For startups, mentors are as popular and important as investors

  • Abhilasha Dafria
  • Updated: Feb 22, 2016 08:05 IST
It seems inevitable, not just necessary, to make a deposit in ‘the bank of relationships’ and invest in the right network to reap dividends through a long journey. (HT Photo)

The best metaphor that I have come across about entrepreneurship is that ‘you throw yourself off a cliff and assemble a plane on your way down’. As part of my job that helps startups nurture themselves, I think I’ve been lucky enough to have heard the stories of hundreds of such entrepreneurs and I’m continually dumbfounded by the tenacity they show, turning meltdowns into victories.

One common thing that emerges during my conversations with successful entrepreneurs is that they did not see themselves as entrepreneurs but as ones on the path of entrepreneurship. They were all so driven by the problem they were trying to solve that everything else to them seemed secondary.

From their journeys, I’ve come to understand that the challenges and stakes are much higher than the glory and heroism attached to being an entrepreneur. But here, passion is necessary but not a sufficient condition for success. The right skill sets and know-how to build a sustainably profitable organisation are important.

It is here where mentors come in. Most successful entrepreneurs highly value the role of mentors. It could be an experienced entrepreneur, an investor who puts in seed funds, or a serial entrepreneur who comes on board as an adviser.

It is said that the term mentor originates in Homer’s classic The Odyssey, where, during the 10 years of Trojan Wars that Odysseus was away from home, Mentor served as a surrogate father to Odysseus’ son Telemachus.

It makes perfect sense in the context of entrepreneurship. Starting up is a lot like growing up. An entrepreneur is engulfed by problems, some common to all entrepreneurs and some unique. Resolving these is something that cannot come without experience of success and, more so, failures.

We gave entrepreneurs an option to ask questions anonymously, and saw an 80% surge in the number of questions, on everything from finance to customer service and strategy.

When we set up mentoring sessions, mentors were as popular as investors. This indicates the importance of connecting the inexperienced with the experts.

Networking is one vital and unavoidable space where great entrepreneurs excel. They have a mechanism to build social capital — a reliable network of people through which they gain access to knowledge, resources, talent and, at times, just company in a lonely journey called entrepreneurship.

Some of best entrepreneurs that I have spoken to have figured out the right mentors and have built a network around the right people. They mostly have a mentor who has faced similar hurdles previously. This helps create a congruent alignment of thought that allows them to trust their mentor’s judgment on days when they’re juggling between too many decisions.

What we millennials now understand and what can be a powerful fuel to a high-growth story is that the lack of social capital can thwart even the most passionate entrepreneur.

It seems inevitable, not just necessary, to make a deposit in ‘the bank of relationships’ and invest in the right network to reap dividends through a long journey. Mentorship, a key aspect of such a network, helps amplify the speed and accuracy at which one solves entrepreneurial problems. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

Abhilasha Dafria is CEO and founder, The Venturator.

The views expressed are personal

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