Evan Aaronson has survived a South American kidnapping, bankruptcy and even a career in Hollywood. Looking back, he said he could have avoided some missteps if he’d had someone experienced to guide him. Now Aaronson is trying to help people find those guides.

Last month, he launched website Meals With Mentors. A hundred people have signed up to be mentors, including entrepreneurs, entertainment executives, doctors and lawyers, who buy lunch for members.

“I never had a mentor,” said Aaronson, 42. “I could have saved a lot of time and energy and stress.”

Writing, directing, producing and self-funding a feature film led Aaronson to bankruptcy in 1998. That’s when he decided to spend the last of his money on a vacation to Lima, Peru, where he was kidnapped at gunpoint. He told his kidnappers that his credit cards were maxed out. Figuring he had no money, they let him go.

Back in the United States, Aaronson started working in reality TV production. Then he founded a service in which therapists provided massages mostly at conferences and corporate events.

He said his ventures were moderately successful, but his lack of experience held him back.

“I had to figure it out on my own,” he said.

Aaronson sold the massage business last year for less than $100,000 and used that money to build Meals With Mentors. He got mentors on board with notices on Twitter and LinkedIn. They get no money, and they even have to buy lunch, but they could generate leads for their own businesses. Beyond that, some might simply want to help.

Aaronson plans to charge members – the mentees – a monthly subscription of perhaps $20 or $30 a month for unlimited lunches with mentors once the site reaches 1,000 to 1,500 members.

If the service is successful, he could make money from it. But he said he wants to help business people get positive role models.

“I made some really bad deals, a lot of really bad business decisions,” he said, “simple mistakes that could have been avoided.”

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