Opinions

Is traditional mentorship really necessary for an entrepreneur?

Author: Thebe Mathlaku

South Africa’s economic climate is at its worst now than it has been in years. With looming credit rating agency downgrades and high levels of unemployment, the future looks bleak for the ever resilient middle class. To combat this, large numbers of middle class individuals are either in the process of or have ventured into some form of business.

Whilst the intention is noble and proactive, mentorship should be considered the single most important tool for the success of any business.
A brilliant product, marketing model and access to funding is paramount but is severely diminished without experienced cadres to look over and cover all the not – so obvious blind spots.

According to a study administered by Mowgli Mentoring on the impact of coaching on the success of entrepreneurs, also known as the Return on Mentoring Investment (ROMI), it was found that 3,740 jobs were created and 18 Million USD was generated due to solid and effective coaching. Bury (2018) argues that mentorship programs that have been specifically designed to assist prospective entrepreneurs greatly improve their probability to weather the “first year in business” storm.


Willemse (2018) argues that mentorship programs transfer critical skills and knowledge to business owners. These include financial literacy, marketing and exploitation of markets.


Trenchard (2016) in Five business leaders who thank a mentor for their success, set out the importance of mentorship by covering 5 of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time. The late Apple founder Steve Jobs paid homage to Mike Markkuka who invested 250 000 USD then in Apple which is now estimated at 1 triliion USD. Facebook wonder-boy Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as owing the success of Facebook due to the wisdom of Steve Jobs who informed him to visit the Kainchi Dam Temple in India which assisted in the formulation of what is today known as Facebook. Google founders and computer scientists Sergey Brin and Larry Page have attributed the success of the search engine to their then relationship with former Silicon Valley top executive Eric Schmidt who played a pivotal role in guiding the pair to success. Microsoft pioneer and philanthropist Bill Gates was quoted stating that American business magnate and investor Warren Buffet played an invaluable role in illustrating how to stay resilient in economic troughs.


To refute, Carreau (2016) argued that the value of mentors to entrepreneurs is overrated. To add on, she mentioned that mentors are overworked, undertrained and generally deliver less than what is expected of them. Tesla billionaire Elon Musk was quoted saying that leaning too heavily on mentors diminishes an entrepreneur’s ability to make their own decisions and rely on their own skills and abilities. He further asserts that the presence of a mentor is no different from an employee constantly running to a manager whenever they experiences problems. Caution should be heeded as over involved mentors can put entrepreneurs at a competitive disadvantage.


Whilst it is clear that the demand for mentorship by entrepreneurs outweighs supply all hope is not lost for “non – mentored” entrepreneurs. Dan (2016) highlights a few ways in which entrepreneurs can achieve success without mentors. He states that, entrepreneurs should take ownership for their careers, acquire value from peers, learn from the youth, establish a strong reputation and take smart risks to differentiate themselves from their competitors.


What is clear from the literature is that the presence of a prudent, experienced and non – overstepping mentor is more valuable to a prospective entrepreneur than not. Mentorship programs that have been established offer great value to entrepreneurs who are looking to have an edge over their counterparts. Education, self-help books and videos are informative but limited in their offering. Some risks, blind spots and potential failures can only be seen by an experienced eye.
Long live the MENTOR!

Reference List

Willemse, A.K. 2018. The moderating effect of mentorship on enterprise development in South Africa.


Trenchard, R. 2016. Five business leaders who have a mentor to thank for their success.

Bury, K. 2018. The Role of Mentorship in Achieving Economic Growth for the Mena Region.


Daum, K. 2016. Looking for a Mentor? This Successful Entrepreneur suggests you may be the best person to fill the role.


Forbes 2014. Why you shouldn’t look for Mentors.

By Thebe Matlhaku


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