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Does your startup need a mentor? A good mentor will provide an honest feedback about a business plan or an idea, which makes the difference between winning and losing.

By Sunil Rao

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In a startup, a mentor adds perspective, experience and is always on a lookout for opportunities and trends to analyse an idea and provide direction from an outsider's perspective. As mentors generally bring an area of specialisation with them, they can advise start-ups as to what they should focus on, or how they should tackle various problems.

Role of a mentor

A good mentor will provide an honest feedback about a business plan or an idea, which makes the difference between winning and losing. A mentor provides deep insights and guide startups to make right decisions at right time and provide key strategic inputs across various lifecycles of a product or business.

Mentors share their domain knowledge, learnings from failure in the past and provide an insight into market realities so that startups don't tread the same path in similar situations.

They help startups connect with right people at the right time and help them prioritise things instead of working on all problems simultaneously, which form an important part of getting the first deal inked. Hence, their rich experience helps in understanding the potential upcoming pitfalls and how to avoid them.

When to partner with a mentor?

The earlier a startup associates with mentors, the better it is. If you are already from a strong technology background and you have a product idea, you need a partner in crime to wear the business hat and know the market viability for such a product. The potential partner can come in the form of a mentor who can give his feedback based on his vast experience. In some cases, it also depends on the kind and nature of product that a startup is developing.

A seasoned mentor in the technology space can provide mentorship to around 10-15 companies at a time, but it varies at which stage a startup is. An early-stage startup requires more mentoring when compared to a startup in a much more matured stage. But mentoring a startup strictly depends on mentors' bandwidth (time availability) and the amount of support that a startup requires.

Team-up with a mentor

A mentor is generally passionate about working with bright people, shares experiences and has a sense of giving back to the community. Most of the well-known mentors do it for free because they really enjoy what they are doing and do not expect anything in return. But startups should respect a mentor's time and be very well prepared to ask him/her the right set of questions.

The kind of network and the degree of training that a mentor brings to the table helps a startup achieve success to a great extent. Nowadays, an interesting concept of reverse mentoring is gaining ground.

Many instances of younger people mentoring experienced/older people could be seen in the corporate world. Since the younger lot is very much involved into areas like technology, creativity and design, than the older generation, they help in bridging the gap to a very large extent.

Sunil Rao

Country Head-Startup Ecosystem, Google India

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