If you go by what’s said and written the popular media the life of an entrepreneur is all about glitz and glamour. After all we come across cover stories where young people a few years out of the college command millions of dollars’ worth of fortune. They turn simple ideas into successful products. Well as an entrepreneur myself I can vouch for it that the picture isn’t as ‘rosy’ as it sounds. For the dozens who taste success, their thousands who have to deal with frustration and failure. For the vast majority, we have to jump from one problem to another as life is pretty tough.
So what does it take to overcome these problems and challenges? From my personal experience, I can very well state that you need to have a mentor and/or hire a consultant. And they do play distinctive roles in shaping up your business. Let me start by stating the obvious role of a mentor and consultant for any startup before I delve further into my personal experience. I will also share with you how they helped me and my co-founders and still help in making the right moves with our startup.
Role of a Mentor
Before we go deep into the role of a mentor, we need to figure out who can mentor a startup. In most cases, your mentors are people who are known to you. Either you may have worked with them in your past job, studied or worked on a project under their guidance or someone whom you met during the course of building your startup. Please note, the relationship between startups and their mentor often starts on a professional note and turns into a personal one given the time you would spend with your mentor.
In an ideal scenario, mentors don’t come with the agenda to make profits out of their role. They are simply there to share their knowledge and experience that would help in the growth of your startup business. As our personal experience says, mentor’s role in a startup is informal. Our mentor didn’t do market research for us or help in carrying out completion analysis or valuation. He offered his expert advice before every major decision that we brought to his notice. He was far removed from the day-to-day affairs of our business but helped us make the right call when it mattered most.
How Our Mentor Helped Us?
- He Showed Us The Mirror – Startup founders are driven by adrenaline and we were no different. Our exuberance and enthusiasm almost drove us to doom but for our mentor who held the ship steady. Just as we were getting ready to break from our original plan and walk a new course (we sensed we had a great opportunity) he said ‘No’. He came up his own set of arguments on playing the waiting game for the moment. Now on the hindsight, we can say that deviating from our original course would have proved to be an extremely costly mistake.
- He Grilled Us, Always! – Our mentor was intimidating, to say the least! Between us (co-founders) we would always want the other guy to answer his barrage of questions. The moment we thought we have a Eureka moment; he would ask us tough questions regarding our idea and strategy. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience always but he did force us to improve upon ideas which paid dividends in the long run. Had he not done so, we would have perhaps turned complacent and lost the edge.
- He Pulled Us Back When Needed – Imagine the urge to overtake a speeding vehicle on a highway and your father/mother or someone else asks you to slow down and not risk your life. This is exactly what our mentor did when we were all geared up for some uncalled thrills with our business. He showed us the big picture and made us aware of our bad odds with such instinctive decisions. Though risk may be another synonym for start-ups without knowing how to mitigate them you aren’t likely to succeed and this is what we learned from our mentor.
- In Adversity He Showed Us Opportunity – Like most other successful startups we did some course correction and the credit for this goes to our mentor. Customer acquisition and revenue weren’t going as we had envisioned and we were on the path of a slow death with our existing strategy. This is where he showed us new opportunities. He didn’t suggest something out of the world, but a very basic opportunity that we had overlooked so far. Yes, we looked like fools on that occasion but the fact that he was able to see what we overlooked perhaps only comes with experience.
Role of a Consultant
Moving over the role of a consultant, it is an out-and-out professional relationship. You would hire a consultant based on their reputation, expertise and of course remuneration (you can’t just afford to hire consultants who charge a fortune). Often consultants are hired for specific tasks as they bring in their knowledge and expertise in areas where you have limitations. They do the work which you don’t intend to do or lack required resources or skills.
Unlike your mentor consultants have a very formal role with your startup, you hire them for a specific task and they complete it within a scheduled time. They don’t care much for other areas your business and simply work on tasks they have been hired for. Given your need, you can work with different consultants as and when you feel the need for expert knowledge or resources. We hired a consultant to help us come up with the right valuation of our startup before we went about raising money though VCs and Angels.
- They Helped Get The Valuations Right – Yes, we did have a multi-million dollar idea like most other startups! Jokes apart, ask for a quote on the valuation to any entrepreneur and it isn’t hard to spot the confusion, doubt, and nervousness behind the obvious smile. We did have an imaginative figure in your mind and when the consultant came up with the valuation the two figures were far apart. Obviously, he came up with something lower than we expected but it was based on facts and figures and not assumptions or bias. When we went out looking for funding it did give us a strong platform for negotiations and we finally settled for about 20% higher than what our consultant’s conservative estimates were.
- Their Detailed Research Offered More – As I have stated above we had hired our consultant to primarily come up with business valuation. But they didn’t offer us only a final quote but sent over a detailed research report. And in between the numbers, we found a treasure-trove of information where there were many signals about the health of our business. Some areas did call for immediate action but somehow these had escaped our attention and with the picture, before our eyes, we could initiate necessary actions and tightening loose ends.
To sum-up mentors and consultants aren’t fancy names in startup lingo but have very active and vital roles to play in your success. Without them, you can succeed but with them, you will definitely reach greater heights.