shares this goal with equal passion and has been through their own global scale-up journey is transformational.”