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Approaches to Mentorship


Jonathan Pfahl, Founder & CEO, Rockstar Mentors

Mentorship is central to successful start-ups and therefore to youth job creation.

Mentorship is different from consultant support because mentors provide the pastoral and personal support essential for young entrepreneurs. The Prince’s Trust (PT) pioneered the concept of mentorship in the UK. To date, PT has helped 400,000 mostly disadvantaged young people to start successful businesses. The great majority of them have grown and now provide thousands of jobs and significant tax revenue to government. Youth Business International (YBI) has franchised the model to 50 countries with similar success, convincing many policy-makers to see the wisdom of investing in mentored start-ups.

An early PT study found that, with caring mentors, 4 out of 5 companies were still in business and generating profit after 3 years. Without mentors, that figure fell to one in five. In some YBI countries, banks accept that the provision of a YBI or PT trained mentor is as good, if not better, than physical collateral for a business start-up loan.

PT and YBI recruit and train effective volunteer mentors. My organization, the Rockstar Group, by contrast, believes that paying mentors results in a more serious commitment from both mentors and their mentees: the young start-up manager. The cost of mentorship is generally not very high compared to the total cost of starting a small business. For most, it is clearly worth investing a thousand or two to have at your elbow someone who has started a similar business and made a success of it.

My own experience confirms this: when I arrived in London from Australia in 2005, I wanted to get my head around my new job at Goldman Sachs quickly. So – I paid a senior staff member to mentor me – and it worked. So, when I moved into the property business a few years later, I did the same – spending £3,000 to get a multi-millionaire property magnate to mentor me. Again – it worked: I was able to buy 6 houses in my first year. I firmly believe that the fastest way to succeed in business is to find someone who has already done what you want to do, and get them to show you, one-to-one, how they did it.

That’s why I started Rockstar Mentors: I wanted to give entrepreneurs the same benefits that I’d received from having a top mentor by my side to guide me through the business world, open doors for me and help me build my wealth. I recruited a group of highly successful entrepreneurs, each of whom had created and sold a company for in excess of £5 million and launched a one-stop shop where a young entrepreneur could choose the mentor with the achievements he or she most wanted to emulate.

Fast-forward to today, and Rockstar has now helped start or grow over 8,500 businesses in pretty much every sector you can imagine.  70% of them have survived and are prospering. We now have our own Hubs in Central London, where we run our mentoring sessions and events. We also have our in-house legal team and an investment platform which helps find the funds for “Rockstar Businesses.”

The Rockstar mentoring platform is designed to help a business achieve precise financial goals over a set period of time. We offer each young person an initial free consultation to specify the sector they are in and the particular challenges their business will face + the financial goals they wish to achieve in their first 6 – 12 months of operation. Armed with that information, we help them plan the best way forward for their business and introduce them to the best mentor(s) to guide and help them achieve those goals through their contacts, professional experience and support.

We have some of the UK’s (and the world’s) most well-known and respected entrepreneurs as our mentors and we structure all of our mentoring around achieving tangible financial results for our clients. We also have an App on which our mentors give mentees free advice on how to succeed in their industry and their area of expertise.  So a young start-up manager can harvest some of the best advice in the world for free – and then, if s/he wants one-on-one mentorship, they can hire the most appropriate mentor for them for a face-to-face meeting or a skype call.

I know how lucky I have been in my mentors – and I work to achieve that luck for each Rockstar mentee. But I firmly share Richard Branson’s sense that business is all about “having fun, making a lot of money, and doing good….”  And I have worked to do good through my business – helping the UK government’s Start-up initiative through its early years, and supporting promising business ventures that provide essential services for Low Income Countries. One of these is the Simple Drinking Water initiative – which offers the potential to bring clean drinking water to millions of people in remote areas. Clean water is so essential to life, good health and nutrition – it’s no wonder that even the poorest people in the world are prepared to pay for it.  So creating a business opportunity out of saving lives, and enriching communities is the most satisfying work that anyone can find. And – in Rockstar Mentors – I get the same satisfaction.

I have never been unemployed – and I cannot imagine how frustrating it would be to have skills, ideas and abundant energy to do something – and have doors to such opportunities persistently slammed in my face.  A good entrepreneur will always find some way of creating a business in almost any situation – and a good mentor will help that business be successful. Yes – there is a need for urgent action to solve the youth unemployment crisis. And good mentorship should be high on that menu of urgent actions that governments and policy-makers offer to their young people.  I know that it makes the difference between success and failure for them – and for your country.  

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