“If I could only get Tim Ferriss as an advisor to my startup, I would be set for success.”
I bet many of you have had this idea at some point. I know I did. Heck, I still do. Tim—call me!
It might not be Tim Ferriss for you, maybe another high profile founder, but you get the idea. And you might be right. Having such an individual mentoring you would probably push you and your business to new heights.
Most of them are available for consulting gigs, to speak at events, or to participate in high-priced “mastermind” groups you can join. But you need lots of money for any of these options. Which most entrepreneurs don’t have.
Still, almost all of these people also love to give back. And they often do so for free or in very inexpensive ways.
In this article, I will show you how anybody can use the 80/20 principle, which states that 80% of your results actually come through only 20% of your work, and how to utilize it to gain knowledge and, maybe even more importantly, a way of thinking from top entrepreneurs. I’ll explore at length how to connect with these people and cultivate relationships with them as “virtual mentors,” for free or very low cost.
Even though mentorship should ideally be a two-way relationship, in a virtual mentor relationship, many of the benefits travel one way, with little time investment from each mentor.
The advice you’re going to get won’t be 100% customized to you, but then again, getting 100% customized advice from the likes of James Altucher, Tim Ferriss, or Nathan Chan is not that easy.
So how do you start developing virtual mentors? Easy: study their work.
Jim Rohn says, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” But I think the spending of that time does not have to go both ways. I think that average includes the time you spend studying and absorbing their work and ideas.
All of the entrepreneurs I mentioned here have their own podcasts, books, blogs, or social media accounts that you can use to turn them into your virtual mentors.
Podcasts: the easiest way to get to know your mentors
For me, podcasts are the best way to learn and grow nowadays. They’re free, easy, convenient, you can listen while doing other things (like walking your dog, cat, or ferret), and they offer a personal touch that no other other medium does.
You know all those chores your spouse made you do? You can do them while listening to your favorite entrepreneur telling the story of how they overcame some of the same challenges you’re currently struggling with to achieve success.
I find podcasting the most intimate medium as well, because having these entrepreneurs in your earbuds on a regular basis helps you to get to know them. And even though at this stage it is a one-way connection, you can easily turn it into a two-way connection once you meet in person, because you already know their story, goals, desires, and maybe even fears.
So when you first meet them, it will be like meeting an old friend you know all about. It will help make it easier to create a connection.
If you want to get started in the podcasting world, I suggest that besides the Foundr Podcast, you listen to:
- Mixergy – Andrew Warner is one of the best interviewers in this space. He digs deep and makes sure he gets the real struggles and takeaways of his guests so you can learn from them and apply them in your business. He interviews high-profile tech entrepreneurs who had big successes or failures we can learn from.
- The James Altucher Show – James has a unique style that’s extremely open, funny, and curious, mostly interviewing remarkable people who managed to reinvent themselves.
- The Tim Ferriss Show – Tim is one of the world’s most interesting people, period. He’s the author of the massively successful The 4-Hour Workweek book, a top angel investor and great thinker. His guests range from Arnold Schwarzenegger (yes, The Terminator) to Paypal cofounder and Facebook’s first investor Peter Thiel.
- This Week in Startups – Jason Calacanis, the host of TWiST is one of today’s top angel investors. His episodes are insightful, fun, and have high-profile guests. As Jason evolves in his career, I can also see his podcast evolve to take on the bigger picture, large problems, and leaving a legacy. Plus Jason likes to tell it how it is, so he sometimes pulls the curtain back on the whole tech industry. Which is always fun.
But don’t feel limited by just these suggestions. There are many more podcasts out there that focus on the startup and entrepreneurship world that you can easily get into.
Another benefit of listening to podcasts that feature your virtual mentor is that a good host will know how to ask good questions, get answers, and dig until they get the core learning.
Books: dive deeper into a particular subject
As much as media has advanced, books remain one of the best and most easily accessible ways of learning.
Most of the successful entrepreneurs today, from Dale Carnegie to Bill Gates, credit at least a part, if not all, of their success to the books they read. And a lot of today’s top entrepreneurs have taken advantage of this timeless medium to share their lessons with a large number of people.
The main thing I like about books is that most of the time they are focused on a specific topic that they deep dive into, offering more profound lessons than most online media, for example.
Even though any type of learning is good and will shape your thinking, I like the model of “Just in time learning, and not just in case” that I picked up from Tim Ferriss:
“I used to have the habit of reading a book or site to prepare for an event weeks or months in the future, and I would then need to reread the same material when the deadline for action was closer. This is stupid and redundant. Follow your to-do short list and fill in the information gaps as you go. Focus on what digerati Kathy Sierra calls ‘just-in-time’ information instead of ‘just-in-case’ information.” – Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek.
