John George, one of the Directors at Weld Craft, a Bangalore-based manufacturer of welding electrodes, was trying to understand how they could handle slowdown in demand for their products during the global recession. He needed help from thought leaders who had been through similar challenges before. He stumbled upon MentorSquare Advisors, an online platform that connects entrepreneurs with a network of mentors who offer business advisory services. One of the mentors helped John’s company revamp their product development strategy to improve the quality of welding electrodes. They imported a solution from a UK-based company to make this operationally feasible. John is not alone. Over 1,500 entrepreneurs from 18 countries have turned to the MentorSquare platform to help them through their journey of being successful entrepreneurs.
“We’re trying to recreate the effect of the ‘old town square’ where elders from the community were eager to offer advice to the younger generation. They shared their knowledge and experience with the youngsters,” says Ravi.
Founded by Ravi Narayan, a serial entrepreneur, MentorSquare offers a simple, yet very efficient approach to business advisory services. The world is going through a tough phase, where entrepreneurs have to make difficult decisions on a regular basis. There are too many variables that need to be analyzed, and strategic decision-making has to be at the forefront. Large companies have access to an expert panel, but small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups are left behind. This is where MentorSquare comes in. Ravi believes that MentorSquare is a community to help entrepreneurs. “We’re trying to recreate the effect of the ‘old town square’ where elders from the community were eager to offer advice to the younger generation. They shared their knowledge and experience with the youngsters,” adds Ravi.
MentorSquare’s online platform (www.mentorsquare.com) enables their members to post any number of questions to several mentors. There is an executive mentor who is the first point of contact for the entrepreneur. He helps the entrepreneur get in touch with the right set of mentors, while helping the member fine-tune his questions to draw relevant information. Any exchange with a mentor or a group of mentors takes 2-3 weeks. The query goes to the mentor who studies the case and draws various examples from other resources and offers a detailed solution. The entrepreneur implements the advice, analyses the result and provides feedback and moves on to the next hurdle, if any.
MentorSquare also provides forums for members to connect and discuss other business related issues, enabling them to spark business deals through such discussions. Ravi emphasizes that they take utmost care to ensure their mentors are top-notch. “Our mentors are working professionals, thought leaders, visionaries and run a variety of businesses. This helps us deliver the goods in almost any sector,” says Ravi. The mentor profiles are extremely crucial, as this practically sails the boat. Mentors are chosen with utmost care and contacted by invitation only as Ravi believes that the key is to help entrepreneurs get information from people who have learnt from similar experiences in the past.
MentorSquare, in addition to its online platform, also offers other innovative mediums, including breakfast meetings and live webinars. Ask Ravi Narayan about MentorSquare’s success and he quips, “There is richness in discussion and content. There is some amount of objectivity that comes with conversing with a mentor”. The process is simple enough but the learning is directly proportional to the depth of your interaction. “One should ideally contact 25 different mentors with their questions. This way you get a myriad of perspectives. Although this raises the question of a conflict of opinion, the member has to use his discretion and use the information that will be useful to him,” feels Ravi.
What is in it for the mentors?
“Mentors are not paid per project but are shareholders in MentorSquare. The biggest value from the mentors perspective is the knowledge value and the ecosystem of entrepreneurs they create with their consultations,” justifies Ravi. The mentor also responds to questions he cannot counter by putting the member onto another relevant mentor. But if the member-mentor relationship reaches a level where they prefer to take it offline, MentorSquare has made provisions for that as well. Ravi feels that this doesn’t end the member’s relationship with MentorSquare. “The member might have solved his hiring issues, but he still keeps coming back to us for other questions about financials or marketing. We don’t become irrelevant at any point,” he adds.
Today, MentorSquare has 100 mentors from over 20 countries with a member base of 1,500 entrepreneurs from around the world. They demand only 3-4 hours from their mentors every week. Crunching those numbers, it comes to 400 hours of mentoring per week.
Ravi’s focus is to increase the numbers – both of mentors and members they serve. Mentors even have a facility called MentorConnect, where they can converse with each other to receive feedback about their own businesses. In a sector where one innovative spark can differentiate you from the herd, it is important to revamp your strategies on a regular basis. MentorSquare hopes to come up with another format of mentor-member connections called ‘Think Tank’. “The original format was a self service counter where the members could pick and choose their mentors”, says Ravi. As part of Think Tank, MentorSquare takes ownership of the project, formulates the questions and gathers information from several mentors. They collate all the information and prepare a report for the entrepreneur. It’s almost like a management consulting project they do for their client company.
What more can a newbie in the big complicated business world ask for? Earlier, meetings were an elaborate affair. Fixing appointments, dates and venues, sharing formalities and that physical space was almost a necessity. Companies like MentorSquare, which primarily utilize the online space, are a clear indication of how new age entrepreneurs are welcoming online consultations. A mentor, who these entrepreneurs probably never meet, could very well give them ideas to solve the most complicated of their business problems.