From LinkedIn: The Compound Returns of Mentorship

May 6, 2022
Josef Scarantino
May 1, 2020

First published on LinkedIn.

The past four months I served as a mentor at the Watson Institute in Boulder, where the next generation of young social entrepreneurs are charging head first into the future with world-changing ideas.

I first heard about the Watson Institute through my employer’s foundation, the Techstars Foundation, of which the Watson Institute is a grantee. Knowing the onramp to entrepreneurship isn’t truly accessible to everyone (not even close), I’m very proud we are supporting such impactful and diverse efforts to promote social entrepreneurship.

We often see mentorship as a way to “give back” and something you do later in your career when you have time on your hands. I actually chose to mentor when I was in the middle of a busy season, not exactly what I would recommend, but let’s continue…

As my favorite economist, Tyler Cowen, stated in a Marginal Revolution University course, compound returns matter, and especially so when applied to mentorship. When you mentor someone, the returns keep growing and giving back more and more over time. The upside to mentorship compounds tremendously, but the downside when someone lacks a mentor can also have a ripple effect that goes far beyond that moment in time.

I'm a firm believer that the compound returns of mentorship are even greater when we focus on entrepreneurs and founders from diverse backgrounds who face incredible hardships as they build their venture.

Here are 4 ways I found mentorship to deliver compound returns and why I’ll do it again:

  1. Mentorship is the ultimate #GiveFirst move because it creates an altruistic cycle. When you mentor a first-time founder, they are much more likely to remember the impact you made on their life and mentor someone later in their career. Looking back on my early-twenties, having a mentor would have been game changing and most likely life altering. Ask anyone later in their life who has built a successful venture and the common denominator is that they had a mentor to turn to when they were developing. I’ll bet anything they are a mentor to someone now.
  2. Mentorship keeps you humble. The world needs more humility. My mentee at the Watson Institute was half my age and studied health sciences at Yale University on a scholarship. He taught me about his Indian culture and the challenges of anemia within the caste system, of which his impact venture was tackling. I knew little about India, public health, or the caste system, but purposely chose him as my mentee because it was far outside of my comfort zone and I felt a strong connection to him the first time we met. I was lucky he chose me out of dozens of mentors. On our first mentoring session, he greeted me with a big bear hug. I knew we had made a good match.
  3. Mentorship doesn’t have an expiration date. While my term at the Watson Institute lasted for four months, my mentee and I are continuing on a regular cadence of video calls as he develops his venture and moves forward with his career. Halfway through the program, my mentee pivoted his venture into something completely different and I’m so proud of how much he has learned. Regardless of what he decides to do with his venture, the ultimate role of a mentor is to foster development and growth from a Socratic perspective, not prescriptive. The choices he makes are his and his alone, but he knows I am there to support him when he needs it. Mentorship evolves with the relationship and can keep going.
  4. Mentorship is a two-way street that continues to feed you. Although I consider myself a closet introvert, I thrive on deep one-to-one interaction versus entertaining crowds, similar to my mentee’s style. Our first meeting was spent talking over the various forms of Indian chai and meditation techniques. Every interaction with my mentee left me curious to learn more. The intellectual stimulation combined with social impact was incredible. I wrote more. I read more. I spent more time on deep creative thinking. I was more energized. I was so inspired I even restarted a fairly large project that I had put to sleep months ago.

All in all, despite the heaping of thanks I’ve received from my mentee (and continue to receive), I have him to thank. Our mentoring relationship was a gift to me.

Mentorship is ultimately about human connection and how vital that is to our success and progress. Mentorship makes the world a better place... by magnitudes. It causes us to pause, disconnect from our phones, consider the welfare of others, and open our hearts and minds to learn. When we mentor, the returns keep compounding and we all win.

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