With numerous startups coming up every other day all over the world, there is a definite need for startup mentors. The requirement and demand has never been so much, and one of the primary reasons that entrepreneurs looks for a good mentor is to ensure that nothing goes wrong during their startup journey.
Unlike other services, are startup mentors easily available? Can they add value? Can they increase the success ratio of the aspiring entrepreneurs or startup founders? The answer actually has two sides;
One who has ‘been there, done that’ kind of professionals are too busy in their own stream of things. Being an entrepreneur themselves it is hard for them to find time to dedicate to many startups who seek their advice. So those, while still being busy, who are able to spend a fraction of their time with your idea, your product, your vision, are a smaller fraction of these ‘available’ mentors. So it is best to figure out if they are available and can they really spend that quality time with you to build your dreams.
Now, the next question will be how to find the right startup mentor?
It is not a simple way to just look for and asking someone. You will need to be clear as to what you wish to accomplish; what your strengths are; where do you exactly need the support of a mentor; what aspects do you feel that the mentor should look at while are you busy building your vision, your entity; and many more.
Well, the reason you are looking for a good mentor is to help you avoid those pitfalls which you may fail to notice. The following are some pointers that I have usually shared with so many young entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs for how to choose a right startup mentor.
Need business or technical mentor? Founders come with their own unique skills; while some have deep technical/technological expertise, while some may be finance experts. So you will need to be clear as to how you wish your mentor to bring those complimentary skills. A business mentor need not necessarily be from your area of expertise/domain, unless you need someone who you would like to contribute technically or technologically.
Powering your thought process: A good mentor should also act as a ‘devil’s advocate’; should shoot the right questions at you to power your thinking process. They can help transform your team’s thought process. A good mentor should also be ready to push out of your comfort zones, whenever required.
Mentor in your city or anywhere? There are some requirements that work best with a local mentor, based in your own city. But when either you are unable to find the right one, and if you are fine with a mentor outside of your city/town, it is fine to look for a mentor who is based in a distant location as long as that mentor can add value to your business. Even in the same city, meetings may not happen often. Second, with the technology transformation, you are connected to anyone, anytime, everywhere. So connections and communication has become so seamless it may be a good idea to rope in a right mentor outside of your base location too.
But then how to track and bring them on board?
There are a number of avenues today to spot a right mentor. You can either Google; or keep looking for the right person in various networking events, conferences, and other communities. Quickly prepare a list and do the following;
Follow their social profiles: You can get to know about them if you can spend some time in LinkedIn or Twitter for example. Get to know their interests and their areas of expertise. Are they personalities who wish to contribute something back, to our society? Understand what motivates them to be in this business.
Be convincing: After squaring in on the right mentor, send them a professional note or mail seeking their mentorship. Your mail should look professional without mistakes; grammar errors are fine as we are not an English speaking country (yet) but it should not be carelessly composed. It is like making a ‘statement of purpose’ which you might have done in your college days.
Give them a good reason, as to why they should act as your mentor. Pick the phone and start a conversation. You will emerge with more clarity as to whether to sign up with that mentor or not.
Building relationship is the key to successful mentoring. Mentoring is built on trust and respect for mutual strengths. Mentoring should not be treated as just another casual or commercial transaction. Respect their time and consider that you are getting benefited because of their involvement in your entity.
How to strike an engagement deal?
There can be numerous ways to engage a mentor. It can be a non-commercialunderstanding and with a good relationship you can get things going. Or it can be a small commercial, incentive driven, with commitment to time spends clearly agreed upon.
There have been numerous instances that startups come with the proposal in terms of providing equity to get me on-board as their mentor/advisor. Though I have refused so many earlier, this also does have some merit if you look at it as a win-win value proposition. Just make sure that there is a cultural fit with that mentor, as he is like your co-founder sailing with your company for long. Once taken on-board, it will be difficult to push him/her out.
Move ahead with clear commitment to time slots, goals, milestones, to ensure that there are no misunderstandings or realizing the gap later between what was expected and what was achieved?
Not having the right mentor can make or break your idea or your startup. Mentors bring in a lot of wisdom, experience, insight, and their aspiration is also to see you through emerging successfully. So even if you are running your startup, enterprise (small or big) successfully it is always advisable to rope in good mentors, as advisors, for your business growth.
(This article contributed by Shyam Sekar S, originally appeared in FWD Business Magazine, Sep 2016)