There are situations when startups wish they had a good Mentor to guide them in their project initiatives. Here’s a primer on how to choose a good Mentor.
1. Been there, done that : Make sure the Mentor had been a `hands-on’ guy and have had his fare share of success in the relevant field. Often Arm-Chair Strategists masquerade as Mentors and talk at length about their achievements. This is just a ruse to get paid for dishing out garbage. Verify their credentials thoroughly. Real achievers would often be widely quoted. Simplest way is to search for their names in trade portals or at least in Google / Yahoo engines and look up the results.
2. Look for passion ; The earliest trait that one can identify with a good Mentor is his passion for incubation of the founder’s idea. When you send your first mail or make your first call, this would be evident. The right guy will often ask you all the right questions and would not hesitate to give his views. In case, if he stops at asking questions, you must ask him for his thoughts. You can judge his intent and level of expertise from his answers.
3. No Fair-weather Friend ; This is a sure sign of not being an opportunist. When you contact your potential mentor, if he says “ you get your bootstrap, then I’ll walk in” – slam the door shut on his face. This guy is a parasite and will eat your meal. The right mentor when takes a liking to your idea, would guide and advise you how to bootstrap your project and will not run. He’ll inspire, goad, motivate and will not rest until you strap up. A resourceful one would even use his contacts in the industry to pitch in or may even do it himself.
4. No one size fits all ; Make sure the guy whom you approach is an all-rounder. He may be a very good techie, but if he’s a poor profit planner or is not well versed with project management skills, then you had it. He’ll guide you brilliantly on product development, but you’ll soon be left with nothing to pay even for your utility bills. This happens mostly with people who had their stint in large corporations where they had a fetish for product development, while the bosses were busy totting up their stock grants on declared earnings growth ( Remember Enron ).
5. Quality of time spent ; Watch how he spends his time while he’s with the team. If he’s your man, he’d be an eager beaver while at work. He’ll quiz on the project status, measure it against preset milestones, will run some tests of his own, makes a record of his assessment and will make you sweat. Most importantly, he’ll ask you to justify yourself the time and resources that you burn up.
6. Avoid run-of-the-mill types ; This one’s a pest. Keep away. You don’t need it. Recently I read a wannabe Mentor’s post in a Startup group blog. This guy said he has a “one-pager” on his fabulous idea ( in which neither he nor his family would invest despite having “domain expertise” ) and called upon interested investors to write-in. He generously volunteered that his whole familywould be available to act as Mentors. Realising that no one bothered about the “one-pager”, he published that a couple of days later. It turned out that he was referring to something like a Web enabled Geriatric Centre ( Old Age home ) and the professed “domain expertise” of his family was that it had a grand old man living alone in a distant city. Besides making a virtue out of necessity, he had cleverly tried to sneak in a revenue stream for his entire family thro such vested “Mentoring” initiatives. Soon if he’s made to foot the medical bills of his old man, he will have an “one-pager” for pharma research projects. He won’t invest of course, but he and his family will share their “domain expertise” for 1% of your company…!
7. Mentor not must ; Do not pale if you don’t get a Mentor. Sometimes having no Mentor is infinitely better than having the wrong one. Some of them would even look down upon your idea for the simple reason that they were unable to make any sense of it. The freshness of your idea is at risk here. Instead, have no Mentor, be a bit cautious in your outlook and always pick up on the weak signals. This should keep you in good stead. As you move along, you might find the right Mentor. With a bit of luck, the right one may even find you. Remember, Mentors are always made, never born.