“What Makes a Good Mentor?” with Dave McClure (500 Startups)

Ravi Gundlapalli: Hi, this is Dave McClure, founder of 500 startups. Hi Dave, thank you for your time.

Dave McClure: Hi. 

RG: So Dave, what makes a good mentor?

DMC: Let’s see. I guess probably what makes a good mentor is also based on who they are mentoring and what their relationship is. I think the best kinds of mentors are people who know you [..], and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the person they are mentoring. [They] also understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and what areas they are good at mentoring and other areas they’re not so good at mentoring. I think being able to quickly identify what’s most important, and then within what’s most important, where they can add value or where they maybe can’t add value but might be able to help connect you with other people who could.

I think sharing information about failures as much as successes is probably helpful. Listening to a mentor who has nothing but success is kind of demoralizing sometimes. Hearing someone talk about “here’s where I failed and then how I recovered from failure and then how I moved on to success” – that’s always kind of a more empowering story [..]. I think someone you can relate to, someone you can trust.

RG: Are there any mentoring stories of your own, Dave? 

DMC: [..] I wish I had more mentors. Sometimes I feel like I was too much of a hard-headed or hot-headed person to ask for help. A lot of folks have been very kind: Brad Feld, Josh Kopelman, even Marc Andreessen… Mitch Kapor definitely really helped out a lot when I was first getting started. Fred Wilson, also, [even though he] doesn’t have a lot of time all the time. So a lot of people who were in venture capital before me. Some other folks who started around the same time I did – Jeff Clavier, Aydin Senkut – also been very helpful. Even Paul Gray, though I don’t get to see him very often, but when I was first getting started was very helpful.

RG: Fantastic. Thank you very much, Dave.

DMC: You bet. Thank you.


    • Hi Klaude,

      Great question! We’ve found that the best approach for finding a mentor is to show some sort of deep interest in your area of interest (ideally building the equivalent of a self-motivated portfolio) and then contacting someone you respect – either through LinkedIn or local networking events – for feedback. This shows your mentor that you are driven, willing to do research into your industry, and independent. The last point is especially important if reaching out to people you don’t know already, as they are more likely to guide you than mold you (as every good mentor should!).

      We hope that answered your question! Thank you for asking it!


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