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Mentoring the Mentor

23 February, 2011

A couple of years ago, when Viedea was a relatively new start up, I was approached by somebody who offered to become our mentor. I remember being surprised, because the person neither had experience of entrepreneurship nor of leadership in a corporate set up. Needless to say, we politely declined the offer.

As the number of entrepreneurs and startup's grow in India, it is but natural that various elements of the support ecosystem also develop. Organizations like TiE and NEN, angel Networks like IAN and Mumbai angels are all doing a phenomenal job of supporting entrepreneurs. So too are numerous individuals and private organizations like Mentorsquare, Morpheus, etc. who have created innovative models which hopefully will create the sort of support ecosystem Indian entrepreneurs need.

However, the trend that has left me partly amused and partly concerned is the rapidly growing breed of entrepreneurs who are in the "business of mentoring and incubation". I have interacted with many such "mentors" over the last few months and barring a few exceptions most have left me with the feeling that they do not have adequate experience or skills to mentor a startup. Some of them are barely out of college themselves and many of them claim to be serial entrepreneur s (on closer inspection, it's more like 'serial company starters', none of which have managed to last beyond a year). It's extremely worrisome that young entrepreneurs with smart ideas could be signing up such mentors, giving them equity and wasting a lot of time in the bargain.

A good mentor is a critical part of an entrepreneur's journey. A few tips for entrepreneurs from my own experience

a. Choose your mentors wisely. Sometimes, finding and pitching to the right mentor is as difficult and as important as finding the right investor,

b. You may need multiple mentors on your entrepreneurial journey, for different stages of your venture or for different domain skills. It is likely that you will outgrow a mentor as your business evolves and takes different shapes. Make sure your relationship with the mentor is flexible and not joined at the hip.

c. Decision making should never be delegated to the mentor. The mentor's role should be to give you perspective and advice, not to make decisions on your behalf.

A few months ago I was approached by a leading incubator to empanel myself as a mentor. However, I did not feel I was qualified to be a mentor just yet. As an entrepreneur I continue to learn immensely from my mentors. Only when we have achieved the goals we have set out for Viedea will I believe that I have the right to mentor other entrepreneur's and share my experiences.


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