Business mentoring: are two heads really better than one?

Conflict is inevitable – every enthusiastic apprentice will have his or her own way of doing things


Mentoring a start-up is not that different from an apprenticeship one might undertake to develop a skill or trade like mechanics or carpentry. Eager to learn, the novice listens inventively to the mentor for guidance.

However, every enthusiastic apprentice will have his or her own way of doing things that don’t necessarily complement the tried and tested approach their mentor might use, so some conflict is inevitable.

This conflict has the potential to be more acute in the business world. A new business model may be someone’s baby, their precious little thing.

The input of an outsider, who has had no part to play in its nurturing, might not always be welcome (even if the new entrepreneur has asked for help in the first place.)

Is this the case for the MBA Association of Ireland mentors – an eclectic mix of business, marketing, legal and financial gurus – who have given their time to assist some bright young things on their road to entrepreneurial success?

“It takes time to establish a good relationship,” explains Jacques Henry-Bezy, marketing expert and mentor to consumer insight and marketing start-up B-Smark.

“You need to spend time with the mentee. That way you get a sense of where they’re coming from and then, if they choose to go against your advice, you don’t take it personally.”

Different generation
Henry-Bezy and B-Smark have enjoyed a good mentoring experience. Despite overcoming some large obstacles and a revision of the original business model, their relationship appears solid.

“While it might seem like a one way street in terms of benefits, I’m really enjoying the process,” says Henry-Bezy. “I see it as a great opportunity to be exposed to new innovation, entrepreneurship, and look at new ideas.

“The youth aspect interests me too, and how a different generation is responding to economic challenges. It’s a unique opportunity for a business person to be there from the beginning of a project and watch it grow. The mentor is there to enhance and help the team.

“Of course, you do feel the responsibility in terms of giving the right direction and not leading them into a cul-de-sac and that can happen. But there are also rewards.”

Declan Bourke of the IG Group is mentoring Content Kings, a start-up company that provides online content, marketing material, blog entries or any other copy needed by companies in the modern business world. Despite the publishing industry being in a state of turmoil the company is doing well.

“They’ve had an interesting shift in revenue of late where they’ve moved from project work to longer-term contracts with clients, which is always a good thing,” says Bourke.

“The key issue for the lads now is upscaling in a rapid yet controlled and intelligent manner, while ensuring there is no dilution of the quality service they have been providing to date, as that quality is what is driving the demand for their services. So in short a ‘nice to have’ type of challenge,” says Bourke.

“At the moment I’m enjoying mentoring immensely,” he adds. “I work for a large listed company that has a lot of processes and protocol.

“ I enjoy my job but it’s also kind of fun to get back into the thinking needed for a much smaller start-up -based entity.

“The lads are committed though, which makes it easier. if I didn’t feel that was the case I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. I’m not dictating anything. I’m simply there as an adviser.

“Ultimately it’s their business so some of my advice they act upon, some is still on a to-do list somewhere. It can be difficult for a small company to be strategic when the day to day is focused on growth.”

Communication is hugely important in any mentoring relationship. Without it trust breaks down and people can feel like they are being ignored, undervalued or given the cold shoulder.

In the case of mentor Ken Greene from Byrne Wallace and financial analytics start-up Bankhawk, scarce interaction between the two parties has led to a stifled mentorship experience.

Something for free
“I’m still very enthusiastic about their business model but I don’t think they have taken advantage of what I can do for them,” says Greene.

“There has been too little interaction between us and I’m not sure whether that’s because they don’t want to impose themselves or are too busy.

“ I have said to them, ‘I don’t think this is working. You’re not using me’. They say that they will do so more in the future but that remains to be seen.

“Maybe it is that nobody appreciates something for free. If I was charging them a consultancy fee they might be more interested in my advice.

“They have a great business model. The service they can offer any large organisation could be highly sought after, given the right opportunities.”

*This article was amended on April 4th, 2013 to correct a factual error.