Technical skills are not useless – but they are not the dealbreaker. Money, doors, and psychology are.

Last year, at a seminar in Singapore, a girl in the audience asked the panel, “I want to do a startup. I have five good ideas and I am very passionate about these ideas. But I do not know whether I should do it or just find a job.”

Existing, and aspiring entrepreneurs

The panel consisted of five tech billionaires. One of them swiftly picked up the mic and said: “Then do not do it. Go and find a job.”

I was there, moderating the panel. And I laughed with the audience.

Most mentorship programmes are at best useless

A part of Momentum Works was originally set up to empower entrepreneurs and accelerate ventures. But that was the moment I was finally convinced that this model was not going to work.

But to this day, many incubators and accelerators, even some of the recently set-up ones, still focus on providing mentorship on accounting, Facebook marketing and (would you believe it) drafting of business plans.

More laughable is what JFDI used to, having housewives running boutique cake baking businesses teaching tech entrepreneurs ‘essential skills’ of starting up.

Real entrepreneurs DO NOT need someone to feed these skills.

They can, and should be able to, sort these things out themselves, finding the right people for the right support. And they will not, and rightly so, be willing to give up equity for these.

Otherwise, how would I, as an investor, trust you with my money if you can’t even sort these out yourself? There will be greater challenges once your product and team are fast growing.

If you are in doubt, read this book

Psychology beats business training

Interestingly there was a recently-published study on what really helps entrepreneurs, which confirmed the suspicion we had for a long time.

It seems we all chose a wrong way before

Yes in the study, the entrepreneurs who were mentored in psychology performed much better than those who were taught hard business skills.

Not surprising to be honest – having spoken with hundreds of startups and entrepreneurs, the psychological burden to the good founders is far greater than any particular business challenge, which they are born to resolve.

The study was conducted in the tiny West African nation of Togo, but nonetheless, we believe similar results might arise if the same study is conducted in a market our readers are familiar with, and operate in.

They need only three things

I had a chat with the billionaire who made the comment at the beginning of the article, at dinner after the seminar.

He said, as investors, your primary offer is money. On top of that, you can be their friends, listening to them in their most difficult times and consulting them.

“I would want them to NOT look for me when things are doing well,” he said. “But during challenging times, they know they always have someone who has been there and is willing to listen to them.”

Example of a good mentor

Also, he can open doors to his friends, who are potential future investors, partners or customers.

“That’s about it,” he said. “The founders are the captains, and they need to drive these forward.”

In conclusion, real entrepreneurs only need three things:

  1. Cash
  2. Opening doors to partners, customers, and follow-up investors
  3. A pair of listening ears.

Probably a very valid point, from someone who had personally invested in hundreds of deals, almost a dozen of which are now listed companies.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].


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Jianggan Li is the Founder & CEO of Momentum Works. Prior to founding Momentum Works, he co-founded Easy Taxi in Asia, and served as Managing Director of Foodpanda. The two years running Rocket Internet companies has given him a lifetime experience on supersonic implementation, and good camaraderie with entrepreneurs across the developing world. He holds a MBA from INSEAD (GMAT 770) and a degree in Computer Engineering from Nanyang Technological University. Unfortunately he never wrote a single line of code professionally - but in his first job he was in media, travelling extensively across Asia & Europe, speaking with Ministers & (occasionally) Prime Ministers. Apart from English and his native Mandarin, he is also fluent in French and conversational in Cantonese & Spanish. He tried to learn Latin (for three years) and Sanskrit (for six months) as well. In his (scarce) free time, he reads, travels, hikes and dives. Pyongyang, Tehran & Chisinau are among the interesting cities he has been to.