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.


  1. Dear Madam, I am a avid reader of your articles on Entrepreneur magazine and they give a lot of inspiration to move ahead in promoting my portals.I have two electric vehicle portals & I am promoting them using various social networking sites and they are successful as individual portals. Due to the great response from companies, people I planned to commercialize it and planning for business proposal. But I am novice in business, and need some guidence or mentorship. My mind is open to learn. I request you to guide me how to proceed.

    Looking forward to your response.

  2. Hi professor,

    Wonderful blog....extremely encouraging for startups....great job sharing valuable knowledge....

    Can u please put in straight terms what i need to start my business????i.e the registration and other government related procedure issues???

    Would be brilliant if u could...

    Eagerly looking forward for ur reply....Thanks and cheers :)

  3. murali mail me your biz plan to and we'll take it forward from there, i'd be delighted to mentor you :) apologies for the delay in responding, i was traveling, cheers

  4. hey vince, watch this space for how to start your biz :) cheers

  5. absolutely true.
    Shalabh Srivastava

  6. hi Prof.
    I keep reading Entrepreneurs magazine and so your articles in same, though the bug bitten me years back and during these years the poison keep going more and more strong.

    After completion of my BE Electronics, while like many other people I did just because my parents wanted me to do and then worked with few good companies like Bose Corporation, Audience Measurement and Analytics and finally leaving all behind came home to join family business(a friends business who is more a family to me) and running the computer laptop showroom in small town of Gujarat.

    Coming to point, I want to do what I want to do and this is not it.


    Want to start my security company which provides all type of security solutions where the real security is needed. Let it be personal security guards, electronics security, material transportation security and more.

    The difference I want to make then any other security company is I wanna give real security. Not like a old man wearing uniform and securing a bank door with old and year taking to fire kinda gun.

    It's just in mind and the first and most important guideline I want from you is how is the idea? Sounds physible and scalable?

    I guess the question is not yet perfect and I have not prepared any Bplan because I am at the stagez of Idea refinement.

    Thanks for this space.

    Pankaj Bhimani

  7. thanks pankaj, short answer, yes, good opportunity in the security space provided you create a serious differentiator and look for international tie-ups. join our mentoring program and we can help you build the biz, mail me on, cheers

  8. hi proffesor,

    Iam a computer science enginnering student and my dad was doin a small business in the uae.He was doing water treatment chemical trading ..he just started the company on 2009 and suddenly he passed away on july iam left with no other option but to look after the company with no staff to help me he was doin the whole thing alone.and iam new to the i hope you would help me out teachin me on how you do the business ,business ethics,practices and i really dont have any exposure in this field and pls guide me.

    looking forward to ur response soon

    with regards

  9. i'm very sorry to hear about your father jitin, but not to worry, we'll help you make him proud of you, my no is +919880220037, do give me a call tomorrow at 1 pm, and we can talk, cheers

  10. Dear Professor Nandini Vaidyanathan,

    I'm 41 years young. Transparent Individual. Have lost 7 years of my precious life as alcoholic addict. Worked as medical representative for erstwhile Nicholas Piramal for 15 years, now M/s Abbott. Unionized company, false sense of security, thought would retire. Never realized the need for developing skills beyond the Protective Cocoon. Happy. Comfort Zone. Piyo aur aaram karo....

    Entire Kerala was asked to leave on CRS (Compulsory. During those times, since, I was an alcoholic, my colleagues did not feel that, I fit into their scheme of things,they started a pharmaceutical company and am so happy to inform you that it's the No. 1 Company in certain Markets. They toiled, I was gulping, they planned for the future, I planned for the next day drink. Disease continued...for am an egoistic person, who knows everything, never bothered what society will say, relatives will say, no clarity of future in spite of having a lovely son. For me God was alcohol.

    In the meantime, I went to Dubai for job did not like came back, Joined ICICI Prudential, speed of business and boss shouting at his SM's was information for me. Then Max New York. All short stints, since, was unable match the speed (not skills)...yes, evenings are in fellowship at some clubs...regular, after that Branch Manager of God..there I ended my life as an employ. In all the companies I worked for was recognized for achievements, there are so many achievements that, I will bore you. Cheers....still continued, poor parents, wife and Sister (now married) they struggled to cure me or command me to Quit Alcohol, No, its my life, I will live as I like.

