Kevin Eldredge, president of recently acquired RapidFire Solutions, in Hillsboro, Oreg.
How they met: At a luncheon sponsored by the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (YEO), a networking organization. Pitassi was speaking at the luncheon, and Eldredge approached him.
How often they meet: Pitassi and Eldredge meet every three months.
What mentor has learned from the relationship: "You learn just as much from mentoring someone as you do from having a mentor. I've learned a lot from Kevin. Like the fact that I don't have all the answers. I've also learned a great deal about the software industry. I'm much more technologically savvy than I used to be. I now invest more in software companies--not only public but also private companies." --Stephanie Gruner
Beth Marcus, president of Glow Dog Inc.
How they met: Luck--Marcus met Metcalfe on a buffet line at an MIT Media Lab reception in Boston. They both went for the chocolate-chip cookies at the same time and struck up a conversation. As Metcalfe has since recalled the meeting, Marcus wouldn't let him leave the conversation until he gave her his business card.
How often they meet: Periodically. Marcus estimates that she tracks Metcalfe down every three or four months. He often hosts "entrepreneurial salons" at his home, and she always tries to attend.
Best advice given: That networking is critical. Marcus's first company, Exos Inc., went through a rather dramatic metamorphosis--from a serious medical-products research-and-development company to a designer of video-game joysticks. Metcalfe put Marcus in touch with entrepreneurs who made mice for PCs. Out of that meeting, the change in strategy was born. "Bob's a fantastic networker," Marcus says, "and it's one of the very most important things we entrepreneurs do. What can be more boring than standing in a food line at a reception, and yet what could have had a more material impact on the history of my company than that moment? Bob has taught me not to overlook any interaction that you might have with anyone. Every successful entrepreneur is a master networker." --Mike Hofman
Ben Feder, CEO of .Comfax Inc.
How they met: Feder met Zelnick when he took his first post-M.B.A. job at 20th Century Fox. Though Feder did not report directly to Zelnick, the two worked together on some projects. Zelnick then left to found a Silicon Valley company, and the two kept in touch. "He was someone I respected a great deal--he has extraordinary judgment--and so, when I had an idea for a business, I asked him to take a look at the business plan simply for his feedback," Feder recalls. "I got that and more, since he was more interested than I had expected. Today he sits on my board and is highly active in the company."
How often they meet: Often. "We meet once weekly and exchange E-mail or talk almost daily," Feder says.
Best advice given: "Treat a start-up like a real company," Zelnick told Feder. "Keep your standards high and get the best help you can, given limited resources." The advice has been valuable, Feder reports. "Every time I've cut corners because I've thought of this as a small company, I've regretted it," he says. "Strauss showed me that start-ups are about building value quickly. You can become a real company only if you behave like one from the start." --Mike Hofman
Finding the right mentor for you
People like Kent Sutherland may make it look easy to talk your way into the good graces of a great role model who will help you grow your business, but it isn't always easy to find that one special person. In fact, suggests Kathy Kram, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Boston University School of Management, putting all your mentor eggs in one basket can be a mistake. "I think people really ought to think in terms of multiple mentors instead of just one," concludes Kram, the author of Mentoring at Work. And they don't all have to be grizzled business veterans. "Peers can be an excellent source of mentorship," she says.
Once you've identified a mentor candidate, how do you persuade him or her to sign on to your cause? Would-be mentors are most receptive to people who ask good questions, listen well to the responses, and demonstrate that they are hungry for advice and counsel, Kram says.
In the best of all worlds, it's not just the protÉgÉ who benefits from the relationship. The mentor, as well, should see the opportunity as one for personal growth. "In today's context, mentors learn new skills and competency themselves," observes Kram. "It's a chance to revitalize their own learning." --Karen Dillon
If you can't find a mentor on your own, there are many places you can turn to for mentor "matchmaking." Here's a selection of some of the options across the country:
Want to become a better, smarter, more effective team builder and communicator? Join us at Inc.'s upcoming Leadership Forum June 10 to June 12 in San Diego. Visit leadership.inc.com for details.
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