Beware the False Mentor

The average mentor you have available to you charges nothing. So, they don’t have a great incentive to mentor well unless they already know you. Altruism will cause them to have a good attitude, but that’s about it.

It’s hit or miss, especially if they aren’t willing to spend the time to look in depth at your business. Mentoring without analysis is a troubling proposition unless the content is platitudes. 

Here’s a sad quote from a young founder who took the approaches of the retired BigCo CMO too seriously, “I thought he was helping. But then I realized over time that he didn’t respect me or what I was doing.” 

Ah yes, mentoring without empathy. It’s very common when the person involved is motivated by sheer careerist ego. “God, I could help this crazy kid so much with ALL that I know.” I have heard folks talk like this in private. I have. It’s a thing. 

There’s a growing issue in the CPG community that concerns me about the over-abundance of ‘mentors.’ It’s not that they are malevolent or destructive. It’s the conflict of interests involved with more and more of them. 

Accelerators that offer mentors de minimum equity shares in their startup cohort companies have accelerated this problem. And it’s one of many reasons I refuse to participate in these organizations. Why?

Many of these mentors run agencies and firms that bill substantial fees for executional services. The boundary between ‘mentoring’ and prospect development isn’t at all clear. Every mentoring conversation quickly becomes a grooming session.

I watched a female founder take an investment of $100K from a female angel who then proceeded two years later to ‘get’ a $150K project to re-design the packaging. Really? Is this not concerning to anyone but me? I hope so. 

This should be illegal. You should not be able to invest in a company and then sell them services. You could offer services for free, but that is still unethical since you would need a steel-spined founder to stand up to an investor and suggest you prefer another agency partner. Most founders do not have the emotional maturity to navigate that level of an ego conflict with the rich and entitled. 

The main reason you want an investor to NOT sell you services is that it contaminates the trust you thought they had in you and your vision. If they were just biding their time to pitch you their services, then now you can’t trust their opinion of you anymore. You have become a sales lead. And this person is now on your cap table. Sh*t.

Dr. James Richardson

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