This means reading the books focused on the topic you are trying to make sense of, or master, at that particular time. This way you will be able to immediately use those learnings, which in turn will deepen them and make them stick with real-life experience.
Here are some books and book-related tools I recommend:
- nugget – the app I started gets you the main nuggets (quotes made visual) of the book, to see if a book is worth reading or to refresh your memory with the book’s important parts, once you’ve read it.
- Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers – I recently finished reading this book in about one hour. And it’s not because I speed read or I’m some sort of a Rain Man, but because it’s short and extremely insightful. It’s basically a book of nuggets. There are 40 lessons from CD Baby’s founder that will make you smile, reflect, and make changes in your business. Highly recommended.
- The Brain Audit: Why Customers Buy (And Why They Don’t) by Sean D’Souza – This is not the typical business book that leads the recommendation charts, but it’s a book that really shows you the psychology behind why customers buy or not. If you look at the best landing pages, you’ll find a lot of the concepts that Sean is talking about in his book. Now you will be able to understand the reasons behind them and much more. It’s also a quick and easy read that I have on my list of “books to read again.”
- The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change by Adam Braun – To shift gears a bit and move from the For Profit world into the For Purpose world. Adam shares his story of how at an early age started Pencils of Promise and how he got from giving one poor child in India one pencil to breaking ground on a new school in the developing countries on a daily basis while creating a modern for purpose (as supposed to not for profit) organization. A truly inspiring story that might make you reconsider some parts of your life.
- Audible – If you still want to walk your ferret while reading and not bump into everybody, you can listen to your favorite book’s audio version. Plus, if you have both the Kindle and the audio versions, the Kindle app now syncs the two so you can switch between them as you’d like.
Blogs and Social Media – see what’s relevant to them and start getting on their radar
Blogs and social media are the first of these mediums that are truly two-way, in the sense that you can write back to your mentors, getting them one step closer to becoming real mentors and not just virtual ones.
We are drawn to people who like us and who take the time and effort to get to know us. So by following the work of your virtual mentors via all or any of these mediums, besides learning from them, you’ll get to know them, so the conversation will flow easily if you meet in person.
Which takes me to the next step: turning virtual mentorships into real mentorships.
Getting in touch with your Virtual Mentor to turn them into a Real Life Mentor
You should remember some ground rules while trying to reach out to your virtual mentors: They are busy people with many fans who each try to get a piece of their valuable time. Most of the time they want to help and are happy to see a fan, but always be respectful of their time and personal space!
Also, as a general rule, don’t think, “What can my mentor do for me?” Instead, focus on “What can I do for that mentor?”
So how can you reach them?
Be on their radar
Comment on their blogs, reply to their tweets, share their Facebook posts. If you do this consistently, and always try to add value through your interactions, you’ll get noticed.
So don’t just comment: “Great post, really love it.” These type of ego-boosting comments are great when you just start out, but they become real old, real quick. They’re actually kind of spammy.
TIP: Having a consistent avatar throughout all your social media accounts helps so that people will recognize you over time.
If you want to take this to the next level, you can do as my friend and mastermind colleague Saad does: add them on a private Twitter list. Set your Twitter up so you get notified each time somebody on that list tweets. As soon as they do, if you have a relevant reply, use it.
It’s easy to create such a list:
- Just create a regular Twitter list, but make sure you set it as Private. Name it as you like. This name will be only visible by you.
- Now add that list on your favorite Twitter client.
- Whenever they post something relevant where you have something useful to add, just reply.
Using this trick will not only make sure you don’t miss any of their comments and links, it will help you get on their radar, get you on your way to having a two-way relationship.
Seen them in an interview or heard them on a podcast?
Let them know what you liked or where you disagreed with them. Andrew Warner of Mixergy usually ends his interviews by asking guests how they can be reached. Many times, high-profile entrepreneurs give out their personal email addresses. It’s a great opportunity to get in contact.
- Some ideas on what you can write: Did they ask a specific question to the audience? Answer it.
- Were there some points you disagreed with? Respectfully state your opinion.
- Any things you think they can improve? Give them the idea. Just don’t lecture them. Nobody likes to be lectured.
Again, remember that they are busy people with limited time, so make your emails valuable and concise.
This is how I first got to chat with Nathan Chan. Just a short and simple email about some feedback he requested via the Foundr Podcast.
Many great relationships start this way.
