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Giving Back: An interview with Mr. Mahesh Swar on mentorship

Mahesh Swar’s ability to think outside the box has brought him to where he is today, and he has had many mentors who have guided him on his journey. Starting as a marketing executive at Kantipur Publications in 1995, he currently works as the AGM (Assistant General Manager) of Kantipur Publications and earlier to this, he was leading Terai Television Network as an AGM. He now thinks that it is time to give back, and has been mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs and startups for the past two years. He recently decided to contribute as a mentor at NEXT Launchpad, one of the startup accelerator programs in Nepal, so we caught up with him to understand his views of mentorship, his journey as a mentor, and his recent decision.

 

 

1.  What is mentorship in the business world?

Mentorship is just another key to success. After just achieving few milestones as an entrepreneur, sometimes you feel like you achieved a lot and have become successful. However, whatever this success may be, it is not the end goal; you now have the responsibility to inspire and empower others. There is a dynamism to this. When you have already been there, doing all the work in your line, you might have achieved that by looking up to someone, getting inspired and learning from advice and guidance from someone. So likewise, at some point in time, you might be thinking, “Let me do the same for someone else, and contribute back to the society.” This driving factor is mentorship.

 

2.   What kind of values can mentors bring to entrepreneurs and their ventures?

If you look at mentors from an entrepreneur’s perspective, mentors know the industry and have worked for a long time in the industry. Having moved far ahead, s/he has the experience and has gained an understanding of the practicality of the society and business environment. Each of these experiences, knowledge and values gained by the mentors over a period of time will be transferred to the new entrepreneurs.

To add to that, they even get  access to connections and resources of these mentors that have been built over time.

 

3.   What makes a good mentor?

Everybody has experience and skills they can transfer to someone looking up to them. But what differentiates good mentors from the rest is that good mentors dedicate their energy, time and themselves to the entrepreneurs. They must be genuine, someone who can think outside of box and also channel the thoughts that come from entrepreneurs into practical advices.

 

4.    How did your journey as a mentor start?

I am a manager by profession, but one one of my passion lies in teaching. So I started teaching MBS (Masters’ in Business Studies) at St. Xavier’s College. Honestly speaking, I could have just taught the theories to my students; it did not require any practical lessons. But beyond everyone’s comfort zone and decided to go for practice based programs so that my students can learn to do business practically. I suggested them to form groups among themselves and provided them with a real case of cattle farming in Kathmandu. Then I got them to visit various places around Kathmandu to find information about the price of land, the technology to be used, cost of operation and so on. They did the study themselves and came up with a practical solution of how everything can be done, which included the market where they can sell the dairy, operation, and other elements of business. For investment, I told them that the final decision is on them, but each of them had to invest Rs. 50,000 each to continue with the project. Later, I brought BBA (Bachelors of Business Administration) students and told them that the MBS students have done a practical study. I even told them that they can vote the presentations, and also invest on it if they wanted to. I got my  MBS students to pitch their ideas to these students, similar to a real life scenario where the BBA students were the investors and MBS students were the pitchers.

That was my orientation into mentorship, and  how it all began. Among those 50 students, even if 2 students can come up with the idea to do new business, s/he had gained the capacity to do so.

Two years ago, I was also invited to mentor at Startup Weekend. I shared my experiences and knowledge to those startups that chose me as their mentor. Since then, I have been involved in several similar platforms to mentor entrepreneurs and startup teams.

 

5.    How many startups and entrepreneurs have you mentored till now? In which stage? In which industry?

Not many actually. I haven’t mentored startups with long term commitment yet since I haven’t developed deeper interest into this field by now. But I have been mentoring entrepreneurs for short term through platforms like Startup Weekend, entrepreneurship bootcamps and others. Also with my entrepreneurship course at St. Xavier’s, I have been supporting aspiring entrepreneurs in giving shape to their ideas.

Most of these startups were at early stage, and especially from IT industry. It seems like many of the startups come up with an IT solution in the form of apps to make lives easier. Maybe it is because it requires lesser investment in IT sector and there haven’t been much practical implementation so far.  Young people are trying to come up with new innovations in the technology sector, but that leaves other chunks empty.

 

6.    How are you involved in NEXT Launchpad as a mentor? What’s your role there? How will you be supporting startups in their flight to next level?

Since the Mentorship Program at NEXT Launchpad has not started yet, I cannot specifically say how large the scope of my work as a mentor will be.

But if you talk about me, I would say I am an expert on marketing. In the last 20 years, I have worked in both product and service industries. I sold coke, space in a newspaper, airtime in television. I have also taught marketing as a subject to students from +2 to BBA level. To add, I started with a Rs. 2500 salary in marketing, and now I own a car, working hard and growing organically in the same field over time. I have understood what it takes in an entrepreneurial journey. So these are my experiences that I own, and my core strength is in the field of marketing.

