You think you are good at something only to find out you are not

There are a ton of people who have written about lack of quality mentorship as one of the main problems in the early stages at Indian startups. In fact, many accelerators and incubators are primarily focused on space and mentorship as the primary offerings as part of their portfolio of services.

Personally over the last 4 years in India, I have helped (I am going to avoid using the word mentor) over 50 entrepreneurs at a superficial level (day long or 2 days of my time) and 6-8 of them to a greater degree with monthly sessions on sales and go to market. Of those entrepreneurs, I financial backed only 6 of them, meaning I funded only 6 companies who needed my money and mentorship. The others I only provided my guidance.

All along, I have heard from the entrepreneurs that I was adding value and addressing their top 3 areas of concern – How to build a go to market plan, how to build a strong sales discipline at their company and helping them by opening doors to key people they wanted connections to. Turns out they were possibly being nice, to me at best.

So I generated a false sense of confidence in being good at something I was not.

I got a hard reality check a few days ago.

Over the last few months I have been helping many entrepreneurs on these exact areas, but without actually putting money in their company.

For most of them, I invested an enormous amount of time (many of them weekly) to help them understand their customers, go to market strategy and for some I helped with a complete re-positioning toward a large adjacent market. For others it was guiding them through funding options, calling a few investors who could be interested etc.

Turns out most of them (not all) only valued advice if they got funded. Else it was “gyan”.

In fact one of them mentioned that they whole point of working with me was to gain access to funding alone. Everything else was gravy.

I have written about this before based on my experience a few weeks ago.

You think you are good at something, only to find out, maybe you were wrong all along.

So, I called and asked a few entrepreneurs who they consider as high quality mentors in India. Surprisingly, only those folks that wrote checks figured on the list for many (again, not all) of them.

Rest were considered as folks who did not have “skin in the game” to help mentor, so they were detached from the outcome or the results of their advice.

There still is a need for high quality mentorship in India is my belief. I am not sure I belong in the high quality category though.

11 thoughts on “You think you are good at something only to find out you are not”

  1. I guess its because in India, if you are an investor, people automatically assume that its because you invest thats a badge of proof that you feel their company is worthwhile. I can bet you that if you put in even 2-3 lakhs on each of these companies, and then gave them advice, more than the fact that you gave them advice, that little bit of money reassures them that they are good and makes them confident. As a startup myself, I dont believe or subscribe to the everyone who funds me is a genius theory, but at the same time, if a mentor is spending substantial time tuning my business and hes an investor elsewhere i wonder whats wrong with my biz that he wont invest in me. Usually it may not be the amount, just the social value of the gesture of investment.

    Also our edu system has made people think that their professors whose salaries their fees pay, are the great mentors. So a financial transaction probably overarch the offer and acceptance of advice.


  2. I think learning from others experience is a key factor for startup acceleration in India. I do help few entrepreneurs in various ways but was never comfortable with the word “mentor” which I think is over used in India.

    Funding is a separate problem than getting help for operational and emotions issues for entrepreneurs. These help does not necessarily have to come high power mentors. I think peer support group is always a great place to learn from others experience apart from structured mentorship.

  3. I think, investment is really an important factor to reach out to veterans in the startup field,but the small tits and bits that are shared by the seniors will truly get a perspective and clear direction for the youngsters. Clarity of thought and an ousiders perspective along with rich industry experience cannot be devalued from the investment.

  4. Sir, i guess the startups who do so don’t know the meaning of a Mentor and that too of Mukund Mohan . there are startups who are dying to get a feedback just one line from you and there are these Lucky ones who get all your attention but still don’t understand what they have.

    In one line ” yeh duniya hai hi matlab ki SIRJI ”

    Your one line reply to me is still the best advise i have got so far and Sir I Thank you for that …

  5. Based on my “mentoring” some of the startups in your Accelarator program, I fine the top 10 NEEDS of a startup are Funding, Funding, Funding, Funding, Funding, Help with Customer Acquisition, Help with product strategy blah blah blah. So, its not surprising that mentors who can write out cheques are found to be more useful. Most logical.
    I would read you heading as “You think what you are good at is THE most important thing to the startup only to find out that it is the seventh”

  6. In my humble opinion, I would consider some one as a mentor and take advice from them if they have been there and done that. For example, I would rather have Sachin Tendulkar as a mentor(hell I would even settle for a Yuvraj or Jadeja) in cricket than Harsha Bhogle.
    Unfortunately in our startup ecosystem there are not enough Tendulkars and more than enough Harsha’s.

    With that yardstick, I would certainly take advice from you as you have certainly been there and done that :-)

  7. Hey Mukund, clearly you need to separate why someone wants to talk to you from what you actually talk. I have never discussed my venture with you, but I did interact and also follow you on this blog to know that a few weeks of sustained conversation or a few minutes over tea will have value. It is a shame if people see you as a stepping stone to the money. I will also add that when you bring your imagination backed by your experience and coupled with your passion for innovation or GTM strategy brainstorming, there is bound to be value. On a side note, maybe just to make you feel good, I will offer my undivided attention without expecting you to bell that Cheshire cat attached to a cheque.

  8. Not at all Mukund. The premise that mentoring is all about getting funded is so so flawed. Infact, I agree with you (from your earlier post on the start ups in the valley) that start ups need guidance more than money. It’s just that Indian start ups need to learn that. We, Indians, still equate the value of a person, to the efficiency of being able to earn upto x amount of money and that reflects everywhere. Business is all about people not numbers.

    Mentoring, this subject is stalking me since so many days. I am totally with Ahimanikya on ‘the word mentor is overused in India’. I even wrote about it & someone opined that mentoring is all about hand holding & taking you through each step, which I totally disagree with. Your weekly or less frequent guidance to those comapnies is of so much value than getting them a cheque.

    Further, I have met you just once but through your posts I feel I’m being mentored. You are one amongst the multiple sources I learn from everyday. It’s not like hand holding but it certainly is like showing the path. Please keep at it. We need more ‘live by examples’ like you.

  9. I always viewed getting mentored is about making less mistakes especially in dynamics environment where even single mistake could mean life or death. Few yesrs ago i saw this notion of mentor with money only notion as prevalent, I am surprised it still is the case even now when funding does not seem to be that hard.

    Even after one gets funded mistakes are common and that is where mentors help especially with their experience . Guess these others who don’t not value right mentors will learn in time. Even public company CEOs have mentors

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