Being a Mentor

Coverage by Bhat Dittakavi of Variance.AI on “Being a Mentor” by Sanjay Anandaram and Ravi Narayan at T-Hub on 13th March 2019.
When someone walks the talk before the talk and then talks about the walk, he would be called an expert in his field. Then if someone has the ability to articulate that expertise using simple anologies, then he is called a thought leader who can make the audience walk his talk. Sanjay fits the bill well here.

Sanjay Anandaram of Sattva
Managing people, conflicts and market dynamics must be at the helm of mentorship. Most of the digital natives are starting companies and they lack what it means to being in the physical world. 
How do you manage 15k delivery boys of Swiggy? These tech advancements about large companies and cool algorithms won’t solve physical human problems. I spend my time as mentor in this human context for the most. 
Ravi Narayan: Sanjay, I and Endiya Partners funded a startup Arrayshield of Chennai by two brothers. Older one is soft-spoken and gets things done. Younger one is a technologist. Because they got services as an element, logical thing was for them to move to Bangalore. They have nobody to talk to and validate. When they showed up in Microsoft Ventures, this was the case. I took the lead and told them that they were eating time by doing whatever they were doing. I guided them to an idea into customer dynamics. They got a validation for this new idea by talking to someone. By then, they were two months into the program and two more months were left. I asked them to build the product for the new idea in that limited time. This is what a mentor does. In the end, they became successful and got external funding from Endiya Partners.
Sanjay: It is important to make sure the mentor and startup founder as a mentee know what is mentoring. Here are three scenarios. 
  1. Entrepreneur wants a point or specific solution such as “my IT system has a bug” or “my IT filing has an issue”. These are more of consulting types of engagements, not mentoring. An example is how Krishna guided Bheema on where to hit Jarasandha? Where specify answer to spefici question. 
  2. What should be my marketing strategy or product development strategy? There are no right or wrong answers but these are experience- driven. This is about advisory. Krishna answered the question “How to kill Bhishma?” with a strategy. This is the role of an advisor, to give strategy.  
  3. Third is about Mentorship. When Arjuna asked about how he would attack his own kith and kin, Krishna mentored. When there is dharma sankata, mentor steps in. Entrepreneur asks the question to himself “is this struggle of entrepreneurship worth it”. He thinks “I am having problem at home” or “conflict with cofounder”. These are the moments of deep angst. Understanding this psyche of the mentee and his position in his own journey helps one become a better mentor
Ravi: When we did Mentor Square, we thought we would bring mentors and let people shoot them with questions. Then we realized questions were just transactional. 
Then we asked the mentees to ask elaborate questions. Most of the times questions are just the symptoms and not the root cause. Mentors shall find that root cause befofe answering any questions.
Sanjay: Key ingredient is trust. Mentee must have the trust to open up. Similarly you must trust him. People are generally inhibited and most of it could be personal. Driven founders have lots of anger or angst in them. You must understand it. Distancing the individual from the comments is the key. Mentors tend to be older and not necessarily the wiser. Our ego must not kill the empathy that makes us understand where the mentee is coming from. As a mentor, understand within your own head. You are not doing mentoring to become rich. You are investing your experience and insights to create an innovation ecosystem. Great things happen when mentors participate selflessly. Take silicon valley that had begun with US government funding defense projects for which people contributed selflessly. In this extremely competitive environment, people give to grow the size of the pie. Creating that Wikipedia kind of environment is vital. Contributing back is a culture. Community at large is what mentor shall think and not the stakes in startups. Change happens in the head. Introspect and have the conversation yourself and participate to make it happen. Why would Dr. Homi Baba return to India? Why would Dr. Varghese Kurien return to India to set up Amul? “Beyond me” is the reason what is happening here is a tiny manifestation of the desire which is larger than our own personal ambition. 
Ravi: Paying forward with no expectations has become a norm now. Not in our days of Microsoft Ventures. People are happy to give time and take the happiness out of impact they could generate.
Sanjay: This is called tough love. You will be doing a great disservice if you aren’t honest with the entrepreneur. Be honest. Say it. Let the mentees decide to accept what you say or not. “I want the doors and windows of my house to be open such that the winds of differnt cultures let in freely but I won’t get blown out by feet.” Confidence in your proposition fundamentally won’t change. Honest feedback is the pre-requisite.
Q) What kind of time commitment is expected from a mentor?
Sanjay) Depends on your style or committment. It also depends on the entrepreneur. How much guidance I can provide is subjected to the receptiveness of the mentee. It is also based on the impact you can make. It is the difference between talking and communication. Can you build that level of empathy and trust such that it is a conversation and not a broadcast. Be open to the mentee. Have an open conversation to find why there is no follow-up action. If so, why so? If not, why not?
Q) In the corproate scenario, you have independent directors. Not much happens there. How do you ensure this mentor-mentee ecosystem is working?
Sanjay) An independent director is not there to be the chaparone of the CEO and his job is to protect the interest of the minority shareholders. What is good for the founder is not necessarily good for the shareholders. But what is good for shareholders is always good for the founders. As a mentor, you mentor the individual so he becomes a better founder or a better CEO. The impact of mentoring is felt on the company but the primary responsibility of the mentor is the individual. Independent directors are brought on board as a law and they are mostly rubber stamps. Except getting access to unaudited financial reports, an independent director knows nothing about the founders or even the company some times.
Q) In a structured world, bad stuff happens. How about the unstructured mentoring ? 
Sanjay) The choice of mentorship is voluntary and is based on a genuine need. Mentor in an environment of trust and communication. 
Q) Is there a secret sauce for Krishna the mentor to identify his or her Arjuna, the mentee?
Sanjay) It also works the other way. Both have to find each other. Can you spot whom you want to hang out? It goes both ways. Do you have the humility to understand the situation despite the fact the mentee acted up. This is contextual. Can you remove that hubris and understand that this is the person I can work with and contribute and learn from each other. Mentoring is like jugalbandi. That synchronization works and it is a trial and error.

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March 16, 2019 at 12:45PM
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