Mentoring 2.0, Y not YC? – Deepak Srinath

I recently wrote a blog piece about the growing trend of self professed ‘mentors’ in the startup world. This generated a lot of feedback from friends in the startup community saying how much it struck a chord with them. Interestingly enough, we often receive the suggestion that Viedea should start aYCombinator type of startup accelerator model adapted for India (for those of you not familiar with it, YC developed a model of making a small seed investment and then working closely with founders over an intense 3 month boot camp http://ycombinator.com/). On the face of it this makes a lot of sense – we are probably the only advisory firm in India focused exclusively on the VC ecosystem, we understand what it takes to ‘dress up’ a firm for funding and all of us on the team have entrepreneurial as well as operating experience. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the mentoring/incubation issue and continue to shy away from it.  I thought I’d share a few ideas on what would make a startup accelerator work (and perhaps these are reasons why we don’t start one 🙂 ) –

1. Rockstars and Hackers – The people who founded and/ or the people who provide mentorship at the most successful startup accelerators in the world- YC, Techstars, etc- are bona fide rockstars. They are super successful entrepreneurs, hackers or investors. Their achievements and aura not only enables them to give great advice to entrepreneurs, they also have the networks to open doors to investors, customers and other advisors. This quote from a YC alumnus in a  NYTimes article on YC says it all, “It’s like Rob De Niro wants to start an acting school. Do you want to join it? You get to work with him every week, you might even get a small little movie deal out of it at the end.”

My take – You need to be a rockstar to coach potential rockstars. Great successes (and great failures) along with being super well networked are necessary ingredients for mentoring entrepreneurs.

2. Focus– Successful startup accelerators in the US are mostly focused on tech startups, and almost invariably on internet/mobile startups. The YC founders are hackers themselves and take great pride in it. Mentors at these programs have specific areas of expertise, be it marketing, product management, technology or finance.

My take – The mentoring program cannot be one size fits all. It needs to be focused on a specific domain and the mentors on the program need to have real skills. I attend startup events where a lot of general fluff is dispensed in the name of mentoring. The real value to a start up is when a mentor gives them concrete, actionable guidance to solve specific problems.

3. Peer mentoring – We share our office space with a startup. We’re constantly bouncing ideas off each other and sharing learning’s. The energy in the space is infectious. Commenting on my previous blog on mentoring (http://blogs.vccircle.com/500/mentoring-the-mentor/), GautamSinha, a good friend and founder of myfirstcheque.com, wrote about the importance of ‘peer’ mentors. I couldn’t agree more.

My take – A well run shared physical space for startup’s is a great idea. Entrepreneurs will learn more from their peers than through formal advice. I’d like to emphasize that this model requires a focused, highly networked and visible person or team running it for it to succeed. The Startup Center in Chennai is a great initiative and hopefully will validate the benefits of a well run shared space for startups.

4. Be rich before you mentor– This sounds a little frivolous, but let me explain why it’s important.  A lot of people seem to be getting into the mentoring business of late, which is great if they have the right experience, expertise, etc. However, this is a long haul business. You’ve got to invest all your time and energy for five years at the very least before returns (may) kick in. In the interim, there is very little income.  Unless you have other sources of income, this is going to be very frustrating.

My take – If you strip it down to basics, the entrepreneurship game is all about making truckloads of money (I’m already anticipating the ‘higher calling’ type of comments :)). Now why would an entrepreneur take advice on how to do this from somebody who’s not made sacksful of it? Ergo, be rich before you mentor!

What do you think?

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About Deepak
Venture Capital and M&A advisor, Entrepreneur, Startup enthusiast..

2 Responses to Mentoring 2.0, Y not YC? – Deepak Srinath

  1. haraguy says:

    Deepak,

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more. Your earlier post struck a chord with me too. In recent years I’ve noticed that entrepreneurship has become big business. A whole ecosystem seems to have evolved around dispensing banal advice to startups and founders and/or setting up incubation centers. I’ve noticed an especially worrying trend here in Singapore where some folks have elevated this to a fine art form. The smartest kids from top universities here decide to get into “entrepreneurship” – not to build businesses, but to create incubation centers to help other entrepreneurs. A bit like the blind leading the blind ?

    RJ

  2. Vijay Anand says:

    I can relate to what you are talking about here. I realized a few years ago, how incubation has become an extremely high touch engagement. Entrepreneurs wants infrastructure, technology support, mentorship, funding, access to clients, and help whenever they make a misstep and it leads to a crisis that i was fairly convinced the incubation centres are attracting the wrong kind of “entrepreneurs”

    Most days at the Startup Centre (your post might need an edit on the spelling) i am just amazed at how much th four teams there know about the verticals they are working on. Takes me back to why i love working with entrepreneurs. – its always a humbling experience, and a world of insight into everythung around us.

    My sense is that, india needs quite a few strong organizations in that level to churn out some high potential ventures. Whats ready made out there, most often is half baked unfortunately and the early stage platform is just starting to get heated.

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