Mentors, pseudo mentors & advisors!
The world of ‘start-ups’ is amazing & tricky! Amazing for the kind of experiences one gets, tricky for the same reason :)
The most challenging part is usually the initial phase when you are trying to figure out the basics, you somewhat know what you want but how / when / where remains to be answered.
It’s at this stage one gets enamoured by visible ‘stars of the eco system’ — successful founders, businessmen who make success look so effortless, whatever they touch turns to gold.
AND we start wondering how amazing it will be to have them help us. They have already walked the path, have a playbook, how can we have them as our guide/mentor/advisor.
But then with almost everyone calling themselves mentors/advisors on LinkedIn the confusion is — who should we work with? How? How do we structure this association so that none of us feels cheated in the end? What role will they play? What’s the right expectation? Is it ok to define it upfront? What’s fair compensation? AND then comes heavy-duty words like ‘advisor equity’ ‘sweat equity etc — and you go in a tailspin!
While it is good to have experts/advisors/mentors, it’s important to have the right ones, at the right stage, in the right format. To go down this journey (who do I need / how should compensation be worked etc) it’s also important to know the difference between them.
Based on my experience, I think we can categorize ‘experts’ in the following types
- True Mentor
- Pseudo Mentor
Having a good mentor can be a blessing, he/she works as a true coach !! Life-changing. It is like how it is in sports — all athletes have a coach — someone who helps you identify your strong areas, helps you with a prescription in terms of regime, to-do’s, makes a game plan and monitors progress. Someone who pushes you to outdo yourself, think differently, try new things. Encourages you when you need it, and is also equally critical when it’s required (like lord Krishna was for Arjun in Mahabharata — never fought one battle for Arjuna but was always there whenever there was doubt). The destination is ‘success’ but more important is conducting yourself right during the journey — staying positive, staying away from energy vampires (read here) — this person helps you stay on track and corrects regularly. Someone who is there on the field with you — knows both — the game and your game.
It is always worth having the ‘right’ coach no matter what the price!
A good coach/mentor would never expect a pound of flesh! For them in your success lies their success. They don’t ask for anything. For most — helping is their ‘paying it forward’ (for me, I had the honor of working with 3 amazing mentors who refused to take any sweat equity — Gita Dang Maam, Vikas Kuthiala Sir, and Mr. Rohit Jain — and all 3 have played an invaluable part in our journey). They are successful because someone helped them, and they are doing the same. They add ‘continued’ value (fix the plan/monitors regularly / open doors) till they can. Depending on your stage it’s absolutely fine to have different mentors at different levels (some champions help you get to 0–1, then there are those whose expertise is 1–10 etc).
Usual traits of a good mentor/coach
- Are approachable. Most are willing to open doors for no vested interest — are selfless.
- They know what they are good at, and are happy to take a back seat when their job is done in your life (defined upfront)
Warning Sign — Good mentors are not hungry for your equity / if someone is chasing you to make them a mentor & asking you to give upfront equity — it’s a warning sign.
Pro tip — Usually good mentors don’t even have it on their LinkedIn. Ask your friends if they have a coach, Before you approach them read about them. Speak to their connections on the value they have brought… If you get great value -a good gesture is to provision ‘sweat equity’ of 0.5% — 2% (can vest over years) — it’s called ‘sweat’ as they are willing to sweat it out with you — over years.
Then some people disguise themselves as mentors but are nothing more than commentators! They comment from the outside. The issue with commentators disguised as mentors is — they talk big stuff, go around telling the world they are your mentors or advisors, that they helped you put you on the track — but when it comes to delivering its mere words/superficial commentary. They use one of the two strategies — either they dig holes in everything you do (without understanding the context) or just keep talking about good things (worse). Their involvement is very superficial — out of mind / out of sight!
- Most of them are vultures who will ask for equity upfront
- Everyone can give Gyan in our country (like me :) and so do they.
- They will come in the meetings / give their Pre convinced Gyan packaged in good words / keep boasting about their experiences to justify their PoV\
- They will be the first ones to jump to ‘take ownership’ if something works and quickly pass the buck if something didn’t work (I told you so syndrome) and then disappear till the next meeting.
Tip — They are good to have as a sounding board if you don’t have good friends/advisors/mentors. If you must have them, let it be cash payment — spend a lot of time upfront before committing on commercials — define deliverables as much as you can — else giving equity isn’t worth it. Your investors will make far better advisors — at least they have invested in you.
These are subject matter experts who set time, fix money payable and deliver. It’s important to identify the right advisors. There is nothing wrong with advisors — there are real gems out there who can teach you a lot of things right from advisory on fundraising/deck making/compliances / esops/time management/meditation/motivation etc. They are good at something, they charge for it and that’s it. No equity. Pay them for their time and service. Keep it simple. Like you do with your doctor!
Choose your mentors/advisors wisely. Good ones can be massive assets.
Stay away from commentators disguised as mentors — these are occasional visitors with an opinion on everything but solutions for none!
Engage with professional advisors without thinking! They will deliver value and charge