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How To Find The Right Mentor The most accurate definition of a mentor actually embodies all these qualities.

By Rajat Tandon

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The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. The most accurate definition of a mentor actually embodies all these qualities. The ecosystem is replete with examples, where mentors have made a world of difference to mentee companies, which have reaped the benefits successfully. Often there's a lot of noise and headline grabbing topics which goes with funding; but nurturing the mentorship ecosystem is just as important and should be given top priority as well.

Chai pe Charcha

The start-up journey is often about putting into motion a certain passion that one has nurtured over the time. The model can be a simple one, yet another me-too variant, or a very complex idea and to use a clichéd word here – disruptive. Before starting, it is very important to talk to as many people as one can (over endless cups of tea) and leverage them as sounding boards.

These "people" (early mentors?) can be college professors, professionals, colleagues, bosses or people with similar binding who are in a position to comment on the efficacy of the idea. It needs endorsement, that there exists a hole in the market and, there is a market in that hole. Start-ups often overlook the aspect of commercial viability and such talks help in getting a reality check. References work wonders if a mentor can connect with an angel or a VC.

Let it Build or Collapse?

Mentorship requires a degree of commitment which goes way beyond a passing interest. There will be many people who can answer a few questions – so does Google – but the moot question remains, are they willing to invest time and energy to understand the business, and not go with a one-size-fits all approach. It may be a wise decision to not ask people straightaway to be mentors. Rather, let it emerge during the course of discussion or, let it collapse in equal measure.

The Power of Diversity

Mentors who are from the same industry or similar levels of complexity in business models, at most times prove to be more appropriate, as they are able to go beyond the startups esoteric and get into tactical levels, if required, the proverbial nuts and bolts of the business.

There's no gain saying, that age or its significant difference are considerations that ought not to be made at the time of mentor selection. There are enough evidences to bolster the argument that 20-year olds can be just as effective in mentoring. The whole idea of peer-to-peer mentoring has caught on. However, one should not shy away from "outsiders".

Get to the Right Mentor

Founders need expert advice on a wide range of issues like organizational structure, sales and marketing, processes, governance, and hiring or sector specific issues. Mentors should be selected based on the requirement, and if the person actually has that kind of expertise in the chosen area.

Right Questions for Right

For mentorship to be effective, it is important that the right questions are asked. If you flip this argument over,then it is imperative from the other side as well. The mentors too need to ask the right question to have a deeper understanding of the business. In addition, they should also be able to articulate hard advice. It is pretty common to see start-ups dabbling with too many revenue streams and not being able to build scale. A strong confident voice in no uncertain terms, should communicate that.

Leverage Mentor Network

This can be to-do with end customers that mentors have access to, or it can be with a particular area of focus as well. For instance, talent is perhaps the single most daunting challenge for any organization today. If a mentor has connects in the HR fraternity and is able to provide that leverage, then it can prove to be of tremendous value add.

Mentorship is finally about sharing experiences, learning and being able to also see challenges from the end-customer's perspective. It is in a constant state of evolution and there are many instances, where angels too have proven to be very good mentors. That of course, would be an ideal situation to get into.

This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (June 2016 Issue).

Rajat Tandon

Vice president, NASSCOM 10,000 Startups

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