Mentee Etiquette Involving Startups

𝐌𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐒𝐭𝐚𝐫𝐭𝐮𝐩𝐬
Mentee Etiquette Involving Startups

Sudhir Kale PhD

Thought Leader | Researcher | Consultant | Keynote Speaker

Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

As a professor who has taught on three continents for three decades, I have been fortunate to teach and guide thousands of students across various nationalities. Some students have gone on to create their own successful businesses. I have acted as a formal or informal mentor to several of these entrepreneurs in the early stages of their venture. Since I have been an entrepreneur myself, I can, first-hand, vouch for the enormous value a mentor can provide.

My experience as a mentor has been a mixed bag. Sometimes, it is disheartening to witness a lack of proper demeanor among mentees. Such thoughtless and often unintended behaviors can sour the mentor-mentee relationship, thus depriving the ensuing startup of valuable experience-driven advice. Here are some dos and don'ts for mentees:

  1. Do keep the mentor regularly briefed on what's happening in the business. Even if you and the mentor are geographically separated, it makes sense to jump on a Zoom call and share short weekly updates with your mentor. It is not smart etiquette to get in touch with your mentor only when you are desperate for help.
  2. If you are going to be offering any financial incentives to the mentor, make these explicit in writing and in agreement with the mentor. Stick with your commitments. The mentor may not necessarily need your money, but providing some tangible incentive signals to the mentor that his/her advice is valued and not taken for granted.
  3. Keep proper notes of your discussions with the mentor. It shows that you are taking the relationship and advice seriously.
  4. Unless the mentor has specifically agreed to work with you for free, limit the free "exploratory" sessions you have with the mentor. Remember, every relationship has a certain number of credits, and you have to be careful as to when and how you use your credits.
  5. Limit your number of mentors and advisors. Having too many advisors indicates that you do not have faith in any one advisor. Besides, the more advisors you have, the greater the chances of getting contradictory advice, thus making the murky startup environment even murkier. The functions of mentorship are to provide illumination and support, not to create confusion and chaos.
  6. Involve your mentor in key discussions with venture capitalists and business partners. Having a highly placed mentor makes for a good story, and stories are at least as important in deal making as financial projections.
  7. In cases where the mentor's advice conflicts with you own judgement, go with the mentor's view unless you have compelling rationale not to do so. Remember, the mentor has seen the world for a much longer time frame than you have. Mentors, in the first place, should be chosen on the basis of their ability to navigate through the greys and present the world in black and white for purposes of decision making. They understand business nuances and are usually very good at sensing opportunities and danger.

The world of startups is exciting and potentially very rewarding. It is also fraught with dangers and disasters lurking at every turn. Most startups fail not for lack of trying but because the entrepreneurs are not mindful or well-equipped to deal with the intricacies of new ventures. Good mentors are worth their weight in gold for aspiring entrepreneurs. As John Maxwell observed, "One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their (entrepreneurial) destination."


Sudhir H. Kale, Ph.D.,

  • The Founder and CEO of GamePlan Consultants, a boutique consultancy specializing in the gaming industry.
  • Advisor- Mentor Garje Marathi Global Innovation Academy
  • Senior Consultants with FINH, a world-leading firm for family-business advice.
  • On the faculty of leading business schools in the U.S., Singapore, Macau, and Australia.
  • His consulting clients have spanned five continents.

You can write to Sudhir at