Whether you’re starting out in your career or making some changes to an established business that you’re running, having a mentor to lead you in the right direction can be invaluable.
A good mentor is both willing and able to support and encourage you to reach your goals, and push you to succeed when you need a little bit of help when things get tough.
Not only is this a positive experience for a mentee but it can also be considerably rewarding as a mentor.
Many business leaders believe it is important to share the lessons and advice they have received, seeing this cycle as a sort of entrepreneurial “pay it forward”.
Here are some of what these 15 business leaders tell budding entrepreneurs and why they act as a mentor.
Jodie Fox, Co-founder at Shoes of Prey
I mentor a number of people. I commit two hours a week to it, outside of business hours.
I do it because I know a lot of people take my meetings to share knowledge with me that I can only get from people who have been there, done that. And I am always so grateful, because I know how precious time is.
I want that ecosystem to continue, so I have to play my part in it and give back when people ask me for advice. Admittedly, my advice is just sharing my experiences, I don't ever suppose to be an expert, but sometimes stories shared can help others to avoid mistakes, or learn about something they might not otherwise know existed.
Andre Eikmeier, Co-CEO and cofounder, Vinomofo
This is a community. People give, and share. It's one of the beautiful things about the startup world - open source.
I just get excited about peoples' businesses. Especially products. I love digging into their motivations, their plans. And you always learn from either the new perspective or just honing your own thoughts through explaining them.
We did a lot the hard way. If we'd had more people to talk to, mentors or anyone, it would have made the whole journey that bit easier.
Dean Ramler, CEO and cofounder, Milan Direct
I mentor several young entrepreneurs and am always available to discuss business with like-minded individuals. I have always been a student of business, reading as many business books as I could get my hands on from a very young age. I remember reading the AFR as a kid, not understanding a word of it, but reading it until I became familiar enough to understand the topics being discussed. As such I love learning and discussing business and a key part of this is sharing the learning.
Mentoring is a great way to assist others. I believe that great ideas should be shared and the more you give out, the more that comes back. I have had great mentors myself from a young age in my dad and grandfather, so I appreciate the importance of mentorship and receiving good advice. If you truly love business, then assisting others is enjoyable and rewarding.
Andy Sheats, CEO and founder, health.com.au
Mentoring is, in effect, acknowledging and thanking all of the people who have mentored me over the years. I do it two ways. First, I've helped teach an MBA class at the Melbourne Business School for the last 8 years or so. The subject is Mergers and Acquisitions, but objective is to help students start thinking like managers. We've pulled in a bunch of people I've worked deals with over the years to make it super-practical. The second area is developing individuals. You can only really focus on a small number of people, so I tend to focus almost exclusively on people within our business at health.com.au. I like to have a lot more interaction than a monthly coffee. Also, on a more selfish note, our company benefits from their growth.
Cyndi O’Meara, Author & Founder of Changing Habits
My favourite people to mentor are those that are willing to put the work in order to help themselves.
My speciality is health and there are two young couples in particular that I mentor. Sometimes they’ll call me in a critical situation and I’m able to give them the information to help them make the right choice for themselves and their children. I’ve seen over the many years we’ve been talking, the change in their belief of the human body and the power of food. It’s been an amazing journey to see the changes they have made and they now inspire me with their thirst for knowledge and change.
Other people I’ve mentored are ones who wish to write a book. I wrote my first book in 1995 – self-published then contracted to Penguin. I know the pros and cons of self-publishing, going with a publisher, as well as audio books and electronic books. I’ve been able to mentor people who wish to write a book and create a best seller. When you see someone with a passion to get a message out, you bend over backwards to help them.
I love to share my knowledge in order to help people succeed in life – it’s been my life’s work.
Marcus Lim, Founder and CEO of Oneflare.com.au
I’ve always been a firm believer in the mantra, ‘we reap what we sow’. When it comes to mentoring, it is exactly like that. You invest time, energy and resources into an aspiring entrepreneur and the entire community benefits from their creative and passionate business endeavours.
I mentor Peter Oh, a Sydney University Arts undergrad and we meet once a fortnight to discuss his ideas and share what I’ve learnt from my mistakes. I invite Peter into the office frequently so he can observe how I work in my environment and understand how to lead and guide a team. I have always been passionate about helping people succeed and being a mentor gives you the chance to guide others, impart practical wisdom and thoroughly equip them for an independent and successful career. Mentoring is not a choice, it’s a necessity for our community and future.
Zach Johnson, CEO of Atmail.com
I was recently a coach at the inaugural Sunshine Coast Startup Weekend which involved mentoring multiple teams while they worked furiously to launch a product over nearly 72 hours. I lent my expertise in business planning, growth and team development as well as in structuring successful presentations for getting judges and investors to buy in to their vision.
I firmly believe in the opportunity we have here on the Sunshine Coast to build and foster an innovative business community and I fully intend to continue my involvement in future Startup Weekends, CoderDojos and lobbying our local, state and federal government to ensure Coast business have the necessary support and encouragement to grow and thrive.
Greg Taylor, co-founder of Clipp.co
I have started a couple of successful businesses since leaving Uni, and friends often refer aspiring entrepreneurs they know to me, for me to offer some advice. At the moment, in my spare time I'm helping two people with some start-up advice. Firstly, with a friend Daniele Richter, who is starting an online learning business in what I think is an awesome niche that is ripe for this type of product.
