Research by the UK-based Federation of Small Businesses has shown that small businesses that have received mentorship have superior survivability rates when compared to non-mentored businesses.
Mentorship is a critical foundational component for building a successful start-up. A great product, service or idea is good, but an able mentor is equally important. Research by the UK-based Federation of Small Businesses has shown that small businesses that have received mentorship have superior survivability rates when compared to non-mentored businesses.
Here I list five critical elements that every start-up should look for in a mentor.
Industry knowledge: A mentor from the same industry vertical and from the specific area of your start-up can help you understand the nuances of business and the varied nature of the market in a better way. General mentors typically provide generic advice; at times, this isn’t enough.
Entrepreneur: It helps if you are mentored by someone who has gone through the process of entrepreneurship. Mentors from corporates who manage large businesses are fine, but it’s a different ballgame when you need to validate your idea, raise money and steer the start-up through difficult times. Entrepreneurship is hard and someone who has walked that path can guide you appropriately. A mentor who has built a company from idea to exit is ideal.
Network effects: A mentor with strong connections in the industry you are operating in is highly valuable. Such a mentor has the potential to open multiple doors for you. The mentor could leverage his connections to bring in extended network effects that can provide you with early customer trials, strategic engagements, potential customers and interested investors. For example, investors feel more comfortable and would typically make an investment if the start-up was referred to by their network. The same applies to engagements with potential B2B customers. A referral for your start-up from a vendor that supplies to large corporations has much more leverage than cold calling.
Chemistry: You will need to closely work with your mentor, so a good chemistry helps. The mentor should empathise with you, help you look at the bigger picture, and assist you through the various trials and tribulations that you might face. Depression and blues are common problems faced by young entrepreneurs, and a good mentor can help reduce some of the burden. However, avoid strongly opinionated mentors. There should be space to openly discuss differing viewpoints and merge on common grounds quickly.
Visionary: Key elements for a start-up are finding creative solutions to current problems and looking beyond the daily buzz. A great mentor should help you find great solutions for the problems you face—funding, technology, market access or organisational culture. The mentor should help you look at technology trends and changing market dynamics, help you build alternative revenue streams, and scale and solidify your position in the market.
Be cognisant while choosing a mentor. A single mentor may not have all the elements listed above, and so you may need two or three mentors with different levels of engagements guiding you. But if you do find a person with all the above characteristics, you can definitely benefit from the guidance provided.
By: Snehal Shetty
The author is COO, Amrita Technology Business Incubator, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Views are personal