Five years ago when we first started M-Farm, a Kenyan company that sends small, subsistence farmers market information via SMS on their phones and helps them reach consumers, the word mentorship made a lot of sense to us. My co-founders and I were all first-time entrepreneurs who knew little about the business world. We looked up to people who had made it in business, in the hope that we would build ours quicker if we had their support. It seemed like everyone said we needed a mentor, and we needed one fast. That was the norm.

Don’t rush into getting mentors before you know what your business is really about. Tweet This Quote

However, I’ve learned that mentorship is great if applied properly and not done hastily. Getting a mentor because all of your peers have one or you are “required” to have one is the wrong move for any entrepreneur who does not fully understand what their business model is all about.

This is not to say mentorship is useless, as I benefited immensely from various mentorship programs. But, if I were to rewind the clock and give myself advice in the earlier days of my entrepreneurial journey, I would tell myself the following three things first before taking up any mentorship offer.

1. Know your core business.

Mentorship is great if applied properly and not done hastily. Tweet This Quote

Don’t rush into getting mentors before you know what your business is really about. The only mentor you need at the beginning is someone who can help you do quick tests to get to product-market fit.

Your best bet for who this person might be is a co-founder or one of your team members. Your team spends most of its time with you and shares the same passion and vision. Rarely do mentors get their hands dirty, like your team would, or go with you to visit customers and test your product or service.

2. Define a clear role or objective for your mentor.

Once you know your business model, it becomes easier to determine what you need from a specific mentor and helps you choose who the best person will be. To define a clear role or objective for them, ask yourself, what talent does the business need that you can’t afford right now?

To define a clear role for your mentor, figure out what talent the business needs that it can’t afford right now. Tweet This Quote

Remember, mentors are busy people and will give you maybe an hour or two a week. If you do not know exactly what you want from them and what role they will play before bringing them onboard, you will be running around in circles during your meetings. They will quickly lose interest. Before you know it, they won’t have time for you, and you will have spoiled a potential relationship with a great mentor.

3. A successful businessperson doesn’t necessarily make a successful mentor.

I can’t emphasize this one enough. Did they make it in business? Hurray for them! Will they help you make it in business? Not necessarily. There are a lot of big names who entrepreneurs look up to, many of whom they can only dream of working with. What we often forget is that not all successful business people make great mentors, period. Gain a deeper understanding of the personality and experience of your potential mentor before asking them for something they might not be best equipped to support you with.

Make sure you’re ready to be mentored before you decide to find a mentor. Tweet This Quote

In my early days, I wasted both my time and that of valuable mentors who would have better supported me in later stages. In the beginning, there are so many things you think you know or think you need, but in reality you don’t know. I’ve made the mistake of asking for help when I wasn’t sure what I needed, and I ended up burning bridges with many potentially great people. Make sure you’re ready to be mentored before you decide to find a mentor.

Jamila Abass

Author Jamila Abass

Jamila Abass is the CEO and founder of m-Farm. She is a software engineer exploring the intersection of IT and agriculture (AgTech). She is also a 2015 Aspen New Voices Fellow and Quartz Africa Innovator.

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