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When Mentors Matter More Than Money

Software developers David Lifson, Chris Maguire, and Haim Schoppik had plenty of experience writing code when they conceived Postling, an online service to help small businesses manage their social media presence in 2009. They planned to perfect the site before asking potential customers to use it, but their mentor, Ellen Thompson, forced the programmers to leave the office and talk to business owners.

The trio, all veterans of handmade-goods marketplace Etsy, wanted a mentor because they felt ignorant about cash-flow management, marketing strategy, and other crucial tasks. “We’re three engineers, so we’re great at building technology but had never done a sales pitch in our lives,” says Lifson, 28, who met Thompson, a 43-year-old serial entrepreneur, through the startup accelerator DreamIt Ventures in Philadelphia in the summer of 2009. Thompson, who isn’t paid, worked closely with the team during the three-month DreamIt program and still talks monthly with Lifson, who now works in New York.