I Have a Mentor, Here’s Why You Should Too!
I have looked up to Vijay Shekhar Sharma as my mentor since 2009. While this didn’t happen overnight, it was totally worth it!
I remember my first conversation with Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of India based fintech company Paytm, currently in the process of launching the country’s largest IPO. It was early 2009 and I was about to graduate from the Stanford Business School and exploring roles in India at that time. I was fortunate to get connected to Vijay through one of my professors at the business school.
Vijay made me feel so much comfortable during this “job interview chat”, that I ended up telling him that the “real” reason I wanted to work with him is because, I want to see an entrepreneur up close in action, soak in all the entrepreneurial energy and then leave the company in less than two years to start an edtech company of my own! To my surprise, he still hired me.
I learnt an important lesson from him through this process—start from the baseline of trust and build a relationship from there. Little did I know that a few years down the line, I would be using the same lessons while hiring an aspiring entrepreneur. That’s what mentors do to you. They build your perspective and build your lives in many ways.
And today as Vijay (fondly called as VSS), gets ready to take his company public what remains constant is the energy and humility of VSS, who would call himself an underdog and confidently pull off a popular Bollywood number with swag in a TV interview!
I Need a Mentor, You Need a Mentor, We All Need a Mentor
You might have years of experience and access to all the resources you need for a stellar performance at work, but you still need a mentor. In fact, studies show that around 76% of people believe that mentors are important, but only 37% actually have one.
One of the main reasons for this gap is that finding the right mentor is really hard. And after you fine one, you need to nurture your relationship with them, to be able to motivate them to invest their time on you.
One of the most common mistakes that people make while finding a mentor is that they often end up forcing the people they admire into mentoring them. Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In says, “If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious. The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works.”
Figure out why you want someone to be your mentor! In my case, I look up to Vijay, firstly because of the incredibly kind human being he is, secondly for the inspiring leader he is and finally for the amazing business he has built. In fact, Vijay has inculcated the idea of “scaling up” in me, which is also the basis of this newsletter. I had briefly written about this in my article for the Economic Times a few years back. His favorite line to me around scaling was to try to “Increase the scale of the scale”!
But overtime, my learnings from my relationship with him have also evolved. And, today I would like to share some of those learning that have helped me scale up my career, especially during and after my second stint at Paytm.
Focus, Focus, Focus
Vijay is a man of intense focus and it is his focus that helps him marshal his troops successfully, even during unprecedented situations.
During my second stint at Paytm, the Indian Government announced demonetization. This meant that a lot of liquid currency was going to be illegal in just a couple of hours. While many panicked, Vijay saw the opportunity for the fintech company and gave a war cry to steer a team of 5,000+ people overnight. The mandate was simple “Get everyone on Patym!”
The very next morning Paytm was on the front page of most national dailies, a feat that only Paytm’s marketing team could achieve in the country. It was his intense focus that led to Paytm really seizing the demonetization moment in India to establish itself as the leading wallet of the country.
Tremendous Confidence in those who have the will to win
I have always seen him trusting those who have the will to win, especially who think of themselves as the underdogs. And why not, he has considered himself to be one!
In fact, during one of our meetings with Yuvraj Singh, ace Indian cricketer and an investor in EduKart, Vijay told Yuvraj that they both were examples of underdogs, aiming to win the game! I remember the vehement nod that Yuvraj gave on hearing that! (This pic below was taken few minutes after this exchange!)
Always Caring for His Team
I have learnt the importance of genuinely caring for people from Vijay. As a mentor, he was truly invested in my growth as an entrepreneur, while he was busy transforming his company into India’s largest fintech company! Later, he went on to acqui-hire EduKart and ensured my success during my second stint at Paytm. I know a lot of entrepreneurs who have benefitted from his mentorship and unflinching support.
Sharing an anecdote here that few know about - while I was at Paytm and investing in startups through the corporate development fund, one of the portfolio companies became cash strapped. While Paytm was committed to fund the next round, we had to wait for some approvals from the Investment Committee. When I told the situation to Vijay, he immediately asked me to transfer money from his personal account to the entrepreneur so that the entrepreneur could manage his urgent liabilities. Such is Vijay’s heart!
There are many more examples of his generosity towards his team that I could share! Through those experiences, he has helped me become a more empathetic mentor and made me understand that a mentor is not only responsible for the career success but for the overall well-being of the mentee.
Press the Reset Button, Often
One busy day in 2016, I asked Vijay how he keeps himself fresh and energetic for every meeting. His response was simply “I reset myself every time before entering a new meeting or talking to a different person.” Easier said than done, it can be really tough to reset every time. For Vijay, resetting could mean anything from having a light beverage to singing his favorite Bollywood number to just a quick stroll around the office.
If He Can Be My Mentor, You Can Be Someone’s Mentor Too!
It’s a privilege to have a mentor who cares about you in your life, but it is even a bigger privilege to be able to mentor someone. If someone has helped you move up in your life, then mentoring someone is a great way to pay it forward and shape future leaders. At the same time, the process of mentoring can transform you into a more effective leader and a better person as well!
So do you have a mentor? Do share your learnings with me. And if you want to be a mentor, then now is the time to get on to this rewarding journey!
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Very rightly mentioned that, it's a privilege to have a right mentor. From my experience I have understood that, when being a mentor to someone, that privilege also comes with great responsibility but it's really satisfying, when your mentee celebrates every small/big win with you. Also, Ishan will it be possible for you to share a detailed post like an extension to this topic, on right framework / approaches on how especially young graduates like me can go about selecting the right mentor and ways to approach someone and build that basic level of trust?