By Tim Maliyil
Mentorship is nothing new. Mentees have long bent the ears of seasoned professionals to gain a better understanding of their chosen industries. It’s also a great outlet for recent grads to hone their skills, expand their networks, and learn how to lead — not to mention open a few doors.
But the mentor-mentee relationship isn’t just beneficial to the mentee. Mentors can get a lot out of offering guidance to the young workforce, too.
In 2011, I connected with a young man named Isaiah Janes. He and a mutual friend were on the cusp of starting a business, and they asked me to lend my technical expertise to the operation. While the two never pursued the business beyond the idea phase, Isaiah and I kept in touch over the years. I always made myself available to him when he needed some advice, and eventually, he went on to launch a successful flask manufacturing company called 1776 co.
Here are two important lessons Isaiah and I learned from each other:
1. Avoid the ‘Gold Rush’
A whiskey lover himself, Isaiah saw that the industry was experiencing tremendous growth, yet the flask was pretty much ignored — even though it’s the top ancillary product for this malt beverage.
I already knew the benefit of starting a business around your interests: if an idea doesn’t take off as quickly as you had hoped, your passion and enthusiasm can serve as fuel to see the venture through. Passion and enthusiasm can also be contagious, ramping up support from consumers, staff, and even investors. But every time I spoke with Isaiah, he reminded me of the opportunities that entrepreneurs could find in ancillary markets.
He would often reflect on Levi Strauss. Strauss decided to stake his claim in San Francisco to make his fortune during the California Gold Rush. But his intentions weren’t to pan for gold. Rather, he wanted to service the needs of local miners with a pair of uniquely manufactured pants that later became blue jeans.
Isaiah taught me that once a product or service reaches the “gold rush” stage, your chances of even marginal success are limited, so it’s important to carve out a niche for your business in underserved ancillary markets.
2. Look Through a Fresh Lens
Our mentor-mentee relationship also reminded me of how important it is to garner a younger perspective of business. Millennials are quick to adopt new technology. By mentoring someone from this age group, you’ll always be aware of what’s trending.
For example, Isaiah leveraged Instagram to showcase his products and build a loyal fan base. In fact, Instagram was one of the cornerstones of his Kickstarter campaign, which raised 300 percent of its target in less than one day. Personally, I didn’t fully understand the power of Instagram as a sales and marketing tool. But Isaiah showed me that it’s possible to engage your audience on social media by moving away from the sales pitch and focusing on sharing authentic, engaging content. In his case, he showcases the design and artwork of his flasks.
I would have never thought to utilize this tool for my own business, but now, I’ve started using the platform as a way to showcase my work, and I’m interested to see if it leads to any success. If you enter into a mentor-mentee relationship with a Millennial, you gain a better understanding of the thought process and behaviors of this demographic.
Mentorship has always been a two-way street. The mentee must be willing to learn and grow for the mentor to be able to provide effective guidance, but when both parties are open, the mentor can glean a lot beyond the personal satisfaction of mentorship.
Tim Maliyil is the CEO and data security architect for AlertBoot. AlertBoot protects customers from data breaches that damage their credibility, reputation, and business. The company’s managed full-disk encryption, email encryption services, and mobile security services deploy within minutes to customers’ PCs, smartphones, and tablets, providing tremendous insight, visibility, and control.