Mentorship Scam? Guide for Startup Founders to Find the Right Mentors

Pushkar Singh, Co-founder of Tremis Capital, recently sparked a debate on LinkedIn about startup mentors in India. He has observed a concerning trend of "corporate charlatans" preying on young founders.

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Fake Startup Mentors

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Hurratul Maleka Taj, a passionate founder, brings with her a wealth of experience in building ventures in the e-commerce, community tech, and fashion jewellery sectors. She has also co-founded a non-profit organisation focused on digital education for school children in rural areas and promoting financial independence for women. While this is how she describes herself on her LinkedIn profile,  it's not the whole story.

The Deceptive Landscape: Founder Experiences with Fake Mentors


In response to a post, she shares her experience about how fake mentors in the Indian startup ecosystem prey on and deceive young entrepreneurs like her under the guise of mentoring. 

She states, "At 23, when I started my first venture, I encountered individuals who claimed to be mentors and learned a valuable lesson from that experience."

Another founder, Gaurav Gupta, the founder and CEO of Chimes: Kids Podcasts and Audio Stories platform, shares his own experience with mentorship scams in the Indian startup world.

"At the very beginning of our journey, we met a corporate honcho who wanted a 5% stake and committed to 8 hours per month for 6 months. I never picked up that chap's calls again!”

Pushkar Singh, cofounder of Tremis Capital and a builder of a community of angel investors and founders, recently sparked a huge debate on Startups, Mentors, and Equity by posting sensational insights about his opinion on Startup Mentors in India.

Pushkar Singh

He said, “I don't have a great opinion about the startup mentors in India. I have met a few nice founders who I felt were scammed by their mentors. I have known a few corporate charlatans who, after they were fired by their companies, preyed on young founders.” 

He further puts his argument forward and explains how one should choose a mentor and what equity must be given to them.

Countering Startup Mentor Exploitation: Perspectives on Mentorship and Equity

In the realm of mentorship, not all roads lead to deceit. Silicon Valley stands as a testament to the power of excellent mentorship deeply ingrained in the DNA of American startups. Countless successful founders from the USA have sung praises of their mentors in memoirs and autobiographies. Fortunately, a similar shift is underway in India. Genuine, knowledgeable individuals are stepping up to mentor founders, signaling a positive evolution in the ecosystem. Yet, founders often face a dilemma regarding equity distribution to mentors or advisors. 

Striking a balance is key: offering 1 to 2% equity vested over 2-3 years, akin to ESOPs, signifies mutual commitment and respect. Conversely, those who demand immediate equity upfront may not prioritise the mentorship journey, lacking dedication and long-term vision. True mentors are allies, invested in the success of founders, and equity serves as a token of appreciation for their invaluable support and guidance.

Entrepreneur Advice: The Essence of Authentic Mentorship

Finding the right mentors remains a challenge for many founders, primarily because mentorship shouldn't be marketed explicitly by mentors. True mentorship transcends the boundaries of a transactional relationship. When mentors explicitly sell their services, they tend to operate more like consultants. After all, consultants sell consulting services, while mentorship inherently carries an altruistic component. It's about guiding, nurturing, and fostering growth without the primary motivation of financial gain.

Mentorship is about giving back to the entrepreneurial community, sharing wisdom and experience selflessly to empower others on their journey towards success.


Choosing the Right Mentor

  • Beware of those who sell their services upfront. True mentors are motivated by a desire to help, not financial gain.
  • Seek mentors who offer a hands-on approach. Look for mentors who will provide practical guidance and real-world examples.
  • Focus on building a relationship. Mentorship is a two-way street. Be prepared to invest time and effort into the relationship.

Gaurav Anand, a seasoned corporate strategy development professional, suggests a more hands-on approach to mentoring. He advocates for a "show and tell" method that goes beyond traditional guidance. For instance, when mentoring someone on active fundraising, demonstrating the practical skills of converting VC/LP target prospects into leads or showcasing the intricacies of relationship-building can be immensely beneficial. By providing tangible examples and allowing mentees to observe real-world scenarios, they can grasp essential techniques and witness effective strategies in action, facilitating a deeper understanding and fostering tangible results

Startup Mentorship: Opportunities and Challenges Amidst Popularity

Under Startup India Mission, the Indian Startup Ecosystem has flourished, it has attracted a surge of interest from individuals eager to engage with startups. Today, India boasts over 100,000 recognised startups, including more than 100 unicorns with a collective valuation exceeding $5 billion. However, alongside this growth, there has been a rise in opportunistic individuals capitalising on the ecosystem's popularity, particularly through social media marketing and promotions.

Many of these individuals strategically position themselves by attending prominent conferences, events, and sharing inspirational content featuring relevant industry figures and entrepreneurs.

Moreover, industry insiders reveal that a growing number of High Net Worth Individuals (HNIs) have also entered the mentorship arena, seeking to capitalise on innovative startups by securing easy equity stakes.

Staying Vigilant: Guarding Against Greed in the Mentorship Landscape

Effective mentors play a pivotal role in a founder's success, as it's not just about the idea but also about the people and execution. The journey of building a startup resembles a roller coaster ride, marked by highs and lows. Having an experienced mentor serves as a guiding light and a trusted sounding board, simplifying decision-making and eliminating ambiguity at every turn. However, amidst the invaluable support mentors offer, it's crucial for startup entrepreneurs to remain vigilant against the presence of greed-driven impostors masquerading as mentors. These individuals often lurk at conferences and flaunt their presence on social media platforms, preying on unsuspecting founders.

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