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3 Ways Mentoring Can Backfire in Southeast Asia

How startups can tell if it’s a match — or not

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BY Adelle Chua - 21 Nov 2016


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Having a mentor is usually deemed priceless in the start-up world. Mentors play a significant role in helping entrepreneurs build, run, and grow their business. With the advantage of hindsight and experience, mentors provide wise counsel on what to do and what not to do, offer fresh insight, give spot-on criticism, provide industry background, and ask the difficult questions that entrepreneurs may not even imagine in the first place.

At the same time, mentors also act as elders who boost the morale of the founders and inspire them with their own stories of success -- or struggle. They offer the assurance that challenges are not unique and that others have overcome such obstacles before.

Adrien Deniau, CEO of Bangkok-based Asia Startups, says they bring together companies and investors on core mentoring issues that are not linked to fundraising “even as fundraising is in itself an area for mentorship.”

“[Some mentors] are investors and some are just external advisors,” points out Nikhil Kapur, investment manager for Singapore-based Gree Ventures.

If the mentoring experience is good, the relationship extends beyond the business to yet other businesses and on to a lifetime of friendship.

Sometimes, however, it does not turn out this way. “Some mentorships can lead to the wrong direction,” says Deniau.

Following are some factors that might predict an unsuccessful mentor-mentee relationship, and how entrepreneurs and mentors alike can watch out for them.


1. Sporadic rather than sustained interaction

“[There must be] getting of feedback from start-ups through constant monitoring,” says Deniau.

Carlo Valencia of Startup PH Mentorship recalls that when he was, himself, a start-up founder, he would simply ask mentors to meet with him. “I would tell them about my situation, then I would get their advice which I would take note of and promise to do, then when I got back to work, a million things and emergencies would happen and I would forget all about the advice.”

He regrets not being able to make the most out of this experience -- partly the reason why he launched a mentorship organization.


2. Absence of chemistry

“We facilitate introductions, and we see if the founders and the mentors jell or click,” says Deniau.

He says both parties could appear mutually compatible by traditional criteria: Industry, country, and background. But there is always scope for chemical imbalances.

“The good news is, we can always tell after one or two meetings if the chemistry is there.”


3. Stark differences in approach

“I would not like a mentor who would just spit out theoretical stuff that I could just as well read or hear about,” says Valencia. “I would like a mentor who can address my questions because he or she went through the same thing.”

From the mentors’ side, Kapur, whose VC mentors the companies it invests in, says, “I think mostly all mentors are trying to help you out.”

“Initially, we try to understand the founder’s point of view. If we still feel that the direction we are advising to go in is the better option, and the founder wants to go in a different direction, we advise the founder to try his or her way but track that direction with exact metrics. If then after trying the direction out for the next few months does not give the desired results, the founder should be willing to shift strategies and reconsider,” Kapur says.

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