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Juice Truck's Zach Berman, left, and Ryan Slater (Jessica Beisler)
Juice Truck's Zach Berman, left, and Ryan Slater (Jessica Beisler)

Mark Evans

Age no barrier to finding right mentor fit Add to ...

There is a common perception that mentorship involves someone young getting help from someone more experienced. The reality, however, is that mentors come in different sizes, shapes and ages.

A case in point is 25-year-old Devon Brooks, who got into mentoring and peer coaching several years ago.

“I think the assumption for most people is [that] whether it’s personal or professional mentorship, your mentor needs to be 100 years older than you,” she said in a recent interview. “Everyone thinks it is someone young getting help from someone old.”

Ms. Brooks is currently a mentor to Zach Berman, 26, and Ryan Slater, 25, the co-founders of the Juice Truck, which sells organic juice in downtown Vancouver.

Mr. Berman and Mr. Slater approached her about becoming their official mentor as part of a program with the Canadian Youth Business Association, which supports young entrepreneurs with coaching, mentoring, financing and other resources.

So why did Mr. Berman and Mr. Slater reach out to Ms. Brooks?

A big part of the reach was her success as one of the co-founders of Blo, which offers hair-washing and blow-drying services. Started in Vancouver with her mother, Judy Brooks, and friend, Val Litwin, the business has expanded into 20 locations around North America.

Ms. Brooks has made a three-year mentorship commitment to Mr. Slater and Mr. Berman, whose business has thrived since it was launched last year.

There seems to be growing interest in mentorship, perhaps because entrepreneurship is becoming more popular. Ms. Brooks said mentorship has gained more attention as a growing number of people involved share their stories, and there is a track record of success.

“The more high-profile mentors who come out and talk about their mentor relationships, the more people say, ‘I need to look for someone who isn’t my colleague or family members for guidance and advice,’ ” she said. “In terms of why we are seeing an influx, it is really as simple as people seeing the proven track record.”

Just as mentors come in different shapes and sizes, they fill different roles. Ms. Brooks said the common denominator is that they are good and active listeners willing to offer constructive, but blunt, criticism and, at the same time, share stories about their own failures.

“A great mentor gets involved on an essential level with the business. They support the mentees, they try the products, they try the services, and get involved on a different level. It is a great way to give feedback to their mentees. I really think great mentorship needs to be consistent,” she said.

“It is having someone else on your team who has a different set of filters and values, and looks at things with a different lens. A good mentor is not trying to shape or mould mentees but understands the dynamics needed and has mastered the art of listening and asking tough questions.”

While there are many benefits to having a mentor, you have to get one first. Ms. Brooks said the key is to find someone with shared values, as well as relevant experience at a time when the business needs these skills.

“It is making sure the mentees and mentors are on the same page,” she said. “Does the mentor have the experience the mentee is looking for, and is the mentee at the right stage of their business to get value from the relationship? Some people are so busy working in their business, they are not able to work on their business.”

Another important consideration is defining success, which can consist of hard metrics, such as sales and balance sheet goals, or soft metrics, such as building a larger network and upgrading skills. Ms. Brooks said that, whatever the metrics, they need to be established from the beginning of the relationship to provide a base-level benchmark.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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