Most smart founders have more than a few influential mentors helping support them behind the scenes, formally or informally. Many of those people are successful founders themselves, looking to pay it forward with a new generation.
Curious about how these relationships form, we asked nine successful founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) who their most important mentors are today—and perhaps more importantly, how they connected with them in the first place.
#FollowFriday For Fame
Trey Ratcliff is considered to be the king of HDR photography. Not only is he is an amazing photographer, but he's set up his business so that he can concentrate solely on his art. One Friday morning, I suggested that my Twitter followers #FollowFriday him. He must have seen that I tagged him and noticed one of my YouTube videos that I had previously tweeted out. He watched my video, got to know me as a photographer and commented. We've since had a Google Hangout on his popular weekly show, connected over email and have been in great communication. —Angela Pan, Angela B Pan Photography
One of my most important mentors is Alex Welch. He was the CEO and founder of Photobucket, which he sold to News Corporation for around $500 million in 2007. One of my investors introduced us, and ever since, he has made himself very available when needed. He has given great advice that has had a direct impact on how I run my business. At the end of the day, a great mentor is someone who listens to what you're doing, is able to provide very real advice and has some ideas as to what the step-by-step process should be. Alex is one of those types of mentors (along with a few others I have). —Scott Ferreira, MySocialCloud
Do As They Say
My most important mentor when I first got started in online marketing was John Reese through his blog posts, email newsletter and Traffic Secrets course. I've only had the privilege to meet him once, but I felt like I knew him personally because I absorbed all he taught. He complimented me for being one of the very few people who actually implemented what I learned. This led to fast results, and I give him some credit for helping me eventually quit my job and go out on my own.
Another mentor has been my business coach, Jeff Miles. Jeff lives in Australia but has flown halfway around the world six times to spend time with me. We get together and talk for hours. He has helped me focus on implementing new business strategies and keeps me accountable in balancing work and family relationships. —Joe Barton, Barton Publishing
Ye Olde Email Blast
I was broke and had just moved to L.A. from Iowa. It was the first time I had ever lived in a different state. I was playing "The YES Movie" on loop in my bedroom and decided to drop a few emails to people in the DVD. One of them was to Andrea Lake, and she's the only one who gave me the time of day. I'm light-years ahead of where I would have been if it weren't for her. —Travis Steffen, WorkoutBOX
Leeward Bean has been a huge help to me and my organization. I know without his advice I would not be where I am today with my business. I saw an article about him and his business in the Tampa Bay Business Journal. After reading the article, I reached out to him through LinkedIn and asked him if I could take him to lunch. We hit it off. His guidance has been irreplaceable. We usually meet at least once a quarter, depending on what I have going on in the business. He is always there to help me and provide guidance. —Alex Chamberlain, EZFingerPrints
Let The Money Talk
In the initial year of our firm, I was mentored by a man named John Beck who had been a partner at a very successful outsourced accounting/CFO firm for several years before starting his own firm. He was extremely valuable for me as a mentor. He gave me advice, answered questions and provided me with input when I faced problems. Because his experience was in my industry and because he had been so successful, he served as a fantastic resource and guide. —David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services
The Not-So-Cold Call
When I was first getting into professional speaking, I scoured the Internet for other speakers, trying to see who was the most respected within my niche and held personal values that were close to my own. Josh Shipp was a name that kept coming from my searches and conversations with young speakers.
Even though I was still in high school, I reached out to him via a cold email in response to a blog post he had written -- trying to provide him with a teen perspective that he could use to help parents. We ended up having a phone call, and I flew up to San Francisco later that year to meet with him and a team of other speakers. For the last few years, Josh has been instrumental in helping me build my youth speaking business while also providing me with insights from his experiences. —Michael Costigan, Youth Leadership Specialist
The Scottish businessman Brian Kennedy has been my biggest mentor outside of Yodle's leaders and my family. I met him through business, and we quickly built a relationship outside of Yodle. He has provided me with some of the most unique and powerful business and life advice I have ever received. Finding people that possess both wisdom and experience should be the ultimate goal when finding a mentor. —John Berkowitz, Yodle
Although mentors are traditionally unpaid, one of our most important advisors is our business coach Marla Tabaka. My co-founder and I connected with her through an organization called Count Me In. She specializes in helping women-owned startups grow their companies to the $1 million revenue mark and beyond.
When we first started working with Marla, we didn't know much about running a business. In the past two years, she's helped up go from a two-person company to a six-person, multi-million dollar international entertainment company. She's advised us every step of the way -- from our legal team to our accountant to our employees. She's part mentor, part coach and part cheerleader. I think a business coach is one of the most important investments a young entrepreneur can make. —Brittany Hodak, 'ZinePak