When I was reading the recent Startup Genome Report, I saw that Silicon Valley has again come out on top as the best start eco-system in the world. When I was going through the parameters that made Silicon Valley the best, I noticed an important fact. Silicon Valley has the largest number of mentors and serial entrepreneurs as opposed to other startup eco-systems globally.
Which brings me to the discussion of the need for mentors for an entrepreneur.
The word "Mentor" is misunderstood in the context of our lives. Who is a mentor and what does a mentor do? Why do we need a mentor? Can we do without a mentor? Is it a must-have?
Oxford Dictionary defines mentor as "An Experienced and Trusted Adviser" .
Since times immemorial, every successful leader had a mentor. In family owned business, mentors were usually one's father or uncle or some trusted person associated with the well-being of the family. Famous politicians had mentors. Emperors had mentors.
The term "Mentor" has been age-old.
In today's context of entrepreneurship, the term mentor has taken more holistic guidance but its ethos still remain the same.
So why should an entrepreneur have a mentor:
1. Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey – Whether you have friends, you have a life partner, your girlfriend / boyfriend, the path of entrepreneurship still seems very lonely. And none of your "social" and "personal" circle can understand this loneliness that you have. Having a mentor makes it easier to talk to someone and ease your path a little bit more
2. Have someone to report to – In entrepreneurship, you are your own boss. You have to define your own metrics and stick to them.You have only yourself to answer to. Yes, customer is the ultimate person to whom you are answerable, but unless you stick to the metrics you have defined for yourself, there will be no customers. Having a mentor helps you to be more accountable
3. You fight numerous personal battles – Entrepreneurship is as much about external situations, as much as it is internal. In fact I would say, entrepreneurship is more an internal battle than an external. You will be going through a wide range of emotions which none can understand. Having a mentor makes it easier to win those personal battles
4. You are often clueless – There will be times, when you will be clueless as to what you should be doing next. Whether you should build "this" feature or "that" feature, whether you should change your marketing strategy or whether you should target a different customer segment. An experienced mentor can help you and guide you into the right direction.
5. Contacts – An experienced mentor brings with him / her a wealth of contacts. These contacts are what is needed often to give you the break that you need to grow.
How should you select a mentor?
You should take your time to select a mentor. Some of the things you should look for are:
1. Do you share a good camaraderie with the mentor
2. Are you comfortable being yourself with the mentor
3. Is the mentor reputed in his / her field
4. Whether the mentor is giving you advice that you feel is valuable to your growth
5. Is the mentor very honest in his association
6. Whether the mentor has any conflicting interest working with you.
7. What does the mentor bring to the table which you can never do it by yourself
How should you engage with a mentor?
Take time to find the right mentor. Mentorship is not a "profession". It is about someone giving his / her time for you because he / she really believes in you and your vision. When you talk to people, you will know who are genuinely interested in you and who are not. Have multiple conversations. Meet with them, take them out for drinks, discuss about your business. Listen to what they have to say. The more you listen, the better will be your understanding of a mentor.
Never work on retainer fee model upfront. Gauge each other's qualities before getting into formal business agreement. When you see value in someone, you will want to retain that person. So wait till you get that value.
Is your mentor your savior?
No, never. And do not expect him / her to be your savior. You are responsible for your own business. So man up and take responsibility for your actions. A Mentor is someone who brings in his / her experience to help you. But he / she is not god. To Err is human.
How do you find such mentors?
You can find the best mentor in someone from your family. But chances are less that your mother or father will always give you a neutral view-point of you and your business. So usually someone who is not related to you works better, except of course you own a family business.
Find people in the same industry as yours, who have been successful. Attend and network at events. Get connected to the best and the most hard-working people in the business world. The best mentors are often the quietest and the most low profile ones. So take time to find them.