Mentoring Partnerships: Setting a Cadence and Keeping in Step

Entrepreneur Mentoring Relationships Work

There’s a certain rhythm to every effective mentor/mentoree relationship. At times, an entrepreneur and mentor may talk or meet every week. There are other phases when less frequent, brief phone calls may do.

Here are three ideas for developing relationships that succeed and endure across a startup’s lifecycle.

Match the mentor’s expertise with the entrepreneur’s needs.

Jeremy Oseas is currently director of product implementation at CrossChx, a Columbus-based firm that builds operational artificial intelligence to automate repetitive high-volume tasks and workflows. Oseas started there during college as one of the firm’s first interns and after graduation joined the firm full-time.

One of the youngest mentors in the program, Oseas works with TicketFire COO Slater Meehan. TicketFire allows people to convert and transfer paper tickets with a smart phone camera and a few clicks.

“When I met Slater, I knew we had a lot in common,” Jeremy said. “We both have ambitions to start our own companies eventually. We both have a lot of drive and ambition. I’ve been out of college about three years longer, and in the last four years at CrossChx, I’ve held 16 different positions. CrossChx has gone from less than 10 employees to more than a hundred. We’ve had great leaders to learn from, and I’ve gotten good at preparing myself to be ready for change at any time.”

In October, TicketFire introduced a new marketplace for buying and selling tickets that features the lowest prices in the industry. “We have a focused discussion around TicketFire’s priorities,” Oseas said. “Lately, that’s been marketing, sales, leadership, and product management.”

Meehan agrees that there’s unique benefit to the relationship.

“TicketFire hasn’t yet expanded in terms of number of employees,” Meehan said. “Jeremy is helping me understand more about what goes into building and scaling a company—from how to improve communications across employees to how to manage subcontractors and developers that you may hire from the outside.”

On the other hand, Shelley Bird’s connection with ProteoSense began with an inquiry and invitation from Rev1 to join the Rev1 Mentor Program. Bird, former co-chair of X Squared Angels and EVP at Cardinal Health, went online to review Rev1’s portfolio companies.

“I was intrigued by the technology at ProteoSense,” she said. “My background is largely in the technology space, but my functional expertise is marketing, communications, new business development, and strategy. At the time Mark Byrne, CEO, was looking for help in telling their story. My expertise made me a good fit to support him from the beginning. That allowed us to really get to know each other and solidify our relationship.”

Building trust early on creates long-term connections that are there when the entrepreneur needs them.

“In any mentor match, the opportunity to establish trust early on is so important,” said Bird. “When you join Rev1’s Mentor Program, you commit to working with a company for three months—and it’s been almost three years. That feeling of trust sustains us through those periods when we don’t see each other or talk as much as we did in the beginning. There is a level of comfort with that.”

ProteoSense’s RapidScan™ handheld testing system allows food to be tested for pathogens in the field, production facility, or laboratory with immediate results.

“I take it upon myself to stay up to speed with everything. I read all that I can find about food safety; I look at the competition on my own,” Bird said. “Currently, they are very focused on the science side of the business and hitting technical milestones. I’m not the plant biologist or food scientist and don’t contribute much to that discussion, but Mark knows me well enough, that when he needs me he will reach out.”

Bird attends ProteoSense’s board meetings as an observer. “I come prepared,” she said, “I like to see Mark and the team in person. It keeps me connected. I listen to and observe the interactions, and afterward it’s an opportunity to give Mark feedback.”

Sometimes, mentors and entrepreneurs just don’t click. “People shouldn’t feel bad if the relationship doesn’t work out, or if it outlives its usefulness,” Bird said. “If that happens, don’t hesitate; it’s fine for you both to move on.”

The best relationships are when mentors and entrepreneurs each feel personal gain.

By necessity, every entrepreneur gets caught up in the day-to-day—whether they’ve started multiple businesses or whether it’s their first gig.

“Entrepreneurs are so close to their ideas,” Oseas said. “In Columbus, there is a whole community willing to talk to us, to get into a room. It’s easier than we think to get another perspective, to get the questions that make us think about our strategy. As for me, working as a mentor helps me realize how much I’ve learned, and how much more there is to learn.”

Bird, who is exploring entrepreneurial opportunities, finds that working with ProteoSense is a two-way street.

“I do think the best relations and matches are when you feel like you are getting something out of it too,” she said. “With ProteoSense, I’ve learned a different technology and a different industry. I have increased the aperture of my lens to observe a different team and a different board. I feel that I’m getting as much out of our relationship as Mark, seeing the learning that Mark has gone through and learning from his advice. He’s part of my personal network. We are both part of the entrepreneurial community.”

Not all mentor/mentee relationships look the same. Needs change over time; they ebb and flow, depending on what’s happening at the company. Some startups meet with mentors for several hours weekly face-to-face; others are in phases where an occasional telephone call suffices. The most important thing is setting clear expectations for the relationship and establishing a cadence that is appropriate for helping the startup achieve its goals.

The great thing about the Rev1 Mentor Program, both mentors and entrepreneurs tell us, is that the program supplies enough structure to keep mentors and entrepreneurs connected, yet is flexible enough to modulate the frequency of direct engagement, based on the entrepreneur’s business or personal needs at the time.