Beyond the Pitch

5 Ways First Connect Partners Can Help Startups Gain an Edge

First Connect partners usually begin working with a startup company in a functional area that matches their specific expertise. Attorneys assist with contracts. Technologists assess product roadmaps. Marketing consultants help with business development, and so on.

But the opportunity for startups to leverage these relationships is much broader than that.

“One thing that is fun and unique about startups is that there are a lot of different needs,” said Warner Moore, an executive consultant in technology and information security. “People who help new organizations tend to have a broad and multi-faceted skill set. For startups to get the most out of the relationship with mentors, the entrepreneur needs to keep an open mind without assumptions about all the things a mentor can do.”

First Connect partner James Rores, founder and CEO of The Floriss Group, a growth strategy and sales execution firm, starts with the business founder’s long and short-term goals for the company and branches out from there. “I help translate those goals into strategies and plans that can be supported by the right leaders, people, and systems,” he said. “That involves connecting across the business to learn from and align with each stakeholder.”

Rores and Moore offer tips on helping a founding team leverage the complete range of talent and experience that comes with a First Connect relationship across the diverse functional areas of a new company.

1. Start by asking the founders to articulate the startup’s pain points.

“I start organically, encouraging the founder to be transparent,” said Moore, who advises Jade Track, a cloud-based software platform that helps organizations maximize energy efficiency and long-term sustainability.

Moore entered his relationship with the company by advising the founders on scaling up the team and operations—something he did with great success at Columbus unicorn CoverMyMeds, which was recently acquired for more than $1 billion by McKesson. Moore has expanded his contribution to meet with a cross-section of Jade Track’s leaders and employees every month.

2. Help startups recognize the full potential that high caliber, committed partners can bring.

First Connect provides diverse expertise that most startups can’t readily afford. The program gives mentors and service partners a way to share what they’ve learned and give back to the community in a challenging and exciting environment.

“What’s fun and unique about a startup,” Moore said, “is that they have so many different needs. Those of us in First Connect have had mentors in our own careers, or have worked with mentors, coaches, advisory boards or even boards of directors. Many new companies and founders are not experienced with those types of relationships. We can help them learn how to leverage outside expertise.”

“The best mentoring relationships are anchored in mutual trust,” says Rores, who has been investing in and working with Rev1 portfolio companies for five years.  “As a mentor, you have to be willing to tell the entrepreneur what he or she needs to hear, not what they want to hear.”

3. Sometimes a mentor needs to give the startup-specific guidance on the topics to bring to the table. Calibrate accordingly.

Moore defines his role as that of a sounding board, but he said, “If I don’t see that the team has a clear direction, I try and help it along by guiding the conversation to be more about direction and strategy. His evolving relationship with JadeTrack has helped their founders dive into discussions on product evolution, technical architecture, and how small decisions now can impact organizations in a bigger way at scale. Designing a company roadmap of 3 to 12 or more months is key, depending on the stage of the business.”

“Knowledge doesn’t equal understanding,” said Rores. “Just because we walk in as experts and share all this know-how doesn’t mean the entrepreneur understands the implications of making our recommendations work. Sometimes it helps to take off the mentor hat, roll-up our sleeves and execute alongside the entrepreneur.”

4. Helping founders understand what kind of strategy, people and culture are needed to deliver on the company’s goals means working with many stakeholders, in addition to the CEO.

“As a growth coach, it’s my job to help the founder (who is often a technologist) become as curious and open, and as willing to invest in developing sales, as they were in developing their product,” Rores said. “They have to be committed to making how they sell as important as what they sell.”

Goals and a company’s supporting sales strategy can be relatively easy to talk about. That’s whiteboard work based on research, industry knowledge and experience—but execution doesn’t happen without the right people and culture. “Ultimately, your sales culture is a product of the salespeople you hire and develop. Over time those two variables will either make it easier or harder for the company to deliver on expectations of the founder and investors,” said Rores.

5. Mentors can help the founder and the members of the startup team become the best version of themselves.

First Connect relationships evolve. “We mentors can help the company tackle problems and legitimate needs in the organizations,” Moore said. “We can help them figure out how to scale, who potential partners might be, and help them see how to produce value for multiple people in the value chain.”

Relationships between First Connect partners help entrepreneurs and their teams develop winning habits, according to Rores.

“We don’t want the teams we are advising to turn into versions of ourselves,” Rores said. “Mentors are there to coach founders and teams to higher levels of self-awareness, so they can identify and leverage the unique strengths they already possess.  What makes founders unique is what has the potential to make their companies great.”

Many paths lead to beneficial relationships between First Connect partners and portfolio companies. Founders and early key hires wear lots of hats. Over their careers, First Connect partners have worn lots of hats, too.

When an infrastructure guru like Warner Moore shows a technical entrepreneur how he learned the HR skills to find and hire a stand-out team of dozens of new employees at CoverMyMeds, or when a sales and leadership coach like James Rores shares management tips with a CEO who has never built a growth organization, these founders begin to recognize just how deep the pockets of First Connect advice and expertise are.

Would you enjoy mentoring a company that needs all your talents, not just the skills that you are known for?

If so, we’d like to hear from you.

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