May 4, 2018
This incident is from a few weeks back and I just couldn't stop myself from blogging this experience.
I got out of a Metro Station at South Delhi in the late morning hours to attend a meeting. Being new to the address, I just asked an auto driver for directions and he pointed his finger saying, "500 meter this way".
Meanwhile, someone overheard me asking for the address and as I started moving, he said, "You need to go that way", pointing in the opposite direction. He appeared to be a well-educated, 30-ish, poised and informed person from his appearance, body language and voice modulation. I bought it and turned around 180 degrees to move in the opposite direction. 10-15 steps later, I just checked with another vendor who gave me the exact direction with the turns and mini-landmarks. This was a more detailed version of the same direction that the auto-guy gave me.
I did waste some time going in the wrong direction owing to the gentleman's input I hadn't asked for. Had I not cross-checked with a third person, I don't know how much time, effort and energy I would have wasted. I might have missed my meeting too. And this could have been a business critical meeting.
The Analogy :
I was immediately able to relate this experience to sad reality of the Startup Ecosystem and the unaware young leaders who are tirelessly working to crack the next big thing. The Indian Start Up Ecosystem is definitely in a serious lack of right mentor-ship owing to the incredibly limited number of true Entrepreneurs who have the experience of building a business from scratch into MNCs. Now, since being a Startup Mentor is the new cool, almost everyone with a 10 / 12 / 15 years of experience feels eligible, entitled and empowered to be a Startup Mentor. A simple 'Startup Mentor' LinkedIn search will get you millions of self-proclaimed Startup Mentors. This is extremely harmful for the culture and inhibits the growth of the entire Ecosystem.
I do not at all mean to indicate anything close to the idea that experience is not useful. It's important as long as it's super relevant. However, when we work in a huge organization, most of us work on a very narrow segment of a huge spectrum for most of our lives. Also, most of the Indian workforce works on labour jobs and not creative jobs. Our systems are designed to create labor who can perform a particular task over and over and over without asking too many questions. Most of the MNC headquarters are cheap labour location and by the time things come to the cheap labour headquarters, all that is left is recursive execution. And then, one day, after doing the repetitive task for too many years, one becomes a manager or a team lead. Irrespective of whether our circumstances allow us to agree or not, we all know that most of the managers in the Indian Companies are managers not because of their leadership capabilities but because they have been too long in the system to not be one.
What I mean to say is that if you have been working with a bi-cycle manufacturing MNC and have 15 years of rich experience & exceptionally high efficiency in fixing the rear brake, that doesn't make you eligible to mentor a group of college pass-outs or drop-outs on how to build a profitable space travel company. You'll only mislead them if they accept you as their Startup Mentor. Just because you are experienced on a narrow segment doesn't mean you can be a Startup Mentor for a bootstrapping idea purely on the basis of you having more experience than the founders.
Please understand the difference between Startup Mentor and Subject Matter Expert.
Here's a quick way to find out if you are a startup mentor. Ask yourself, "Have I ever built a company or an organization that can sustain without me from scratch to self-sustenance or successful exit.? If the answer you get is, 'No', you have a long way to go. You might be the best subject matter expert on what you have been repeatedly doing for years and I have all the respect in the universe for you as a subject matter expert. But, Startup Mentor? Sorry !
Thousands of young entrepreneurs are getting mislead everyday by self-proclaimed mentors like the gentleman who chipped in to give me directions without being asked for.
STOP THIS ! Right away...
Be very careful about choosing a mentor and who you intend to learn from. Not everyone who was born before you knows how to guide you in the right direction. Do not fall for years of experience, brand names, designations and titles while choosing a mentor. Go by their ability to generate & add value in the process of realization of your dreams. There are several examples of young people & organizations who were judged by relatively old and experienced people and then ended up doing way better than anyone ever thought. This could only mean that these guys understood things way better than their older & over-confident counterparts.