Find contact points that won’t be used by everybody
Are they going to attend an intimate gathering or event? Did they just join a new social network? Are they part of some closed Facebook or Slack groups? Try to find these places where they are not bombarded by fans and stand out.
This is how Andrew Warner and I got to know each other. He mentioned a private Slack group (codeword Japanese salaryman) at the end of one of his interviews. I joined it and we’ve been talking since. He even tested my app nugget and gave me a testimonial before we launched. Thanks Andrew!
Another friend and mastermind colleague, Hrayr, used this technique to meet great entrepreneurs and top investors like Gary Vaynerchuk and Chris Sacca. It just works.
Volunteer to help organize an event they will be speaking at
I used this technique to meet one of my mentors, and all-time favorite people, James Altucher. When I heard he would be speaking in London (I am based in Europe), I could not wait to go and see him.
But instead of just going as one of the hundreds of attendees, I reached out to Angel, the organizer, and asked if he needed some extra help. He did, so I got to know James personally for the first time. I also got to meet some other great people who volunteered to help.
James and I. You can see the excitement on my face 🙂
Even though most events will have their own dedicated websites, they are promoted on sites like Meetup or EventBrite as well. Look for them there. Plus the entrepreneurs you’re trying to reach sometimes have dedicated pages on their personal websites with their event and travel schedules.
In fact, this is one of the main techniques that Tim Ferriss himself used when he was stepping into the Silicon Valley world. Of course, Tim would not be where he is today just because he got to know the right people at the right time, but the people you surround yourself with are always a big part of your success. Or failure.
Start a Podcast / Blab
A third friend and mastermind colleague, Brian, started a podcast where he interviews inspiring entrepreneurs. Having this medium allowed him to reach out and interview extremely successful entrepreneurs.
Podcasts have become what blogs used to be. Everybody wanted to be interviewed for a blog a few years ago. The same is now true with podcasts. Because podcasting is such an intimate and growing medium, it’s a great place to get your story out and to promote your business or book.
Having a podcast (especially a successful one) gives you legitimacy, so many people will say yes to giving a podcast interview.
Try an experiment: Send a top level entrepreneur an email asking him for a 15-30 minute call to pick his brain and send another entrepreneur a request for an interview on your podcast. Which one of the requests do you think will have a higher chance of success? The latter, I guarantee it.
Because a one-to-one call is just that. One to one. But a podcasting interview is one to many. And top-level entrepreneurs like to find levers to get their messages across to larger audiences. Podcasting is such a lever that is currently hot and trending.
Was Brian known online before he started? Not at all. He just had a vision and the willingness to go out and work to see it happen. Now he’s rubbing shoulders with giants. Other entrepreneurs appreciate that and they will help you out.
But be aware. There’s a running joke that now they’re handing out podcasts to anybody who lands in Silicon Valley. So soon this too will be an over-utilized medium and will lose its efficacy. Unless you’re one of the top guys.
Ask a friend to introduce you
You have a common friend who can introduce you? Use this as a great technical advantage. Clear and simple.
If you have common connections on LinkedIn that can introduce you, use that.
But be aware that just because you’re connected with somebody on LinkedIn does not necessarily mean that they are your friend and will want to give away some of their trust capital by introducing you to somebody who is hard to reach.
Join their Q&A
Do they hold regular Q&A’s? Join them. James Altucher does one every week at the same time, on Twitter.
Tim Ferriss regularly does live Q&A’s on various live video platforms like Facebook Mentions, Periscope, or Meerkat.
Heck, he sometimes even drunk dials his fans and has chats with them. But you need to follow them closely to know when these moments happen.
Are they going to go on a webinar? Try joining the webinar 20 minutes early. They may already be there and you can ask some private questions.
ABH: Always be helpful
Ask what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.
Do NOT give them work to do.
Use James Altucher’s 10 ideas framework to come up with 10 ideas they could implement to improve their business. Give them your best ideas away for free and expect nothing in return.
There’s a big chance they will not see them, like them, or want to use them. Or that they will use them, make millions, and never reply or give you credit. Although the latter is a bit less likely. Nevertheless, I repeat, do NOT expect anything in return.
One last thing
Understand they are busy and, believe it or not, they have their own daily agendas, work, and struggles. Understand that they do not owe you anything. Not even an email reply. But also understand that most of them do want to help fans.
Do this right and you might end up turning a virtual mentor into a real one.
But if you don’t succeed, remember this:
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among stars” – Norman Vincent Peal
Who are some of your heroes you’d love to have as mentors? Let us know in the comments!