How critical is Mentoring for start-ups?

From my experience of the last 12 years with start-ups, the issue is with the entrepreneurs understanding and acknowledgement of the importance of a Mentor. In most cases, a mentor is supposed to be a like a quick-fix. A first time entrepreneur needs to understand that a mentor is like a partner, hand-holding you to help you meet your objectives, both short and long term. With this quick-fix mentality, you tend to look at mentorship as a short-term initiative (normally 3-6 months based on the money one is willing to spend) and expect visible results in that time, failing which there is hesitation to renew the contract. What you do not realize is that you have actually indulged in wasteful expense, since there will be nothing to show for it in that much time. A business plan is made with a 3-5 year timeline in mind, but you do not apply the same yardstick to a mentor. A mentor does not come with a magic wand.

Having a mentor should be viewed as a necessary investment and should be factored into the business plan right at the outset. Every new entrepreneur should understand that mentoring is necessary to:

  • Understand the start-up life-cycle and process
  • Prioritize each stage in the process with a logical progression
  • Understand the pitfalls and typical mistakes at each stage and prepare in advance
  • Help validate all assumptions about the product, target market, customer profile etc.
  • Put in place an effective GTM and after sales strategy (most people concentrate on GTM as that would help to bring in revenues, when after sales will help in retaining customers and enjoying repeat business)
  • Eventually help to put in place the necessary milestones to help with funding.

Only serial entrepreneurs, who have been there and done that, possess that knowledge. For most new entrepreneurs this is unknown territory. These activities need to be put in place during the critical phase of the company, which is the initial 12-18 month period, which could have a significant and positive impact on the business in the long run.

The other thought process that I have come across quite often is ‘whether an outsider will know my domain! How can he/she help me?’ Domain knowledge, whilst is important and adds value, is really useful for product/service development to make it more relevant for the target segment. If the person can also help to take it to market, then it is ideal. But getting someone with all these attributes is not that easy. To take a product/service to market, one has to be able to strategize it keeping a start-up in mind. The first GTM obstacle and a very big one for a start-up, is to overcome the ‘unknown’ factor and build credibility. Getting that first meeting in itself could turn out to be a herculean task, let alone making him take that leap of faith with your product/service. So more than domain knowledge, it is imperative that the mentor comes with deep experience of having worked with start-ups and understands the start-up ethos.

Having said this, start-up entrepreneurs need to understand and accept the need for a mentor to handhold them during the critical initial phase and be prepared to pay for it.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on helping start-ups to grow. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . Please visit www.nodiva.co.in for more information.

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