Look at any successful person; Angela Merkel, LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bezos, and you will see someone who has benefitted tremendously from one or more mentors in their life. Nobody gets somewhere on their own. Everyone has help.
I was reminded of this when I read this touching remembrance that my friend Brad Feld wrote about his mentor Len Fassler yesterday. I first met Brad a few years after Len bought Brad’s first company and a few years before Brad and Len went through hell with Interliant. You could see how much Brad was learning from Len, how much he loved Len, and how much Len loved him back. As mentor/mentee relationships go, this was one for the ages.
I had two mentors early in my career; Milton Pappas and Bliss McCrum. They hired me as an associate at their venture capital firm, Euclid Partners, when I was 25 years old and between years at Wharton where I was getting an MBA. I worked for them for ten years and learned pretty much everything I know about venture capital from them. Bliss passed away a few years ago. Milton is still with us thankfully.
Of course, I learned so much about business from them. But the thing about great mentors is that they don’t stop with business. When I told Milton that Joanne and I were getting married, he dropped what he was working on in that moment, called across the street to his high touch travel agent, and we walked over there and he got us going on a first-class honeymoon. That was such a strong move and we learned a lot about traveling in style from that trip.
Bliss taught me how to chart stocks (technical analysis). We had no use for charting in the VC business, but that didn’t matter to Bliss. He liked to do it and taught me to do it with him. I don’t use that skill, but whenever I see a technical stock chart, I think of Bliss.
The thing about mentors is you can’t really ask someone to mentor you. It kind of happens organically. Someone takes you under their wing. They see something in you and want to bring it out, develop it. That’s how the best mentor/mentee relationships happen. And they are so great.
I remember the feeling when Milton would ask me to join him for lunch at the University Club. We would walk over there, order lunch, and talk about VC, business, life, and more for a couple hours. I always found a way to say yes when Milton invited me to lunch.
So if you are early in your career, look for opportunities to connect with someone a few decades ahead of you to help you figure stuff out. It helps so much. I am so grateful for what Milton and Bliss taught me early in my career.