How to be a good startup mentor?

I have always been a big advocate for improving startup mentorship in Hong Kong.  So in order to be positive about this, I am drafting some guidelines for any existing and potential startup mentors:

  1. Mentorship is not about giving lessons.  That’s called lecturing.  It is important for the mentors to understand as much as it is for them to share their wisdom, it is an opportunity for them to learn.  In fact, I would argue this is a necessity.
  2. Asian mentors and startups both have a tendency to fall into the trap of giving out a list of ‘instructions’ or trying to come up with something really ‘tangible’ from these meetings.  Perhaps it is the rote learning background, but it’s something that needs to be avoided.
  3. It’s an art to talk about things at the right level.  Talking too much about business strategy or getting into tactical business decisions are both ineffective and potentially be very dangerous.  Startups can be more vulnerable than you think.
  4. Your success does not guarantee your readiness to be a good mentor.  This leads to another interesting topic.  No one is born ready as a mentor.  There has to be some proper training for mentors.
  5. Seniority plays a really important part.  In some Asian cultures, it’s really difficult for more ‘junior’ people to open up to the more ‘senior’ people.  I am not saying we should ignore culture, but rather I am promoting we should address it head on.
  6. There aren’t that many successful ‘startups’ in Hong Kong.  Period.  Therefore the pool of successful startup founders giving back to the ecosystem by being mentors are limited.  So we are seeing a lot of mentors coming from senior corporate background.  This is fine but this also means we need more ‘training’ for them.
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