Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who is a mentor ? Reprinted with permission from Entrepreneur magazine

Ram (name changed) is your quintessential inventor-entrepreneur. Even to this day, he designs all his products and sells them. For 20 odd years, he built and managed his company successfully which had  now begun to experience entropy.

I was assigned as Mentor to Ram by the organization which facilitates investment access to entrepreneurs. For me this whole experience was exhilarating as managing Ram was a bigger challenge than managing his and his company's make-over.

When you have an entrepreneur who is egoistic, possessive and passionate, how do you mentor him? How do you tell him where he has gone wrong?

This was my biggest learning. That you don’t need to tell him where he has gone wrong.

So what do you do? What I learnt to do was get Ram to focus only on the future. We rarely spoke of the past, the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent. We almost managed to treat his company as a start-up without legacy issues.

As a result, Ram put together a very vibrant business plan, raised capital, and completely transformed himself from a being an inward-looking entrepreneur to a builder of a professional, catalytic, energizing, management team.

My take-away from this whole experience was some very interesting insights into the do's and don’ts of a mentor :
  • Identify with your mentee and his company. You have to impress upon the mentee that both of you are on the same side. So I learnt to say” “our company”. I never said “your company”.
  • Don’t do post-mortem. Don’t indulge in finger-pointing saying you did wrong up until now, because the sub-text here is up until now you were an idiot, now that you have me I will wave my magic wand and all your problems will disappear! NO !
  • Your mentee is likely to be very opinionated, especially if he has had a successful track record. You don’t add to the mess by being opinionated. Your personal opinions and thoughts have no place in the mentorship equation. Your advice has to be purely situational, contextual, not the baggage that you may have come with. Because if you don’t, your mentee will have to battle your baggage in addition to his own!
  • Mentors cannot have fragile egos. Mentors cannot tell the mentee : if you don’t do what I ask you to do, I will stop mentoring you. I had a mentee who would patiently listen to me, would never argue when I gave him my advice, and would go and do exactly the opposite. I learnt from him never to say “I told you so”!
  • Mentors need not know everything. Neither they nor their mentees should think they do. Both mentor and mentee are work-in- progress. It should be a journey of like-minded pilgrims, not Buddha and his disciples!!
  • It is very important to assure your mentee that you have no personal agenda, neither monetary nor psychological. It is this that inspires trust, and trust is a non-negotiable imperative on which the mentor-mentee relationship is built.
Even as I write this, it occurs to me that mentoring is a lot like parenting. It's built on trust, and by trust I don’t simply mean dependency but also honesty.
You should know what line neither of you can cross. You should learn to balance your opinion and your mentee's opinion with the exigencies of the situation. You should learn to step back, watch him make mistakes and remain nonchalant even as he gets ready to dust, pick himself up and continue onward. You should be prepared to learn alongside him, as there are times when there is a role-reversal. And most important, both of you should know all the time that his well-being is sacrosanct to you.
My biggest learning? Parenting and mentoring have made me a better person.

Monday, August 16, 2010

where have i been ???:(

my god, i missed these pages, i'm blogging after ages, not good at all. so i thought i should make up, as many of you know, since March i have been doing a regular column for the magazine entrepreneur. so i thought i'll post the articles that have already been published here so even those of you who don't read the magazine (you should you know, its very good) will get to read the article.

so here goes, this was the first article printed in the March issue, reprinted here with permission from the Entrepreneur magazine.

