How to approach a mentor – lessons from a Silicon Valley millionaire

by Hugo Dutka

This is not a regular Richard Lucas post – because it wasn’t him who wrote it. My name is Hugo Dutka.   I am a Polish high school student and I like meeting entrepreneurs. Richard suggested I share this story.

To cut a long story short, I was lucky enough to spend my last summer in California. I wanted to meet entrepreneurs in Bay Area, but Polish high school students tend not to know successful business people in  Silicon Valley. Luckily, I knew Richard. So I sent him a short message:

How it all started

Two weeks later I was meeting Will Bunker, a serial entrepreneur, angel investor and the founder of One & Only – one of the first major dating websites in the world. It sold in 1999 for 50 000 000$. Thanks Richard!

One & Only’s home page 25 years ago

Will Bunker today

The plan of the meeting in my mind was as follows:

  1. I will introduce myself.
  2. I will express my interest in meeting millionaires in the area.
  3. I will be introduced to the said millionaires in the area.

The first two points were completed according to the plan, but the third was not. What happened

I met with Will in a coworking space in San Francisco. We talked, I asked for advice, had some great books recommended to me. Then I asked for the introductions.

“So who do you want to meet?” he replied.

“Well, people who could help me start a business” I said.

“What business exactly?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“I am all for introducing you to someone, but you need to be more specific. What area of business?” Will inquired.

“That I don’t know too.”

So Will recommended me to check out start-up meetups in Bay Area, and sent me links to some of them. That was not exactly what I was hoping for, but you get what you can.

To recap, I met one of the most successful people in the world that day. A person you would read in the news about. A Silicon Valley investor who serious Polish entrepreneurs could brag about knowing. And what did I get out of the meeting?

Book recommendations and a couple of links.

Luckily, there is a lesson in this waste. There are people out there who can help you get to where you want to be. But before they can help you arrive there, you need to know your destination.

If you are approaching a potential mentor, be specific. If you want the guy to figure out your life for you then you are bound to be disappointed. Surprisingly large numbers of people in the start-up world will be happy to make introductions for you, and some of them will do even more than that. However, if you don’t tell them how to help you, they won’t be able to.

To sum up, decide where you want to head before meeting people. This way you won’t waste their time and you will get much more out of your connections. It may sound obvious when you read it, but is not when you make the mistake yourself. Make sure this stays obvious to you from this point on.

Hugo Dutka is a Polish high school student interested in entrepreneurship. He organizes TEDxYouth@Warsaw, is part of the organizing team at TEDxWarsaw, and volunteers at various other TEDx events in Poland. Apart from that, he has been a mobile developer and currently practices machine learning with particular focus on deep learning. If you want to get in touch with him, send him a message at fb.com/hugo.dutka.

If you want to know more about Will Bunker he is expertly interviewed here on Andrew Warner’s Mixergy Podcast and here on Project Kazimierz by Richard and Sam

 

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