India has the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world, with a thriving pool of startups that are passionate about the next big idea. However, most startups cannot keep up with the frenzy of acquiring customers, fund-raising and attracting quality talent, which leads to 90% of Indian startups failing within the first 5 years, often due to inexperienced founders.
Recruiting Mentors is a Powerful Strategy
As a startup founder, there is almost always a thin line between success and failure. Therefore, learning from mentors in the ecosystem who have walked both sides of that line, will drastically improve a startup’s chances of staying on the right side. Founders should, therefore dedicate reasonable time toward recruiting quality mentors. This simple but powerful strategy can improve a startup’s odds of success more than almost anything else. There are several areas in which a mentor will add value to a founder:
Founders will gain invaluable, real-world experience which is crucial for unbridled success and growth, while core entrepreneurial skills are being built. They will have the opportunity to leverage the knowledge and experience of their mentors so that the hustle can remain ignited. Good mentors are patient and provide nuanced guidance while being aware of the founder’s strengths and gaps.
Leverage the Mentor Networks
Additionally, a good mentor will have a vast network of people that founders can benefit from. Given that mentors are invested in a startup’s success, they would be glad to let the startup founders have access to their networks at the appropriate time. Also, very often, investors inherently trust startups that are recommended by friends within the ecosystem.
On another note, mentors demand accountability and ensure founders have a razor-sharp focus on their goals. They are also intrepid enough to ask deeply analytical questions that keep founders grounded. In essence, a mentor will help you stay in business longer.
Mentors Help Develop a Strong ‘Emotional Quotient’
Finally, a mentor is a coach that will provide encouragement and reassurance along the journey. Quality mentorship entails providing founders with the confidence to persevere through rough times and the courage to recover from failures. A good mentor will help founders develop a stronger EQ, which is critical to entrepreneurial success. It will also enable founders to have greater control over their emotions, both in their professional realm and personal lives.
Mentor Fit is Critical
While quality mentors can really help scale a business and open several doors, they cannot be held accountable for the actions of founders, even if it’s based on their advice, since they are essentially acting as coaches. Hence choosing the right mentor is important, and having mentors simply isn’t enough. Several founders commit the mistake of chasing “celebrity mentors”. While these mentors do bring much value to the table, they are not always the right fit. Therefore, extensive research before signing on a mentor is warranted. The decision could be arrived at by focusing on the match between the mentor candidate’s aspirations and the founder’s vision, checking on the mentor’s responsiveness to the startup’s need, as well as the mentor’s past track record with other startups, if any. However, the inter-personal dynamic between the mentor and founder is also a key factor.
Technology is a crucial enabler for new-age startups, and it is hard for them to achieve rapid scale in an efficient manner without investing in the appropriate technologies. However, not all startup founders have a background in technology and therefore the role of a technology mentor is important as it would help a founder in choosing the right technology with a defined budget, enable scale while watching out for cybersecurity.
Mentors with Skin in the Game
While historically, mentorship has been a paid engagement (mostly in the form of equity), many founders prefer to engage with a mentor who has no strings attached and only wants to pay forward. However, for some founders, having a mentor who has skin in the game gives more comfort. It is important to structure the mentoring relationship in a way that brings comfort to both sides.
On a closing note, creating a community of mentors can’t happen overnight as it requires a group of mentors with a long-term vision that is aware that returns are not guaranteed. However, as more leaders take on the responsibility of mentorship, success for Indian startups will certainly follow suit. For the best mentors, who will be reward enough along with the knowledge that mentoring isn’t a one-way street by any standards and in reality, mentors gain tremendously from the relationship with the mentee as well.
Monica Mehta is Executive Vice President, National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) at Wadhwani Foundation
Also read: SMEStreet League of Mentors Initiative