One of the big stories in entrepreneurship is that idea is one element and marketing that idea is another. Matching them both is the challenge, and that is where I come in as a bridge with my marketing skills. I have both teaching skills and practical skills as a marketer, and I have worked from ground zero to policy level. Using these experiences, I can provide ideas that can fit the needs of the entrepreneurs in the program. This is how I will be serving as a mentor at the NEXT Launchpad.

 

7.     What made you take the step towards contributing as a mentor in NEXT Launchpad?

I have always thought that the success of any country, especially a developing country, depends on development of young entrepreneurs. In Nepal, entrepreneurship is still a buzzword. I call it a buzzword because people take entrepreneurship very lightly here. It is not. It is a dedicated effort, and everybody can’t become an entrepreneur.

Let’s understand it this way. Let’s talk about our thought process first. When you go to any college today, out of 100 students, 90 students want to work. That leaves 10 students, and they are not working to become an entrepreneur; they are still thinking of becoming an entrepreneur. But when that thought becomes a reality, s/he faces pressure from from peers and family to get a job. Their parents keep telling them, “It is time to do something.” And to do something, they would need money. So majority ends up taking job. It takes years to have some confidence financially, and around 25-35, they  start thinking of their  venture, and only be able to create a successful business by 45. And I want to change that thought process.

Also, there are many spoon-fed entrepreneurs on the rise. They already had the silver spoon to do something in the industry, and they just jumped in and made things happen. But it is hard for others to see the platform, and those who have seen it, their age group would be a little too old to inspire the young minds. Thinking that it is necessary to bridge this gap, I thought of contributing to this platform.

 

8.   How do you think mentors get value in return by becoming a mentor in accelerators like NEXT Launchpad?

When others succeed because of my contribution, I will be happy. 20 years down the line, they might say how I guided them on their road to success. That is my value. I would be proud to say that I mentored these many people and in these many platforms.

Apart from personal satisfaction, these type of platforms help mentors understand about young people’s thoughts. You get to meet, talk and share with these young minds. And that will help you boost  your own entrepreneurial spirit too.  I am mentoring someone else, but in a way I am also gaining back. It works two-ways. You are there with younger teams with new thoughts and ideas, and maybe these new thoughts are something valuable that you were not able to think. That can always be useful.

 

9.   Your comments on mentorship culture in Nepal via platforms like accelerators, incubators, bootcamps, hackathons, and other entrepreneurship programs.

I am satisfied in some way with it, but it still has a long way to go. Mentorship is a dedication, and it is like teaching someone in some way. I take a year to teach an entrepreneurship course to students, and it is not in any way possible to teach them everything. But these platforms are only meant for few days or few weeks. What I believe is mentorship is a continuous process. The mentor-mentee relation should not be limited just to these bootcamps and programs. This learning-sharing process should go on for a long run.

We cannot be happy with 20% success rates in these platforms because young people who want to become an entrepreneur are participating in these platforms. Three days or three weeks will not be able to increase the success rate. The remaining 80% of ideas will go to waste and that will kill the spirit of entrepreneurship in these young minds. In the end, the Nepali economy will suffer because these platforms killed that spirit.

What I am trying to say is we need these platforms to go a bit longer and be precisely planned. Nothing is going to happen in three days. We might be able to give them the idea, but we won’t be able to take it further. Duration matters a lot, so maybe these accelerators that go for more than four or six months might bring some change.

Also in the part of mentors, they need to dedicate more of their time. And, they should make prepared and conscious efforts. Just sharing experience for an hour is not going to help anyone.

 

 

10.  How do you think we can inspire more successful entrepreneurs and experts to contribute in supporting startups as a mentor?

Like I said before, there is a different air of satisfaction in seeing others succeed because of your guidance. If we are able to share these stories, telling them that, “You have changed – both yourself and the world around, don’t you want others to change positively because of you?” maybe then we would be able to inspire them. Because that is only how Nepal will change and will be on next level of economic development, and it is only possible when there are entrepreneurs and not businessmen. I think mentors would be more than happy to help if we are able to share these things with them.

 

 

11.  Your final message to startups and mentors.

To potential entrepreneurs, I want to tell them that there is a reason why there is a saying, “Try, try, until you die.” Being an entrepreneur is not an easy task. First of all, don’t let your zeal go down. There is a lot of negativity in life, and there very few success stories. You should know that out of 100 that aspire to be entrepreneurs, 90 of them will fail. Success comes to those who are able to learn from their environment and their mistakes, that is how you become one of the success stories. A life of hardships awaits you, you need to give 110% effort in time and take 120% from the mentors who are there to give you the best possible insights.

To mentors, I would like to say let’s give back to the society. Let’s give back to the young, budding thoughts. Maybe in the long-run because of their ideas, your enterprise will benefit  too. Let’s not think that you are just mentoring, let’s think that we are contributing to the economy.

 

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Guest Thursday, 23 November 2017