Recently, I met with a CXO of a very cool SaaS company doing about $6m in ARR and expanding nicely — but with some real growing pains.  This CXO asked me if I could help him find a few good advisors to help them on the revenue side.  I said I knew a few that would be a good fit.  I took some notes to make the connections.  Two really great people that could really help as seasoned advisors.

And then the CXO added: “But I don’t have any equity budget to pay them.”




To go big, especially in SaaS, you absolutely need a mentor if you can get one, and/or at least a couple of great advisors, to excel.  Maybe you know it all in SaaS.  But most of us don’t.  Do you really understand building and growing a SaaS sales team?  How demand gen marketing really works?  What enterprise-grade tech ops really means?  How to drive customer success?  Very few of us know it all.  Even fewer truly have experience in bringing it all together, and then scaling it to success.

The good news is you will find great mentors and advisors if you work at it.  The key is just to meet as many talented and senior people as you can, ideally through a qualified introduction.  But even without a qualified intro, as you begin to scale and get customers, you’ll likely meet at least 1 or 2 folks that could be incredible mentors for you.  That have done your journey, and taken it at least 2-3 stages further.

If you are doing something interesting, and you hustle and try to meet as many great people as you can … you probably will eventually connect with someone that could be a good mentor or mini-mentor.

Don’t suck up to them too much.  A little, yes.  A little helps, but that’s not what they want.

What they’ll really be interested in is what you are doing.  Why it’s interesting, big … and relevant to what they are interested in.  And why being on that journey together with you might be rewarding in some small way.

If it’s a good fit, and you are doing something big enough, valuable, and of interest to this potential mentor, and the timing is perfect … it will come together.

Because most mentors are looking, even if they don’t know it, for 1-2 “mentees”.  Not more, but often at least one at a time. To keep fresh, to share, and to learn.


OK, but once you’ve found them — don’t screw it up.  And don’t get confused by the fact that at first, advice seems “free”.  But what can you offer in return?

Well, first it’s not cash.  Your successful entrepreneur advisor / mentor already has enough cash.  At least most of them do.  You can’t pay them $X00 an hour or whatever.  It doesn’t matter or move any needle if they’ve got millions in the bank.  (There are exceptions.  But I’d reserve cash for consultants, not mentors and advisors).

Second, it’s not just the wonderful experience of talking to you.  That’s not enough either.  Maybe they want to learn through you, and do want to help.  But time is precious and valuable.  There’s a reason even Marc Cuban charges $170+- a minute to talk to him.

Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 12.58.56 PM>> So I’ve come up with a 2.5x “rule” or at least axiom.

With advisors and such, I think after 2 1/2 meetings, after 2 1/2 intros to VCs or potential VP hires, after 2 1/2 times they “help” … you need to “pay” or they go away.  Until then, you don’t have to pay.  And many people if they are interested in you will make a few connections and help for free.  2-3 times.

Then you do have to “pay”.

And since cash doesn’t really work, the only way you can really pay most folks like this is to (x) give them some (a material number but the exact amount doesn’t matter) stock options and (y) if you can, let them invest in your seed, A and B rounds IF they want to.  Don’t connect the two.  The first is a (for now) unquantifiable “payment” for helping.  The second is a “thank you”.  Don’t confuse the two, but try to do both.

FWIW if it helps.

Again, while I don’t think you have to pay for 2.5 meetings, favors, and intros … don’t wait to “pay” too long.  Because after that, the (prospective) mentor will fade away.

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(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)

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