Deshpande on Entrepreneurship-Part-20: How to make the most of mentors in a startup?

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Desh Deshpande

By Desh Deshpande

(Editor’s note: This is Part-20 of the weekly video column with philanthropist and serial entrepreneur Desh Deshpande, with excerpts from his book “On Entrepreneurship and Impact.” This column appears every Monday.)

Desh Deshpande

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” –             Benjamin Disraeli

Mentoring is an interesting topic.

Most entrepreneurs look for mentors at the wrong time. They look for help when they are facing a tactical problem and are already in trouble.

Though they go to someone with a mentoring request, their immediate need is for a purchase order or a capital investment.

The problem?

They will get neither a capital investment nor a purchase order

Free consulting requests should not be disguised as mentoring requests.

The other problem I see is that entrepreneurs pursue famous people as their mentors. This rarely works for two reasons (1) famous people have many other demands for their time and many of those other requests may be more attractive to them and (2) they just don’t have the bandwidth to pay attention.

A better approach is to engage with mentors to sharpen your thinking. Find and engage a mentor if you want to bounce off your ideas, get an alternate perspective or look for a second opinion.

Sometimes when an entrepreneur comes to me for advice, I turn the question back to them,

“If you were me, what would you do in this situation?”

Not surprisingly, in most cases entrepreneurs have brilliant answers to their own questions.

They have it within them.

Why do they go to someone else looking for answers?

Because they want to be sure.

Because they have not done this before.

And, most importantly, because they trust the mentor to provide sound advice without bias.

Three things to remember when it comes to mentoring:

It’s about chemistry: Before you embark on a journey with your mentor, check if there is chemistry between the two of you. Without the right chemistry, the relationship will be short-lived, even if there is enormous value being added.

It’s about timing: Sometimes it’s all about the timing. You might catch the right potential mentor, but at the wrong time. You will get a “No” for your request. The “No” is not about you – it’s about them not having time for someone then. Don’t read between the lines and take that rejection personally.

It’s about expectations: As I mentioned before, you need to get your agenda with the mentor right. Your mentoring request should not be your indirect attempt to land funding or a customer deal. While on this topic of expectations, make sure that engaging with you is rewarding for the mentor as well.

 (About Desh Deshpande: During his entrepreneurial career spanning over three decades, Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande has built several companies. He has injected his passion for innovation and entrepreneurship into a number of social impact initiatives in India, the USA and Canada. He has been recognized for his entrepreneurial accomplishments by many institutions including being named co-chair of President Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He currently also serves as a Life Member of the MIT corporation. He resides in Boston together with his wife, Jaishree.)

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