The other person I meet with has one of the best (except for Clipp!) idea's for their business i've seen in a long time. I can't mention any names or what the business is, but I genuinely think this will hit out of the park with what they've built.
Gen George, Founder and CEO, OneShift.com.au
I mentor a group of women who are the founders of Kolide - and app that aims to unearth the best experiences Sydney has to offer on a daily basis.
I know first hand what it's like to start a business or develop an idea with no technical experience. I guide them in the right path by connecting them to the relevant contacts and advising them on business tips and tricks. I see it as an opportunity to give back to the community and pass on what I’ve learnt.
Jan Pacas, Managing Director Hilti Australia
As a business leader, I believe that there’s a moral duty to give back and pass on my expertise; especially when I consider that I credit many of my professional achievements to the guidance and influence from my own mentors.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is watching young people develop their skills. Because Hilti is a global company, it’s incredibly satisfying and a sign of success when our talented Australian employees are exported overseas to take top level positions in Singapore, France and Hong Kong.
A strong business should judge their leaders on how well they can develop and groom their staff, as it’s these employees that hold the future success of the company in their hands.
Anthony Woodward, Founder and CEO, Bulletproof
I have been offering advice and mentorship to Rob McAdam of Pure Hacking for a number of years, since before he started the business. Rob and I discuss business strategy but also work-life balance and the finer aspects of being a founder of a tech business in Australia. Having a business and a family is a challenge that not many people understand, so we have a lot in common. It can be hard for a person in a leadership position to reach out and ask for help - that takes true courage.
At the end of 2013, Rob was involved in a major car accident where a drunk driver collided with his car head-on. Rob was very lucky to survive the accident and was understandably in need of some mentoring and advice as to what to do next. I helped him see that he was in the very lucky position of being able to mould his role and involvement in his business around the lifestyle he wanted given limited mobility and wanting to treasure every moment with his family.
I have been amazed by Rob’s resilience as he has dealt with months in hospital and recovery, and he is now very much back in the business and loving it. While his mobility is permanently affected, his drive and passion for the business is as strong as ever. I take as much from our interactions as I give; it is a great, fulfilling process. Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone I know and have advised along the way enjoy great success.
Sheryle Moon, Chief Revenue Officer, eWAY
When Diana Forrester lost her home in the 2003 bushfires in ACT, it led her to question a lot about her work, her career and family. Diana’s resilience allowed her to rebuild the things she had lost and focus on new endeavours including board positions for local organisations.
The mentor/mentee relationship is a two-way street. I’ve gained from Diana’s expertise in marketing and her network of people with similar experience; and I’ve enjoyed her friendship and support over the past decade. The ability to have an open discussion in a trusted environment is important to both of us.
Geoffrey Court, Head of People and Culture at Salmat
I have been mentoring colleagues for 30 years, since I first became a manager.
It’s something every manager should be doing – which unfortunately is often missed or forgotten about.
As well as ongoing mentoring of direct reports, I also mentor two colleagues in a formal capacity, once a month. While it is a coaching session it is more important to listen to the mentee. It certainly isn’t an ego-run initiative – it needs to be a trusted, proactive and sought out initiative from both parties.
The key to being a mentor is encouraging constructive behaviour and a sense of achievement from the mentee, which drives effective outcomes for the individual and ultimately the company. Every mentor gets a wonderful uplift from seeing someone take control of their life – someone who is determined to progress themselves.
Dr Catriona Wallace, Founder of Flamingo
I mentor about 5 people, mainly women, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. I do this because I am extremely interested in supporting women in navigating the business world. Initially I mentored people because it felt like the right thing to do - to give in some way - but then I realised I get a huge amount out of the mentoring relationship. For example, I mentor Carla McGrath from the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence and through our relationship I have developed a much deeper understanding of Indigenous people and organisations which I would not otherwise have - and Carla knows I have got her back whenever she needs. If there were more hours in a day I would mentor more people. It's an absolute privilege to do.
To be a good mentor you have to understand the difference between mentor, business coach, life coach, sounding board and chose which role you take. Set goals and plans with and for the mentee, be available when they need you - not just in the allocated hour a month - connect the mentee with your network.
It is the social responsibility of the person with experience and knowledge to share that with others starting a business.
Renata Cooper, CEO of Forming Circles
Having come to Australia as a migrant with $20 in my pocket more than two decades ago, I worked my way through different roles from secretarial to equities trader and now, an entrepreneur and investor. I launched Forming Circles, a social and ethical investment organisation, in 2011, with a dream to help other start-ups (particularly women) achieve their dream – through funding, investment, grants and mentorship.
I was looking for insights, knowledge and personal stories of success to guide me. I knew others would be looking for similar guidance too and started sharing my knowledge with the wider community.
I believe it is the social responsibility of the person with experience and knowledge to share that with others starting a business or in need of being mentored. It is my great pleasure to see the businesses and its owners prosper as a result of a valuable advice and the opportunities created through Forming Circles initiatives such as the annual Kickstart Your Business Grant and Full Circle Mentoring programs.
Each year, we receive hundreds of applications from start-ups across Australia for the Grant – interested in the mentorship offered, just as much as the cash. This reiterates the fact that beyond money, small businesses have a deep thirst for knowledge and guidance.
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