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Founders #1 ask: Can you be my mentor?

Source | LinkedIn : By Shekhar Kirani

#Founders: please don’t waste time running around looking for mentors.

By the way it is very hard for VCs to be “true” 1:1 mentors without investing in your company.

Mentorship is over-rated. As I spend more time with folks in the industry, read about how things are done, I am starting to realize how little I know about many things, especially about startups and scaling. I do come across a lot of mentors in the industry who are advising startups in areas that they are not specialists or have deep experience. Their intention is actually to help and they are definitely ahead of the founders in terms of overall understanding, but, they don’t understand the context of the startups to give advice that has material beneficial to startups. So, what should founders do?

As founders, your first step is to understand the domain of your startup as much as possible, especially, the entire value-chain starting from customer to all the product/service providers and stakeholders. Secondly, it is also important to understand a system-level view of how startups are built and scaled. To do this you don’t need a mentor. Here is what you can do (bit hard, but worth it):

Sit 8 hours per day at a vibrant coffee shop with wifi connection. Start with reading about founders who have done it. Start reading blogs of key influencers who write at meta level. Look at scale companies in your domain and understand their product. Write down every question you get while answering other questions and try to answer the same after researching. After couple of days you start figuring out what is good vs bad. Start taking notes of what you read and see how you can apply to your startup.

Don’t get distracted. Do it for two weeks.

Once you do the above, you have acquired one strong skill: how to answer a broad question that comes to mind in the best possible way. You have learnt how to research and learn about things. You have become an expert on the startup lingo.

Sorry, I forgot to say. You do need mentors. No question about it. But, it is about right mentors.

The best mentors are those who have gone through several cycles of success/failures, have seen a lot of contexts, have patience/empathy to listen and understand your question so that they answer from your point of view. You have to go after those who are x-practitioners (or currently practicing), insightful, and to some extent domain experts. Usually, these folks are not at startup event and so you have to research to create a short-list of potential mentors. You have to seek out to them and convince why they should spend time with you. By the way, there are ton of articles on just how to do it, written by very successful folks!

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