This post was originally published by HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes on the LinkedIn Influencer blog. Follow Ryan on LinkedIn:
Ever heard of Markus Frind? He’s CEO of one of the world’s largest online dating sites, Plenty of Fish, which he founded back in 2003. This July, Frind sold his company to the Match Group for a sweet $575 million.
Frind’s success is all the more interesting because he has pretty much gone it alone. He has no investors, few friends in the industry and, as far as I know, zero mentors. Throughout the epic process of building a half-billion-dollar dating empire, he has had no official advisers or board of directors.
All of this got me thinking about the idea of career mentorship. How did an entrepreneur like Frind achieve such a high level of success more or less on his own? Is he an anomaly, or is there something here we can learn from him about the value — or lack thereof — of mentors?
Much like Frind, I’ve never had a single Mr. Miyagi-type mentor to guide me. In fact, back when I was a business major in college, everyone talked about how critical is was to find a good mentor. In the end, I found it almost stressful when I didn’t end up finding one. I asked myself back then: Was I missing a important piece of the puzzle to my future success?
Looking back now, I realize that mentors just aren’t for everyone. In fact, I think a big part of our responsibility as entrepreneurs is to learn how to tap into the voice within. We must be able to take in the variety of different ideas, opinions, and experiences we come across through our work and consolidate it all into our own valuable truths. So whether you’re absorbing feedback from customers, advisors, colleagues, or trusted employees, a good entrepreneur should have the ability to weed through the noise and pull out what matters most. In that sense, we need to be own Yodas and Miyagis — filtering and focusing experience into passion and vision to succeed day in and day out. At a fundamental level, that’s what defines an entrepreneur.
Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean I haven’t benefitted from lots of support and guidance throughout my career. My mom, for example, was my first and most important advisor in business. The early lessons she taught me about entrepreneurship still guide me today. I was also lucky to have some truly inspiring high school teachers and a remarkable school librarian who helped me tap into my love of computers. Later, some close family friends in finance and real estate helped me reach a few critical business decisions that made all the difference.
At the same time, I know lots of entrepreneurs who have benefitted enormously from close mentorship relationships. And I don’t want to suggest that having a mentor is a bad thing. On a deep level, it’s a very personal decision. Some people flourish under the close guidance of a trusted advisor, someone who has learned the ropes and can show the way forward. Others prefer to figure things out for themselves. Through my foundation TNBT, which funds young entrepreneurs working on big ideas, I’ve mentored people who need lots of input and others who hardly need it at all. Their varying needs for support and guidance in no way map to their actual potential or talent.
My real point here is that the idea that we each need a single career guru to swoop in and solve all of our most important problems is a one-size-fits-all approach. If you haven’t found that perfect mentor, it’s not necessarily a sign that you’re on the wrong track or that your vision is doomed to fail. Trust me. It could just be that you don’t need one, after all.
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