    I was exposed to MLM business by my friends Ravi & Ajith, cashflow...quadrant...bla bla bla..but these two individuals exposed me to the great books, training, mentoring...continuous, for two years, was relatively successful and made some bucks and lost 5 lacs. nano excel corporation ltd. I did not fail, but, the company failed me. Chairman is a guest in Trichur Jail.

    But, those 1-1.5 yrs were my turning point, acquired new skills...Kaizen (CIP)...contacted Dr. Suresh Psychiatrist and consciously avoided everything that could lure. Dr. Anoop, close friend and Clinical Psychologist helped me a lot am obliged, but, the Victory is mine. Transformation was happening in all areas of my life. Till date, its almost 3 yrs, Have not touched spirit, but, new spirit intoxicated me...MLM...making adequate money online, have build a team in 4 countries. Entire family and social life settled down and now its ONAM every day in my home...but still I was not happy, there was something missing and recently identified that, my soul is still in Pharma Industry. Making enough money, so, no point in applying for a job. I was HURT long time back by a person who's name is your surname, When my colleuges were planning to start a company, could have talked to me or informed, I do not deserve to be in their company, but, one word...we are starting....never. There is no hatred nor any love, have not met any of them for so many years...

    I have a Cash Cow....Income generation is not an issue at all...I want to start my own Pharmaceutical Company, am already under the intoxication of making a difference in many families after taking up MLM as "SPIRITUAL CAPITALISM", have selected the product basket. Like the name "Life Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd (not registered).

    My humble request to you is can you be my mentor in launching this company from ground zero, if Ur, ready to accept Ur Ekalavyan, as a student, will surrender myself to your system...lets do it...lets learn and unlearn and relearn.

    I'm sure you will respond to this note....which is my autobiography in Capsule form.

    With Regards

    Your Ekalayan (Vineeth)

    ENTREPEDIA has indeed become a compass for me...

  11. Hello Prof.Vaidyanathan,
    I am an aspiring entrepreneur with quite no.of ideas but dont know how to execute it due to lack of experience, like minded people around, capital and most importantly parent's encouragement.Lately, i have been thinking of starting a magazine but dont know how to go about it.Please advice.


  12. Nandini VaidynathanApril 2, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    Hi Sambuddha please write to me on We can discuss this further.

  13. Hi Nandini,
    I was googling for biz advice and found your site.. excellent info...and felt i came to the right one...
    i am a s/w engineer with 8 yrs experience ..and have a e-bug biting me..but for some strange reason i hesitate to take a leap.. i am trying to do Root cause analysis to figure that out and keep my fear of failure under control... would you be willing to mentor me and help me do this bungee jump WITH PROPER STRINGS ATTACHED :) .what are the pre-requisites that a wanna-be-entrepreneur should do before he contacts you...i want to know what kind of questions you would ask me so that am prepared with the answers to minimize the amount of your time i consume.

    Thanks for providing great tips/advice on your site..

    1. hey call me on +919880220037 after 8 pm today and we can talk, bungee jumping will look like a tame skipping rope as compared to the adrenalin rush you're letting yourself in for :)cheers

  14. Hello Prof.

    I read Entrepedia few months after the establishment of our partnership firm. We started in Jan 2011 and after reading the book I did realise it was a back foot first step. It’s almost a year and a half and we are at the same position making same mistakes in different ways....We are a team of creatives with not the desired level of business acumen.The only good thing that we have achieved till now is a published iphone game title under our firms name.
    I don’t know how to maintain the business keeping our passion for game development intact....Would you be willing to help us through and achieve the vision we started with.


    1. most certainly yes, please mail me on, or call on +919880220037 tomorrow at 8 pm and we can talk, cheers

  15. Hi Nandini

    We are a start ups and want to joint your mentorship program ... How should we go about it??


    1. please call me at 1.45 pm tomorrow and we can talk, my no is +919880220037.

  16. Dear Nandini
    Page 75 - Entrepedia


    i want to really appreciate you for putting some of the biggest of the corporate lesson in such a simpler way for newbies who may not be able to relate to those concepts.
    How tactful were you when you wrote those lines in your book...instead of using RED OCEAN or BLUE OCEAN strategies of doing whole hearted appreciation for making the entrepreneurs of today aware of those big lessons without making them aware of really resemble the hallmarks of a good teacher/mentor.....from alakh