When the devil wears Prada : what it means to be a ‘woman’ entrepreneur
Prof. Nandini Vaidyanathan
Why is it necessary to qualify the word ‘entrepreneur’ in gender terms? Does the fact that men are from Mars and women are from Venus justify or warrant it? Are women entrepreneurs really so different from their male counterparts?
The answer is layered. It is necessary to qualify not only because women bring different skill-sets to the table but also because society looks at women entrepreneurs differently.
Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction (Picasso):
The first lesson in being a woman entrepreneur is that society does not take her seriously. A young mentee of mine recently had her company stall in an exhibition and she found that all the visitors to her stall either pretended as if she was part of the furniture or asked her if they could speak to her boss. Reason: the product was a hi-tech education software and no one believed there could be a woman entrepreneur behind it!
Therefore, the first mind-set that she needs to destroy is that women become entrepreneurs for time pass only, and that it is not a serious do-or-die career option for them.
Try? There is no try. There is only do or not do (Yoda, Jedi warrior):
The second lesson is that even though men don’t take her entrepreneurial aspirations seriously, in the event she fails, she is doomed forever. A mentee of mine was under tremendous pressure to raise capital for her company, without much success. In an attempt to de-stress her I told her that we had tried all possible avenues and she shouldn’t be so hard on herself. Her reaction was : ‘trying is not enough, we have to do it, if we don’t, my failure will become the pivot of every argument with my husband’.
Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. Try looking for fashion in an airport or history in a hardware store (Robert Wieder):
The third lesson is that it is alright for men to build a business around an idea which may be a ‘me too’ in the market, but the woman entrepreneur’s idea has to be necessarily a prime mover. Ironically, a woman is expected to think different even if the idea is as ancient as time, bring a whole new perspective, and look for opportunities in the least likely places.
A bell is a cup until it is struck (Wire):
In India, women constitute 48% of the population, yet their contribution to GDP is negligible. Historically, if a woman became an entrepreneur, it was because circumstances forced it on her. Today with education and empowerment, women are becoming entrepreneurs out of choice, yet, the male-dominant social order believes that women have lowly management skills, lack motivation and drive to earn and therefore do not take business seriously.
It is interesting that these perceptions contradict empirical evidence which show that women are better at multi-tasking, have ‘web-thinking’ abilities, in the sense that they have tremendous networking and leveraging capability (Helen Fisher), have high EQ- all of which are key ingredients for building a successful business.
Entrepreneurship defines the identity of men and women as no job can. But the one reason to gender-qualify it is that for men, identity comes with the territory; for women, it has to be ascribed by men.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

a big thanks !

hey all you guys who left  your comments on my Tata Jagriti blog, a big thank you, and dont miss watching it every weekend on CNBC at 5.30 pm. it started last week and the Hyderabad panel  on which i had the privilege of meeting the yatris is being aired on 13th and 14th feb, catch the whole series, i promise you it will be worth it, cheers

my article in franchiseindia

when franchiseindia  asked me to write an article on any aspect of entrepreneurship, i really hadnt applied my mind to what it was going to be. a couple of evenings ago, i met my young mentee, ramanan to discuss his biz plan and during the course of our conversation, he said we should write a book, or rather, several books. so i said, well, there is an article we can start off with!! and he came up with the idea of  "Five slides to fame, how to pitch a biz plan" and in less than 24 hours it was published !

Much to our amazement, not a word was edited in the text, but for some strange reason, in the title, "Fve slides to fame" was removed :(

having sat through countless biz plan pitches in the last three years, i thought it was time someone demystified it :), here's the link,, enjoy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tata Jagriti Yatra

hey guys don' t miss the telecast starting tomorrow, 30th jan on CNBC at 5.30 pm on weekends. the hyderabad panel on which i had the privilege to participate  is being broadcast on 13th and 14th feb at 5.30 pm, check it out.

TiE smashups event in delhi last week

here's the link to our panel, we had such a blast, :)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

TATA Jagriti Yatra contd

just listen to their anthem, and i watched them perform to this song yesterday, 400+ of them, with conviction in every pore of their bodies and a big WOW!!

TATA Jagriti Yatra

Everybody has a 'wow' moment and if one is lucky, several of them during a lifetime. i'm possibly one of the few really privileged ones who meets amazing people literally most days of the year. which means i have a treasure chest of wow moments. but i can tell you this,- if i were asked to pick this one heirloom which i will want to pass on to the future generations, it will easily and uncontestably be 2nd jan 2010 at TCS campus in Hyderabad at the TATA Jagriti Entrepreneur Yatra. nothing had prepared me for what i was going to experience here. i will post pictures as soon as i get some of them from the organisers.

