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You are switched off. Your eyes are glazed over as the voice drones on. The voice of your mentor.
“And while we strategize the outcome, we must scale this baby really fast, like fast. We are present in 10 cities we must go to 100 cities tomorrow because it’s all about Speed. Speed is…”
And it goes on. But, now it is giving you palpitation too.
Just last night, one of your latest investors (whose gold teeth you hate) called you at 11 in the night and asked, “Dude, when are we scaling to 200 cities? We must roll fast. Only paranoid survives. There is a silver bullet out there…”
You were gritting your teeth then knowing that the start-up you founded was barely six months old and had just crossed the feasibility stage.
Somehow, your mentor was adding pressure than reducing it or giving direction.
Do you really need a start-up mentor? And how do you know whether your mentor is giving the right advice?
Check these five signs of deadly advice, steer away from it and select the right mentor who can provide the growth you desire.
#1 Making the Founder Work on Your Idea of Business
I see mentors developing their own idea of how the founder should run her business. Wrong.
A start-up mentor’s role is that of a coach. He has to unblock the obstacles that the founder is facing. He has to understand what drives the founder and keep her connected to that.
He has to open up the founder’s perspective to more possibilities when stuck. He has to hold the founder accountable for relentlessly focusing on what works for the customer and not what the latest tech soup, which is churned out in the product kitchen.
#2 Let’s Copy the Successful Guys out There
While I am all for benchmarking and best practice learning, I am totally against blatant copying of other business ideas and then replicating it.
While not everyone can be first and it is not always possible, there is always an opportunity to uniquely solve pain points or help the customer grab the opportunities in her life.
I have seen many copycat start-ups, trying to get the easy way to riches. It just doesn’t work like that. Maybe it did earlier; now it doesn’t.
The founder has to put in the grind to understand the customer’s life, their pain points, what they love or hate and that unique way by which the start-up can solve their problems or seek opportunities.
#3 Scaling Up When the Product is Still Not Viable
Do you know what is one of the biggest factors in early failure and death of start-ups?
Scaling too fast.
The concept of Minimum Viable Proposition (MVP) has turned into: get it to work fast and then scale fast to extract fast.
Fast is good when it comes to execution. Fast is not good when you scale into markets without readiness.
Too many start-ups scale up under pressure from short sighted investors. Either the resources get too stretched, or they hire too many people, which works like a millstone around the neck later.
Mentors should not add fuel to the fire by building scaling plans when even the prototype is not tested.
Crash the prototype testing times but relentlessly provide value to customers and entrench the habit of using the startup's service before scaling up.
#4 Focusing Too Much on Strategy and Not on Execution
I had a strategic bent in my corporate life. I loved the quote of Abraham Lincoln, “If I had an hour to cut the tree, I would use 60 minutes to sharpen the ax.”
But in my entrepreneurial avatar and as start-up mentor, I have learned the value of execution focus.
I am a big fan of Ready, Fire, Aim.
The start-up world is disruptive because it is in continuous testing, failing, testing, success, testing mode.
While big decisions should be driven by strategy, the focus daily has to be on “What works?”
Too many mentors take their role seriously and expound strategy gospel. Bad.
The mentor has to hold the start-up accountable for the direction they have set out for but, the relentless focus has to be on execution. And Fast.
#5 Driving Conversations Around Return on Investment Rather than Customer Centricity
The investors focus is ROI. Mentor’s focus has to be customer centricity.
Many years ago Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of the business is to create and retain a customer.”
This purpose still holds true.
When the start-up serves the customer and does it repeatedly and with differentiation, it generates massive equity. When this has to be harnessed in financial terms is a choice.
The longer you postpone the “cashing out” behavior, more the pie expands. Mark Zuckerberg pushed back selling a stake in the company by always insisting it was not the right time.
Start-ups have to focus on expanding the customer equity. Provide massive value, become valuable.
The moolah will follow.
What a Mentor’s Role Should be Ideally?
The best of start-ups, big and small, had a mentor, a coach.
Because a good coach knows that you are the one building the business
It needs care, nurture and direction. You have what it takes to make a successful enterprise. And you are the only one who can deliver the results.
All the mentor needs to do is to hold you accountable for the promises you made to yourself. And to gently nudge you to make sure you are on track.
The Track for Glory, which you dreamt of, which you designed and which you will race on. Let the engines revv up for glory that awaits you.