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Mentor Capital Can Be More Valuable than Venture Capital

Written by Capria Admin
December 30, 2014

Five Tips from Two Startup CEOs Who Selected the Right Mentors

Tapping into new markets is a difficult and daunting task. Many of the entrepreneurs that Unitus Ventures has invested in have explained to us that they have managed to offset some of their challenges by carefully choosing their mentors at an early stage. “We figured out our mentors at a very early point,” explains Shameel Abdulla, CEO and co-founder of JiffStore. “We didn’t have much experience in running a business or a product company, and everything was new to us. We realized that getting a mentor with better ideas would be really helpful.” For our entrepreneurs, finding these mentors began with an important initial question: What value do you want a mentor to add to your startup?

Time and Dedication vs. Name Brand

JiffStore is an m-commerce delivery and inventory management platform that connects kirana stores to their local consumers. The highly informal nature of the sector has posed challenges in encompassing the nuances of kirana store customer interaction in an easy-to-use mobile solution. In addition, JiffStore is Shameel Abdulla’s first attempt at providing a service to a group of low-income customers with limited technology experience. The first consideration that went into choosing a mentor was coming up with an estimate of the amount of time and dedication the individual would be willing to invest in their company:

Providing a Wealth of Knowledge and Resources

After establishing the depth of time and dedication that the JiffStore team required, Shameel explains that their second step was to analyze their own weaknesses. “Next, we figured out that we definitely wanted advice in certain areas. We needed help with the ambiguities that Jiffstore_piccome with building up a startup, and managing these ambiguities and on allowing our company to take a design-centric focus to meet the unique challenges of our customers.” Within the framework of these needs, JiffStore created a map of possible resources and, by the time the company was launched, the four co-founders had figured out the perfect group of mentors. “One of our most important mentors stays very near to our office, 7 kilometers. He has a lot of experience working with the base of the pyramid and is running an NGO hospital in Bangalore. He even has experience exiting a company. Another of our mentors used to work with a local multi-national companyas a director and quit to start his own business. He gives us great advice on how teams and organizations should be. He explains it very simply: This is the phase that you’re in, you can structure it like this, or you can start it like this. He analyzes how we manage our time, reviews how we work, things like that.”

A Mentor who Understands the Field

Not all entrepreneurs need help with products and services—Siva Devireddy, founder of GoCoop, has had a wealth of experience on both ends and has worked in a variety of global companies. Instead, he explains, he needed a knowledgeable resource to help him launch his idea GoCoop Weaver Phototo create an online marketplace for cooperative societies. Siva’s dream with GoCoop was extremely ambitious: How does one aggregate, connect and modernize over BLANK cooperatives with over 100 years of presence in India within a single marketplace service? He explains that the first step he took to understand the realm was to approach a professional research institute. “I had learned quite a bit at Accenture about technology management and consulting. This knowledge helped me articulate the need of these organizations and to further validate the approach I had in mind. But, I knew that there was still a lot that I needed to understand. I happened to meet Dr. Siddhanthi from the Regional Institute of Cooperative Management in Bengaluru. This is part of the ministry of agriculture and is an organization that provides training and consultation for cooperatives. He gave us invaluable guidance and feedback on what we wanted to do. In fact, over a period of 1.5-2 years, my whole concept was clearly more refined based on those interactions. And then, subsequently, it was clear to me that I was ready to take the leap. That’s when I decided to quit my job and start GoCoop.” Dr. Siddhanthi’s counsel was instrumental in creating an impetus for Siva to move into the world of impact entrepreneurship.

5 Tips for Choosing a Mentor

In order to choose the right mentors, it is important to evaluate yourself, your team, and your combined strengths and weaknesses. The gaps pave the way for mentorship opportunities.

  • Find customer knowledge. Starting a low-cost medical technology business? Ask a doctor who has worked in rural areas. Often, the most insight comes from those who have the deepest knowledge of your target customers.
  • Seek Applied Business Acumen. Some say it’s innate, some say you learn it. If this is your first startup, choose a mentor with an understanding of products, services and their place in the business world – preferably with experience doing it his/her self in a startup environment.
  • Networks Matter. Mentors come in all shapes and sizes and provide different forms of community interaction. For some, high-flying names can bring an established and wide-reaching network to help you with your business. Remember: they must be willing to spend time with you and share their “relationship capital” to make this network valuable.
  • Accessibility is Vital. Location adds more value than most realize. An easily accessible mentor can drop by your office for an afternoon tea and add value that a Skype session may not be able to achieve.
  • Ensure Alignment of Passions. Don’t marginalize your passion because your mentor doesn’t get what you’re doing or can’t relate to your passion for solving really hard problems. Find someone that believes in your idea enough to dedicate a large chunk of their thought process to your needs, preferably over an extended period of time.

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