Guide to picking a mentor

There has been a boom in mentoring space, especially in India, in the past few years. I started askmentor, a mentoring platform, in the year 2013 and during that time, at startups events, I would come across wantrepreneur and budding entrepreneurs who failed to see the value mentors bring to startups. Well to be fair to them, it was not completely their fault because at that time the startup ecosystem was primarily focused on funding and VCs and not so much on mentors. Today, just search the word mentor in LinkedIn, and the results will tell the story- mentoring is the new sexy thing!

When startups approach askmentor my first question to them is; “have you defined what you are looking for in a mentor or the type of mentor” and eight out of ten times- the answer is No. With so many people claiming to be a mentor it is important that budding entrepreneurs understand how and whom to pick as a mentor. We have devised a basic template that could help startups home in on to a suitable mentor.

1. Business Mentor: Remember, entrepreneurs know what it takes to build a successful company because they have “been there and done that.” They can relate to the ups and downs, of a budding entrepreneur, both emotional and professional. Moreover, most importantly their advice is grounded because they have gained experience over a period by dirtying hands in real life situations. A business mentor can be a domain expert too.

2. Domin Mentor: Domin mentors are professionals with in-depth knowledge and experience in a particular field such as, but not limited to, finance, technology, marketing and others. A domain mentor need not be a business mentor- because he/she may or may not have been an entrepreneur.

3. “Star Mentor”: At a startup event last year; a young lady visited askmentor’s lounge, and her first question was- who are your “Star Mentors.” What she meant was a famous business personality. Yes, it would be great to have likes of Ratan Tata and Bill Gates on the mentor list of a startup, but we all know it is not possible. So, pick a mentor who can add value to your startup through his/her knowledge, experience and industry connect. The entrepreneurial galaxy has numerous “Stars Mentors”, big and small, go for the one who fits into your requirement and is easily accessible.

4. Accessible Mentor: No all mentors are into mentoring as a full-time profession. The truth is, it is not required nor possible to have a one-on-one mentoring all the time. Startups should be able to connect with mentors either in person or through technology especially when entrepreneurs need to address a challenge or a deadline.

5. Social Media Mentor: Startup events are churning out many social media hotshots or call them social media mentors. It is a must that startups carry out due diligence on such mentors. Find out about their experience, knowledge and or contribution to a startup ecosystem. Don’t just go chasing social media hotshots.

6. Multiple Mentors: It is important to note that a startup would need one or more mentor through its entrepreneurial journey. Yes!, it is perfectly fine to have multiple mentors be it a domain expert, a business expert or just a mentor-friend with whom one can share fears, worries, and happiness.

Startups should remember that not all mentors are active on social media. Thus, budding entrepreneurs should identify, meet, interact and follow potential mentors over a period before onboarding them.