Jagriti is a foundation involved in a number of developmental activities but this train journey is the brainchild of Shashank Mani and if you want to know more about how and why he designed this yatra, just pick up his book : India : A journey through a healing civilization, published by Harper Collins.

In 1997, Shashank conceived of an idea to discover India beyond her sophistication (his words) and urbanity and experience her home-spun 'genius' (again his words). he called it Azad Bharat Rail Yatra. this was the germination of an idea which is all poised to open the floodgates for an upbeat entrepreneurial india. it has now morphed into a train journey for practising and aspiring young entrepreneurs from what they call the Middle India, middle not in the geographic or class sense but in the economic sense.

Shashank, Raj and Revathy (whom unfortunately i did not get to meet as she had stayed back in Chennai) are responsible for designing an experience for the entrepreneurs which will stay with them for the rest of their lives. This is an 18 day train journey through the length and breadth of india, where people from different climes and cultures travel together, discover reach other and in the process manage to hold a mirror to themselves. 400 young vibrant hungry unmolded minds coming together, meeting entrepreneurs of different shapes and sizes and hues, understanding the challenges of being an entrepreneur, not to be daunted by them but to convert them into a laundry list of do's and dont's. god what a moment!!!

let me start the story from the beginning.

a couple of weeks ago, i received mail from Ananth Krishna who introduced himself as the co-ordinator of the Yatra and invited me to be a panelist either in Kanyakumari on 28th december or in Hyderabad on 2nd january. i chose Hyderabad.

i had heard of this train journey last year and i was completely delighted to be invited to be a small part of it this year.i mentioned it to Hemant of NVI and he said he'd love to come for the event.

Hemant and I were in another meeting till three and at three thirty we walked into the reception of TCS at Hi-tech city. the security guard manning the reception just pointed to an area behind him and asked us to proceed there. we did and nothing had prepared us for what met our eyes.

we walked out of the reception into an open atrium built like an amphi theatre, steep and cascading,  with stone steps going all the way down, interspersed with bushes and trees. on the steps were some 400 odd people, youngsters, bright eyed and bushy tailed notwithstanding the ardror of a train journey, waiting expectantly, as if they were in  Woodstock, waiting for their favorite rock band to perform!!!

i got goose bumps just looking at them and believe you me, for a minute i was tempted to turn on my heels and run for dear life from there. what is it i can i offer them that will make their eyes twinkle more, what do i have in me that can make them hungrier and wilder? what can i say to them that will inspire them,- these were the big questions that came flooding my mind and for a moment i lost it and just wanted scoot out of there.

but the goose bumps took over thankfully!!! and hemant and i walked down the steps in awe, in humility, in anticipation. and our several wow moments began.

since last year Tatas and CNBC have been phenomenal partners on this event and on the panel were Dr Krishna Tanuku, ED, Wadhwani Centre for Entrepreneurship, ISB, Mr Mohan Rao, State Director for Small Scale and Khadi Industries Commission and myself. The discussion was moderated by Suresh Venkat, Exec Producer,  CNBC. The subject for discussion : funding for small entrepreneurs.

i wont go into the discussion here, i will post the dates on which the event will be broadcast on CNBC and you guys can catch it live.

suresh turned out to be an intelligent, witty moderator, not one of those who talks more than those he moderates!!!and we covered a whole gamut of subjects. this was followed by a Q&A from the audience and i was astounded at the questions that were asked. my favorite of course was from an overseas participant who said : everyone talks of what investors look for in the entrepreneur. what should an entrepreneur look for in an investor!!! my answer to this i shall blog separately :)

once the discussion was over i was mobbed completely and can you believe it, they asked me for my autograph!!! on t-shirts, on paper, on their palm!!!  i was dying of embarassment and i kept saying why do you want my autograph, i am no celebrity, i'm just a teacher and god no one listened.

at the end of it all, i was completely exhausted and completely, overwhelmingly enervated!!!

shashank, raj and ananth? how can i ever thank you enough? may your tribe increase.