Mentoring the Mentor – Deepak Srinath

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 –

  1. Choose your mentors wisely. Sometimes, finding and pitching to the right mentor is as difficult  and as important as finding the right investor,
  2. 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.
  3. 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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About Deepak
Venture Capital and M&A advisor, Entrepreneur, Startup enthusiast..

4 Responses to Mentoring the Mentor – Deepak Srinath

  1. Very nice post. As far as startup product / services are concerned, I think one of the the most important (and sadly often not taken full advantage of) mentors are the early users (and their feedback) – just as they say revenue (from customers) is the most reliable source of funding 🙂

    It really (pleasantly) surprises me that all of a sudden there seems to be such a rush towards early stage funding. It seems like we have a whole new industry coming up – with all that we had for established businesses being replicated for early stage firms!

    • Mandar,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. We always try to use the services of start up’s we’re discussing an engagement as this enables us to give them feedback from a user perspective rather than a mentor perspective.

      The early stage rush is indeed heartening (and hopefully will vindicate our decision to stay focused on early stage for all these years 🙂 ). We’re also building models for an early stage fund and would love to hear ideas on what would work, ie, what do startup’s really need apart from the money..

  2. Vijay says:

    Deepak,

    You reflect my thoughts completely. Couldnt agree with you more.

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