Mark Zuckerberg is arguably one of the most successful entrepreneurs in history. Thanks to the film "The Social Network" and Facebook itself, most people feel like they know a lot about him.
There was one thing few people knew about him in the early years, though: He was mentored by Steve Jobs. And Steve was mentored by Mike Markkula, one of Apple's earliest investors and senior executives.
From the outside it seemed Apple and Facebook were rivals, but Zuckerberg credits Jobs with imparting wisdom on subjects like building a strong team and keeping company focus strong. While Zuckerberg's image may seem arrogant and brash, he was smart enough in the early days to seek out mentors who were older and wiser than him.
And thanks--at least in part to that--everyone gets to enjoy the benefits of Facebook.
(The same goes for software engineer Eric Schmidt who mentored Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google.)
Some people seem to think entrepreneurs don't need mentors, but in my experience a good mentor/mentee relationship is vital for entrepreneurs of all ages and at all stages--especially in the early days of a company and when the entrepreneur is still young and inexperienced.
When your instinct is to march to your own drum, why should you seek the advice of older, successful entrepreneurs? Consider these benefits:
1. Experience beyond your years: Young entrepreneurs often think they've cornered the market on innovative thinking. However, as anyone who has worked with a good mentor will tell you, they didn't become successful on their own.
Often, a seasoned mentor can challenge you to think in ways that never occurred to you because they've seen more of the world (and more of business) than you have. They've also been innovating and solving problems for a much longer time. They won't have all the answers, but if you allow mentors to bolster your experience with theirs, you'll be able to operate much more shrewdly and with more confidence than you otherwise would on your own.
2. Networks beyond your experience: Of course, in business, it's important to know the right people. You might be a networking genius, but if you've only been at it for a few years, you're still limited by that time frame.
A seasoned mentor, on the other hand, will have connections and a good reputation built up over years. He or she can see connections between people that you never could, at least in the early stages of starting your own business. Most importantly, though, a good mentor will have strong relationships with people who are already successful business leaders--and can help you make the most of their hard-won networks. If you only network within your own circle of colleagues from your generation, you won't have access to the business leaders currently making big decisions that affect your industry.
3. Insight beyond your knowledge: Often, a single, sound piece of advice from a mentor can be the catalyst that changes an entrepreneur's frame of reference forever.
One "Aha!" moment can propel you forward faster than a year of steady work (or keep you from making a costly mistake). Friends and peers may share their intuitions or perceptions with you, but when you respect the experience and wisdom of a mentor, you're more likely to accept and value his or her insights--as well as apply them faster and more effectively with greater results.
While more seasoned mentors may be viewed as being behind the times for not carrying iPhones and other hot gadgets, their experience outweighs this notion. Young entrepreneurs sometimes hide behind their technological devices and use quick text exchanges to correspond with people. Experienced mentors can share the intangible nuances of communication they have mastered through relationships they've forged the old fashioned way with rookie business leaders.
One of the biggest obstacles to finding and cultivating a good mentor relationship is the entrepreneur's own pride (and yes, sometimes arrogance). We're wired to blaze our own trails, so it's sometimes difficult to be humble enough to slow down, get a fresh perspective, and hear things we don't want to hear.
Like it or not, most of today's most successful entrepreneurs have all sought mentors and paid heed to their advice to their direct benefit. If you want to experience success in any capacity, you owe it to yourself to find great mentors; listen and learn from them.