I have been mentoring startups since 2007 and have seen all possible shades of startups and entrepreneurs. I want to bring out some of the challenges I have faced while mentoring startups as an introspection. Hope this helps you with some insights.
The biggest issue I have been facing till date is the inability of an entrepreneur to question their assumptions and letting them go when proved wrong . The moment they feel that they have a potent business idea, they are on a high. It is great to have such passion which will sustain us in the long haul. But their own assumptions become so deep rooted that they just don’t want to let them go. Even when I have exposed and challenged these assumptions which eventually would kill the venture, they still tend to believe that somehow they are on the right track.
The second biggest issue I have seen is a complete lack of understanding of operations required for service provision. The current generation is so sucked up into the world of Apps that everyone believes that an App is enough to run a business. They fail to think through the end to end process of service delivery. Consequently the plans go haywire as the cost structure changes completely.
The third most common challenge I have been facing is to make them think from their customers point of view. Very few people question and test their understanding of the customer pains and the possible gains of using the service. Consequently, there is no clarity on the target customer segment and customer persona. This becomes that much more challenging in aggregation models where there are two sets of customers; the providers and the consumers with often conflicting interests.
The next big challenge is getting them to start small and do a minimum viable product. Everyone is out there to conquer the world on day-1. I have been suggesting a scaled down versions of the business ideas to be implemented first in a small target market to understand the customer expectations and the value perception, along with the operational challenges. Somehow, this does not excite our youngsters. As most of these guys are software developers, they run behind developing the ultimate product without understanding the market needs. They miss the fact that there is a lot more beyond product engineering, when it comes to business.
And finally, most of the entrepreneurs today behave as if they are in it for the sake of funding. I don’t see the necessary focus on problem- solution fitment and refinement. While funding is necessary for growth, it is not the hallmark of success. Many people believe that their idea is good enough for getting funded. Last night one of the entrepreneurs mailed me for funding a handicrafts startup. I have asked him why he needed funding and his current sales volume. I have also asked him how he planned to spend the money. There is no response.
Being a startup mentor can be very exciting and rewarding. It can also be painful and frustrating. This needs a lot of patience and very good communication skills, without imposing ourselves. While it is great to see my mentees growing and handling the challenges, it is also painful to see an entrepreneur suffer yet does not listen, even though I know the cure.