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9 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Get More Benefits From Mentoring | Technological Leadership Institute

Posted on
September 22, 2017
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Mentoring is popular in the world of entrepreneurship, and especially in academic entrepreneurship. Many successful entrepreneurs want to give advice. Many would-be entrepreneurs want advice. Many business schools want to connect real achievers with their students. But is there some advice that is worth taking and some worth ignoring?  Having been involved in organizing and managing various mentoring situations from mentoring circles to mentoring clubs, here are a few of my observations and suggestions for entrepreneurs.

What advice should you consider and what should you ignore?

STRATEGY:

You never stand in the same stream twice. Just because a strategy worked for a mentor does not mean that it will work for the mentee. Times change. Needs change. Competitors change. Customers change. Technologies change. You need to find your own strategy based on your situation. Another reason the strategy that worked for someone else may not work for you is because of different skills, strengths, and weaknesses.

In emerging industries, you may have to pivot. Billion-dollar entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Travis Kalanick, and others have had to change their strategy after they found the right trend and the right opportunity.

EXPERTISE: Consider advice in their areas of expertise where the mentors have a great track record and are expected to have good judgment and instincts, so long as the experience is still relevant. As an example, if you had a successful business-research publishing company before the age of the Internet, and this research is now available for free on the Internet, that may no longer be relevant.

CONNECTIONS: Mentors have connections, but many do not share them for fear of imposing on those connections. For entrepreneurs, connections to mentors’ networks can be wonderful, if available, but make sure that they are not a member of the Corleone family.

PREDICTIONS: Do not hang your hat on their predictions about the future. No one can accurately and consistently predict the future. Go with your own judgment after listening to mentors, experts, and your own research.

YOUR STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES: Do not accept others’ analysis of your strengths and weaknesses. I have seen scientists, who claimed to have no sales skills, excel at selling products that had a high technical content. They could explain the product and its advantages and weaknesses better than any high pressure “salesperson” and the technical buyers appreciated being “sold” by a fellow technologist.

Whom should you seek advice from?

EXPERIENCE: This sounds obvious, but consider advice from mentors who have “been there, done that,” especially when they are advising within their realm of experience. The reason why I am noting this is that mentors sometimes do not check themselves when they have no expertise in an area. In one entrepreneurship circle that I managed, members were not allowed to offer advice unless they had been through a similar situation. Guessing, sometimes called “judgment,” was not allowed.

EXPERTISE: Accept professional advice from qualified professionals. This includes areas such as taxes, accounting, and legal advice, especially if the advice is from licensed experts in their area of expertise.

What is a good process to get mentoring advice?

ASSUMPTIONS: Seek the mentors’ rationale for their suggestions in order to understand the assumptions they are making. Advice from real experience, so long as the underlying rules are still valid, can also be valuable. Successful people often have developed good analytical models for evaluating situations. It helps to understand these models.

GROUP MENTORING: When a mentoring group has multiple mentors, no one mentor gets an exalted position and no advice gets a free pass. You get to hear all points of view and challenge them.

MY TAKE: “Is the advice good for me?” This is the most important question for you. My experience is that the best mentors do not give advice except in areas such as law or accounting, as they help you find your own answers. They guide you to help you find your true path. But no one can peer into your eyes and know what you should or can do.

Dr. Dileep Rao has more than 20 years of experiencing financing businesses and ventures using venture capital, leases, debt and subordinated debt. He also bought and turned around several companies. Since retiring, he has been writing, teaching, and hopefully thinking. He has also interviewed extremely successful entrepreneurs such as Glen Taylor and Bob Kierllin. Currently, he is writing books about how to build giant businesses without capital. Dr. Rao teaches in the Master of Science in Management of Technology degree program.

This article was originally written for Forbes, and republished with the author's consent.

About the Author

Photo of Dr. Dileep Rao

Dileep Rao, PhD

TLI Faculty

You never stand in the same stream twice. Just because a strategy worked for a mentor does not mean that it will work for the mentee. 

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