Originally posted on “E for Entrepreneurship“.
Mentors can play an important role in the success of a start-up. If you can find the right mentors, they can bring in the much needed external perspective in your business decisions; the bigger picture, broader questions that you might miss in your day to day struggle as an entrepreneur. They can also help you with right contacts for selling your product or for raising capital. Some may be able to help you in streamlining your operations or correctly channeling your marketing efforts.
As useful as a right mentor can be to a start-up, the wrong ones can be equally or more damaging. So, here are a few types of people you should avoid getting on board as mentors.
- The cynic: Someone who has dirtied his hands by being an entrepreneur himself is a good candidate for being a mentor, even if his entrepreneurial attempt(s) have failed. Few things are more precious than actual experience. But if the failures have made them cynical about everything, they can be dangerous. You need the mentor to bring in a balanced perspective, not a negative one. The mentor should be a support to the entrepreneur. So, avoid someone who thinks that the world and everyone in it, including yourself, are doomed, the ecosystem sucks, the government doesn’t care, the RBI is after you and the terrorists are targeting you.
- The narcissist: There is a category of people who, when they succeed, fall too much in love with their success. They think that theirs is the only way to success. As an entreprneur, you are most likely trying to do different things, or trying to do them differently. Someone who can not see a way of doing things other than how they have done it in life, will spell doom for your efforts.
- The know-it-all: There are people who do not believe in listening. Yes – they seem to have skipped their COM101 classes during their MBA. If you have fallen for some such person, get up fast. As an entreprenur, you have an idea, a vision. The mentor is supposed to help you refine it, modify it in a way that you succeed. So, someone who isn’t giving time to listening to you and understanding what you are trying to do, is no good as a mentor. Stay away from them.
- The inexperienced: The start-up ecosystem, particularly in India, seems to be full of people who are the equivalent of “famous for being famous” from the page 3 world. Their sole entrepreneurial credential might be that they are start-up gurus without having any solid entrepreneurial hisotry behind them. Not having been an entrepreneur, by itself, does not mean that the person is not a suitable mentor. But he does need to have something solid to offer to you. Probably an experience in the relevant industry. Or someone who is a very good observer, someone who can actually learn the right things by observing others and pass the learning to you. I have to admit that it is difficult to judge. But you don’t have an option. You have to develop the skill to differentiate between the bluff-masters and the people who have a solid understanding. If unsure, you might want to stay away from the inexperienced.
In short, mentors can be great asset to an entrepreneur. But having no mentor is better than having a bad mentor.